Here’s how to stay clear of phony assumptions in circumstances of parental alienation to make certain better outcomes for small children.


Parental alienation is a psychological state in which a child—usually just one whose mom and dad are engaged in a substantial-conflict separation or divorce—allies strongly with 1 mother or father (the offending, but favored parent) and rejects a partnership with the other mum or dad (the alienated parent) with no authentic rationale.1 This situation happens in the context of a maladaptive family members dynamic involving at least 3 people today: the alienating guardian, who deliberately and purposefully manipulates the child to reject the other mother or father the little one, who ordeals parental alienation and the turned down, alienated dad or mum. A wide range of ways and maneuvers are used by alienating moms and dads to realize their goal, ranging from undesirable-mouthing and disruption of visitation time to wrong allegations of abuse and prison charges.

Research indicates that parental alienation is present in 11% to 15% of divorce conditions. It has also been located that 20% to 25% of mothers and fathers engage in alienating conduct as long as 6 years immediately after divorce. Alienating dad and mom can be either mothers or fathers.

Parental alienation is inadequately recognized by numerous psychological health and fitness gurus, not to point out lawyers, guardians ad litem, and judges. It is a confusing and vexing difficulty for the reason that quite a few of its attributes and dynamics are hidden at the rear of the scenes, ferociously denied, and counterintuitive from what one would be expecting.

Since of its counterintuitive character, numerous phony assumptions are made by specialists who are involved in scenarios of parental alienation. Much can be uncovered from recognizing and being familiar with these wrong assumptions, each in phrases of prognosis and treatment. This is in particular important since early prognosis and intervention are predictive of better results for the little one.

Phony Assumptions Can Lead to Mistakes

What follows is a description of lots of false assumptions that are made routinely in alienation situations. Richard Warshak, PhD,2 and Steve Miller, MD,3 have composed about fallacies and basic attribution mistake in these situations, and 1 of us has prepared about misinformation in alienation theory.4 The subsequent principles provide as the basis for our fuller knowing of the job of bogus assumptions in parental alienation instances.

Instinct is king. When we think intuitively, our selections have a tendency to experience “right,” no matter of regardless of whether they are or not. To precisely comprehend parental alienation, a clinician need to have an advanced being familiar with of the regular dynamics in these cases. Relying on intuition can direct to main faults appropriate from the get-go. For case in point, just because a father or mother appears healthful or plausible, does not make it so.

Both dad and mom are equally liable. It is a frequent fallacy that each moms and dads are equally dependable for higher conflict during a separation or divorce. It is generally essential to think about the possibility that 1 dad or mum might be the aggressor, when the other dad or mum is the victim. In most situations, each mom and dad are not similarly accountable for the ongoing conflict. It can be a major blunder to think so.

Outward demeanors are indicative of fact. Alienating parents normally existing as calm, verbal, and convincing. In distinction, alienated or rejected mom and dad normally existing as agitated, indignant, and concerned they are victims.3 In numerous circumstances, the alienating mother or father appears to be healthier and a lot more believable—but that is a manipulation and a distraction from their intentionally alienating conduct. The rejected dad or mum seems more psychologically disturbed, and so it is assumed that he or she is the a person partaking in problematic habits. Outward demeanors can be very deceiving and ought to be regarded as cautiously in diagnostic selection-building.

Ignoring projection likelihood. The intrapsychic protection of projection is generally viewed in cases of alienation. In essence, the alienating mother or father accuses the turned down father or mother of getting the aggressor. If you fall for the offending parent’s distortion and misperception, lousy diagnostic decisions will be created, and the situation can rapidly go haywire. Projection can guide to the wrong particular person being recognized as the alienating parent.

Children’s denials and “truths” are gospel. Simply just believing a child’s denial of alienation by a mum or dad can be a recipe for catastrophe. Small children are not typically conscious of the maneuvers employed by the offending mum or dad to turn them towards the turned down father or mother. Furthermore, such children are regularly enmeshed with the offending mum or dad and will defend that mum or dad to the bitter close. Unbiased thinker phenomenon is usually found, whereby alienated kids assert that their rejection of a dad or mum is solely their notion and decision—not due to the offending parent’s impact. So just listening to a child’s denials can be a significant mistake that will undermine fantastic decision-earning in a case. There is a system of literature that tells us that small children and young people do not know what is in their personal best curiosity.5 This is in particular accurate when they are the unwitting members in alienation by a parent.

Alienation does not include whole rejection. Kids normally want to adore equally of their mother and father without the need of interruption or impediment. A baby does not totally reject a parent except if there is an alienating influence in the mix. This is accurate even for abusive parents. In truth, children who have been verbally, physically, or sexually abused by a father or mother experience profound ambivalence mainly because they nonetheless enjoy the dad or mum. They are upset and in turmoil by the point that they can not have a continued marriage despite the perfectly-founded abuse.6 As this sort of, whole rejection by a boy or girl is significantly additional indicative of alienation. And to use a child’s rejection of a father or mother as corroboration or validation of the turned down parent’s badness can be flat-out completely wrong.

Estrangement and alienation are the exact same detail. When kids resist make contact with with a father or mother for reputable factors, this is known as estrangement, not alienation. Estrangement is incredibly various than alienation it is critical not to confuse them. For illustration, it would make perception for a boy or girl to be estranged from a mum or dad if that father or mother engages in substance abuse throughout the child’s visits. Estrangement can be corrected if the father or mother is willing to make the necessary changes. Alienation, in contrast, tends to be camouflaged, insidious, and recalcitrant.

