Treating the Alienator
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The treatment of the alienator is the most difficult of all. The trilogy of our alienator, child and victim of the alienation are the three involved in the process of Parental Alienation (PAS). The difficulty results due to the alienator feeling totally justified in the programming being carried out. Sometimes, but rarely, the alienator would not even be able to admit that he/she is programming a child against the target parent. This is commonly termed “denial”.
Most alienators know exactly what they are doing and are prepared to avoid any form of treatment in order to continue doing what they are doing. This is because they feel totally justified in their action of seeking to destroy any possible relationship between a child in their care and the targeted parent. Normally, in order to reduce the resistance of an alienator and to get them to participate in therapy, there must be a Court resolution and pressure by the Judge that parental alienation syndrome or programming must be eliminated.
The treatment process has three objectives:
- To prepare the alienator for the treatment itself.
- To treat the alienator.
- To monitor the effects of the treatment vis a vis the child who has hitherto been programmed.
Preparation for Treatment
The therapist must be prepared for resistance from the alienator. The attitude of the alienator will reflect the following types of thinking when verbalised:
“There is nothing wrong with what I am doing. I don’t need any treatment.”
“I am only coming along to the treatment as you call it because the Court has forced me to do so.”
“There is nothing wrong with me that needs treatment. It’s…………..”
With this kind of attitude, treatment involving a change in attitude seems far from simple. It is however, important to repair step by step this tragical destructive interaction by a means of convincing the alienator that there is much to be gained by co-operating with the therapist and by accepting the irrationality of their demeanour. This needs to be emphasised as being so for two main reasons:
- The alienator would benefit via a better relationship with the alienated partner including, possibly greater financial help, care and support, and even friendliness from the alienated parent.
- One must appeal to the good sense of the mother. The mother must realise, and the father for that matter, the benefit the child would have in the short and long term if contact of some kind were established with the alienated parent.
The treatment will initially have to be played by ear. It is vital to win the confidence of the alienator. It must be stressed, that one is concerned with the resident parent, that is the alienator, as much as with the target parent. It is important to listen carefully, sensitively to the grievances of the alienator and to sympathise with their feelings of hurt, anger and having been betrayed in some cases. It is similar to when one is involved in a hostage situation. One must develop a positive relationship with the hostage taker.
The treatment, must, not only be concerned with the past but planning a way forward of hope for the alienator. He/she has been living, one can only term it, through their hatred of the alienated partner. The way forward must be to collect one’s resources within oneself and seek to establish a new relationship, if this is required, or support from friends. One should also help the alienator to develop new interests or pursuits which have a positive aspect and can eliminate or counteract those negative feelings which tend to originate totally within the person. One might say that the alienation process is obsessive, compulsive and habit forming.
Promoting and guiding the alienator to develop a personal hope for the future, does much to reduce or remove the often pathological animosity towards the targeted parent. This has become the very centre of the alienators ‘modus vivendi’. It can only be counteracted by an attitude of looking outwards. It means being optimistic and rebuilding a life and thereby putting behind them the hurt that has led to the process of alienating the child against the perceived perpetrator of acts of evil and betrayal.
The therapeutic intention is to change simultaneously the attitude and behaviour of the alienating individual. The kind of treatment adopted is cognitive plus behavioural. The success of this therapeutic approach can only be ascertained via two interacting factors: changing the hostility of the programmer towards the targeted parent and the child being encouraged to have contact with the alienated parent and actually spending positive time with that parent. This obviously means requiring the child or children to be involved in the treatment, once the alienating parent has shown the necessary signs and actions of co-operating with the efforts of the therapist.
Monitoring the effects of the treatment against PAS
In order to prepare fertile grounds for the anti- PAS therapeutic success the therapist must be involved in a positive reintroduction of the child with the targeted parent. This can only be achieved with the full agreement and co-operation of the previously alienating parent.
The alienated parent, must also be prepared in how best to deal with the initial likely difficulties of having contact with the child that has hitherto been adversely programmed and hence inimical to the targeted parent. If possible, there may be a need to establish positive and workable ways whereby some communication takes place between the alienator and the targeted parent.
