We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell
Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.
The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate.
Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.
It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.
If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?
Of course they can.
“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii
Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own. The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?”
When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions. We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship. They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship.
For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction.
In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship. When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love.
The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents
and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them.
The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.
If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day.
Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/
In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.
What is missing for these patients? Medication management.
Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece.
When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit. Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case.
During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence.
Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management.
Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/
According to the 2007 UNICEF report on the well-being of children in economically advanced nations, children in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. rank extremely low in regard to social and emotional well-being in particular. Many theories have been advanced to explain the poor state of our nations’ children: child poverty, race and social class. A factor that has been largely ignored, however, particularly among child and family policymakers, is the prevalence and devastating effects of father absence in children’s lives.
First, a caveat: I do not wish to either disparage single mothers or blame non-residential fathers for this state of affairs. The sad fact is that parents in our society are not supported in the fulfillment of their parental responsibilities, and divorced parents in particular are often undermined as parents, as reflected in the large number of “non-custodial” or “non-residential” parents forcefully removed from their children’s lives, as daily caregivers, by misguided family court judgments. My target of concern is those responsible for laws and policies that devalue the importance or, to use an old-fashioned word, the sanctity of parents in children’s lives, and parental involvement as critical to children’s well-being. Children need both parents, and parents need the support of social institutions in regard to being there for their kids.
Despite President Obama’s 2011 Father’s Day lament on the irresponsibility of “deadbeat fathers” footloose and fancy free from taking responsibility for their children, in fact the two major structural threats to fathers’ presence in children’s lives are divorce and non-marital childbearing. More often than not, fathers are involuntarily relegated by family courts to the role of “accessory parents,” valued for their role as financial providers rather than as active caregivers. This view persists despite the fact that fathers in two-parent families, before divorce, typically share, with mothers, responsibility for the care of their children. This is both because fathers have taken up the slack while mothers work longer hours outside the home, and because fathers are no longer content to play a secondary role as parents. Most fathers today are keen to experience both the joys and challenges of parenthood, derive satisfaction from their parental role, and consider active and involved fatherhood to be the core component of their self-identity.
Whereas parents in general are not supported as parents by our social institutions, divorced fathers in particular are devalued, disparaged, and forcefully disengaged from their children’s lives. Researchers have found that for children, the results are nothing short of disastrous, along a number of dimensions:
-children’s diminished self-concept, and compromised physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing)
-behavioral problems (fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems; many develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness)
-truancy and poor academic performance (71 per cent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills; children from father absent homes are more likely to play truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood)
-delinquency and youth crime, including violent crime (85 per cent of youth in prison have an absent father; fatherless children are more likely to offend and go to jail as adults)
-promiscuity and teen pregnancy (fatherless children are more likely to experience problems with sexual health, including a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16, foregoing contraception during first intercourse, becoming teenage parents, and contracting sexually transmitted infection; girls manifest an object hunger for males, and in experiencing the emotional loss of their fathers egocentrically as a rejection of them, become susceptible to exploitation by adult men)
-drug and alcohol abuse (fatherless children are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs in childhood and adulthood)
-homelessness (90 per cent of runaway children have an absent father)
-exploitation and abuse (fatherless children are at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, being five times more likely to have experienced physical abuse and emotional maltreatment, with a one hundred times higher risk of fatal abuse; a recent study reported that preschoolers not living with both of their biological parents are 40 times more likely to be sexually abused)
-physical health problems (fatherless children report significantly more psychosomatic health symptoms and illness such as acute and chronic pain, asthma, headaches, and stomach aches)
-mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide)
-life chances (as adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
-future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)
-mortality (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)
Given the fact that these and other social problems correlate more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other factor, surpassing race, social class and poverty, father absence may well be the most critical social issue of our time. In Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn calls the crisis of fatherless children “the most destructive trend of our generation.” A recent British report from the University of Birmingham, Dad and Me, confirms Blankenhorn’s claims, concluding that the need for a father is on an epidemic scale, and “father deficit” should be treated as a public health issue.
We ignore the problem of father absence to our peril. Of perhaps greatest concern is the lack of response from our lawmakers and policymakers, who pay lip service to the paramount importance of the “best interests of the child,” yet turn a blind eye to father absence, ignoring the vast body of research on the dire consequences to children’s well-being.
