Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Monday, May 2, 2016

Flying Monkeys, "Parental Alienation", and... No Vivid Writing Please

Craig Childress, the proponent of non-evidence-based and intrusive treatments for children who reject contact with one of their divorcing parents, has a rather remarkable newsletter going ( He uses the term “flying monkeys” to designate the various people who argue against his approach and who thus stand in the way of parents who want to pre-empt child custody and prevent children from communicating with their preferred parent. This vivid term is no doubt gratifying to Childress’ clients, but the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Analogies, an august body that I just made up, is taking exception and umbrage in response to Childress’ effort to demonize psychologists and lawyers who regard high-conflict custody battles as individualized, complex, and nuanced situations.

Childress’ persuasive and inflammatory language technique  is of course hallowed among PR and advertising groups, but is not acceptable in professional circles, where avoiding fallacious reasoning is everyone’s responsibility. Although psychological events are often best communicated through some use of metaphor, it’s necessary that two entities that are compared in this way  share many characteristics, and especially characteristics that are relevant to the predicted outcome under consideration. By using the term “flying monkeys”  Childress is not appealing to a useful analogy for better understanding of high-conflict divorce, but instead suggesting to his fans that those who oppose them are doing so only from vicious inclination, without foundations in fact or logic—and indeed that they do so at the behest of a Wicked Witch, not even for their own purposes. This is regrettably an excellent way to build a base of admirers and supporters whose emotional needs are met by this kind of thinking, but it is not a way to persuade professional psychologists that Childress’ claims are correct. The only way to do that would be by offering information from research that meets current standards for evidence-based treatment.

Let’s hold our noses and examine some other statements from the newsletter linked above. How about “these allies of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent provide support for maintaining the pathology involving the psychological abuse of the child…”? The “allies”, presumably, are people like me who are aware that Childress has not made his case, and ask for acceptable evidence to be provided. The “narcissistic/(borderline) parent” is the person less excitingly referred to as the child’s preferred parent, who is now classified by fiat as emotionally disturbed or even psychotic. The “pathology” would be more accurately described as the family dynamics. The “psychological abuse of the child” is at the very worst discouragement of a relationship with one parent by the other; not admirable in some cases, but not found in Garbarino’s discussion of emotional abuse--  and in addition, it’s the exact action that Childress proposes to “cure” the child’s rejection! So, in translation to a less inflammatory tongue, what we have is this: “ people who think Childress is wrong are helpful to preferred parents who do not want to change present family  arrangements and dynamics and support the child in his or her wish not to have contact with one parent.” So, it would appear that when the statement is stripped of its connotative language, it’s actually quite true--  but the implicit scariness written into Childress’ statement is not true.

Why do we monkey-allies say what we do? Well, it’s very simple, and anyone who has become familiar with pseudoscientific claims will know what I’m about to say, because there are only two reasons anyone ever argues with psychological pseudoscience. Here are the two reasons in Childress’ terms: “They likely do so because of their own ignorance or because of trauma histories in their own background that resonate with the false trauma reenactment narrative being presented in attachment-based “parental alienation” (a process called “countertransference” in professional psychology)” So, passing lightly over the actual use of countertransference, we see that we dissenters are perhaps More to Be Pitied Than Censured. We either just haven’t studied the right stuff, or we are Sick because of our own histories that blind us to reality. This familiar form of faux counterargument is one I’ve been hearing for years from Attachment Therapy and “Nancy Thomas parenting” advocates, who are sure that if I hadn’t had a severe attachment trauma I would certainly see the force of their arguments. Whereas science has ways of responding constructively to criticism, pseudoscience is confined to the arguments Childress uses.

Just one more thing and then I quit. Smack in the middle of the page linked above, Childress places this as a link:

“New APA Position Statement: Some children are manipulated into rejecting a parent.”

This is NOT, however, a new APA position statement, however it may appear to the casual reader. It is a petition that APA make a new statement, and one agreeable to Childress & Co. APA has refused since 1996 to become involved with “parental alienation” and its various treatments. The organization does not reply to letters from persons on either sides of the PA debate. Whether that is wise or not is arguable—but it is clear that Childress’ implication that there has been a new APA statement is not only wrong but profoundly self-serving.


