What is Parental Alienation and How Can Therapists Successfully Treat it?

Curt and Katie chat about a controversial topic: Parental Alienation. We look at what parental alienation is, the controversies and complexities surrounding this process, how to assess for parental alienation, and how to effectively treat the family system. We talk about how traditional therapy methods are inadequate and potentially harmful in these cases and what to do instead.  This is a continuing education podcourse.

Transcript

Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

In this podcast episode we explore Parental Alienation

We both have worked with families that

What is Parental Alienation?

  • The impact a parent/guardian has over how a child interacts with another parent/guardian
  • Complex dynamic within a family where conflict is present
  • Breakdown of relationship based on behavior of alienating parent toward targeted parent
  • The Four Factor Model from Baker (2020)

How do you assess for Parental Alienation?

  • Challenges with correctly identifying this process/dynamic
  • Controversies and lack of recognition of Parental Alienation as a separate diagnosis from Parent-Child Relational Problem
  • Identifying what Parental Alienation is not
  • Clues that stories from kids are manufactured versus authentic stories of child abuse
  • The need for access to the full family system to obtain sufficient information
  • Exploring: What is alienating behavior? How does it work?

Effective Case Conceptualization and Treatment for Parental Alienation

“Research actually shows [for parental alienation] that only working with one part of the system and in a very isolated way, can sometimes create more harm in the system.” – Curt Widhalm, LMFT

  • The importance of a family systems approach
  • Involvement of government systems
  • Uncovering the generational or individual trauma for all members of the system
  • How to engage the tools available to advocate for important treatment elements to be in place
  • The importance of understanding scope and how to write recommendations to court
  • Preventing therapist shopping and treatment avoidance
  • Harmful recommendations that can hinder progress within these systems

“Don’t be alone with these cases. Don’t keep your observations to yourself – I think whether it’s with a treatment team or your own consultation or your own therapy – these things can bring so much up in therapists because of their own stories, their own history and the just the intensity of what’s happening in these systems.” – Katie Vernoy, LMFT

  • Treatment teaming and avoiding isolation
  • Educating about Parental Alienation
  • Supporting the targeted parent to improve the relationship with the child
  • Working with alienating parent to prepare for improvement in child’s relationship with targeted parenting
  • Co-parenting and conflict resolution
  • Therapist communication with all members of the system

Our Generous Sponsors for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:

GreenOak Accounting

At GreenOak Accounting, they believe that every private practice should be profitable. They’ve worked with hundreds of practice owners across the country to have the financial confidence and information to make data-driven decisions. We want our client’s businesses to be profitable so they can focus on fulfilling their mission.

GreenOak Accounting specializes in working with therapists in private practice, and they have helped hundreds of therapists across the country reach their financial goals. They offer a number of monthly packages to fit a growing practice’s needs – from bookkeeping to CFO services. Other specialized services include Profit First Support, compensation planning, and customized KPI Dashboards. They help therapists achieve their clinical goals by making sure they have a profitable practice, and offer unsurpassed support along the way.

If you’re interested in scheduling a complimentary consultation, please visit their website at http://www.GreenOakAccounting.com/consultation to learn more.

Thrizer

Thrizer is a new modern billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible AND clinicians should earn what they are worth. Their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer, you can potentially save them hundreds every month, with no extra work on your end. Every time you bill a client through Thrizer, an insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to the client’s insurance. From there, Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursement quickly, directly into their bank account. By eliminating reimbursement by check, confusion around benefits, and obscurity with reimbursement status, they allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It is very quick to get set up and it works great in completement with EHR systems. Their team is super helpful and responsive, and the founder is actually a long-time therapy client who grew frustrated with his reimbursement times The best part is you don’t need to give up your rate. They charge a standard 3% payment processing fee!

Thrizer lets you become more accessible while remaining in complete control of your practice. A better experience for your clients during therapy means higher retention. Money won’t be the reason they quit on therapy. Sign up using bit.ly/moderntherapists if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free! Sign up for Thrizer with code ‘moderntherapists’ for 1 month of no credit card fees or payment processing fees! That’s right – you will get one month of no payment processing fees, meaning you earn 100% of your cash rate during that time.

