Parental Alienation: Assessment, Intervention and International Standards of Practice

Parental alienation is a complex problem that may be seen in children, usually after divorce or separation. Dealing with it requires the highest levels of skill and practice which conforms to international standards. The following standards are used by the Clinic which is a contributing member to the Parental Alienation Studies Group, an international body of experts in the field. The Clinic also manages the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners which is recognised by the Parental Alienation Studies Group as working to international standards in the field.

 

Any practitioner who is working with a child who is resisting or refusing contact with a parent should be able to demonstrate their compliance with these standards. All of the practitioners working at the Family Separation Clinic are trained, supported and supervised to achieve compliance with these standards in their practice.

 

Assessment
Assessment of parental alienation is comprised of the following elements:

  • Meeting with parents individually
  • Meeting with the child(ren)
  • Observation of the parent/child relationship – aligned parent
  • Observation of the parent/child relationship – rejected parent
  • Assessment of parenting capacity in each parent
  • Assessment of individual parental capacity for behavioural change

Formulation
A formulation should be given in which the background dynamics that led to the child becoming resistant or alienated should be provided. This must include:

  • A differentiation of the alienation as it presents itself in the child.
  • A categorisation of the alienation as it presents itself in the child.
  • A differentiation of the type of alienation along with the reasoning for the intervention recommended.

All elements must based on the international research and fully referenced.

 

Interventions: severe or pure cases
Severe or pure alienation is indicated by the child's phobic and fearful response and refusal to countenance any contact, coupled with the aligned parent's lack of insight and a 'good enough' parenting style in the rejecting parent.

It is also indicated by the child's inability to emerge fully from the alienated state due to the continued influence of the aligned parent and the child being stuck in the double bind or encapsulated delusion that the rejected parent is dangerous.

Further indicated by the aligned parent showing lack of insight and continued interference in arrangements. Additionally indicated where personality disorders are present and there is no opportunity to ameliorate the impact of parental behaviours upon the child.

The international research indicates that the most suitable intervention is likely to be a transfer of residence with a 90 day cessation of contact with the alienating parent, leading into a structured testing of the capacity of the aligned or alienating parent to show insight and behavioural change, and the capacity of child to withstand contact.

 

Note: Desensitisation approaches do not work (forced contact) and can increase the risk of harm to the child as they fail to address the underlying dynamic. There is no research globally which shows that desensitisation works in cases of severe or pure alienation. There is additionally no research evidence globally, which shows that transfer of residence harms the child (Warshak, 2015).

 

Interventions: severe to moderate or hybrid cases
Severe to moderate or hybrid cases are indicated where assessment demonstrates that the problem of alienation arose in the transitional relationship of the child between both parents and where the aligned parent may show insight.

Also indicated where the rejected parent has a 'good enough' parent style and shows flexible responses to psycho-educational input.

Additionally indicated where the child is not showing strongly phobic responses but is varying in responses to contact.

The international research indicates that the most suitable intervention is likely to be multi-modal, including a combination of behavioural agreements, parenting co-ordination, monitoring of contact, psychotherapeutic support, psycho-educational input, support to the rejected parent for managing children's behaviours, and court controlled contact which is increased in length when contact restarts. The power to bring about change can be strengthened, where necessary, by a suspended transfer of residence.

 

Note: A hybrid case is not a case where both parents are to blame and it is not a case where high conflict has caused the withdrawal. A hybrid case is one in which the child's changing needs have caused an inability to transition between parents and one parent has exploited and upheld this as an opportunity to gain control over the contact routine, or, where one parent has undermined the other in a coercive controlling pattern of behaviour, or where there is a fixed pattern of thought and behaviour in one parent and a flexible pattern in the other, or where one parent is controlling and the other parent is more passive. Hybrid cases MUST be managed via the court and must involve contact being lengthened significantly as soon as the child is a contact relationship.

 


Sample supporting evidence: severe or pure cases

 

Baker, A. J. L. and Ben-Ami, N. (2011) To turn a child against a parent is to turn a child against himself: the direct and indirect effects of exposure to parental alienation strategies on self-esteem and wellbeing. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52: 472489.doi:10.1080/10502556.2011.609424.

Baker, A. J. L. & Verrocchio, M. C. (2014). Parental bonding and parental alienation as correlates of psychological maltreatment in adults in intact and non-intact families. Journal of Child and Family Studies,

Baker, A. J. L. (2006). The power of stories/stories about power: Why therapists and clients should read stories about the parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 34(3), 191-203.

Friedlander, S., & Walters, M. G. (2010). When a child rejects a parent: Tailoring the intervention to fit the problem. Family Court Review, 48(1), 98-111.

Saini, M., Johnston, J. R., Fidler, B. J., & Bala, N. (2012). Empirical studies of alienation. In K. Kuehnle, & L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 399-441). New York: Oxford University Press. -

Warshak, R.A. (2015, June 22). Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and Therapy/ Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Advance Online Publication.

 

 

Sample supporting evidence: severe or pure cases


Johnston, J. R., & Goldman, J. R. (2010). Outcomes of family counseling interventions with children who resist visitation: An addendum to Friedlander and Walters (2010). Family Court Review, 48(1), 112-115.

 

Kuehnle, K. F., & Drozd, L. M. (2012). Evidence-based practice. Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 577-582). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press, New York, NY.


Toren, P., Bregman, B. L., Zohar-Reich, E., Ben-Amitay, G., Wolmer, L., & Laor, N. (2013). Sixteen-session group treatment for children and adolescents with parental alienation and their parents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 41(3), 187-197.

 

Walters, M. G., & Friedlander, S. (2016) When a Child Rejects a Parent: Working With the Intractable Resist/Refuse Dynamic. Family Court Review Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 424–445, July 2016


Walters, M. G., & Friedlander, S. (2010). Finding a tenable middle space: Understanding the role of clinical interventions when a child refuses contact with a parent. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices, 7(4), 287-328.