Dr. Childress Website Resources
The construct traditionally referred to as "Parental Alienation" typically emerges during and following divorce and involves the active, although often covert, alienation of the child from one parent (the targeted parent) by the distorted and pathogenic parenting practices of the other parent (the alienating parent). The family processes involved in "parental alienation" represent a severe form of psychopathology within with family, primarily centered on a form of personality disorder with one of the parents.
The psychological and interpersonal processes involved in "parental alienation" differ in severity and kind from "normal-range" parental conflict and negative parental influence on the child, and the rejection of one parent by the child is NOT an expression of "normal-range" parent-child conflict.
The material in this area of the website addresses the clinical issues related to what has traditionally been referred to as"parental alienation." Dr Childress has also posted video seminars regarding "parental alienation" on Youtube at padchildress; pad2childress; and pad3childress.
Consultation with Dr. Childress
In this discussion I address the
most common questions I'm asked by targeted parents regarding "parental alienation."
Professional to Professional Letter - Hostile Rejecting Child
This is a letter written by me to other mental health professionals describing "parental alienation" from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs, primarily focused on the narcissistic personality disorder dynamics of the alienating parent and the misinterpreted and un-metabolized grief response of the child. This Professional-to-Professional letter is followed by a series of quotes from the professional literature regarding narcissistic and borderline personality processes (Appendix 1). The purpose of this Professional-to-Professional Letter of Diagnostic Concern is to provide targeted parents with a resource that they can provide to mental health professionals who are assessing and/or treating the child and family dynamics, in which the dynamics of "parental alienation" are described using professionally established terminology. Of note is that this letter concludes with my offer for professional consultation with the mental health professional if this would be considered helpful.
Professional to Professional Letter Hyper-Anxiety Child Variant
This is an alternative Professional-to-Professional letter addressing the anxiety variant of attachment-based "parental alienation" in which the child displays hyper-anxious symptoms toward the targeted-rejected parent rather than the typical hostile-rejecting display. The anxiety variant tends to be displayed by younger children, who will develop the hostile-rejecting display as time goes by and they mature, and when the alienating parent has a stronger borderline personality presentation with less pronounced narcissistic traits.
Often the treatment of "parental alienation" is called "reunification therapy." However, there is currently no theoretical model for what "reunification therapy" entails, so therapists essentially just make it up as they go, without any clear understanding for what they are treating or how to go about treating it. This essay describes an appropriate treatment framework for resolving attachment-based "parental alienation." This essay can be provided to therapists, and hopefully it will provide some guidance as to how they can approach treating and resolving attachment-based "parental alienation."
Attachment-Based Model Diagrams
This handout contains a series of diagrams illustrating the "parental alienation" process from an attachment system framework, along with text descriptions of how the child's symptoms are induced, why the child adopts the false beliefs of the alienating parent, what the child's DSM-5 diagnosis is for this type of family process, and what the recommended treatment approach should entail.
Reconceptualizing Parental Alienation
This is a professional-level article I have written that describes the psychological and interpersonal processes of "parental alienation" from an attachment system framework. Gardner's model of "parental alienation" represents a failed paradigm - primarily because its existence has not solved the challenges faced by targeted-rejected parents, the alienation continues and they can't make it stop. In my view, it is time to move beyond Gardner's model to one which addresses the valid criticisms of the established mental health community. I have spent the last several years working out the clinical features of "parental alienation" from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs. This article is the result of my efforts. From a clinical psychology perspective, this is what "parental alienation" is.
Attachment Model DSM-5 Diagnosis
This is a professional-level article describing "parental alienation" from an attachment system framework, leading to an analysis of the appropriate DSM-5 diagnosis for the child's symptomatology.
Invitation for Writing Collaboration
This handout offers an invitation to psychology graduate students and colleagues for possible writing collaboration. I'm fairly busy and I could use the help in getting this material submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Gardner's Model is a Failed Paradigm
This is a casual article in which I discuss my view that Gardner's model for "parental alienation" represents a failed paradigm. In my view, the needs of targeted parents and their children can best be served by recognizing the legitimacy of the professional criticism of Gardner's model and moving beyond it to a more exacting professional description of the processes of "parental alienation" from entirely within standard and established mental health constructs. An attachment-based model offers this professional-level alternative to Gardner's model that allows for the establishment of a clear standard of practice in both the diagnosis and treatment of the family processes classically described as "parental alienation."
Attachment Model of Parental Alienation Boundaries of Competence
An attachment-based model of "parental alienation" allows for the establishment of a standard of professional practice regarding this "special population" of children and families. This handout identifies the set of professional knowledge that is relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of the child and family processes traditionally referred to as "parental alienation"
Attachment Based Alienation Brochure
This is a brochure regarding attachment-based parental alienation that I wrote for a seminar. I thought I'd share it in case others might find it helpful.
Treatment Presentation Slide Handout
This is a handout of my slides regarding the treatment of "parental alienation" from a recent webinar presentation hosted by PAAO.