Receive Continuing Education for this Episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide

Hey modern therapists, we’re so excited to offer the opportunity for 1 unit of continuing education for this podcast episode – Therapy Reimagined is bringing you the Modern Therapist Learning Community!

Once you’ve listened to this episode, to get CE credit you just need to go to moderntherapistcommunity.com/podcourse, register for your free profile, purchase this course, pass the post-test, and complete the evaluation! Once that’s all completed – you’ll get a CE certificate in your profile or you can download it for your records. For our current list of CE approvals, check out moderntherapistcommunity.com.

You can find this full course (including handouts and resources) here: https://moderntherapistcommunity.com/courses/what-is-parental-alienation-and-how-can-therapists-successfully-treat-it

Continuing Education Approvals:

When we are airing this podcast episode, we have the following CE approval. Please check back as we add other approval bodies: Continuing Education Information

CAMFT CEPA: Therapy Reimagined is approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to sponsor continuing education for LMFTs, LPCCs, LCSWs, and LEPs (CAMFT CEPA provider #132270). Therapy Reimagined maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Courses meet the qualifications for the listed hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. We are working on additional provider approvals, but solely are able to provide CAMFT CEs at this time. Please check with your licensing body to ensure that they will accept this as an equivalent learning credit.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

References mentioned in this continuing education podcast:

Baker, A. J. (2010). Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind. WW Norton & Company.

Baker, A. (2020). Reliability and validity of the four‐factor model of parental alienation. Journal of family therapy, 42(1), 100-118.

Garber, B. D. (2011). Parental alienation and the dynamics of the enmeshed parent–child dyad: Adultification, parentification, and infantilization. Family Court Review, 49(2), 322-335.

Templer, K., Matthewson, M., Haines, J., & Cox, G. (2017). Recommendations for best practice in response to parental alienation: Findings from a systematic review. Journal of Family Therapy, 39(1), 103-122.

*The full reference list can be found in the course on our learning platform.

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

What’s New in the DSM-5-TR? An interview with Dr. Michael B First

The Risks and Consequences of Failing to Report Child Abuse

CYA for Court: An interview with Nicol Stolar-Peterson, LCSW

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:

Patreon

Buy Me A Coffee

Podcast Homepage

Therapy Reimagined Homepage

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

YouTube

Consultation services with Curt Widhalm or Katie Vernoy:

The Fifty-Minute Hour

Connect with the Modern Therapist Community:

Our Facebook Group – The Modern Therapists Group

Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann https://www.facebook.com/McCannDW/

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano https://groomsymusic.com/

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Curt Widhalm 0:00
This episode is brought to you by GreenOak Accounting.

Katie Vernoy 0:04
At GreenOak Accounting they believe that every practice should be profitable. They work with therapists all around the country and they give practice owners the financial confidence and information to make data driven decisions. They want their clients businesses to be profitable, so they can focus on fulfilling their mission.

Curt Widhalm 0:20
If you’re interested in speaking with a member of their team, visit their website at greenoakaccounting.com today, and listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Katie Vernoy 0:29
This episode is also brought to you by Thrizer.

Curt Widhalm 0:33
Thrizer is a modern billing platform for private pay therapists. Their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer you can potentially save them hundreds every month with no extra work on your end. The best part is you don’t have to give up your rates. They charge a standard 3% processing fee.

Katie Vernoy 0:55
Listen at the end of the episode for more information on a special offer from Thrizer.

Announcer 1:00
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 1:15
Hey, modern therapists, we’re so excited to offer the opportunity for one unit of continuing education for this podcast episode. Once you’ve listened to this episode, to get CE credit, you just need to go to moderntherapistscommunity.com, register for your free profile, purchase this course, pass the post test and complete the evaluation. Once that’s all completed, you’ll get a CE certificate in your profile, where you can download it for your records. For a current list of our CE approvals, check out moderntherapistscommunity.com.

Katie Vernoy 1:47
Once again, hop over to moderntherapistscommunity.com for one CE once you’ve listened.