  1. Thanks for this post. I, too, have found the lack of empirical support and all the phony rhetoric terrifying.

  2. Thanks for a great article!

  3. I find your inflammatory language, such as "He uses the term “flying monkeys” to designate the various people who argue against his approach and who thus stand in the way of parents who want to pre-empt child custody and prevent children from communicating with their preferred parent." to be far more noseplug-worthy than a (yes fairly overused) attempt at humor by invoking Oz metaphors. First, your assumption that this is all court-based is not accurate, many of us have full parental rights and are still denied access to our children, as loving and sane parents. Second, to assume that alienated parents are seeking to prevent contact between child and either parent is accusing of of exactly what we are victim to, and utterly inaccurate. Your words do not represent reality, and I see no empirical support for them in this article.

  4. Thanks for writing this, but I'm confused. I read Dr. Childress' posts and the Flying Monkey analogy only appears in recent writings. It seems to me that Childress is focused on diagnosis rather than treatment. He writes pretty clearly that there are certainly valid reasons for children to end contact with a parent. A checklist he created, based on what I think is typical psychologist terms, should help people understand whether a child is cutting off contact with a parent for reasons such as physical or sexual abuse, or for reasons that do not involve the other parent. Granted, unless the "alienation" is extreme and obvious, there's no clear cut answer. In fact, the answer may be in degrees of behavior exhibited by both parents, combined by how a child interprets those behaviors.
    The bottom line is that if a parent is telling the children that the other parent is evil or violent, or telling lies about the other parent in order to negatively effect the children's relationship with that parent, then it is parental alienation. While some children rise above it, others don't because, I think, they're being put in a tremendously difficult spot and know that to gain peace, they need to pick a side.
    Are you trying to say that this doesn't exist?

  5. I have to agree with your newly minted American Professional Society on the Abuse of Analogies stance on the "Flying Monkeys" by direction of the "Pathology". I feel as though name calling always diminishes one's message no matter how worthy it may be. I do however see the need for a name which grabs people’s attention, and while I think Childress' could have chosen a better analogy he did manage to get you to write about it (and me.)
    Still, and on to my point for commenting, to deny the presence of a global system which does allow/enable such a "Pathology" to flourish is in my mind irresponsible. Pathological people do scientifically exist, and like it or not they do find/seek others to share/inflate/validate their pathology with, and... again, like it or not these people are not immune to the process of procreation. So... If a person with a cluster of psychological disorders such as narcissistic or borderline scientifically determinable to be caused by their own early traumas decides to have one or more children with a relatively normal range co-parent, then I think it is safe to say that one could scientifically determine the presence (or lack thereof) of a pathology through symptom display and the processes at play.
    Childress’s use of the “Flying Monkeys” to describe this denial is on point. I’ve read his blog concerning this issue, and while he seems a little pissed, I cannot find fault or lack of grounded supporting evidence. It seems that you’re posts centers mostly on the name calling, and like I said I agree with you. Unfortunately, someone is going to read your post and agree with you entirely and further dismiss the real life abuse happening with our children when someone suffering from psychological disorders leverages an intuitive system with counter-intuitive tactics. Call it whatever you want, but Childress is spot on in addressing the presence of the subconscious and conscious alliances.

  6. 'The “psychological abuse of the child” is at the very worst discouragement of a relationship with one parent by the other'

    "At the very worst"? Dr. Mercer, this is incredibly irresponsible. You are minimizing a phenomenon that severely impacts many thousands of children and their future.

    Where is your scientific evidence supporting your claim?

  7. Okay, guys, I see that some of you find derogatory tones acceptable on Childress' blog, but not on mine. That's your problem, not mine. In addition, I believe that my post was clearly focused on the deceptive persuasive efforts of Childress' blog post, not on the extremely vexed question of whether there "really is" PA.

    Once again, the burden of proof is on the person who claims that a statement is true, not the one who challenges it. For example,the claim that discouragement of a child's relationship with the other parent is psychological abuse needs to be supported by evidence that such behavior parallels other actions usually defined as psychological/emotional abuse (e.g., in the work of James Garbarino). Similarly, the claim that having this experience in childhood causes later personality disturbances requires empirical support.

