I don’t go to read Karen Woodall’s blogs. Occasionally, people send me a Woodall blog to get my reaction.
The solution is on its way, and it’s time to address the Gardnerian faction. Karen Woodall is the most direct and active representation of the Gardnerian PAS approach.
I’ve read all the Gardnerian literature. I don’t cite it because it’s not really relevant or valuable. The Gardnerian approach is a proposal for a new form of pathology that requires an equally new and unique set of symptom identifiers.
According to the Gardnerians, this pathology is so unique in all of mental health, that its diagnosis requires its own set of new and unique symptom identifiers – that are unlike any other symptom pathology in all of mental health; symptom identifiers are made up by one guy to be unique for this pathology alone in all of mental health.
Historically, their label for this supposedly new form of pathology started as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS) as they proposed the specialness of this pathology as a new “syndrome” – a unique new constellation of symptoms into a cohesive pathology.
Through controversial assertions made by Gardner and issues surrounding false allegations of sexual abuse by mothers, and Gardner’s troubling statements about child sexuality (Gardner Quotes on Child Sexuality), established mental health professionals grew uncomfortable with PAS. Opponents of Gardner then correctly identified that his proposed model for a new form of pathology – a new syndrome – lacked professional grounding and scientifically established validity.
This was a valid criticism of a proposal for a new form of pathology. I studied with Dr. David Foy at Pepperdine. He was one of the principle figures in getting the diagnosis of PTSD accepted by the DSM system following the Vietnam war. Lots and lots of vets with post-traumatic stress symptoms but no disorder – no diagnosis.
The group that formed the PTSD diagnosis in the years following the Vietnam war set about defining and describing the pathology from within standard and established constructs and principles of trauma and the traumatized brain. They also collected lots-and-lots of prevalence data. They never left the path of professional psychology. No new “magical” symptoms.
While I wasn’t part of that process for the PTSD pathology, I know what they did and how they did it because I had Dr. Foy as an instructor in cognitive-behavioral theory and he told us what they did and how they did it.
As an aside since I’m talking about Dr. Foy and cognitive-behavioral psychology…
CBT has very good stuff – I’d recommend that Karen Woodall, Bill Bernet, and all of Gardnerians stop for a moment and try to explain the pathology of “parental alienation” and its treatment from entirely within CBT constructs.
It’s possible, and I can do it for you if you’d like. But I think you’ll get more out of it if you try it for yourself – try explaining the pathology of “parental alienation” using ONLY the constructs and principles of CBT.
Gardnerian PAS was quickly discredited and locked in controversy. This left the professional field adrift. There is actually a pathology but the model for the pathology was fully rejected.
in the next phase the Gardnerian PAS people dropped the word “syndrome” from the construct – making the pathology just “parental alienation” (no PAS; small p, small a “parental alienation). But although they changed the name from Parental Alienation Syndrome to “parental alienation” – no syndrome – everything else remained exactly the same. Exactly the same 8 symptoms. Exactly the same mild-moderate-severe (dimensional) diagnostic structure. Exactly the same “new form of pathology” proposal.
In a 2009 article in the Journal of Child Custody, the PAS critic Joan Meier, a Georgetown University Law Professor, critiqued the transition from Parental Alienation Syndrome to “parental alienation” and the “alienated child.” While I would take exception to her framing of issues, there are many of her lines of argument that are spot-on accurate.