Curt Widhalm 1:54
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is another one of our CE eligible episodes. So follow the directions at the show intro and outro for how you can get continuing education for this. And today we are diving into a little bit of a controversial topic around working with parental alienation. We’re just going to call it from the top of the show here. That parental alienation is something that has been discussed a lot in some different arenas, both in the therapy world, in the legal world. There’s not a lot of consensus around exactly what it is. We have agreed that calling it a syndrome no longer really applies. It’s got some murky history with the person who first coined the term. But this is something where somebody having some influence over the way that a kid thinks and speaks and relates to other people doesn’t seem so controversial to Katie and myself. And we are going to be talking about the ways that this shows up, some of the underpinnings for how it develops, some things to look out for, as well as the interventions and the teamwork that you need to do if this kind of stuff shows up into your office. So Katie, let’s start a little bit with maybe some of our personal experiences here. When did you first kind of become aware of parental alienation being a thing.

Katie Vernoy 3:31
I mean, I’ve heard the term over the years from different clients and folks who thought it was happening. But I think as I became to understand it more, I recognized that this is something that I’ve worked with almost since the beginning of my career. When you’ve got families that are in crisis and in turmoil, when there’s things that are happening between parents, and there’s a lot of animosity and conflict, it oftentimes will end up with kids in the middle having to choose sides. And even in a small way, kids having to choose which parent they love more, and which parent they’re going to live with. And all of those things oftentimes can can at least have a flavor of this. So I guess always? But I think you know more recently, I’ve had some some different cases where this was really apparent. And it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see kids really having animosity toward a parent that they had previously lived with and seem to get along with and love and all of that and it’s something that I feel like you know, in digging into this conversation, it just feels very complex and just awful. So I’m excited to talk about some of the nuances as well as kind of the broad strokes as well.

Curt Widhalm 4:49
So we’re gonna start with a couple of research articles on this. We will include all of our references in our show notes, you can find those over at mtsgpodcast.com. And that’s also just to prove to all of you that we’re not just making this stuff up. And so…

Katie Vernoy 5:11
At least mostly we’re not making it up.

Curt Widhalm 5:12
So the first description is from a 2017 article by Templer et all. And they say the term parental alienation is used to describe a process involving one parent, the alienating parent, teaching a child to reject the child’s other parent, the targeted parent. And that’s the language that we’re going to try and use throughout this episode here. This is to experience fear when they are around that targeted parents and to avoid having any contact with them. The result of parental alienation is the breakdown of a relationship the child has with the parent or damage to that relationship. Templer et all say that there’s no definitive set of behaviors that constitute parental alienation. However, the defining feature is the attempt by the alienating parent to eradicate the relationship between the child and the targeted parent without reasonable justification. Now, Baker in a 2020 article says that there is a four factor model of parental alienation. And in order for alienation to be present, there must be these four things: a prior positive relationship between the child and the now rejected parents, number two absence of maltreatment by the rejected parent, three use of alienating behaviors by the favored parent and four presence of behavioral manifestations of alienation in the child. So a lot that I’m throwing at you here, Katie, I’m sure that you’ve got questions.

Katie Vernoy 6:55
I think some of it seems fairly obvious, but I think we’ll not assume that everyone else has been aware of it in the way that we are. So the prior positive relationship, I think that’s an interesting one. Because who says it? Is it the kid? Is it the, you know, the targeted parent? Is it the alienating parent? They’re certainly not going to say that there was ever one, but like, how do you determine that the relationship was positive before? I mean, I guess maybe, maybe, maybe that’s too in the weeds? Let me get a little bit further out. In diagnosing this, or in identifying it, let’s observing and identifying this, the things that I see that are challenging, who says that these things are true? And how do you distinguish between whether or not there actually is maltreatment? Or if it’s manufactured? I think that starting with like, how do you really get to the facts because I think the positive relationship, I can say there was a positive relationship with my child and I may be wrong, I may be misguided or I may be lying. I can say there’s an absence of maltreatment. But if I maltreated my child, I’m not going to tell you that because it’s child abuse. I’m going to frame anything that the alienating parent doing is alienating behavior. And I guess the last one is actually where therapists can use their skills and see the behavioral manifestation. So I guess I’m ready to jump into the nuance of how we actually sort these things out because they make sense to me. But I see a lot of areas where it’s going to be a, he said, she said, they said kind of situation where you have to figure out how do you determine what’s actually true?

