The Alienated Psychologist
(How I became the victim of a vicious alienator)
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
This article concerns itself with the process of a psychologist and expert witness being alienated by a dissatisfied participant in a number of mediation sessions. The individual who carried out the alienation against the psychologist was also responsible for alienating a child against the parent. It draws attention to the dangers that expert witnesses may face when a paranoid alienator not only conducts the alienation against a parent (a father in this case) but when dissatisfied also does the same in connection with the psychologist seeking to resolve matters. It is fortunate in this case that the psychologist and expert witness was totally exonerated by his licensing body.
The Alienated Psychologist
(How I became the victim of a vicious alienator)
As one psychologist who has been working in family courts as an expert I recently had a new experience, a personal one, of being caught up or ensnared in the web of alienation myself when dealing with parents who were in a serious dispute leading to alienation of the father with mother brainwashing their daughter so that she no longer wished contact with her father. This is not a situation any psychological expert would envy being involved in. I will relate what and how I experienced this.
How it all began
It all began when I was requested to help a father who had gone through an acrimonious divorce and had an implacably hostile former wife. This in turn led to his daughter, aged ten, being turned against him by his former, now hostile, partner. The father had heard that I had helped many other parents in a similar position as himself and asked me to represent him in court. His aim was to have good contact with his daughter due to his love for his child.
When the case went to court, it was recommended by the Judge that I carry out a number of mediation sessions with the warring parents and to involve the child in seeking a solution to the problem. The problem, as it turned out, was essentially that the mother stated in court that her daughter did not wish to see her father or have anything to do with him. She further added, as a mother, she could not force her daughter to be with the father if their daughter did not wish to do so. The Judges decision was that he could not also force the daughter to have contact with her father if she was so vehemently opposed to it. I as an expert, thought differently. I quiet voice within me urged me to say to the Judge: “Why don’t you go into greater depth as to why this child does not wish to have any contact with her father? Why do you not ask the girl in private as to why she is so opposed to having a good time with her father when in the past she had such a good relationship? Ask her whether she had any good reasons for her decision? Could she even recall a good and happy time with her father when the family was together? These were questions that I would have asked if I had been in the position of the eminent Judge. The trouble was that I was not the Judge I was merely the psychological expert. This meant that I could assess or diagnose and provide my “opinion”, most especially as to why the girl was so reluctant to have contact with the father. I, however, had no power to implement my opinion. Only the Judge had that power.
The Judge’s decision, as I had expected, expressed the same opinion as a number of other Judges whom I had met in my various cases in court. He proclaimed that he could do nothing if the ten year old girl was emphatic that she wanted nothing to do with her father. I asked the Judge whether he would allow me to speak to him in private. He reluctantly agreed to meet me in his private chambers.
I suggested carrying out a number of mediation sessions to get the “truth”. By the truth I meant looking at the question: “Why was the girl who had been so close to her father at one time now so thoroughly opposed to him, not even wanting any contact whatsoever?” It was my view after a number of sessions with the mother and the father separately that the hostile parent was the mother. She had done a great deal to undermine the feelings of the girl toward her father. Having established this the next step to consider was how to change this young girl’s feelings towards her father whom she had loved in the past and perhaps still did love. Could the implacable hostility that had been expressed by the mother towards the father have so inculcated the same implacable hostility in the daughter? As it turned out this was the case here. One cannot be certain of this until one has carried out a full assessment or mediation with all concerned.
I will call the female Mrs X and the male Mr Y. Mr Y agreed readily with the condition decided upon by the Judge. Mrs X was more reticent, but eventually agreed to participate in twelve therapy mediation sessions involving all the parties. Her reluctance was a sign to the expert that she would be minimally involved in seeking to resolve the problem of no contact that the child had with the father. Her reasons were that she had nothing to gain by participating in mediation since she already had the power to prevent the child from having contact with the father. She decided, however, to “play the game”. Of this of course the Judge was totally unaware.