What is the solution to father absence? Many fathers’ advocates have stressed the need for fast, low-cost, effective ways for non-residential parents to have their court-ordered parenting time enforced. While access enforcement is important, legislating for shared parenting would be a more effective measure to ensure the ongoing active involvement of both parents in children’s lives. A legal presumption of shared parenting would affirm the primary role of both parents, and make clear that even in the absence of a spousal relationship, both mothers’ and fathers’ parental responsibilities to their children’s needs are “sacred,” and therefore deserving of full legal protection and recognition.
Written by: Edward Kruk Ph.D.
Published on Psychology Today
Though almost half of marriages in the US end in divorce, most people who divorce successfully transition to their new life within two years. However, about 15% of divorces experience continued litigation. These cases exhibit a high degree of hostility and distrust between the spouses, making it difficult for them to communicate about the care of their children without involving the court. Often in high conflict divorce, it only takes one high conflict person to keep the dispute from resolving. If one spouse is noncompliant with the parenting plan and unwarrantedly denies the other parent access to the children, it compels the blocked parent to fight to not only see their children, but often to defend themselves against false allegations of abuse. The accused parent has two choices: either engage in conflict, or be separated from their precious children.
If you are experiencing denied visitations and an unwarranted campaign of denigration, you are most likely going through parental alienation. Those who have experienced it say it is one of the hardest things they have ever gone through. It requires developing advanced skills in order to cope. Parents who have been successful in dealing with parental alienation have developed the following skills:
- They sought knowledge. They read about parental alienation in order to understand why it happens, and what they could do to make it less difficult for their children. “Intellectually understanding parental alienation provides an emotional anchor to help make good decisions for yourself and your children.”1
- Reframe the meaning of your child’s behavior. For example, based on your current situation you may constantly tell yourself, “My child doesn’t love me anymore and never wants to see me again.” Try altering that statement to, “My child still loves me and wants to see me, but he is painted into a corner and is doing what he thinks he has to do in order to survive an experience that is as painful for him as it is for me.”2
- Stay even-tempered and never retaliate. “A person who reacts in anger is proving the alienator’s point that he or she is unstable.”3 Avoid falling into this trap.
- Don’t live a victim’s life. Although you are experiencing victimization, don’t live asif you have no power or worth.Deliberately take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, stay socially connected, do something spiritual daily, exercise and get out in nature. Do things that you enjoy and that rejuvenate you.
- Be proactive. Always show up to pick up your kids even if you know they won’t be there. Keep a journal, and document what happens.
- Take a parenting class. Learn how to understand your children developmentally and respond empathetically.Develop superior parenting skills.
- Reduce your children’s anxiety. Find ways to reduce their anxiety when they are with you by picking your battles and not engaging in conflict.
- Never talk bad about your ex to your children.This forces them to align with the other parent against you, and paints you in a bad light.
- Try to make what little time you have with them positive and fun. It is through having fun that you gain connection and preserve your attachment.
- Find an alienation-aware therapist, and get the appropriate support and treatment you need.
Each time you board a plane you are reminded that if the oxygen masks drop, you need to put the mask on yourself first, before helping others. The same is true of parental alienation. You must deliberately take good care of yourself first if you are going to survive emotionally.
Custody and parent-time decisions are usually made by using what is called “The Best Interest of the Child” standard. This standard is intended to guard children from conflict and abuse, and to promote stability, but because it is vague, and not based on empirical evidence, it is susceptible to influences of what Edward Kruk, a social work researcher, describes as “judicial biases and preferences, professional self-interest, gender politics, the desire of a parent to remove the other parent from the child’s life, and the wishes of a parent who is found to be a danger to the child.”1 He argues that “a more child-focused approach to child custody determination is needed to reduce harm to children in the divorce transition and ensure their well-being.”2
What does the research show about the well-being of children of divorce? That shared physical parenting is the best custody determination for children. (This excludes cases of abuse, neglect, and parents with no prior relationship.) So why isn’t this the norm in most cases? It is because of Woozles and Zombies. Woozles are myths and misrepresentations of research that are not supported by evidence, but because they keep being repeated, they are believed to be true.3 Linda Nielsen, psychologist, and expert on shared parenting, explains,
To summarize briefly, the words “woozling” and “woozles” come from the children’s story, “Winnie the Pooh.” In the story the little bear, Winnie, dupes himself and his friends into believing that they are being followed by a scary beast – a beast he calls a woozle. Although they never actually see the woozle, they convince themselves it exists because they see its footprints next to theirs as they walk in circles around a tree. The footprints are, of course, their own. But Pooh and his friends are confident that they are onto something really big. Their foolish behavior is based on faulty “data” – and a woozle is born.4
Nielsen continues, “Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (2014) wrote about a similar concept that he called a ‘zombie,’—a belief that ‘everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea—an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die. And it does a lot of harm.’”5
Some common Woozles and Zombies of shared parenting, followed by what research actually shows, include:
- Children want to live with only one parent and to have one home. Shared parenting is not worth the hassle.