    I know of no evidence that many thousands of children are "impacted" in these ways; if you do know of such evidence, I would appreciate your providing it.

    The diagnostic issue is certainly an important one (though my major concerns have been with Childress' adoption of the "coach" Dorcy Pruter's methods). As far as I can see, no one has documented specific alienating behaviors except retrospectively and out of context, nor is there more than speculation that when such behaviors exist (which they surely do, both during and after marriage) they are associated with particular personality characteristics. Further, I see nothing that shows the personality characteristics of those people "within the normal range" who have children with atypical people. How do the personality characteristics of the non-preferred parent work together with those of the preferred parent to produce the outcome? For that matter, how does child temperament add to the mix? It is shockingly simplistic and contrary to all family systems thinking to assume that one of the parents is the cause of the trouble and that all will be well if a child is forcibly weaned from the relationship with that parent-- especially when no evidence of the risks or benefits of that procedure has been provided.

    1. Dr. Mercer,

      I am finding your various posts very intriguing. I am switching over to this older conversation momentarily, because this paragraph above has some interesting points. You say "As far as I can see, no one has documented specific alienating behaviors except retrospectively and out of context, nor is there more than speculation that when such behaviors exist (which they surely do, both during and after marriage) they are associated with particular personality characteristics." I do not understand this...are you saying that there is zero credible documented evidence from anybody...and if there is, it is in retrospect and out of context? Can you explain what would constitute legitimately documented behaviors?

      Secondly, please explain this... "Further, I see nothing that shows the personality characteristics of those people "within the normal range" who have children with atypical people." Again, I am struggling to find what you are looking for? Alienation may be occurring while a couple is married, but the full effect is only after the separation. If the alienating behaviors (which I had experienced, in retrospect and in context) existed while the parents were still married, then it cannot be alienation, per se, while the family is intact. The family must separate in order for the alienation to occur. In other words, the alienating parent can surely plant the seeds that the targeted parent is "inferior" (but maybe not fully THE BAD PARENT yet because that is why the parent is obviouslsy still with him/her), but the alienation effect cannot fully bloom until there is a reason upon which to base the alienation--the parent then becomes that cause and the separation and subsequent alienation become the effect. All that hard work of making the targeted parent appear inferior pays off as the false facts and delusions come to fruition. Until that separation happens, how can a parent come to the conclusion that alienation is happening? I could be mistaken on this, but that was my understanding. It would seem that this latter situation of alienation in an intact family simply cannot's a paradox. I guess if the parents are cohabitating, maybe, but then there will most likely be some residual bond that is still working. How could a parent live with another parent who is all bad, evil, etc. I am comfortable saying that as an authentic parent, I would have no problem being evaluated. If I were to have gone to court, I would expect to be. Again, what specifically are you looking for?...evaluation reports that state "Targeted parent suffers from no personality or other mental disorder that would impact the normal range relationship with his children? The issue, from a legal standpoint seems to be to prove the alienating parent has the issue, not that the targeted parent does. The alienating parent simply has to cast doubt. I would expect if the alienating parent was saying the other parent was doing the alienating, then they would have a similar burden of proof. Again, I am still unclear what would constitute the proof/evidence/data you are looking for.

      Thank you for entertaining this conversation.

    2. Curses on the Internet! I wrote a long reply and it got dropped-- I can't do it again right now but will try tomorrow.

    3. Let me try again-- I would propose as an alternative to your view the idea that "alienation" involves a continuum ranging from married parents who occasionally do a little triangulating ("don't tell your mother, you know how upset she gets") to hostile divorced couples in which one or both do their best to enlist the children on their sides of the unending conflict. This way of conceptualizing matters may help to avoid the fundamental attribution error ("this happens because of the kind of person that one is") and look at the problems more situationally and holistically.

      As for why anyone would live with a person they considered to be evil, I think there are many possible scenarios. One would be that the Bad Person is proof of the goodness, patience, and virtue of the non-Bad Person, and the relationship is to be cultivated as it shows that one partner is A Saint and has Put Up with much. For a literary version where both spouses fight for this position, see Christina Stead's novel, "The man who loved children".

