Am I a Controversial Psychologist?

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


Summary & Abstract

This article is based on the personal experiences of this expert witness working with families in turmoil following an acrimonious relationship before and after separation. The effect on children is described and their no wishing for further contact with the now absent parent. The methods used by the custodial parent (usually the mother) are delineated. The expert witness describes the methods used to diagnose “parental alienation” when it exists. He further considers some currently controversial approaches, in how to deal with the problems that arise. These are usually poor or no contact for the non resident parent which his/her children. Some controversial ways are presented when therapeutic procedures and mediation fail.

Am I a Controversial Psychologist?

Having worked with families in turmoil for more years than I would like to state, there are those who have agreed with the manner in which I have worked as an expert witness and I have also received some criticism concerning my decisions. It must be said from  the onset the final decisions being made about family issues in the court is for the judges to make. All the expert can do is to provide evidence and opinions as well as advice based on such evidence.

It must also be stated that this current psychologist works perhaps differently from many others in that I assess all past documents relating to a case, carry our interviews with all those involved, and use both objective and projective psychological testing to verify what I may have found in interview and through other evidence. This comprehensive approach I have found to be of particular value in dealing with very difficult issues relating to complex family matters.

I have always considered all parties involved with equal concern, whether it is the mother or father, and with the hope of reassessing difficulties and trying to find a solution which will be as acceptable as possible for all concerned. My primary concern of course is the child/children involved but one cannot distance oneself from the parents who are also intimately associated with the child and hence happy parents or parents who are in harmony with one another are a great asset to a child and they are in the child’s best interest. Warring, hostile parents and create unhappy children.

It is well known that families after divorce and separation frequently present implacable hostilities towards one another and this affects the child/children involved in the relationship. The main difficulty that appears to occur is the question of access. One parent usually has custody the other one does not. The other parent who does not have custody however wishes to have good contact with the child/children that they both have created.

Due to the acrimony between the parents this becomes increasingly more difficult as time progresses especially when there are third parties such as the father finding another partner or the mother finding another partner, or both finding new partners.

I especially wish to address those who are critical of my approach to parental alienation problems. Firstly, I do not see parental alienation in every case. Sometimes it is because a parent has for some reason or other had a difficult and unhappy relationship with the child and is therefore rejected by that child. When this however, is not the case and the parent has had a good relationship, and even a loving relationship with that child, and this has changed as a result of the separation and divorce, then one  must consider the possibility that the child has been alienated by the custodial parent against the absent parent.

I believe very firmly that both parents should have good contact with their child/children if at all possible as this is in the best interest of the child/children involved. The exception is when one or both parents are abusers, either sexually, physically or emotionally. In that case they should have no further role to play with the child. This is because their behaviour is harmful to the child in the short as well as long term.

Another reason why my critics may feel that I am extreme in my views is because I do believe that parental alienation or brainwashing of a child is a form of emotional abuse. Unless such parents desist after a period of treatment from such behaviour they are unlikely to be of value to the child since they are essentially retaining power on the basis of “divide and conquer”, i.e. they are trying to divide the child from the absent parent or the other parent as it may be the case.

Unless such parents can desist from such behaviour in future and provide an opportunity for the absent parent who has had a good relationship with the child in the past to continue that relationship through contact, such parents should not be allowed to retain the control of the child/children.

While the Judiciary and I may be unhappy about taking the child away from the custodial parent, especially a mother, I feel there is more harm being done by keeping that child under such circumstances with the alienating parent. It could be best and then removing them and placing them with the alienated parent or in some neutral centre, where the alienated parent can have good access to the child.

It is my view that children should be protected not merely from physical or sexual abuser but also an emotional abuser. Such emotional abuse exists due to the animosity towards another parent. This is preventing good contact with that child and the now absent parent. By removing the child from the atmosphere of being “brainwashed” or “alienated” the child has an opportunity of forming a good relationship with a parent with whom previously he had such a good relationship.

It is unfortunate that many children refuse to see an absent parent after divorce or separation due to the fact that they have been influenced unfairly against that parent and frequently will state to expert witnesses, CAFCASS officers and the Court that they have no desire to have any further contact with the now absent parent. While this cannot be dismissed one must in fact investigate why the child has this attitude and how this attitude has come about.

Many CAFCASS officers, Judges and even some expert witnesses fail to investigate why a child has an attitude and behaviour which is totally opposed to his previous demeanour with that now absent parent.

It must remembered that children are suggestible and also are very frightened and anxious about the possibility after having lost one parent, that they may well lose the other one which whom they reside. They are worried that if they oppose that parent by wishing good contact with the absent parent they may lose the custodial parent. One can be certain that the acrimony or implacable hostility of the custodial parent will do all they can, however subtly or directly to influence the child to avoid having good contact with the now absent parent No expert witness, CAFCASS officer or Judge should ignore that possibility and need to deal with the matter decisively and as fairly and justly possible. This could mean the removal of the child from the bad influence of the custodial parent and placing him with the unfairly treated absent parent i.e. a change of residence. Often the child is allowed to become rude and abusive toward the non custodial parent which is not good for the child. This is often encouraged by the hostile custodial parent. This can also carry over to other authority figures including the expert witness and the Court officials.

Perhaps it is this final stage of dealing with parental alienation which has made me considered to be “controversial”. I too do not like to make decisions such as I have advocated this unless it is absolutely necessary for the benefit of the child who is being brainwashed and who will suffer in the short and long term from having been deprived of a now worthy absent parent. It is the view of this particular expert witness that removing a child from emotional abuse is fair and just. Hence the Judiciary also should is fair and just and all should consider the importance of making very difficult and unpopular decisions when they are required to be made.

One must add before taking such a drastic step all efforts should be made for there to be a voluntary change of behaviour in the alienator and that this is followed up and tested through the fact that the child has good contact with the absent parent. If this can be achieved without the drastic action of removing a child from an emotionally abusing parent then this is always the preference of the present expert witness and it should be the preference to all those who deal with families in turmoil, and the lack of good access for a worthy parent.

It is almost certain that suggesting the removal of a child from a custodial parent, will lead to abundant criticism for expert witnesses and the Judiciary. The current expert believes however that such a course of action is to the long term benefit of children. Sometimes the threat of this happening will change the insidious behaviour of alienation in the custodial vengeful parent.