When adult children of divorce were asked, they said having a relationship with both parents was worth any hassle they experienced in moving between homes.6
- Young children have one primary attachment figure, the mother, with whom they bond more strongly. Given this, it is hurtful for infants to spend any overnights with the other parent in the first year of life.7
The truth is that infants form different, but strong attachments to both parents and that “there is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers.”8
- Where there is high conflict between the parents, children do better with sole custody. Shared parenting only increases the conflict and puts the children in the middle.9
Conflict remains higher in sole- than in shared-custody families. Most children are not exposed to more conflict in shared-parenting families. Maintaining strong relationships with both parents helps diminish the negative impact of the parents’ conflict.10
- Shared parenting only works with those who agree to it, and is only successful for a small, cooperative group of parents who have little conflict.
The research shows that even if shared parenting was originally mandated, it leads to better adjustment for the children and less long-term conflict between the parents.11
Sadly, Woozles and Zombies can distort the facts about best practices for custody arrangements, but the research evidence is clear and irrefutable that a shared parenting model is truly optimal for families and “traditional visiting patterns . . . are . . . outdated, unnecessarily rigid, and restrictive, and fail in both the short and long term to address [the child’s] best interests (Kelly 2007).”12
1,2,12 Kruk, E. (2012). Arguments for an Equal Parental Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(1), 33-55. DOI:10.1080/01926187.2011.575344
5 Nielsen, L. (2015). Pop Goes the Woozle: Being Misled by Research on Child Custody and Parenting Plans, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 56:8, 595-633, DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2015.1092349
3, 4,8,10 Nielsen, L. (2015). Shared Physical Custody: Does It Benefit Most Children? Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 28, 79-138.
6,7,9,11 Nielsen, L. (2013, Jan. & feb.). Parenting Time & Shared Residential Custody: Ten Common Myths. https://issuu.com/nebraskabar/docs/janfeb_2013/1
WRITTEN BY MICHELLE JONES, LCSW
Michelle is the director of Concordia Families – a treatment center offering services for reunification, court involved therapy, parent education classes, treatment needs assessments and professional education seminars and classes.
Originally published in Utah Valley Wellness Magazine
Each branch of the mental health profession, including psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and social workers, has a code of ethics which outlines the values and standards which should guide the treatment they offer. For example, according to the Social Work Code of Ethics, “social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people (Code of Ethics, 2017).”1 Further, most exceptions to confidentiality are also based on the values of protecting the vulnerable in the population, meaning children and the elderly.
Within the arena of high-conflict divorce, there are children who are truly being subject to physical, sexual, and emotional/psychological abuse, and at the same time, there are also parents who make false allegations of child abuse in order to gain an advantage in court. When a professional becomes involved with these families, they need to explore multiple possibilities, and see the bigger picture of protecting the children against all forms of abuse. Reflexively denying contact between a parent and child in order to err on the “safe” side is not always the “safe” thing to do. Unnecessarily disrupting a healthy parent-child relationship actually enables psychological abuse.
First of all, therapists should take all claims of abuse seriously. Their obligation is to report it to the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). This agency will determine whether an investigation will be made, based on an assessment of risk factors. DCFS should be able to determine if the claim should be substantiated, whether it is a chronic problem or a one-time incident, or whether there is no evidence for the claim at all.
But when a parent makes false claims of abuse and unwarrantedly induces symptoms of anxiety or hatred in the child in order to destroy the child’s relationship with the ex-spouse, this is also an abuse known as parental alienation. It has been recognized as a form of psychological abuse, and is severely damaging to the child. A research article published in 2014, called, “Unseen Wounds: The Contribution of Psychological Maltreatment to Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Risk Outcomes,”2 examined the effects of psychological abuse. The lead author, Joseph Spinazzola, Ph.D., of The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, Brookline, Massachusetts stated,
“Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health and social service training,” (APA, 2014).3
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC)4 defines psychological abuse as five parental behaviors, as measured by the PMM and CAPM-CV scales:
- Spurning(In parental alienation, a parent withdraws love from the child to punish them when they connect to the other parent.)
- Terrorizing(In parental alienation, one parent induces fear of the other parent in the child.)