Curt Widhalm 8:43
So you bring up the word diagnose, and I’m gonna start here a little bit to be able to come back to the myriad of questions that you’re rightfully bringing.

Katie Vernoy 8:54
So many questions, so many questions.

Curt Widhalm 8:57
So a lot of the controversies in this fields are pointing to none of the major professional organizations are recognizing parental alienation as a separate diagnosis or anything like that. And to the best of our abilities, we’re going to look into the DSM as kind of our guiding point of this and this falls under z 62.820. Parental child’s relational problems. And within this description, there’s going to be things for the parent/child relationship affects a number of things, but within the DSM-5-TR whether you like it or hate it, is this sentence “cognitive problems may include negative attributions of the others intentions, hostility toward or scapegoating of the other, and unwarranted feelings of estrangement.” So there is at least a nod to this having an impact within the mental health field. It’s not in the F codes. It’s out there in the Z codes. But it is something where, all right, it’s at least recognized enough to potentially to be listed here. So how do we recognize that it’s going on? How do we know that this kind of stuff is happening? And for those of you who’ve had this before, this is one of those things where your spidey senses just start tingling when things don’t add up. And I want to make it clear at this point, and this is to borrow from Garber 2011. It’s helpful to define when it’s not. And Garber says it is important to note that a child rejecting a parent on reasonable grounds such as in response to parental abuse or neglect, constitutes estrangement, not parental alienation. So knowing what it’s not helps us to start defining what it is and how to start recognizing this. And so a lot of times, the ways that this shows up is in the ways that oftentimes minor children are talking about the targeted parent. Language doesn’t seem to necessarily be age appropriate. It seems to be language that is often used by attorneys or adults, because let’s admit that most of the times that we’re going to see parental alienation, are in times that there’s a highly conflicted couple or divorce going on.

Katie Vernoy 11:41
Of course, yeah.

Curt Widhalm 11:43
And so you’ll hear a lot of language that just doesn’t seem to fit the right age. And it can either be in legal terms, it can be just kind of a repetition of the very same set of facts, no matter how much progress you make with a client that they just seem to kind of revert back to old behaviors or old complaints. Even if there’s no new evidence of any of this stuff happening.

Katie Vernoy 12:09
That actually makes a lot of sense. I am picturing a conversation with a client who had talked to me about this as being in their own family. And what they said was that there was this story with almost the exact same words over and over again, that was how it was described. And it was language that sounded very much like the alienating parent, it was not something that aligned with how the kid was talking. It also did not seem to have all of the extra details and inconsistencies that oftentimes comes from children telling stories about things that happened. It was like a rote story over and over again, with language that did not seem age appropriate. So that actually brings very true for me.

Curt Widhalm 12:54
And while Katie, and I may be bringing up some of the work that we’ve done in our careers. In this episode, we are changing a tremendous amount of details and all of these cases to help illustrate some of the points here. But this is to highlight what Katie’s saying here is that in working with this, or when you’re starting to suspect this, this is knowing what normal childhood development, actually is for kids, and knowing how kids respond to questions, their stories change, if you, you know, poke and prod, this is being a good clinician as far as okay, what happens that oftentimes when we start to suspect that alienation may be happening, the story reverts back to this very exact rote story, the details don’t change as Katie’s highlighting here.

Katie Vernoy 13:47
The story doesn’t make sense, or it keeps being kind of spoken in a rote way. Just to dig into this one more second, I think that there’s this piece of, and I want to distinguish it from someone claiming abuse, and having their story kind of poked and prodded and it being true abuse versus this more parental alienation rote story. Maybe we can just kind of directly describe the differences between a child reporting abuse after having not reported it for some time, or the story kind of being this manufactured thing. So the first thing I’m hearing is that it’s language that’s not aligned with their age, and it and it’s very much the same without a lot of detail changes. But we get complaints all the time that kids are not good reporters of their own abuse, and, and so maybe a little bit on how that actually is different.