Social Skills Handout
In my therapy work with targeted parents and their children, one of the important issues is the restoration of the child's capacity for normal-range empathy. An initial step in this process is to establish an expectation for normal-range social skills from the child. I wrote this to illustrate that social skills and social graces are expected, not because the other person is nice, but because you are.
This is a handout regarding the online seminars I have developed regarding the Origins; Diagnosis; and Treatment of the pathogenic parenting processes associated with what has classically been referred to as "Parental Alienation."
This seminar series is available through Digital Chalk at:
Click the <New Account> button
Complete the registration information (i.e.,
name; email; password creation)
Click the <Catalog> tab for a list of
available seminars from Dr. Childress
Ju-jitsu Parenting Communication
The communication dynamics associated with "parental alienation" processes are filled with unavoidable traps and intense double-bind control dynamics. Targeted parents are getting pummeled at every communication turn. This handout offers some suggestions for a different approach to parenting communication that I'm calling "ju-jitsu parenting: fighting back from the down position."
Parental Alienation and Personality Disorder Processes
This handout discusses a framework for understanding "parental alienation" processes within the family entirely from within standard, accepted mental health constructions.
Diagnostic Symptom Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting
This handout presents a set of 8 child symptoms across three domains of psychological processes (personality disorder symptoms, attachment disorder symptoms, persecutory cognitive distortions) that can be rated as either present or absent, and whose combined presence would provide extremely strong supportive evidence for the role of pathogenic parenting by the allied parent as responsible for inducing significant DSM Axis I and Axis II psychopathology and developmental distortions in the child.
One of the difficulties in the construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome is that it does not provide a set of symptom features that can be reliably identified. For example, what specifically would represent a "campaign" of denigration, or what specific features are indicative of an "independent thinker."
This handout addresses this diagnostic reliability problem by remaining entirely within standard and accepted psychological constructs and maintaining a sole focus on the child's symptom features. By specifying a set of 8 non-dimensional child symptoms that can each be identified independently as being either present or absent, and that are derived from standard and accepted psychological constructs, this child symptom checklist seeks to establish a reliable approach to the diagnostic identification of pathogenic parenting that is inducing DSM Axis I and Axis II psychopathology in the child.
That the symptom set is drawn from three separate domains of psychological processes (personality disorder symptoms, attachment disorder symptoms, persecutory cognitive distortions) represents an a-priori (i.e., before the event) designation of a specific "three-way interaction" of variables. In research methodology, the a-priori prediction of a three-way interaction of variables that is subsequently found by the data is considered to represent extremely strong supportive evidence for the underlying theoretical constructs that led to the prediction.
Presenting the Mental Health Information
This handout offers one approach to presenting the mental health information related to pathogenic parenting and the attachment system in a question and answer format.
Enmeshed Relationship Questions and Answers
This handout discusses, in a question and answer format, the family systems construct of an enmeshed psychological relationship
Narcissistic Decompensation in Divorce
This handout discusses parental alienation as the characteristic decompensation (i.e., descent into psychological disorganization) of a narcissistically organized personality in response to the psychological stresses of divorce and family dissolution.
Parental Alienation and the Attachment System
One of the key features of parental alienation is its impact on the child's attachment system. The attachment system is a neuro-biologically embedded relationship system first identified and described by John Bowlby in the 1960s. It is a very strong and resilient motivational drive system fostering children's emotional and psychological bonding with parents. This handout discusses one facet of the impact of parental alienation processes on the attachment system; the initial suppression of attachment system functioning and the development of the chronic anger (hatred) necessary to sustain the suppression of attachment system functioning.
Structural Family Systems Constructs
In this handout I discuss the standard Structural Family Systems constructs of "triangulation" and "alliance" relative to the family processes of parental alienation.
Structural Family Systems therapy is considered a basic and fundamental family systems approach. The Structural Family Systems model was developed by Salvador Minuchin, who was recently voted by psychologists as one of the most influential theorists of the latter part of the 20th Century. In my view, a familiarity with Structural Family Systems constructs is an essential component of professionally competent assessment and therapy with children and families.
Boundaries of Professional Competence
This handout was developed as a support for targeted parents to provide to therapists diagnosing or treating the issues involved in parental alienation.
Joint Custody and De Facto Sole Custody
This essay addresses the issue of Court Orders for joint custody that essentially become orders for de facto sole custody to the alienation-pathological parent unless the underlying psychopathology being induced in the child by the alienating parent is effectively resolved (requiring separation of the child during treatment from the source origin of the psychopathology).
Construction of Meaning Article
This is an article in which I describe the role of parental influence within normal developmental expectations during childhood.
Response to Parent Regarding Diagnosis
A parent asked me how I make the diagnosis of the pathogenic parenting associated with "parental alienation" processes. I thought my response might be helpful to other parents and to mental health professionals.
Response to Parent Regarding Treatment
This is a (de-identified) response to a parent who requested my advice through e-mail regarding her parental alienation situation. I receive many such requests through e-mail and unfortunately professional standards of practice prevent me from commenting on specifics of individual cases without having established a professional relationship. Hopefully, however, my de-identified response to "Mary" offered here might help other parents in understanding my views and suggestions for addressing the issues.