- Isolating(In parental alienation the child is cut off from the other parent and most likely the whole side of the family.)
- Corrupting/Exploiting(In parental alienation the child is encouraged to engage in behaviors that are cruel, disrespectful, and immoral in order to benefit the “favored” parent.)
- Denying Emotional Responsiveness(In parental alienation, the child is punished for accepting love from the other parent.)
In the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual, psychological abuse is defined as:
“…non-accidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.” (DSM 5, pg 719)5
If our fundamental value is to truly protect children, who are the most vulnerable in the population, then we need to raise the level of therapeutic competency through education and training, and do assessments which consider all forms of abuse, including parental alienation. Children should never be weaponized, and intervening systems should never enable it.
2 Spinazzola, J., Hodgdon, H., Liang, L., Ford, J. D., Layne, C. M., Pynoos, R., . . . Kisiel, C. (2014). Unseen wounds: The contribution of psychological maltreatment to child and adolescent mental health and risk outcomes. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy,6(Suppl 1), S18-S28. doi:10.1037/a0037766
3 Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/10/psychological-abuse.aspx
4American Professional Society Abuse Children | APSAC. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2018, from https://www.apsac.org/
5Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM-5. (2013). Washington: American Psychiatric Publ.
Originally published in Utah Valley Wellness Magazine
Studies show about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life. This means that you probably know someone who is depressed or may become depressed at some point. We often think of a depressed person as someone who is sad or melancholy. However, there are other signs of depression that can be a little more difficult to detect.
If you notice a change in a loved one’s sleeping habits pay close attention as this could be a sign of depression. Oftentimes depression leads to trouble sleeping and lack of sleep can also lead to depression.
Quick to Anger
When a person is depressed even everyday challenges can seem more difficult or even impossible to manage which often leads to increased anger and irritability. This can be especially true for adolescents and children.
When someone is suffering from depression you may notice a lack of interest in past times he or she typically enjoys. “People suffering from clinical depression lose interest in favorite hobbies, friends, work — even food. It’s as if the brain’s pleasure circuits shut down or short out.”
Gary Kennedy, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York cautions that a loss of appetite can be a sign of depression or even a sign of relapse back into depression. Dr. Kennedy also points out that others have trouble with overeating when they are depressed.
Depression often leaves people feeling down about themselves. Depression can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a negative attitude.
What to do
If you suspect you or someone you love may be suffering from depression talk about it, encourage him or her to get professional help and once he or she does be supportive. Remember that at times symptoms of depression need to be treated just like any other medical condition.
Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/
Divorce is hard. It is emotionally and physically draining for all people involved, including children. When a divorce becomes high conflict, children are caught in the crossfire and are treated as “prizes” to be won. Parents start pressuring their children knowingly and/or unknowingly to choose sides. These behaviors can escalate to “alienation”. Alienation is defined as a parent teaching their children to reject the other parent using fear (Templer, 2). Due to limited research, professionals often mistake alienation for estrangement. This misdiagnosis can have devastating effects on a family.
One misconception about alienation is that the alienated parent is responsible for being rejected by their child, whereas the alienating parent is considered to have little to no part in why their child is rejecting the alienated parent. Discerning whether a parent has been alienated or estranged requires specialized skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, many professionals who are assigned to such cases often have little to no training in this area.
Misconceptions about alienation prevent families from getting the help they need and can even have legal ramifications. Here are some examples of harmful misconceptions:
- It is generally believed that if a child does not want to be with their parent it means they have done something to deserve it. However, the reason could be that the alienating parent programmed the child.
- It is generally believed that the child would not align with the abusive alienating parent. However, children are vulnerable to manipulation. The targeted parent often tries to enforce appropriate discipline and fill the hole left by the alienating parent. In so doing, the targeted parent is looked at harshly and viewed as not respecting their child’s wishes and feelings.
- Enmeshment (blurred boundaries between two individuals) can be confused with healthy bonding. When children feel that they are not recipients of unconditional love they can be manipulated into doing what the alienating parents desires.
Professionals who have these or other misconceptions may come to the conclusion that the alienating parent is stable, whereas the targeted parent is not; this instability, real or perceived, is often the result of depression, anxiety, and anger that’s developed from the trauma of being alienated. Another example is if the targeted parent is falsely accused of abusing their child; the parent may exhibit unstable due to the fear being jailed, losing their children, or financial pressure. The unfortunate reality is that even strong, emotionally stable individuals may become anxious, depressed, and angry when under the pressures of alienation.