Curt Widhalm 14:46
So a little bit of history as we illustrate this question and this is where we’re gonna go back to 1985 and Richard Gardner, the first person to describe parental alienation syndrome. Richard Gardner, it helps to get the look in this movement, but also did a lot of things that led to a lot of the controversies that have made it difficult to look into this. So this is part of needing to separate the person behind it from potentially his own influence on it, versus the way that the rest of the field looked at it. And Richard Gardner was a child psychiatrist, and was widely known for child custody evaluations and for being an expert witness in highly conflicted court custody cases. Oftentimes, where fathers had been accused of sexually molesting their children. Gardner’s controversies in a lot of this come across is sometimes being interpreted as being almost pro-pedophilia. So this is where separate the person from kind of where the field is now, on some of this, and we’re fully acknowledging, like, Richard Gardner did not help us out in a lot of ways. But this is where we do as clinicians in working with kids still have our responsibilities of evaluating and assessing if abuse has happened, and making the right reports to investigate the veracity of any of these claims. We tend to still have to follow, listen to your clients, report reportable situations, and let the people who are investigating that determined the facts of this. Part of at the core of your question here is at what point in the process are you getting involved with a case? Because oftentimes, where we might start suspecting these kinds of things, is, if you’re working with an individual child, for reasons related to trauma and abuse, that subsequently later on, you’re looking at, oh, there’s some family system involving, it’s a lot different case conceptualization than if you’re a court ordered therapist that has already identified that alienation is going on. So the answer to your question is, believe your client until there’s reasons not to believe them.

Katie Vernoy 17:20
I hear you and I’m also trying to weigh out some different potential harm that can happen either if you don’t believe your client, or you do believe your client. Because to me, if this is completely manufactured, there is a lot of problems that can happen within a system, investigating it. Like there’s so much that can go on for the kid, there’s so much that can go on for the alienated parent or the targeted parent, I think it’s something where, to me, the harm that can happen with a false report and or a false narrative being reported, which we would have to do, I get it we have to do that, is pretty substantial. And I actually had a case where that there was, in my understanding, I was pretty peripheral, that there was a manufactured report, and everyone did what they needed to do. It went through, you know, things, things were, you know, investigated, and that the result of that was the result of the investigation is not relevant, but the the impact on the targeted parent, and that parent’s family was exponential. I mean, it was terrifying, it was horrible. Now, there is a part of me, that’s, that also doesn’t want a child who is finally able to speak their abuse to not be believed, even if they’re within one of these systems. And I think that kids need to be able to be believed and and, and to, to get the help they need and to get the system kind of addressed in the way they need. And so it just it feels really, really dicey. I mean, I think our mandates are obvious, like we have to report suspected child abuse. And if a child says I was abused, and we say, why don’t believe you. Like, I don’t think that’s a you know, that’s not a reason not to report. You know, and we have a whole episode on on failing to report child abuse. So we’ll link to that in the show notes. But I think it’s it’s that piece of there’s there is harm either way, if you’re wrong, and it feels really, really hard to navigate. So maybe there’s not a question there. But it feels hard to navigate that when we don’t know.

Curt Widhalm 19:29
Well, there’s a couple of, there’s a couple of things here that you’re breaking up. One is check your jurisdictional laws on this, but most places laws are reasonable suspicions of child abuse. That if you don’t have reasonable suspicions because of the way that it’s reported, you may not have the obligations to report in all jurisdictions. And I’m not going to steer this too far into that direction here because you’re bringing up a much bigger and more important point and really the crux of transitioning this into actual treatment, you’re expressing some of the wonderment and frustrations of approaching this from an individualistic standpoint. Of working with just one part of the system, that there is just one child where you’re potentially seeing this going on, you might hear a comment or get a voicemail or an email from a parent, you know, providing extra information for you. All of those reasons that we hear clinician saying, like, I don’t want to work with kids because of the parents. But research actually shows that only working with one part of the system and in a very isolated way, can sometimes create more harm in the system. And this is where out of the licensees and being able to look at some of the relational impacts, marriage and family therapists might have a little bit more of a natural predication to look at some of the systemic influences into the child’s behaviors, as compared to some of the other licensees. Don’t get your pitchforks out yet, like, there’s good clinicians of all licenses. But…

Katie Vernoy 21:15
But MFT is the best.

