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  • Writer's picturePAPA

Preventing and treating parental alienation.

It's one of the worst forms of emotional abuse so it's important to stop it from happening or at least minimise the impact on the parents and children affected by it.

Anyone that has experienced parental alienation will tell you that is emotional torture but despite this and the fact that millions of parents are affected worldwide; it's not treated as a priority by anyone other than those suffering from it.

Whether you have experienced it or not, it's very likely you know someone who has. Sadly, PA has been normalised to a degree that has taken decades to reverse. Parental Alienation is an incredibly severe emotional abuse tactic that can be comparable to other severe forms of abuse such as physical and sexual abuse.

The disastrous impact of PA has claimed the lives of millions of parents worldwide and so it's incredibly important that as a society we are able to recognise when it is occurring and to prevent it from happening.

If a child is being psychologically abused then that child deserves to be saved.

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when a child refuses to have a relationship with a parent due to manipulation, such as the conveying of exaggerated or false information by the other parent. The situation most often arises in cases of divorce and/or separation and the resulting child custody cases. It can also happen in intact families as well.

Alienation an also occur when a child is very young by a parent who purposely withholds contact by refusing the other parent an opportunity to see the child altogether or by making it extremely difficult as a tactic to frustrate the other parent so much that they are forced to give up or go through the family court.

The perpetrator may leverage a variety of tactics: A father could tell a child that the child's mother hates them and never wants to speak to them, when in reality the mother calls to speak to the child every day. A mother could convince her daughter to report, or even believe that her father physically abused her.

Offenders may blame the other parent for the collapse of the relationship, punish the child for wanting to pursue a relationship with the other parent, or try move away so that maintaining a relationship is extremely difficult. Tactics can be very subtle and hard to spot at first.

Prevention and treatment.

The tragedy is that PA occurs at all. Parental Alienation is often compared to an unexpected, premature death. For the rejected/target parent, it is like the death of their child. For the child, it is comparable to the early death of their parent, except it is complicated by the child’s painful, guilty knowledge that they contributed to the loss of their parent.

Prevention and treatment is not always simple and is often very difficult and nuanced however we can begin by ensuring parents, children and professionals are "clued up" and understand how to identify parental alienation and the complexities that occur.

Parental Alienation is considered a mental condition in which a child (typically one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation) allies strongly with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without legitimate justification.

In cases of parental alienation, the child’s rejection of the alienated parent is without a good reason so typically the identification or diagnosis of PA is based on the Five-Factor Model.

If the following factors are present, it is highly likely that the family is experiencing Parental Alienation:

Factor One: the child actively avoids, resists, or refuses a relationship with a parent.

Factor Two: presence of a prior positive relationship between the child and the now rejected parent.

Factor Three: absence of abuse or neglect or seriously deficient parenting on the part of the now rejected parent.

Factor Four: use of multiple alienating behaviours by the favoured parent.

Factor Five: exhibition of many or all of the behavioural manifestations of alienation by the child. (See here).

Like many psychiatric disorders, the severity of parental alienation may be classified as mild, moderate, and severe.

This is an important feature because the appropriate intervention for this mental condition depends on the severity of a particular case.

While the choice of treatment depends primarily on the symptoms in the child, it may also depend on the intensity of the indoctrination and the attitude of the alienating parent.

Mild PA means that the child resists contact with the alienated parent but enjoys a relationship with that parent once parenting time is underway. A typical intervention for mild PA is strongly worded instruction or psychoeducation. For example, a judge might clearly order the parents to stop exposing their child to conflict and stop undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent. Or, a parenting coordinator might meet with the parents to help them communicate in a constructive manner and support each other’s relationship with the child.

Moderate PA means that the child strongly resists contact and is persistently oppositional during parenting time with the alienated parent. The treatment for moderate PA-assuming both parents are committed and cooperative with the intervention, usually focuses on changing the behaviour of the parents (i.e. reducing the amount of conflict, improving communication). A parenting coordinator works with the parents together and individual counselling or coaching is usually arranged for the alienating parent, the alienated parent, and the child. However, this approach will not work if the alienating parent does not endorse and support the treatment program and continues to engage in alienating behaviours.

Severe PA means that the child persistently and adamantly refuses contact and may hide or run away to avoid being with the alienated parent. When the child manifests a severe level of PA, the alienating parent is usually obsessed with the goal of destroying the child’s relationship with the targeted parent. The alienating parent has little or no insight and is convinced of the righteousness of their behaviour.

In cases of severe PA (and sometimes even moderate PA) it is usually necessary to protect the child from the influence of the alienating parent by removing the child from their custody, greatly reducing the parenting time with that parent, and requiring the parenting time to be supervised. That is, when a parent purposefully causes a child to reject their relationship with the other parent because this constitutes child psychological abuse.

The intervention is similar to what happens in cases of physical or sexual abuse, i.e., removal of the child from the care of that parent, at least temporarily.

It is important to identify PA in its early stages when the condition is mild and relatively treatable; severe cases of PA are much more difficult to address and reverse. For example, it is likely that very early cases of PA come to the attention of therapists in private practice and at mental health centres, who work with children of parents who are headed toward divorce or separation.

Of course, prevention is even more important than early intervention. This is of course easier said than done however there are ways to spot alienating behaviours early on in order to protect yourself and your child from PA.

It's often considered that the best way to prevent parental alienation is for the whole family court system to be completely revamped. It's clear that more can be done to deter and punish alienators. There are urgent changes needed in certain legislations that are severely outdated and actually serve to facilitate alienation by making it the more "attractive" option, particularly financially.

It is extremely important to educate psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, solicitors and judges regarding PA, so they can help parents avoid this catastrophe when parents take steps to end their relationships.

As illustrated by our long-running 'Equal Parenting Campaign', the default arrangement for children after parental separation should be equal, or shared parenting. Typically, shared parenting means that the child lives with both parents at least 40% of the time and ideally around 50% of the time at each household. In a lot of cases this will negate the need for child support payments as both parents will be supporting their children whilst in their care so this immediately would remove the financial incentive to alienate the other parent, which is one of the main incentives and reasons for parental alienation. Most importantly; it allows the child the opportunity to form a strong relationship with both parents.

It is clear that prevention and treatment begins with the understanding of the tactics alienators use along with the psychological symptoms that manifest in the alienated child, as well as the target parent.

We can begin to improve outcomes in cases of alienation by ensuring all professionals are educated on PA and the devastation it creates. As a society it's important that we continue to put pressure on our policymakers in order to force the change that is required to protect our children and their parents.

In need of support?

If you are currently experiencing what is described above and you feel you are in need of support then it is recommended that you become a member of PAPA by signing up here, on our website.

It is completely free and members will have exclusive access to our free resource centre. Our online forum is slowly growing in to a great place to give and receive free support and advice. Our website is open to members worldwide.

We also have a free to join Facebook support group with dedicated chat rooms for fathers, mothers, as well as chat rooms for different countries so that you are able to receive the right support as efficiently as possible. Join here.

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2 comentários

My heart goes out to all of you. At least this type of Abuse is getting the attn: that it deserves & is recognized for what it is: Severe Child Abuse. It's way too late for me. No such thing back in the 80's. I have been estranged from my son for 27 yrs. Good luck to all of you. Never stop fighting.


Mark Duggan
Mark Duggan
23 de jan.

totally agree with this, i am going through this right now. after 3 years of the court process, I have a final hearing in march, where can i find out more about the equal parenting? as i am looking for shared care through court.....

many thanks


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