Mental health professionals play a critical role in high conflict divorce cases and have the power to make things much worse or better. Given the high stakes, families are encouraged to carefully select a professional with the proper skills and training.
Written by Carol Kim, MS, LMFT. Carol is a therapist at Concordia Families, a clinic specializing in reunification therapy, court involved treatment and is parental alienation aware.
Reference: Kase-Gottlieb L. (2014, April 22). Missing the Alienation. Retrived from https://www.nationalparentsorganization.org/blog/16…/21679-missing-the-alienation
April 22, 2014
By Linda Kase-Gottlieb, LMFT, LCSW-r
Why do mental health professionals and attorneys who evaluate or work with alienated children frequently mistake alienation for estrangement?
The main reason is that cases of parental alienation are counterintuitive. That is, the brain is hardwired to misinterpret and misunderstand the family dynamics in these situations. That leads to a number of common cognitive errors (thinking errors) that, in turn, lead to serious errors in professional reasoning and decision-making. In other words, The brain is tricked by alienation cases just as it is tricked by an optical illusion. Consequently, many professionals, including mental health professionals and attorneys, get these cases backwards. Often, the targeted parent is unfairly criticized for having allegedly contributed to his or her rejection, and the alienating parent is either absolved or believed to have made only a minor contribution. Thus, unless the professional has an in-depth understanding of alienation and estrangement, cases of severe alienation are frequently mistaken for estrangement.
This phenomenon has been described in some detail by Steven Miller, M.D., a physician who studies clinical reasoning and clinical decision-making. For an excellent summary, readers might wish to refer to a chapter that Dr. Miller wrote entitled, “Clinical Reasoning and Decision-Making in Cases of Child Alignment: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Issues,” in the book, Working with Alienated Children and Families, edited by Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D. and Richard Sauber, Ph.D. Dr. Miller examines the complexity of alienation cases, explains why such cases are so counterintuitive, even to professionals, and describes how even the most experienced mental health practitioner can succumb to a variety of cognitive and clinical errors.
I will subsequently specify some of the more common counterintuitive mistakes and biases that occur in alienation cases. But I wish first to discuss how an experienced mental health professional can be fooled in these cases and may be no better at diagnosing alienation than a layperson.
Why is that so? For one thing, professionals who are assigned to conduct custody evaluations, provide reunification therapy, or represent a child in court are usually not experts in alienation and estrangement. Parental alienation is a highly specialized area, a subspecialty within the field of family dynamics and family systems therapy. It requires special knowledge and special skills. But most mental health professionals have received little or no specialized training in these areas.
For instance, most custody evaluations are performed by clinical psychologists. And yet, the usual doctoral degree in clinical psychology does not include even a single course in family dynamics. Although I collaborate with many knowledgeable PAS-aware psychologists — many of whom are excellent, superb clinicians — they have usually gained their expertise in parental alienation through extensive practice experience, not as part of their formal training. A similar situation exists within the discipline of child psychiatry, which generally provides little or no specialized training in family dynamics. Although some degree programs in clinical social work offer the option of specializing in family dynamics and family therapy, that is only an option, and many clinical social workers have little or no background in this area. Among mental health professionals, one of the few degrees that actually require formal training in family dynamics is a degree in marriage and family systems therapy, and even those who hold that degree are not necessarily experts in alienation and estrangement.
The bottom line is that not all mental health practitioners have the required expertise to handle cases of parental alienation, and not all therapists are bona fide specialists, let alone subspecialists, in alienation and estrangement.
Thus, parental alienation is a complex subspecialty that requires special expertise. To make this point, I sometimes use the following analogy: both a tax attorney and a divorce lawyer have gone to law school, and are presumably familiar with basic legal principles. Nevertheless, each would probably be over his or her head — like a fish out of water — if he or she attempted to practice the other specialty.
The situation is even more problematic for attorneys who deal with parental alienation. As previously noted, such cases are highly-counterintuitive, and attorneys who do not have special expertise in this area can make a multitude of cognitive, legal and strategic errors — including serious errors when trying these cases in court. Although Dr. Miller has described more than 30 such errors, some are particularly important and are highlighted here.
- Most professionals believe that if a child has rejected a parent, the parent must have done something to warrant it. Few people would even think of another explanation: namely that the child had been programmed or brainwashed, just like what occurs in a cult or in the well-known Stockholm syndrome. But if one were to compare alienated children to foster children — specifically, children who had been removed from their parents due to actual abuse and neglect — the difference would be obvious. Children who have truly been abused crave a relationship with their parents. Paradoxically — and this is what makes it so counterintuitive — with few exceptions, abused children protect their abusive parents. They do not disparage, attack or reject them. I myself saw this consistently during my 24 years of working in New York State’s Child Welfare System.