  8. Dr Mercer,
    some children are manipulated into rejecting a loving and normal range parent by the other parent and those (if any) that support the other parent.
    Do you not believe that this is an unhealthy dynamic for all involved? Especially for the child. Do you not believe that a parent encouraging their child to cut off any contact with the other (normal range parent) would indicate that there is something wrong going on internally with the parent that cannot put the emotional welfare of their child before their own?

    1. Well-- how do you know that the preferred parent is not putting "the emotional welfare of the child before their own"? I don't see that this is the sole possible interpretation of this dynamic, and I suspect it of being just another way to say "bad parent".

    2. E May doesn't know how the preferred parent is not putting "the emotional welfare of the child before their own", and neither do I, or you. Observation, assessment, theory, and theoretical treatment, is how we as a society determine mental health diagnosis and treatment because truly it is not possible to empirically measure human behavior (yet). Mental health is not black or white, but it's what we have and for the most part what works well for us. The application of accepted standards to detect and treat would and should smoke out authentic dynamics of good/good, bad/bad, bad/good, good/bad parents/environments with the primary mission to prevent/stop child abuse.
      This is the campaign, and I would think that you, Jean Mercer, want as much as anyone.
      A rejected parent aligns with the sentiment of Childress because he offers an alternative (and hope) to the "presumption of guilt" narrative which the system fosters. Some of those parents are the issue. Some of them are not. How many is the question?
      For me I find Childress's message to be of "I see it or I don't", "it either is or it isn't" and "here's what you do if it is". That last part is what I think you have the most issue with and I get it. Currently there isn't a system to prevent children from being forced into an anti-brainwashing program. There should be and Childress offer's a way to efficiently prevent this. A different perspective right?

  9. It would be shockingly simplistic to say all will be well by following only one method of repair.
    The argument is not about an all-inclusive treatment, or an all-inclusive diagnosis, but rather do we acknowledge the existence of psychopathology and its potential impact on collateral, or do we ignore it until empirical data can be captured. I would argue psychological abuse is almost always retrospectively observed. Does this mean it does not exist? Unlike physical abuse we don't get to see bruising and scares with psychological abuse, instead we see symptom displays. Not all children rejecting a parent is caused by a cross-generational coalition, but some are. Not all rejected parents are normal range, but some are. Not all accusations of abuse are unfounded, but some are. There needs to be a foundation to determine which is and is not. I think Childress has created such a system to detect the presence or lack of. Pruter and Warshak have created a treatment.
    No child (human) should be forced into treatment for any condition unless a positive diagnosis has been made by a qualified clinician. How do we get there unless people like Childress attempt to fill a need? For Childress he see's the children as victims in severe cases, and he is motivated by this. I don't see any other agenda.

    1. Acknowledging the [possible] existence of psychopathology is one thing, but declaring that there is a way to assess it is quite another unless there is empirical evidence. Until there is such evidence, I believe it's a mistake for the courts to permit testimony that implies that the evidence exists.

      Actually I'm pretty sure that Pruter is linked with Childress, who certainly says he has a treatment.

    2. One other thing: I certainly would not claim to identify Childress' agenda as it exists, but it appears to me that he does not have the agenda I would like to see-- to bring his ideas and evidence into discussion by professional psychologists. This would involve publishing in peer-reviewed journals and submitting papers or posters to peer-reviewed conferences (for example, how about the CCAP conference in Kansas next September?).

      Let him put his ideas out where many knowledgeable people will see them and give him feedback. That should be the agenda, rather than collecting non-professional fans.

    3. I agree, Childress should, and I would suspect he is or will be starting the process for peer-review/critique/support, or else what is the point right?

      From what I understand Childress is not defining anything new as far as modern psychopathology is concerned, but rather using existing established disorders to define a set of symptoms within the family dynamics as they relate to rejection by children. I think he also wants to tie it to "child abuse confirmed" as a method to thwart offenders and not punish parents. Currently there isn't any thwarting, just an adversarial system to play in.