Curt Widhalm 21:16
I’m not even saying that I’m saying that the general training of a family systems type approach leads to the conceptualization that you should not be working on this all alone. Because part of what comes up in this is, oh, there is a targeted parent, there is an alienating parent, or we’re suspecting that a alienating parent is involved. And it’s being able to work with all parts of the system in order to get the needs met to improve the system around the child. If you’re imagining a four year old coming in and being like, you know, my dad says that my mom is X, Y, and Z or you know, some of that adult, adultified language of mom always says XY and Z, blah, blah, blah, then you can start to be like, okay, the alienating parent in this situation is, you know, a bad influence on this kid. But if you’re only working with the child in that situation, you can’t force the alienating parent to come in on your own. And that’s where the research actually points like, all right, you’re either then put in a situation where you have to fall in line to, you know, follow the alienating parents message or story or targets in order to be able to continue working with the client in the hope that this doesn’t make things any worse, or at least going to keep things from getting worse by being able to continue seeing the client that you actually need to be able to influence the entirety of the family system here.

Katie Vernoy 22:59
Before we we go too far into treatment, I think I want to just note that having the whole system in place also will help with assessment. Because a kid comes in and is spouting out language that is, and a rote story that is, beyond their typical age language, we can sense or might be alienating behavior. But I, I wanted to before we jump into the treatment of it, I wanted to know like if let’s say we have the family system, and we are seeing now, you know, more than one caregiver, we’re seeing more than one child or more than the child like, how do we identify alienating behavior? And I guess what is alienating behavior? And how do we identify who’s actually doing it? Because oftentimes, in these situations, there’s not like just there’s two caregivers, oftentimes, there’s some biological parents, there might be step parents, there might be, you know, other kinship care. And it seems like it becomes very complicated to determine, like, where is this story happening? And what’s actually going on? Now, we don’t have to get into all the iterations with different types of families, but, but I just want to have a clarity on you know, we can see the impact and the behavioral manifestations in kids you know, but But what is alienating behavior? I want to know how that works. So before we treat it, I want to understand it because it feels very manipulative and kind of like, almost like cult indoctrination. Like to me, this is, this is very confusing to me, because it just seems so overwhelming to kind of see the huge impacts on these kids. But it’s like, how do they do it? It’s like this manipulative mastermind that I just don’t get.

Curt Widhalm 24:44
This is the funny thing is in reading any of the criticisms of parental alienation by both legal scholars as well as therapeutic scholars, is that these same critics will readily admit Yes, adults can be manipulated into cults and be brainwashed or they can be influenced to acting in a certain way. But parental alienation that probably doesn’t exist. Because I do get a sense that it is a lot of the same kinds of techniques, it’s being able to have repetitive messages that highlight negative behaviors about the other. It’s having even subconscious influences of when you talk in a certain way, or when you don’t behave in a certain way, the alienating parent bestows better sorts of feelings or warmth, because you’re falling in line with what the figurehead is doing. And so it’s very obvious to me that one person can totally have an influence on another person and change their behavior, especially in their most formative years, when they’re figuring out how the world works, but don’t necessarily have all of the cognitive or the emotional skills to be able to express that.

Katie Vernoy 26:07
That makes sense. I’m imagining and just thinking through a lot of different cases, just these, these kids who are in survival mode, oftentimes, I mean, if there’s been especially a highly conflictual divorce that’s going on, you know, the parents or caregivers were living together, there was all of this drama and chaos, and then there, then there’s the family story about how it ended. And, and then that continues on, and deepens. And this may be beyond the scope of this conversation. But I just think about the psychology of the alienating parent, and how they’re framing what they’re doing. Because it feels like it could be a safety mechanism, I’m thinking about a completely different case of you know, and it’s not even parents, it’s different types of family systems, but it’s, you know, like, I am protecting my child from this evil evil person, and they’ve, they hurt me and I will not let them hurt my child. And so I think that it can get really emotionally complex and rich. Obviously, as a therapist, I find all this interesting, but it seems like there’s there’s a psychology around this parental or caregiving figure protecting their kids, not like they’re evil masterminds trying to, to remove the other parent from their lives. I mean, I think probably all of those things happen, but it just it seems like there’s, there’s this influence that’s kind of shaping behavior. And we do that on purpose with kids. In a healthy way, you know.