- Most professionals believe that it is unlikely that a child would align with an abusive, alienating parent. What is missed here is that the child is vulnerable to the manipulations of the alienating parent, such as bribery, abuse of authority and power, and permissiveness. We know how it is generally the targeted/alienated parent who enforces the appropriate discipline to fill the parental vacuum vacated by the alienating parent. By doing so, targeted/alienated parents are incredibly misunderstood and doubly victimized by the inexperienced professional, who then labels them as too harsh and not respectful of their children’s feelings and wishes.
- Most professionals confuse pathological enmeshment with healthy bonding. To the naïve observer, the closeness and clinging seen with enmeshed parent-child relationships seems normal, even healthy. But it is not. As a result of this dysfunctional relationship, alienated children lose their individuality; must suppress their natural feelings of love and need for a parent; and are manipulated to do the bidding of the alienating parent. That is extremely dangerous and damaging to the child.
Having fallen prey to these and other cognitive errors, mental health professionals who lack expertise in alienation then succumb to other biases that lead them to conclude that the alienating parent is competent and the targeted parent is not — in other words, those professionals get it backwards.
For example, the targeted parent frequently presents with symptoms of anxiety, depression and fear. What PAS-unaware professionals fail to understand is that these symptoms are situational and maintained by the alienation and are not dispositional. As noted by Dr. Miller, this is called the fundamental attribution error. It is one of the most common and pernicious cognitive errors. Likewise, it is common for PAS-unaware professionals to conclude that a targeted parent’s anger is the result of a character flaw instead of the result of trauma caused by the alienation. This may include:
Having been maltreated by the other parent and the child;
Being maltreated by the professionals in the mental health and/or judicial systems and who have been coopted by the alienating parent;
- Being falsely accused of abusing his or her child;
- Fearing incarceration due to false allegations; or
- Being drained of financial resources or pushed into bankruptcy.
Even the most emotionally stable individual would become anxious and angry in the face of such attacks.
Another common error is to fail to adequately consider the baseline situation. If the primary problem is alienation, then, by definition, the targeted parent’s behavior was generally acceptable and there was no evidence of abuse or neglect. His or her functioning was adequate, and the relationship with the child was good or normal. Yet some professionals ignore these critical elements of the family’s history, placing too much emphasis on their personal observations and too little emphasis on the baseline relationships.
Other common cognitive errors in such cases include:
- Anchoring.As used in cognitive science, anchoring refers to a phenomenon in which a judgment is unduly influenced by initial information, and there is inadequate adjustment when additional, contradictory information becomes available.
- Confirmation bias. Once anchored to an opinion, the PAS-unaware professional can succumb to confirmation bias,which is a tendency to focus on evidence that might confirm a hypothesis while neglecting evidence that might refute it.
- Premature closure. This cognitive error ensues when the evaluator arrives at a final conclusion or diagnosis before obtaining and considering sufficient information. Factors that lead to premature closure in alienation cases include but are not limited to completing and submitting a custody evaluation without obtaining information from the targeted parent’s long-standing therapist; failing to interview all relevant collateral contacts, especially collateral contacts who have positive things to say about the targeted parent or from those who can confirm the alienation; and failure to properly assess intra-family relationships by doing semi-structured interviews not only with the family as a whole and with various sub-groups but with each individual member.
Given the immense responsibility of professionals who intervene in children’s lives, it behooves us to employ the highest standard of professional conduct and ethics. That means selecting only professionals who have adequate expertise and skill to handle such cases. Because they are so counterintuitive, many cases require a subspecialist in alienation and estrangementin order to reliably rule in, or rule out, alienation, and distinguish it from true estrangement.
Author’s notes: (1) The preceding comments about custody evaluators also apply to reunification therapists and other professionals. I have written extensively about appropriate therapy in my 2012 book, The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration. I also contributed a chapter on treatment to Working With Alienated Children and Families: A Clinical Guidebook (2012), i.e., the book previously discussed in this article. I look forward to contributing an article summarizing treatment issues in cases of parental alienation to National Parents Organization. (2) I would like to thank Dr. Steven Miller for reviewing this manuscript and offering suggestions prior to publication.
Originally published: https://www.nationalparentsorganization.org/blog/16…/21679-missing-the-alienation
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