      I think his work can and will stand up against peer-review because he has built his ideas on the foundations modern psychology.
      His primary message is to have MH recognize the pathology when present, and for the courts to use specially trained professionals to validate/invalidate the pathology. In my mind, one pathogenic parenting detector is accepted then the courts should automatically implement it upon EVERY high-conflict case with clearly defined consequences established/understood/implemented.

      But you are right. It needs to be vetted, and I hope he is successful.

    4. If he is starting the process, he must have done it pretty recently. Here is a CV I found for him: I don't know whether you are used to looking at these documents, but you will notice that there are no recent journal publications at all, and neither publications or presentations that seem related to either theory or practice about parent-child conflicts.

      Also, I note two gaps-- the CV does not say what he was doing between 1978 and 1985, or between 1985 and 1998. If I were hiring this man, I would want to explore carefully what happened during those periods-- probably nothing problematic, but it is customary to include that information even if it only involves a job at McDonald's.

      Incidentally, this CV was posted on his website last August, but was taken down shortly after I commented on it on this blog. It popped up when I Googled Craig Childress New York (long story as to why I did that).

      With respect to your comment on "pathogenic parent detectors", I have to repeat my comment that a focus on one parent gives an incomplete picture. Without blaming anyone, we can assume that characteristics of both parents and of child/children were factors in the development of a conflict. Just as attachment involves the nature of interactions between two people, rather than just the nature of one person, custody conflicts are not just about what one person does-- be he or she ever so "pathological".

      Thanks for engaging in a civil discussion here!

    5. With respect to men who beat their wives, a focus on one spouse gives an incomplete picture. Without blaming anyone, we can assume that characteristics of parties were factors in the development of a conflict. Just as attachment involves the nature of interactions between two people, rather than just the nature of one person, domestic violence is not just about what one person does-- be he or she ever so "pathological"

      Does the above sound absurd to you?

      Parental Alienation is a form of child abuse. The response of the mental health community has been pitiful. Perhaps this is why Dr. Childress has been making appeals directly to alienated parents. Perhaps this is why life coaches are trying to fill in where conventional therapists have failed so miserably.

      By the way, Dr. Childress has published a book. Rather than criticizing his blog, why don't you put on your bigboy pants, roll up your sleeves, READ HIS BOOK, and critique that?

    6. In the first part of your remarks, you make an important and relevant point-- just what I've been trying to say-- in situations where a child rejects a parent, it's important to look at all the characteristics of both parents and the child, rather than simply declaring one "pathogenic" on the basis of the child's behavior.

      Now, as to PA being child abuse: this is simply an assertion of yours and various others'. You need to describe in what ways this phenomenon resembles the usual list of forms of child abuse as used in NIS-4 and defined by Sedlak et al. Your failure to do this is one reason why the MH group has been most reluctant to take on the issue as you state it. Life coaches, of course, do not have the same professional concerns.

      As for the book, I don't usually critique self-published material except for research purposes. I note that the editor and Childress share a mailing address, and the editor is involved with a PA-related organization, so I think it's safe to say that this book did not receive independent review before publication. BTW-- has Oaksong Press ever published anything else?

    7. I agree the entire family must be evaluated, and the examiner must initially be open to all differential diagnostic possibilities, including and especially bona fide abuse.

      As far as the issue of calling it abuse, I would refer to the DSM V, child psychological abuse, confirmed. More importantly, I would appeal to common sense that manipulating a child to hate and reject a loving, emotionally available parent is harmful to the child, and cruel to the targeted parent.

      As far as your unwillingness to read his book because it is self-published, why did you critique his blog? Isn't that self-published?

      C'mon, what do you have to lose? You could knock out his book in one evening.

    8. You've made a claim, that alienation is abuse, and given it a ground, that there is such a diagnosis in DSM 5. Now we need to see the warrant or logical connection between those statements.

      As to reviewing the book, I'll make you a deal: If you can find out and tell me what events occurred during the gaps in Childress' CV that I've mentioned, I will BUY that book and review it here. How about it?

    9. Now you are being silly. I could not care less what Dr. Childress did during those gaps, and neither should you. If we only listened to perfect people, we'd never make any progress. Einstein had some serious character flaws, but his theories were pretty solid. Your ad hominem approach undermines your credibility. You are obviously a very smart person, and you are obviously interested in this topic. I don't think anyone has reviewed his book. You could be the first.