Let me offer you Joan Meier’s description of Gardnerian “parental alienation”
From Meier: “The many critiques of Gardner have resulted in a shift—at least among leading researchers and scholars of custody evaluation—from support for PAS to support for a ‘‘reformulation of PAS’’ typically called instead ‘‘parental alienation’’ or ‘‘the alienated child’’ (Johnston, 2005; Steinberger, 2006). Johnston and Kelly (2004a), along with Drozd and Olesen (discussed in Meier, in press), are among the leading credible researchers spearheading this trend.” (Meir, 2009, p. 246)
From Meier: “Johnston and Kelly have clearly stated that PAS does not exist, that Gardner’s version of it is ‘‘overly simplistic’’ and tautological, and that the data do not support labeling alienation a ‘‘syndrome.’’ Instead, they speak of ‘‘parental alienation’’ or ‘‘child alienation,’’ as a valid concept that describes a real phenomenon experienced by some children in the context of custody disputes.” (Meir, 2009, p. 246)
From Meier: “What is the difference between PAS and PA? The primary shift in focus appears to be away from Gardner’s obsession with the purportedly alienating parent and toward a more realistic assessment of the multiple sources of the child’s hostility or fear of his or her parent, including behavior by both parents and the child’s own vulnerabilities (Kelly & Johnston, 2001; Johnston & Kelly, 2004b; Johnston, 2005).” (Meir, 2009, p. 246)
From Meier: “Johnston (2005) defines an alienated child as one ‘‘who expresses, freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs (such as anger, hatred, rejection and/or fear) toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent. Entrenched alienated children are marked by unambivalent, strident rejection of the parent with no apparent guilt or conflict’’ (p. 762).” (Meier, 2009, p. 246-247)
From Meier: “Another notable difference between PAS and Johnston’s reformulated PA is the renunciation of Gardner’s draconian and brutal ‘‘remedies,’’ including custody-switching to the ‘‘hated’’ parent. Johnston calls instead for individualized assessments of both the children and the parents’ parenting, maintaining focus on the children’s needs rather than the parents’ ‘‘rights.’’ Reconciliation with the hated parent is not necessarily the only desirable goal; a more realistic and healthy attitude toward both parents is (Johnston, 2005).” (Meier, 2009, p. 246-247)
I’ll be interested to hear a law professor’s analysis of AB-PA and Foundations. So far, we haven’t heard a thing from Meier about AB-PA. I wonder what a law professor’s analysis of AB-PA would be? I wonder if a law professor’s analysis of AB-PA and Foundations is even relevant to the clinical discussion of pathology?
Notice all the people that Meier cites: Kelly & Johnston, 2001; Johnston and Kelly, 2004a, Johnston & Kelly, 2004b; Johnson, 2005; Steinberger, 2006.
Basically the same people Karen Woodall cites.
Notice in my 40-page list of references I cite none of these. Why? Because they’re not relevant.
If Meier is citing all these sources, and I am citing none of them because they are irrelevant to AB-PA, then I guess that makes Meier’s 2009 analysis of “parental alienation” irrelevant to AB-PA too. Poof. All gone.
The references that are relevant to AB-PA are Bowlby, and Beck, and Minuchin, and Kernberg, and Kohut, and Stern, and van der Kolk, and Millon, and Haley, and Bowen, and Linehan, and Ainsworth, and Lyons-Ruth, and Fonagy. These are among the leading figures in professional psychology.
Foundations is built upon the work of the leading figures in professional psychology. I can cite chapter and verse for each component of AB-PA.
Look at the titles of the references in my 40-page personal reference list… you don’t think I can cite chapter and verse support for each piece of AB-PA? – I can absolutely cite chapter and verse.
Not one of the citations by Meier is on my reference list. None. Who is Meier going to cite in her discussion of AB-PA? Bowlby? Beck? Minuchin? I don’t know. It will be interesting to find out.
As for Meier’s analysis of the “parental alienation” construct itself…
From Meier: “More Similar than Different. The new approach to alienation blunts some of the more extreme elements of Gardner’s theory and places the problem of alienation in a more moderate and reasonable light (by recognizing the many reasons children can become alienated from a parent). Nonetheless, because the differences between ‘‘alienation’’ and PAS are not firmly established, many discussions of parental alienation still necessarily draw on PAS theory and scholarship, and, at least in practice, invocations of PA appear often to be simply ‘‘old wine in new bottles.’’ (Meier, 2009, p. 246-247)
“Old wine in new bottles.” – Meier, 2009.
Where have I heard that comparison before?
