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of Two Cities and Parent Alienation Syndrome
the most contentious of all custody/access disputes are those involving
allegations of one parent undermining the relationship of the children with the
other parent. When escalated one sees children caught between a vilified parent
and an idolized parent. Therein any negative attributes of the vilified parent
are magnified and any attempts to redress issues raised are placed in a context
where the efforts are viewed as insincere or inadequate. Hence the vilified
parent cannot win for losing. Meanwhile any concerns that might be raised about
the idolized parent are either excused or positioned as an artefact of the
vilified parentís behaviour. In other words, nothing negative sticks to the
idolized parent; itís the other parentís fault. These dynamics are the
hallmark of Parent Alienation Syndrome.
the use of that phrase remains a politically debated hot potato, the behaviours
and dynamics remain and children do take on the descriptors of the syndrome. The
social science literature suggests that traditional counselling attempts to undo
or redress the disharmony as when the children side with the idolized parent
against the vilified parent, are unhelpful. In many instances, not only is
traditional counselling unhelpful, but to the child who remains entrenched in a
position against the vilified parent, traditional counselling can serve to
support a skewed image by giving a platform to vent versus challenge
misperceptions and cognitive distortions.
the social science literature suggests that in order to undue the influence of
the idolized parent on the children and the childrenís alignment with that
parent against the vilified parent, the child must actually have more time with
the vilified parent to gain first hand experience of that parentís behaviour
through which their first hand experience challenges previously held beliefs.
The children, thus living a cognitive dissonance, experiencing reasonable versus
unreasonable behaviour, resolve the dissonance by rejecting previous beliefs in
favour of accepting their actual experience of the parent as decent. Depending
on the degree to which the idolized parent supports such interventions,
childrenís exposure to the idolized parent may have to be altered or
restricted to control for any undo negative influence. In the most extreme of
circumstances, where the children refuse visitation with the vilified parent and
support is not forthcoming from the idolized parent or the support is
superficial, the children may have to be placed in an alternate living
situation. There, the influence of the idolized parent is unavailable and the
children can work towards reintegration with the vilified parent without undo
influence from the idolized parent.
should be noted that in cases such as these, treatment goes against conventional
wisdom where normally the input of the children is respected and encouraged.
Further, while conventional wisdom would not condone use of force or coercion to
facilitate visitation, such is often necessary in the most extreme of these
situations. Throughout such intrusive treatment endeavours, resistance from the
idolized parent and children is to be expected. Their resistance can include
simple passivity or inaction to outright defiance including vilification of
treatment providers, Courts or any other agency or entity acting in the service
of the treatment plan. It is easy for the idolized parent and children to obtain
support from the uninitiated and hence their efforts to undo an intrusive
treatment plan can even polarize service providers, particularly those who may
not have sufficient knowledge or experience with such cases against those
responsible for intervention.
only can service providers subject to these situations be polarized, by so too
can Courts. Hence depending on the jurisdiction, service providers may or may
not align with intrusive treatment plans as Courts may or may not support such
intrusive interventions too.
tale of two cities: In one city, child protective services supported intrusive
intervention and therein just the clear and unequivocal threat of taking the
child into care was enough to evoke the cooperation of the idolized parent.
Treatment progressed and the relationship between child and vilified parent
continues. In a neighbouring city, child protective services not only does not
support the plan but set the idolized parent as the residence and place of
safety for the child. Thereafter and emboldened by child protective service
support, the child treaded further from the vilified parent and denounced any
form of relationship. In less extreme cases, simply holding the idolized parent
accountable for ceasing their undermining behaviour and calling upon them to
support the childrenís relationship to the vilified parent can be sufficient
to restore and maintain relationships.
social science literature suggests that unchallenged, these dynamics tend not to
reverse themselves. Contrary to what many idolized parents would suggest to the
vilified parent, ďGive the kids space and time, and they will come back to
you,Ē does not work. Change requires intervention.
Working with these cases takes fortitude amongst the service providers, treating clinicians and Courts. Thus far, in many jurisdictions, it remains difficult to align the stars.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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