    10. It's not a matter of "perfect" people,but of the fact that some character flaws, as you put it, have a considerably greater relevance to practice as a clinical psychologist than they do to any aspect of physics. Just as criminal acts can keep a person from working a a lawyer, some "flawed" behavior can mean that a psychologist's license is revoked, suspended, or placed under supervision by a monitor.

      In the course of a long professional career, I have probably read a couple of thousand psychologists' CVs, usually for purposes of hiring or personnel decisions. I can tell you that it is not customary to leave unexplained gaps. When these appear on the CV of a job applicant, the CV is usually moved straight to the rejected stack. On the one or two occasions when I have seen a person with an incomplete CV invited for an interview, and the gaps have been explored, the reasons behind the gaps
      were such that the person was not hired.

      I have no way to know what is behind the gaps in Childress' CV. They may indicate nothing more than carelessness. But any experienced professional would question them as I am doing, whereas unfortunately most potential clients will not recognize the potential problems.

      As for reviewing the book, there is no benefit for me in being the first to do so. It doesn't seem to occur to you that my review could be quite negative-- but I expect you see benefit for Childress in any kind of free publicity, negative or positive.

    11. As an academic medical professional myself, I understand the issue of having gaps in one's CV, and if I were hiring Dr. Childress to work with me, or if I were hiring him as a counselor, I would want these gaps explained. However, we are talking about something entirely different. Dr. Childress has put forth a conceptualization of a family dynamic that is widely recognized as a major problem associated with high conflict divorces. His book draws upon well-established concepts from the DSM, and he includes myriad references to peer-reviewed literature. His argument stands on its own. Why not attack his reasoning, rather than fish around for skeletons in his closet? Ad hominem attacks are intellectually lazy.

    12. He has to show some evidence that his views are correct, and especially that the treatment he advocates is supported by empirical evidence. He hasn't done that. Poking around amongst the various concepts he's borrowed is just "pilpul". I've written about this already on this blog.

  10. Having read some of Dr. Childress Flying Monkeys newsletter, as well as some of his more scholarly work, I suggest that you are taking the moniker too personally. I don't see that he was referring to you at all. Rather, having dabbled a bit in some of the online groups that have coalesced around a few well-publicized divorce cases, I have observed what I believe he is referring to. I have seen cadres of folks I would refer to as being the walking wounded, or people with massive unresolved issues linking to a divorce--their own, their parents, or occasionally a sibling or spouse with children from a previous relationship. Dr. Childress--who did not invent the terminology defines these folks based on their relationship to a narcissist, whose cause they are willing to champion. These people not only attach themselves to a divorce case, posting endless comments to any news articles, but I have seen them manage to shut down other discussion forum should the forum allow honest discussion from mutiple points of view. Some have organized via social media and actually urge others through these networks to go post comments to various articles or commentaries. In short, they have become obsessed. I have seen Dr. Childress targeted in this way. And quite frankly, some of these networks have gone to the lengths of conducting quasi-background checks on posters who disagree with them, or who may be involved in the provision of education, legal support or therapy.

    Frankly, I don't know if there is any scientific research into such obsessions or internet campaigns. But that does not mean that they do not exist. Or that they are not harmful. Both Newsweek and ABC 20/20 have hinted at a resurgence of a group formerly known as Children of the Underground. This group was headed up by Faye Yager, who has since been convicted of aiding in child abduction. While Children of the Underground no longer seems to be in existence, there is evidence of an emergent movement of "protective parents." These folks absolutely love to see you attack Dr. Childress. Because it provides them with a rationale to claim that their cause--which is parental child abduction--is just.

    1. Of course I don't suppose he was calling me personally a Flying Monkey, and if he did I would be vastly entertained!

      As for the people you describe, of course you are right that they are out there and bring their own brand of trouble to any attempt at candid and balanced discussion (heck, I've been sued by some of them,myself). But you see, I can't decide not to state my own positions just because they will like it when I state them.

