Working with Alienated Children & Their Targeted Parents: Suggestions for Sound Practices for Mental Health Professionals « Parental Alienation Support

In Alienation of Affection, Best Interest of the Child, Child Custody, Child Custody for fathers, Child Custody for Mothers, Non-custodial fathers, Non-custodial mothers, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Disorders, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Parental Kidnapping, Parental Relocation, Parentectomy, Parents rights, Restraining Orders on December 29, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Working with Alienated Children & Their Targeted Parents: Suggestions for Sound Practices for Mental Health Professionals

By Amy J.L. Baker, PhD, and Katherine Andre, PhD

Robert O’Block, Publisher, Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association

Divorce affects one million new children every year. Of these children, approximately 20% of their parents remain in conflict, with little, if any, cooperation (Garrity & Baris, 1994; Kelly, 2005). When children get caught in the middle of parental conflict, they are at risk for many psychosocial problems, including alignment with one parent against the other (e.g., Amato, 1994; Johnston, 1994; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee, 2001; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996). Especially problematic is when the alignment becomes so entrenched that children join forces with one parent to completely reject and denigrate the other, once-loved parent (Darnall, 1998; Wallerstein & Kelly 1980; Warshak, 2001).

Parents who encourage such alignments employ parental alienation (PA) strategies designed to turn a child against the other, targeted parent. The alienating parent is often filled with hatred, blame, anger, and shame and lacks awareness of the separate and independent needs of the children to have a relationship with the other parent (Ellis, 2005; Gardner, 1998; Rand, 1997). Through various strategies such as bad-mouthing, limiting contact, belittling, and withdrawing love, the alienating parent creates the impression that the targeted parent is dangerous, unloving, or unworthy, thus compelling the child to reject that parent (Baker, 2007a; Baker & Darnall, 2006). At its most extreme, when a child completely rejects the targeted parent, the result is referred to as severe alienation or parental alienation syndrome (PAS) (Gardner, 1998).

Mental health providers are among the first professionals to whom the targeted parents of alienated children turn to for help for their children or to whom courts refer for answers to accusations of brainwashing (Ellis, 2000). These parents and courts count on therapists to help whether it is to prevent continuing litigation in clogged courtrooms, or to intervene with counseling, as well as to give the parents supportive tools to repair and sustain the parent-child relationship. Because therapists are one of the first resources courts and parents use, they must be knowledgeable in the field of parental alienation and high-conflict divorce. They must be able to tolerate conflicting data from parents and children while searching for emotional truth within the children being counseled (Vestal, 1999). Along the same lines, Wallerstein insightfully comments in her forward to Marquardt’s (2005) book Between Two Worlds that what is needed is “an honest recognition of the experience of children” (p. xvii). In order to more honestly recognize and understand the experience of these children, mental health professionals must begin with the available knowledge that they currently have, incomplete as it is. To delay treatment due to incomplete information would be akin to a medical doctor refusing to treat a bleeding patient because he or she did not know what had caused the wound, and thus, by his or her refusal to treat the wound, the patient bleeds to death.

Working with Alienated Children & Their Targeted Parents: Suggestions for Sound Practices for Mental Health Professionals « Parental Alienation Support.

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