Oh yeah. That’s the title of Bernet and Reay’s critique of Foundations, a critique recently cited by Woodall.
Wow. Isn’t that a curious coincidence. Exactly – to the word – exactly the same critique made by Meier against “parental alienation” is being used by Bernet and Reay – and now Woodall – in their critique of Foundations and AB-PA.
Anybody else find that curious? That exactly the same critique – word-for-word – that is used by an ally of the pathogen to discredit Gardnerian “parental alienation” is now being used by the Gardnerian PAS “experts” in their efforts to discredit and marginalize AB-PA?
Anybody else find that curious?
And you know what’s curiouser still? I’m actually more Gardnerian than the Gardernians. Listen to this, in summarizing her conclusions about the difference between Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and “parental alienation”:
From Meier: “In short, the reality is that whatever some researchers may say about the differences between PAS and PA, in practice, PA is rarely understood to be different. Indeed, some proponents of alienation theory simply cite to both PAS and PA without distinction.”
From Meier: “Gardner himself noted that some evaluators used the term ‘‘parental alienation’’ instead of PAS in order to avoid the attacks that reference to a ‘‘syndrome’’ invites. Gardner opposed this practice, arguing that PAS is a far more severe and entrenched problem than mere ‘‘parental alienation’’ (Gardner, 2002).” (Meier, 2009, p. 247)
Gardner believed that PAS was “far more severe… than mere “parental alienation.” Wow. I’d agree with that relative to AB-PA.
AB-PA is far more severe than mere “parental alienation.” Yep, Gardner and I are in agreement.
The cross-generational coalition is very common in families, and while pathological, the less severe forms of cross-generational coalition are far less intense and extreme in their symptom display.
But when we add the splitting pathology of parental narcissistic/(borderline) personality pathology to the already pathological cross-generational coalition, this transmutes the already pathological cross-generational coalition into a particularly severe and malignant form. When we add the splitting pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the cross-generational coalition process, in the mind of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the ex-spouse MUST also become an ex-parent.
The ex-wife MUST become an ex-mother; the ex-husband must become an ex-father. This is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology of the brain.
This psychological requirement for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that the ex-spouse also become an ex-parent is so strong that it becomes an obsessive fixation – a neurologically imposed imperative – driving the behavior of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
The ex-husband must become an ex-father; the ex-wife must become an ex-mother as well. This is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology.
There is a qualitative and clinical difference in the severe form of this pathology (AB-PA). Gardner and I are in agreement on this. Woo, hoo. Chock up one for Dr. C; Gardner agrees with Dr. C.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
So, Karen, while you focus your attention on those multitude of “hybrid cases” – “mere parental alienation” as Gardner might call it – I think we should go solve the pathology that Gardner was talking about… you know, that severe one – the real bad stuff. How about we go solve that?
Gardner says that the severe form of the pathology is different from garden-varieties of “alienation” – and I am saying that AB-PA is a distinctly different, more severe manifestation of the cross-generational coalition (Minuchin; Haley) because of the addition of parental narcissistic and borderline splitting pathology to the cross-generational coalition.
The Solution: So How Soon?
It was interesting when I reviewed my response to Bernet and Reay’s analysis of Foundations (Old Wine in Old Skins, I know they got the saying wrong), I noticed this statement from the conclusion of my response to them:
From Dr. Childress (2015): “My challenge to Drs. Bernet and Reay is, I wonder how much faster we can achieve the solution to “parental alienation” offered by an attachment-based model (as described on my blog) with your active support in making establishment mental health aware of the new paradigm offered by an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation.”
From Dr. Childress (2015): “With your active support could we achieve the seven-step solution to “parental alienation” which I describe on my blog by Christmas of 2015? By this Christmas? That’s only three months away, but with your active support it might be possible. There is nothing that stands in the way of a solution to “parental alienation” other than the ignorance of establishment metal health that an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology from entirely within established and accepted psychological principles and constructs exists.” (Childress, 2015, p. 3)
Well, needless to say, Dr. Bernet, Dr. Reay, and Karen Woodall – the “parental alienation experts” – did not provide their “active support in making mental health aware of the new paradigm offered by an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology.”
