Thursday, August 11, 2011

Addressing Parental Alienation

This is a question I receive from many parents:

How can I try to get my children back and establish a relationship with them again?

When dealing with the alienation process, I believe there are four steps that need to be taken.

1.    Rescue --- The alienating parent has significant psychopathology that is centered around a narcissistically organized Personality Disorder.  The alienating parent is transmitting this psychopathology to the child, who is expressing the alienating parent’s psychopathology through the hostile rejection-abandonment of the other parent. 

This is called “pathogenic parenting;” i.e., parenting that is so highly problematic and destructive that it is creating a psychopathology in the children.

When there is pathogenic parenting (by the alienating parent), the first step is to rescue the child from the psychopathology of the alienating parent.  The child needs to be immediately separated from the psychopathology of the alienating parent and returned to the care of the psychologically healthier parent, or as a transition, to the care of a family member (such as a grandparent) of the psychologically healthier parent.

This requires the involvement of the court to order this child protection directive.  The court must recognize the degree of psychopathology in the alienating parent and the extremely destructive impact that the pathogenic parenting is having on the emotional and psychological development of the child. 

The recognition by the court will require that the mental health profession recognizes and diagnoses the degree of psychopathology with the alienating parent so that the mental health need to rescue the child from the pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent can be professionally documented for the court to consider.

2.    Recovery --- The second step it to recover the authenticity of the child.  The authentic child deeply loves the rejected-abandoned parent, and the authentic child wants to express this love and receive the love of the rejected-abandoned parent in return. 

However, the interpersonal and psychological control processes of the narcissistically organized pathology of the alienating parent is warping the psychology of the child into rejecting and abandoning the beloved parent.  The second step is to recover the authentic child through challenging the false constructions of meaning related to the rejected-abandoned parent (such as the false belief that this parent was in any way abusive and therefore deserves to be rejected), and to support the child’s recovery of his or her authentic experience of deep love for the rejected parent.  

Appropriate individual child psychotherapy and parent-child psychotherapy involving the child and the rejected-abandoned parent can be very helpful at this stage.  However, for psychotherapy to be effective, the child must be separated from the psychologically dominating-controlling influence of the psychopathology of the alienating parent for the duration of the recovery and restoration phases.

3.    Restoration --- As the authentic child is recovered, the parent-child relationship between the child and the formerly rejected-abandoned parent needs to be healed, re-balanced, and stabilized.  All of the Personality Disorder psychopathology of the alienating parent that has been transferred to and is being expressed by the child needs to be treated and resolved, including the child’s display of:
o   Borderline Personality Disorder features of splitting into the all-good idealized parent and all-bad rejected parent;
o   Narcissistic Personality Disorder features of lack of empathy;
o   Narcissistic Personality Disorder grandiosity;
o   Narcissistic Personality Disorder features of entitlement;
o   Borderline Personality Disorder features of emotional instability;
o   Borderline Personality Disorder features of anger dyscontrol;

4.    Re-unification --- Once the authentic child has been recovered and the authentically loving and affectionate relationship between the child and the once rejected-abandoned parent has been restored, then the child and alienating parent can begin the process of their re-unification following the enforced separation that was necessary to treat the effects of the pathogenic parent on the child.

Currently, “re-unification therapy” is typically enacted between the between the child and the rejected-abandoned parent.  This is the wrong focus and will be ineffective as long as the child is not separated from the influence and psychological control of the alienating-pathological parent.  Re-unification therapy should be between the child and the alienating parent following their enforced separation, and the re-introduction of the psychopathology of the alienating parent should occur only after the successful restoration of the parent-child relationship with the rejected-abandoned parent.

During the re-unification process of the child with the alienating-pathological parent, the child’s behavior and relationship with the formerly rejected-abandoned parent should receive careful monitoring to ensure that the child’s symptoms do not return as a result of the re-introduction of the psychopathology and pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent.

If the child’s symptoms return, then an additional period of separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting, and treatment of the child to recover authenticity, needs to be enacted.

This whole process will require the active support of the court, which will require the identification and diagnosis of the pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent by mental health professionals.  Within current mental health and legal frameworks, both of these support structures are only sometimes available, and typically only in the most extreme of pathogenic parenting situations. 

The longer the children remain under the influence and psychological control of the psychopathology and pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent, the greater the psychological damage being inflicted on the children.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, CA PSY 18857


  1. Thank you Dr. Childress!

    Mental health and legal practitioners
    need to wake up and grasp finally what is
    such a blatant pathology and self evident
    to targeted parents. Your insight is so
    much appreciated and I commend you on
    your ability to
    articulate the process of recovery and the
    need for the courts to be affirmatively involved.

    The passive approach of most courts
    that bend to the will of "independent thinker"
    desires of adolescents has to stop.

  2. Dr. Childress,

    I just came across this and want to thank you for describing what so many alienated parents intuitively understand -- the only way to get their kids back is to separate them from the influence that caused the problem in the first place. However, you also point out the basic problem -- the mental health professionals don't yet identify parental alienation as a separate diagnosis, nor do the courts recognize the well-documentable behaviors of an alienating parent as sufficient grounds to overturn custody.

    Thank you for your efforts to bring awareness to this problem!

  3. My twin boys were kidnapped to Singapore in Aug2009. I got them back March 2011. The mother was arrested in May and convicted of felony kidnapping. She went straight to Court when she got out on July 20 2011. Judge Scott M. Gordon ordered her into counseling. She went 2 times with Dr. Susan Ralston and said she was told she didn't need to come back. On Aug26, 2011, without any input from Dr. Ralston, Judge Gordon at the request of Minor's Counsel Deborah Manning granted email access. Twice, Ms. Manning caught the mother using code words or improper references in the emails but never brought it up to the Court. On Nov18, 2011, Judge Gordon ordered monitored visitation. Boys have regressed in their therapy and are now asking to be left alone and go back to their mother. When will un-trained lawyers and Judges start taking input from Mental Health Professionals? Minor's COunsel has lost 5 clients to international child abduction. How many more before someone does the right things for the children? Andrew Ko (

  4. Unfortunately, Judges and Courts will not address this REAL issue in concerns of changing custody. Financially, it 'pays' to ignore this problem politically as well. Good Fathers who are reputable and well known and liked in the community are reduced to villians by the court system and lose all contact with there children simply based on a narcissist's 'advised' False allegation.