Alienating habits is rather harmless and will not affect the child’s extensive-expression psychological health and fitness. Partaking persistently in alienating conduct is youngster psychological abuse. It is a mistake to deny it or rationalize it away. According to DSM-5, youngster psychological abuse is nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s mother or father or caregiver that consequence, or have acceptable potential to outcome, in considerable psychological hurt to the boy or girl. In light-weight of this, parental alienation is viewed as a psychiatric crisis, specially in moderate to severe circumstances. Minimizing the severity of the challenge does a terrible disservice to the youngster. Sad to say, it permits the abusive conduct to proceed unchecked.

Because persistent alienating behavior constitutes baby psychological abuse, the top rated precedence should really be to shield the boy or girl from even more abuse. Until eventually this is achieved, no type of psychotherapy will be powerful. In other terms, protecting the kid from more abuse should be the 1st move just before psychotherapy of any kind is started. This oversight is prevalent. In numerous courtroom cases, it is erroneously assumed that psychotherapy can resolve the dilemma when, in reality, little or nothing at all can be achieved for the reason that the alienating behavior is ongoing.

Removing the kid from the home is dangerous. There is no credible proof that getting rid of an alienated little one from the dwelling of the offending mum or dad triggers a significant hazard of psychological harm. The opposite is true. In practically all intense and some reasonable conditions of parental alienation, the pitfalls of not safeguarding the child are far larger than the pitfalls of safeguarding the boy or girl. Removing of the little one from the offending parent’s care could be important, at the very least briefly. Little ones and adolescents could fuss about it, but they will comply with, and advantage from, these types of an intervention.7

Reunification therapy can start at any time and is quick. Reunification therapy can not be prosperous until the alienating actions by the offending mother or father is stopped. Usually, progress will be impeded by the ongoing alienation, and absolutely everyone will be perplexed as to why sizeable gains are not being made. The reunification treatment alone may not be the situation at all. Its development could be stalled by the omnipresence of alienating conduct by the 1 guardian.

Reunification treatment is complicated and complicated. It calls for a experienced and seasoned therapist. The therapist have to be directive and assertive, not passive, lethargic, or naïve. An inexperienced or unknowledgeable therapist can make things even worse. This kind of therapists can get started to feel overcome, discouraged, and unhappy. A damaging expectation for improvement can take over and turn out to be a complicating and restricting aspect.

There are no interventions for alienation conditions. Energetic interventions for parental alienation are out there and they do get the job done. The interventions have to be aimed at (1) halting the alienation by the offending dad or mum, (2) clarifying and resolving the alienation in the youngster, and (3) fixing the boy or girl-rejected father or mother marriage. Much more traditional psychotherapies that do not concentrate on these specific parts are doomed to are unsuccessful. The right remedy at the proper time is critical.

Children’s faculty functionality is the very best guideline. Just simply because a boy or girl is doing effectively in school or other activities does not mean they are executing effectively psychologically or emotionally. This is a frequent misunderstanding. Concentrating on university grades can miss out on the larger issues at hand.

The actually responsible party will confess at some point. No make any difference how significantly force is utilized, the seriously alienating father or mother will hardly ever admit to their deliberately damaging habits. There is under no circumstances a Perry Mason minute. Do not be misguided or misled by this parent’s persistent denials, as they are disingenuous and untruthful.

Alienating behavior constantly success in alienation. Not all kids who have an alienating mother or father come to be alienated. Nevertheless, even if the child is not alienated does not imply the parent’s alienating conduct is harmless. The detrimental consequences of alienating actions are likely to be cumulative in excess of time. In addition, the child could possibly develop into alienated if the detrimental behavior does not cease.

Concluding Thoughts

All conditions of parental alienation are fraught with complexities and complications. None are simple or uncomplicated. Wrong assumptions are pitfalls to be understood and avoided in these instances. Missteps anyplace along the way can final result in misdiagnosis, miscalculations, and ill-fated interventions.

Early analysis and intervention are crucial in alienation situations. The offending parent’s behavior have to be stopped as soon as feasible. All professionals—from mental overall health authorities to attorneys to judges—must understand this principle. It is unacceptable to flip a blind eye. By accomplishing so, complicity with the offending parent will be proven and the child’s psychological wellness will be rendered unimportant.

Pros want to enable youngsters and their moms and dads when they are embroiled in high conflict and escalating acrimony. But slipping for any of these false assumptions can consider a scenario down a unsafe path. And, in just about every instance, a child’s psychological wellbeing and psychological wellness are at stake.

Dr Blotcky is a scientific and forensic psychologist in personal exercise in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also a clinical affiliate professor in the Division of Psychology, College of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a member of the Parental Alienation Analyze Team. Dr Bernet is professor emeritus, Division of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt College University of Drugs in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the founder and initial president of the Parental Alienation Analyze Team.


1. Lorandos D, Bernet W (eds). Parental Alienation—Science and Legislation. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd. 2020.

2. Warshak RA. Existing controversies with regards to parental alienation syndrome. Am J Forensic Psychol. 2001:19(3)29-59.

3. Miller SG. Medical reasoning and choice-creating in circumstances of youngster alignment: diagnostic and therapeutic problems. In Baker AJL, Sauber, SR, eds., Performing with Alienated Little ones and People: A Clinical Guidebook. New York, New York: Routledge. 2013:8-46.

4. Bernet W. Recurrent misinformation about parental alienation idea. Am J Fam Ther. September 24, 2021.

5. Warshak, RA (2003). Payoffs and pitfalls of listening to children. Fam Relat. 2003:52(4)373-384.

6. Baker AJL, Creegan A, Quinones A, et al. Foster children’s sights of their birth moms and dads: a overview of the literature. Kid Youth Serv Rev. 2016:67(C)177-183.

7. Warshak RA. Ten parental alienation fallacies that compromise conclusions in court and in treatment. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2015:46(4), 235-249.