by Despina Vassiliou
Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling, McGill University
3700 McTavish, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1Y2
METHOD AND PROCEDURES OF THE STUDY
This chapter describes the objectives, the sampling technique, the instrumentation for the data collection, as well as the interview protocols. It concludes with a description of the data analyses.
The findings discussed in the literature review pertain mainly to studies on divorce rather than on Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). The purpose of the present study is to examine qualitatively six cases of parental alienation in order to gain a better understanding of its development. Specifically, the focus of the present study is to gain an understanding of factors that result in an intact family becoming an alienated one. With such information it is believed that possible indicators of PAS development can be determined. The following questions are posed:
1. Are there characteristics (e.g., number of children, number of marriages, etc.) common to alienated families?
2. Are there common themes or issues among the conflicts within couples that contribute to marriage dissolution?
3. Are there common themes in the participants’ experience of the alienation process?
4. Given the opportunity, what are some things that the lost parents perceive they might do differently?
As this is a qualitative study of cases, the sampling procedure was criterion-based. To be included in the sample, the families had to meet a number of criteria, bases, or standards constituting a criterion-based sample (Yin, 1984). All of the participants included in the study met the following criteria:
* they were formerly part of a family unit which included at least one child;
* they had divorced or were in the process of divorcing;
* they identified themselves as having experienced or were experiencing alienation from their ex-spouse.
The participants studied were five fathers and one mother. The fact that the majority of the participants were male is consistent with Gardner’s (1992) findings suggesting that the alienators are more frequently mothers. Two of the participants resided in different areas in the province of Quebec. The remaining participants were residents of various states in the United States. These participants were recruited with flyers, e-mails and letters sent by the investigator (See Appendix A). Letters of consent and self-addressed envelopes were sent to those participants who responded via telephone or e-mail indicating that they were willing to participate in the research (See Appendix B). Finally, all of the participants were telephoned by the investigator once consent was received and appointments were made with the participants to be interviewed.
TOOLS OF INQUIRY
The data were collected through a semi-structured, open-ended, tape-recorded telephone interview questionnaires. The interview method was chosen as a means of achieving a more holistic understanding of the alienating situation.
The interview questionnaire was divided into four parts. The first consisted of ascertaining the current status and characteristics of the family, and establishing rapport to enable the participants to feel comfortable discussing the situation with the researcher. The remaining sections related to the dissolution of the marriage, factors related to the alienation, and a retrospective reflection on the alienation. The content of the interview items were based on previous studies and current theories related to the development of PAS. Questions were designed to determine whether there were any common themes that occurred throughout different individuals’ experiences of alienation. It was hoped that answers to such questions might shed light on possible indicators of the instigation, continuance, and termination of PAS. The actual interview questions are presented in Appendix C.
Context of Interviews:
Each participant was interviewed separately by the researcher. Because of the different locations of the participants across the continent the interviews were conducted over the telephone and tape-recorded. Before each interview, the researcher reminded each participant that they would be tape recorded and that they were free to decline to answer any question or discontinue the interview at any time. Field notes were taken during the course of the interview to record emerging and unexpected dimensions. Each interview lasted a maximum of one-and-one-half hours. All the interviews were conducted in the months of June and July 1997 in one block of time, except one which was continued the following day. Rapport was established with each participant with the initial telephone call when appointments were made and again prior to the beginning of the interview session.
ANALYSIS OF THE DATA
The tape recorded data were transcribed. Within the transcriptions all “…” represented pauses in the conversations, “uhms” and “uhs” were also included in the transcriptions. See Appendix B for a sample page of the transcribed data. The data were then reviewed to determine possible commonalities among the cases. Seven general commonalities emerged that formed classifications of information which were then labelled to reflect the issues identified.
These classifications and their related issues were labelled as follows:
(1) Family Data including family constellation and relocation
(2) Dissolution of the Marriage including cause of marital dissolution and current relationship with ex-spouse
(3) Relationship with the PAS children including: frequency of visitation/contact, and current relationship with PAS children
(4) Alienation and Alienating Techniques including: alienators’ attitudes and behaviours, other’s contributions, causes of PAS, and control/power issues
(5) Issues related to the classification of experiences with professionals including legal and psychological services
(6) Current perceptions including: looking back, the impact of PAS, causes of PAS, and Termination/Looking to the future and
(7) Miscellaneous. Following the formation of these classifications, the data were reinspected to determine whether they related to these classifications. A third reading of the data was performed to ensure that the data were classified appropriately.
Once the data were categorized, the contents of each classification were summarized with the inclusion of relevant quotes that reflected participants’ responses. For instance, a quote pertaining to the issue of the participant’s frequency of visitation with his child would be as follows: “So right now, it’s about once a month. Uhmm, about three years ago…it was once or twice a week, and since then…so I can see him [his son] about once a month.”
The results of the analysis are presented in the next chapter.