      There have been a lot of phenomena, like the Satanic abuse panic, claims of repressed memory recovery, and holding therapy, that made a good deal of headway with the public because no psychologist would state a concern in public. These things gained great advances without any empirical foundation because they were not resisted by professionals who did not want to soil their hands with those sorts of practices. APA clearly does not want to get into the PA mess (having plenty on their hands with the torture advice). So, I am speaking up.

      If the abducters offer some persuasive attempts like those of Childress, I will reject what they have to say too. To say that Childress is wrong is not to say that they are right, there being more than enough ways of being wrong for all of us to share.

  11. Dr. Mercer--I was just thinking about holding therapy as an analogy. But, I would point out that in the case of holding therapy I don't believe it was the diagnosis (RAD) that was in question, but rather the treatment. And while it may be nicely scientific to believe that only empirically verified solutions ought ever be applied, the reality of a parent raising a child whose attachment impulses have been dramatically altered (as in RAD) is rather more immediate. Not only was there a lack of professional outcry in opposition to holding therapy, there was frankly very little being offered in the way of successful alternatives.

    I am reminded also of Sister Kenny--who fought the (male) medical establishment for years, responding to polio in the wrong way. It just happened that she had stumbled onto an opposite theory to the one in vogue--and it happens that hers was correct. Empirical evidence can show us that now. But not at the time. But again--it was the treatment, not the diagnosis that was in question.

    I raise this distinction because I am not entirely certain which (diagnosis or treatment) you are raising in Dr. Childress' case.

  12. Yes, everybody who wants to press an "alternative" treatment speaks of Sister Kenny-- but keep in mind all the other suggestions, like laetrile and "patterning",that have not worked (but they are still being sold to the credulous).

    As for holding therapy, the diagnosis as well as the treatment was in question. Proponents of holding therapy used their own definition of RAD rather than the one shared by professional psychologists and psychiatrists. Theirs was especially exciting because it involved the prediction that if not given their treatment, even a currently symptom-free child would grow up to be a serial killer, if male, or a prostitute, if female (you say these aren't equivalent? Well, the people in question thought they were.) Have a look at for a further explanation.

    You see why I'm concerned about both diagnoses and treatments that get popular followings without ever being thoroughly investigated.

  13. Childress claims his diagnosis is 100% accurate. That High Roads is 100% successful. ..smacks of a snake oil salesman.

    1. Well-- I guess if you validate your diagnosis against your own opinion, you will be in agreement with yourself a good deal of the time-- as for the treatment, an independent replication of a RCT is what's required.

    2. Hopefully, I am being accurate with my following statements: Please remember that Dr. Childress is claiming the diagnosis for a very specific situation of pathogenic parenting resulting from trauma re-enactment with a borderline/narcissistic parent. It's not an answer to all forms of parental alienation. If the three diagnostic indicators are not present in the child, then something else is happening--but it is not pathogenic parenting resulting from trauma re-enactment by a borderline/narcissistic parent and resulting in attachment system disorder. Dr. Childress has focused on this because of the extreme nastiness and the complex / counter-intuitive behavior displays that manifest as a result of the personality disorders and their effects on the children and the targeted parent AND the fact that there wasn't any definition with known standard psychological constructs, thus resulting in something new and unknown. He has basically worked to show that it is known and and nothing new. It's really not "snake oil" that "cures what ails ya." The situation has to be this specific issue, otherwise you must look elsewhere.

    3. I understand that you are talking about a limited number of situations. But here are the problems:

      1. There is no contact with the preferred parent and therefore no legitimate diagnosis. The diagnosis being ascribed to the preferred parent is based entirely on the child's behavior, without any systematic evidence ever having been put forward that the child's behavior is a proxy measure for the parent's condition.

      2. Psychologists' ethical guidelines forbid stating a diagnosis without having had direct contact with the person being diagnosed.

      3. I realize the practical and legal difficulties of ever resolving this situation, but those difficulties do not mean that anyone can just skip those issues and go on to make strong claims.