Two years later, we are still working to make professional psychology aware of AB-PA – and we are still without the help of Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall. And more and more children continue to be sacrificed to the pathology.
How many children could we have saved from the pathology in 2016 and 2017 if Dr. Bernet, and Dr. Reay, and Karen Woodall had helped us in 2015 “in making establishment mental health aware of the new paradigm offered by an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology”? How many children could we have saved – and how many did we lose?
I don’t care if you call it the “pure form of alienation” – I don’t care if you call it Bob – let’s just solve it, okay?
Just as in 2015 – two years ago – I said that:
“There is nothing that stands in the way of a solution to “parental alienation” other than the ignorance of establishment metal health that an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology from entirely within established and accepted psychological principles and constructs exists.” (Childress, 2015, p. 3)
The same is true in 2017. There remains only one barrier: ignorance.
We are making significant inroads. Professional psychology is becoming increasingly aware of AB-PA, and AB-PA is beginning to be used in professional psychology. I know this to be true. I’ve consulted with the mental health professionals – I’m seeing the changes occur around us. Mental health professionals are beginning to wake up from their conceptual slumber.
But how many children and families did we lose over the last two years, from 2015 to 2017.
If we had gotten the “active support” of Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall, could we have saved them? I am of the opinion that we could have. If we had gotten the active support of Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall in 2015, there are likely thousands and thousands of children and families we could have saved over the last two years.
You know why I’m being harsh with Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall? That’s why. For all of the children we lost in the last two years that we could have saved if Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall had given their active support to the solution.
In 2015, I made the call to end “parental alienation” (AB-PA) in three months, by Christmas of 2015.
In 2017, I make the call to end “parental alienation” (AB-PA) in three months, by Christmas of 2017.
Is that do-able? With the active support of Dr. Bernet and Karen Woodall, I think it is. It’s an audacious goal. But I think it’s do-able; and shouldn’t we at least try to end this nightmare as fast as is humanly possible? I wanted Christmas 2015 – so for me Christmas 2017 is far too long.
What do you say, Dr. Bernet? Karen? The only thing that stands in the way of the solution is ignorance that AB-PA exists. Can we solve this pathology, please. Then you can play with your “hybrid cases” to your heart’s content, discussing this and that feature of the pathology – but can we please solve the severe form of the pathology that Gardner was talking about, please.
So many children and families are suffering. They need the solution today – they needed the solution yesterday.
What do you say, Dr. Bernet? Karen Woodall? Will you actively bring your voices to educating professional psychology about AB-PA.
Do you want to know how?
On October 20th in Houston, Texas, I will be presenting a talk about the AB-PA Key Solution Pilot Program for the Family Courts. Tell people you know about this October 20th seminar in Houston. See if people you know would like to attend. They can contact Dwilene Lindsey at Children4Tomorrow to register (although in Houston, registration may require a boat).
There is a booklet available through Amazon.com that describes the Key Solution Pilot Program. Send this booklet out to various people you know.
There is a booklet available on Amazon.com regarding the Contingent Visitation Schedule. Send this booklet out to various people you know.
On November 18th – 20th I’ll be presenting a set of AB-PA Certification seminars in Pasadena. Alert people you know about these seminars and recommend they attend. Make a public statement that you recommend that mental health professionals should attend the November 18th – 20th AB-PA Certification Seminars if they can.
That’s a full month before Christmas, 2017. Do you think if you did that we could actually begin seeing the widespread solution to “parental alienation” by Christmas of 2017?
But if you choose to withhold your active support for the solution, then my question becomes how many more children will be sacrificed before we eventually achieve the solution?
Let’s solve “parental alienation” (AB-PA) by Christmas of 2017. Bill? Karen? What do you say. Can we please solve this pathology?
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Tags: Dr. Childress, Dr. Craig Childress