DSM-IV TR Diagnosis of the Alienation Dynamic
The Parental Alienation Dynamic differs from Gardner's proposal for an alienation syndrome. One of several criticism of Gardner's syndrome proposal is the absence of professional diagnostic support for a "new" syndrome concerning parental alienation processes. The Parental Alienation Dynamic differs from the syndrome proposal of Gardner in that the alienation dynamic is organized around a specific set of existing DSM-IV TR diagnoses.
Dr. Childress has posted a set of video seminars related to the DSM-IV TR diagnoses on Youtube at padchildress. This handout identifies the specific set of four diagnoses involved with the Parental Alienation Dynamic.
DSM-IV TR Diagnostic Criteria and Information
This handout compiles information from the DSM-IV TR (the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association) regarding the diagnosis of Shared Psychotic Disorder and Delusional Disorder. I have highlighted some of the information relevant to parental alienation processes.
Alternative DSM Diagnostic Conceptualization
The degree of cognitive distortions relative to the child and alienating parent warrant the DSM diagnosis of a Shared Psychotic (delusional) Disorder. However, some mental health professionals may be uncomfortable asserting the degree of cognitive distortion involved with this diagnosis. An alternative DSM diagnostic conceptualization that focuses on the child's triangulation into the spousal conflict would be an Adjustment Disorder. This handout discusses this alternative diagnostic conceptualization.
Checklist of Child Personality Disorder Symptoms
This is a checklist of Personality Disorder features that are typically displayed by the children as a result of pathogenic parenting that is being expressed through parental alienation processes. This checklist can help guide forensic evaluators and mental health therapists in recognizing the constellation of Personality Disorder symptoms being expressed by the child.
Pathogenic Parenting Concern Scale
The Pathogenic Parenting Concern Scale is designed to document the clinical
judgment of the mental health assessor regarding a set of features that are associated with
pathogenic parental caregiving. This scale is available for targeted parents to provide to mental health therapists and court-ordered evaluators.
Trans-Generational Structure of the Alienation Dynamic
A Parental Alienation Dynamic involves the trans-generational transmission of psychological-relationship trauma across three generations of the family. In order to discuss the form and nature of the alienation dynamic, a descriptive nomenclature is needed that labels the participants.
Traditional approaches to indicating the family participants have referred to the "alienating parent," and the "target parent." This descriptive framework only addresses the current cross-sectional relationships within the family. In order to understand the psychological and relationship issues involved in the alienation dynamic a more longitudinal framework is needed that incorporates multiple generations of the family process.
Dr. Childress has developed a descriptive framework involving three levels of the family process, 1) the Alpha level of the initial psychological-relationship injury involving the parent-child relationship of the "alienating parent" as a child in relationship with his or her own parent, 2) the Beta level of transmission from the "alienating parent" as a child to the "alienating parent" as an adult in relationship with his or her own spouse and child, and 3) the Delta level of the spouse and child of the "alienating parent" onto whom the Alpha level psychological-relationship injury is re-enacted through the Personality Disorder dynamics of the "alienating parent."
Dr. Childress has posted video seminars regarding the trans-generational transmission of trauma relative to the Parental Alienation Dynamic on Youtube at pad2childress. This pdf describes this trans-generational descriptive framework.
Description of Re-Enactment Narrative
The alienation dynamic represents a current re-enactment of relationship patterns formed during the early childhood of the Beta parent. This pdf describes the elements of the Re-Enactment Narrative.
Psychological Fusion Diagrams
This is a set of diagrams I developed for use in my video seminars to visually represent the processes involved in the psychological fusion that occurs between the child and the narcissistically organized alienating parent. - With regard to understanding this psychological fusion process it will likely be helpful to watch a PBS video segment on "mirror neurons" at:
I have also posted a video seminar on the psychological fusion process on Youtube at pad3childress.
Therapy Framework for Treatment of Parental Alienation Dynamic
This is a treatment framework for addressing the Parental Alienation Dynamic.
Pathogenic Parenting Concern Scale Instructions
This is a companion discussion the the Pathogenic Parenting Concern Scale regarding the identification of parent and child features of concern relative to identifying pathogenic parenting. This is written for mental health professionals regarding the use of the Pathogenic Parenting Concern Scale, and is available for targeted parents to provide to mental health professionals associated with their family's treatment.
Parental Alienation and Shared Personality Disorder Features
This is a full-scale discussion of the DSM-IV TR Axis II Personality Disorder features that are expressed through the child's symptomatology within a parental alienation dynamic. This is written and targeted for mental health professionals and provided targeted parents with a handout to provide to treating therapists and court-ordered evaluators
Parental Alienation as Child Abuse
The processes of a Parental Alienation Dynamic represent a severe form of psychological child abuse. Furthermore, the processes of a Parental Alienation Dynamic represent a severe form of domestic violence toward both the targeted parent and the child. The legal and mental health response to parental alienation processes should be commensurate with the legal and professional responses to other forms of severe child abuse and domestic violence, and this response should be supported by the force of legal statute.
This pdf discusses these issues.