Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

How to Find a PA Expert, Part 4

Core concepts bona fide PA experts should endorse

Posted Nov 13, 2015

This final installment in this four-part Blog is devoted to helping targeted parents identify a bona fide parental alienation expert. It is the consensus of the professionals listed at the end of the blog that any true expert will (a) have the credentials outlined in blog section 3 and will endorse the scientifically-derived consensus points below.

1) Alienated children present very differently than estranged children.  The similarities are superficial.  Although both alienated children and estranged children will often align with one parent over the other, to expert eyes—by which we mean a professional who specializes in alienation and estrangement—it is usually straightforward, if not easy, to distinguish between the two.  On the other hand, the differences are often missed by non-specialists.

2) Many aspects of identification and treatment of PA are counterintuitive.  For example, alienated children often appear to have a healthy bond with the alienating parent although it is actually an unhealthy, enmeshed relationship.  Many alienating parents present well to evaluators and courts although they are actually engaging in destructive behaviors.  Many targeted parents appear anxious and agitated despite being healthy and competent.  For this reason, only a qualified PA specialist should conduct this work.

3) Children rarely reject a parent—even an abusive parent.  Therefore, in the absence of bona fide abuse or neglect, when a child strongly aligns with one parent and emphatically rejects the other, that pattern strongly suggests alienation—not estrangement. 

4) Clinicians and other professionals should carefully consider severity.  PA is typically a progressive process in which—sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly—the child begins to resist contact with and/or reject the previously-loved targeted parent.  Severity should be identified as mild, moderate, or severe.  This is important because, among other things, it allows the examiner to identify early warning signs of PA which, in turn, permits a qualified clinician to provide interventions in ways that are customized and appropriate for the level of severity.

5) The work of Dr. Richard Gardner (e.g., 1998), a child psychiatrist, provided a theoretical framework and conceptual model for understanding the phenomenon.  His original insights have since been validated by both researchers and clinicians.  His work was based on sound scientific principles and generally-accepted standards of psychiatric practice.

6) The eight manifestations of parental alienation first identified by Dr. Gardner are generally-accepted and valid.  Although others have been identified, the original eight are well-established as valid and useful indicators of alienation, and are rarely, if ever, seen with estrangement.  They have been tested empirically and found to be accurate, valid, and reliable.

7) The seventeen alienation behaviors described by Dr. Amy J.L. Baker are research-supported and evidence-based.  They provide a valid and reliable set of useful indicators with which to assess the behavior of favored parents with respect to PA.   

8) Although some cases are hybrids, the assertion that most cases are hybrids (meaning a mix of alienation and estrangement) is not supported by the clinical literature.

9) Children do not have the cognitive maturity or the capacity to make an informed decision about whether to have a relationship with a parent.  They cannot imagine the implications of having a parent absent from their lives, and do not necessarily know what is in their best interest.  Nor do they genuinely want the power to cut a parent out of their lives.

10) Children (and adults) can be unduly influenced by emotional manipulation to act against their own best interests.  They can be misled to believe things that are not true, even about a parent.  It is possible to induce false memories in children and/or to program children to relate events—often sincerely and convincingly (at least to naïve or unwary observers)—that, in fact, did not take place or did not take place in the way described.  

11) Many, but not necessarily all, alienating parents have one or more personality disorders (typically of the borderline, narcissistic and/or sociopathic type).  The more extreme or severe the alienating behavior, the more likely it is that the alienating parent has an underlying personality disorder.

12) Parental alienation is a form of child abuse, specifically psychological and emotional abuse.  It meets the diagnostic criteria for child psychological abuse as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (2013).  

13) Although Dr. Gardner popularized the concept and clarified many of the definitions and subsets inherent in the determination of what PA means, its development, and its deleterious effects upon the family, the concept appeared long before Dr. Gardner first wrote about the problem in 1985. 

14) The model provided by Dr. Gardner has provided an excellent framework for both diagnosis and treatment.  Although it has been refined and enhanced over the past 30 years, the basic concepts remain valid.  Virtually all of the successful treatment programs for PA are based on his original model.  Despite unsupported claims to the contrary, no alternative model has been shown to be clinically, theoretically, or scientifically superior.  For the most part, proposed alternatives provide little or no outcome data and/or appear to be neither clinically, nor theoretically, nor scientifically sound.

15) Only reunification therapy provided by a PA specialist who thoroughly understands the clinical and scientific points in this paper, and whose treatment plan is highly-customized for PA based on sound scientific evidence and clinical outcome data, is recommended.  Team-based “intensive reunification therapy” is appropriate in treating moderate to severe alienation while traditional in-office, out-patient reunification therapy may have its place when considering treatment for mild alienation.  The treatment should be appropriately matched to the family.

This blog was created with the authorship and input of the following professionals:

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D

Steven G. Miller, MD.

J. Michael Bone, Ph.D

And in alphabetical order

Katherine Andre, Ph.D.

Rebecca Bailey, Ph.D.

William Bernet, M.D

Doug Darnall, Ph.D.

Robert Evans, Ph.D

Linda Kase Gottlieb, LMFT, LCSW-R

Demothenos Lorandos, Ph.D. JD

Kathleen Reay, Ph.D.

S. Richard Sauber, Ph.D.