A form of mediation should take place between the two adults with the help of the therapist. This is in order to develop agreement between them which can then lead to some kind of co-operation in the initial and ongoing process of re-establishing a harmonious relationship between all concerned in a family which was once united. This must initially be done individually rather than as a couple. Once there are sufficient signs of agreement, the couple can be seen together.
The therapist must ascertain with great care, each step of the way how much further he can go, or what further can be achieved to advance the process of harmonising the formally acrimonious relationship as far and as much as this can be achieved.
Success in reducing the acrimony inherent in the PAS situation can only be measured in degree. The success depends both on the skill of the therapist and the sincere willingness of the alienator to co-operate in the process of reducing or removing the PAS. Much again depends on the support of the Court, whether the treatment of the PAS has the desired successful outcome without such support little if anything is likely to be achieved.
Outcome of PAS treatment when ordered by the Court
It has been well established that very few Courts of Justice endorse putting pressure on the alienator to be involved in treatment to counteract the PAS. This is because Judges on the whole, consider it counter-productive, or even unlikely, that any form of treatment will be successful. Judges therefore rarely order an alleged perpetrator of PAS to participate in and benefit through therapy. The outcome of therapy in a relatively few instances when it is ordered to take place and accepted, is surprising. The table which follows indicated what can be achieved via the therapeutic intervention of just one psychologist who has for some time specialised in severe or recalcitrant cases of PAS.
Table: Result of Treatment for PAS
Targeted and former PAS parent
|Has led to effective harmony being developed||
|Some positive contact established||
|No effective change||
Discussion of Results
The results of this rather small study indicates what can be achieved through a form of mediation and therapy with those individuals involved intensively in programming a child or children against another parent. Parental alienation syndrome is a process which has been occurring over time and is much more common than is realised. It occurs not only in acrimonious separations and divorces but also in often unhappy marital relationships, or where one of the partners seeks almost total control over a child or children at the expense of the other partner.
In a happy or loving relationship between partners this is much less likely to occur as each will seek to involve the other partner in making decisions concerning children and in dealing with them. It also means they will adopt a unified approach to the rearing of children and most especially to the application of discipline which is necessary from time to time. In dealing with PAS we are however, not concerned with parents of that ilk who are loving and caring, towards their children and one another, but with parents that are opposite to this. PAS parents often feel and express a great deal of antagonism, hatred and hostility towards the other partner and will do anything they can to cause damage to the partner, who they feel has let them down in one way or another.
In extreme cases alienation becomes pathological where the individual virtually thrives on his/her antagonism and animosity towards the other party. Unfortunately the victim is not only the alienated parent but the children themselves involved in the trilogy.
Judges, as it has been stated, are reluctant to pressurise the recalcitrant programming parent to participate in therapeutic efforts to change this pattern. They realise there is so much hatred and antagonism that forcing anyone to participate in treatment against their will is likely to fail. This however, is not always the case. The previous table indicates that when Judges are strong in their desire to resolve the alienation process, much can be done by psychiatrists and psychologists to deal with the alienation and to reduce or even remove it altogether.
It is important for the Judiciary to realise their responsibility and potential power, to change PAS. Failing to comply with the order of a Court must incur punishment. This includes both parents having responsibility for the rearing of, their children. PAS must be viewed as an injustice to the alienated parent and also to the child in question. Judges therefore, must adopt a much more firm approach to alienators who fail to comply with court rulings and who may require some form of severe punishment, threatened and carried out if necessary. Among the punishments could be imprisonment or passing the child or children on to the alienated parent or relatives of the alienated parent who have hitherto not had these children in residence. These are extreme measures which should only be applied if there is a total lack of co-operation from the alienating parent with the court ruling. In order for rulings to be made they must have “teeth” and this provides a favourable climate and strong therapeutic pressure for the participant who is the alienator to seek to benefit from the treatment being carried out. It can also lead to better relationships eventually between the alienator and the former targeted parent. There is much to be gained but the course of action is not easy and relies heavily on the commitment and strength of the Judiciary system supporting the therapeutic process. It also relies greatly on the wisdom, sensitivity and skill of the therapist.