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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Parental Alienation Advocate Invites Fox to Watch Henhouse

Well, I really thought I had made a couple of things plain on this blog: 1) that although I am sure that intentional “parental alienation” and manipulation of a child’s emotions toward a parent’s former partner could be the cause of a child’s avoidance of contact with one parent, this is far from the only explanation of the child’s attitude (even when the child gives no “rational” explanation for avoidance) and without a clear evidence basis no one has any business attributing the child’s feelings and behavior to a parent’s influence; and 2) that persons who attribute the child’s reluctance to problems of attachment, and who purport to treat attachment difficulties when they propose removing a child from contact with the preferred parent, do not understand the last 50 years of attachment theory and research, but instead want to hitch a ride on the attachment-fad bandwagon. (I have named Craig Childress specifically as making this latter mistake, though there are quite a few others.)

But perhaps I was not as clear as I thought… or perhaps PA advocates do not read as closely as they think they do. Some days ago I received an email from one Sarah Beeler, who said the following:

Dear Mrs. Mercer

I have read this discussion online between you and Dr. William Bernet:
So I wanted to reach out to you to ask for your support. We have a new model to solve PA, a model that wil help millions of children and families around the world, it's called the attachment based model of "parental alienation". This model is only using established constructs and principles of professional psychology (no new syndrome).

The APA unfortunately does not realise that this is nothing new, they want to form a working group to research what is already established psychology (see email below).

Ms. Beeler then continues with many references to Craig Childress and his various claims to have shown that “parental alienation” is associated with a blocking of the attachment system [pretty much sic ] which is to be corrected by forbidding the child to have contact with the preferred parent (and thus his or her home and the rest of the family) and by psychoeducation in the form of videos, etc. It appears that although she read the discussion I had with William Bernet, but not everything else I said, nor the lengthy comments from Childress fans that I posted, nor my responses to those lengthy comments.

Ms. Beeler’s assumption about my position seems to have been based on the highly polarized views of Childress—that he has the right answer to the postulated problem, and that anyone who disagrees is against him—even those who also postulate PA and have their own proposed treatments. In line with the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, she figures that if I disagreed with William Bernet (which I did), I must therefore be willing to agree with Childress! I am sure Childress and his various minions will be cross with Ms. Beeler, even though the sort of  careless or intentional cherry-picking of information she did is exactly like their own habit of making claims without evidence.

Childress’ blog post, quoted and linked by Ms. Beeler, states that APA should not appoint a task force to consider evidence about PA and treatments, on the grounds that the matter is urgent and that his methods and beliefs are “established psychology”. Personally, I would suggest that the task force is not really necessary (although it should be interesting), because the lack of evidence (i.e., “established psychology”) on the topic is so striking.  On the other hand, perhaps this is the time for a task force of the type APSAC and APA Division 37 appointed some years ago to look into the harm done by unconventional beliefs about and potentially harmful treatments for attachment disorders (Chaffin et al, 2006). Those beliefs and treatments were also without an adequate evidence basis, but they were being used freely by various mental health practitioners, just as various PA ideas are being put to work freely by a few practitioners and apparently quite a few lawyers.

Urgent needs, even if they exist, do not justify jumping to conclusions. Conclusions drawn on inadequate grounds have every bit as much chance of exacerbating a problem and harming families as they have of helping anyone. If Childress wants to influence APA or most other psychologists, his job should be to stop the theatricals and start doing the kind of serious research that could convince others of his position if the results were what he predicts.


  1. So many people over-rate their close reading abilities. When I am answering a quiz I seldom get more than 50%. Close reading and deep reading are two different things.

    And when you urgently need to go to the toilet...

  2. If he stopped the theatrics he would not have such an influential position and it is the theatrics that captures the audience that he is intending to capture. (desperate parents who are victims of DV by proxy and abusers looking to discredit child abuse allegations) Childress would rather spew hateful words to anyone who questions him and his theories rather than put in the actual credible research. But you already know this, sadly his followers simply do not care. It's very familiar to me, similar to Trumps supporters|voters. They simply do not care about facts and will claim anything that is a fact is "fake news". The times we are living in are quite frightening if you ask me.

    1. I'm not sure the concept of "domestic violence by proxy" is really that different from "parental alienation" other than the supposed motive.

    2. Both involve a parent trying to make a child turn against another parent; one alleges the motive is hatred of the parent (alienation) and one involves a desire to control an ex-partner after a relationship ends (domestic violence by proxy).

      I will agree that Childress seems to have a concerning, one size fits all, framework.

  3. Once again Lewis Caroll said it: "What I tell you three times is true!" And this rationale seems to work with those who want to believe.