The twelve sessions went better than expected because the daughter eventually developed a good relationship with the psychologist who was following the Gardner method for treating serious alienation which the mother had engendered in the child. Some sessions were with the girl alone while others were with the father alone, and then with the father and the girl. The father reminded her of some of the good times they had in the past with videos and pictures he had brought along. The psychologist was firm in making it clear to the father that his love had to be communicated once again very firmly to the daughter.
During mediation the daughter was made to eventually feel guilty about her terrible and unfair behaviour towards her father. Sometimes emotions ran high as the child experienced anger against the father as she was in two minds having been thus brainwashed against the father by the mother. She complained about the fact that the father had made her eat vegetables with her meals as he felt this was good for her. Deep down she understood what father was trying to do, that was to be concerned about her health and well-being. Mother in turn of course never insisted on her eating anything she did not wish her to eat and gave in to everything the girl wanted. The girl used almost identical words about the father which the mother had expressed to the psychologist. All her comments were initially demeaning of the father, much as the mother’s comments.
Initially the daughter could not think of anything good to say about the father. Mother’s response to the mediation was as expected. She only made negative comments about the father. She especially emphasized that he was controlling and authoritarian. She emphasized that she could do nothing to alter her daughter’s mind and that she could not force her to do what she did not want to do……..”Of course one couldn’t blame her with a father like that.” At the end of the final session, the girl, following considerable amount of emotional pressure appeared to relent about how she felt about her father. She actually stated “Do you mind if I hug my dad?” That remark appeared to me to be a miracle and appeared to indicate that all the efforts of the expert witness had not been in vain. I decided to leave the therapy room with the words “I am so pleased that you have realized how much your father means to you. I will leave you two alone to talk to one another.” When I returned, the girl was sitting on her father’s lap in intimate conversation with him and smiling.
I explained what had happened to the mother. Her reply was, as expected, negative: “I can’t believe what you are saying, but I heard something in the way you put pressure on her. Can we go now?” I told her that she would have to wait until the session was over. She objected vehemently and told me that she was going to complain to her solicitor right away. She did however remain. When the girl returned to her mother she looked sheepish and almost guiltily at her. Father was delighted and now looked forward to now regular good contact with his beloved daughter. That day was his last contact with her. When back under the influence of her mother the girl totally refused to see her father again as if he had done something unspeakable during the mediation sessions. Father had only shown her total love and she had appeared to have accepted this but something had happened when she had returned to the mother.
In due course I received a letter from the British Psychological Society stating that the mother has lodged a “serious” complaint against me and my methods used in the mediation sessions. She claimed that I had been unfair and biased in the manner in which I worked the mediation sessions. The British Psychological Society indicated in a letter to myself that they were obliged to investigate the matter before making a decision and taking the appropriate actions against me. This could affect my ability to practice as a psychologist registered with the British Psychological Society.
Needless to say I felt “flabbergasted” about this complaint by the mother but understood the need for my licencing organization to investigate matters. My only concern was how long it would take for them to reach a decision and what that decision might be. The alienated father in the case in the meantime had sent a strong letter of support to the British Psychological Society explaining to them how well I had done during these sessions. He stated convincingly that I had worked hard to be just and fair in my efforts to make everyone aware of the rights of the child to benefit from the guidance of a good father and that this was the most important issue. This was despite the fact that the mother had made every effort behind the scenes to prevent good outcomes and had shown implacable hostility towards himself. She had forgotten, due to her own implacable hostility, consciously or unconsciously what was in the best interest of the child which was to have two good, loving parents interacting with her.
I had not understood what parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome meant and how it felt to be thus targeted myself. I knew now. For six months I awaited the verdict of the British Psychological Society as to whether I was to be censured or otherwise punished. You will be pleased to know that I was totally exonerated.
I had learned first-hand the vicious sequence of events when a parent’s implacable hostility led not only to the other parent being alienated but the expert who sought to solve the problem in the best interest of the child. I had been supported by my own professional organization and this gave me the greatest pleasure that I stuck to my principles despite the difficulties involved. I have and will always believe that children do best when they have two loving parents guiding them irrespective of acrimonious divorce and separation.
The outcome however, could have been very different. It could have led to the end of my work as a professional psychologist, but the organization thought that I had done the right thing and that I had put first what was in the best interest of the child who once loved her father very much.