    4. My previous comments were intended for that last "anonymous" posting. To build on your last post, Dr. Mercer.

      Isn't the fact that there isn't contact with is an affectionately-available parent the problem in the first place -- something that warrants the legal action to get the diagnosis of the family dynamics and the individuals involved? Isn't that strange enough to warrant some legal action that should prompt some medical diagnosis? If the other parent doesn't get involved to assist in the diagnosis of everyone...isn't that potentially the exact problem we are discussing? Again, I would expect any parent EXCEPT these types of pathogenic parents to want their children to bond with the other parent (I know that is a really broad statement). If that targeted parent has issues that support rejection...well then the diagnosis should root that out too, shouldn't? And, if that is the case, then the medical and legal establishments should be able to show that something is there and the lack of contact is warranted. If the other parent flat out refuses any efforts to make the family right, isn't that a glaring issue that begins to point to the potential for pathogenic parenting?

      Also, are you saying that there is NO CORRELATION or CAUSATION at all between parent and a child? Because Dr. Childress has potentially worked out the root cause for this specific situation, diagnosis or not, doesn't mean it is not spot on. That said, as experts in the profession, if it makes sense--why wouldn't you work to test the hypothesis. Again, my evidence is in the forms of emails, phone calls that others have heard (because of the bombast), text messages, and even a voice message or two. This is objective evidence that can be observed by a professional like yourself. I would think that information like this is viable to start exploring a part of the appropriate legal action.

      I understand all three of your points, but the diagnosis is not based on nothing...there has to be something there that would show cause for a court to compel diagnosis. We take what little we know to see if the impact is significant enough to warrant further get evidence. That evidence is what you are looking for, right? In this case, I think the idea is that it is a legitimate approach, one that is sound enough to test against...if the parents are truly vested in their child's well-being with 2 parents, then you would think they would take reasonable steps to get diagnosed as individuals as well as a family and put this right, one way or another.

      I had to rush away from this posting, so I didn't get to polish it like I normally try to do. I look forward to your reply.

    5. Nobody wants to "get diagnosed" unless they have to in order to receive treatment they want, because all diagnoses feel humiliating to the diagnosee. Also, if someone feels that they are being drawn into an enmeshed situation that they don't like, it's only sensible to decline to cooperate.

      No doubt there is enough evidence of various kinds to allow a preliminary test of the hypothesis you state, but there is not enough to attract researchers who are deeply engaged with other topics. So, why doesn't your man Childress do this work? The main thing he needs to do is to compare information about "PA" families with that about matched non-PA divorced families.

      As for the legal system's attitude, courts have historically had a very hard time identifying expert witnesses and deciding whether their testimony is well-supported. A judge once said to me that he was a liberal arts major and didn't understand what I was saying about research evidence. Attorneys naturally choose whatever background material best supports their client's case (this is their job). For these reasons, we have attempts to define scientific support through the Frye and the Daubert standards-- but so far, PA meets neither Frye nor Daubert levels.

    6. Your comment -- "all diagnoses feel humiliating" -- is there scientific evidence of that??? Have you ever received therapy or counseling? Some people really want to figure things out. That is what this is or what it should be. "Getting diagnosed" as you put it, isn't the approach. The call is for the family to recognize a problem exists or is experiencing something abnormal. If everyone cares about each other in the family, then it should be nothing to come together for therapy or counseling to deal with whatever is going on. In this case, I would offer that one parent will want to go, and the other parent will not. Why would the other parent not want to go...if it is in the best interest of the kids or the family on the whole? That should be tip off that something is amiss. If the targeted parent wants to go, and the aligned parent does not want to go, isn't that a potential clue or insight to the possibility that the one parent does not have the family's or child(ren)'s best interest at heart? Start coupling that with the other observable behaviors of the aligned parent. We have to mediate over money and custody; I would think that family therapy is somehow a possibility if there are family problems or family distress.

      As far as the comparison you are suggesting Childress do, that makes sense. Is there any other statistics or data out there that have said otherwise?

  14. Dr. Mercer, No need to post this as it is just a quick check to see if I had sent you a response on this thread. I definitely prepared something about a week or two ago, but computers/internet being what they are, something technical may have prevented my submission from fully executing . Because I haven't seen it posted yet, I am just not sure. Please let me know via this thread if I need to resubmit.


    1. Sorry , I went to a conference and came home with a bad cold-- will work on this today.