Curt Widhalm 27:43
The research actually backs you up on this. Baker has a 2010 article that says parental alienation can be a central issue in child custody disputes, noting that the cluster of alienating behaviors can be misinterpreted often as indications of the parent’s loving and natural desire to protect their child from the targeted parent. And Darnall 2011 suggested that alienating parents place pressure on their childs to publicly reject the targeted parent during court proceedings, thus causing further distress to the child. So, not only is this exactly as you described…

Katie Vernoy 28:26
Well, I am very smart Curt. I am very observant.

Curt Widhalm 28:31
But it’s also something where in some of the cases that I have worked on before, and most of my experience in working with parental alienation or parental alienation-esque type situations, comes when I am assigned as a court appointed therapist for some part of the system. And most oftentimes, it’s between the targeted parent and the child. But what I have noticed in my career is that oftentimes before ongoing court dates, whether it’s an update to custody schedules, whether it’s figuring out custody schedules or working with Department of Children and Family Services, that in the one to two preceding weeks before those court dates happen, a lot of times the symptomology of the child ends up exacerbated and becoming either regressive or that a lot of the complaints end up going back to what sounds like the first sessions of our treatment. And it’s because of almost this nature of needing to perform to the people who are going to be reporting to the people who can hold the family accountable, i.e. the judge. That if we can get the professionals to be able to say this is not working. This needs to be a child who needs to stay with the alienating parents more, that if the child acts up, you know, playing really on the recency bias of treatment, that you can often see where some of these behaviors are ongoing and progressive in that relational dynamic.

Katie Vernoy 30:24
It seems that when we have kids regress in treatment, that there’s going to be a lot of assumptions that we make. And hopefully, you know, we’re opening up the conversation that maybe it’s not, I’m worried about seeing the targeted parent, or maybe it’s not about, there’s something going on that we actually will dig a little deeper and try to identify it. But when you were talking, I just kind of I imagined kind of practicing for your speech, or, you know, recognizing that have to make a moral decision about what you share. I mean, to me, it seems like there are, and I think this comes from adults who were in the systems growing up, but it seems like there’s some kids that are fully enmeshed and ingrained into these false narratives and the stories and so it’s, it’s nerve racking, but it’s kind of ego syntonic, so to speak, like, Yes, I agree with the alienating parent, this is my reality. Done deal. And maybe that’s, that’s too short sighted and doesn’t really speak to the full experience of the kiddo. But, but that seems to be a part of it. But I recently have been talking to adult children who were in the system. So you know, adults now. And it seems like there is an understanding, at least at certain points of how that system works. And there’s a choice being made, which is like that Sophie’s Choice moral decision of, do I say these things to be able for survival needs? Or do I speak the truth. And I think both of those things are really harsh for kids to be to have to grapple with. One is believing my other parent is this horrible being that is horribly abused me in some way. The other is I have survival needs. And I have to go along with this in order to stay afloat. And neither of those things are really easy to take in. And we’re talking about it very simply as like, oh, well, apparent parental alienation. The other parent is this victim, that’s the targeted parent is a victim. And in truth, they could be jerks, but just not doing what is being said. So it becomes really complicated when it’s, it’s something where the human experience is pulled together. But the result is that kids are really left with a lot of harm. And I can imagine, anytime that comes to the forefront, that being a reason why that they would have to use this regressive behavior.

Curt Widhalm 33:03
And a lot of times, you got to consider the secondary factors at play here too. That in highly conflicted divorce cases, oftentimes, what you’re talking about is the difference of 1000s, if not 10s of 1000s of dollars per month in child custody. And so alienating parents might oftentimes have their own individualistic needs from just a secondary gain standpoint. I tend to look at these cases more from a systemic point of view so I don’t get too much into the individual psychological needs of the alienating parent. Because oftentimes, I’m not working with that parent in that capacity, I’m sure that there is a ton of research out there that will speak to it.

Katie Vernoy 33:52
Well, let me speak to it a little bit, then because I think my understanding of the system and maybe this is, this is a very high level overview. But in working with different folks from all different elements of these systems, to me, what I’ve really seen is that the toxicity that comes to play to kind of set this in motion. So that the divorce or the separation or whatever, it seems like whatever is led there, and usually I think it probably comes from people’s own childhood traumas and abuses and those kinds of things where they aren’t in a healthy relationship. But it seems like once that kind of trigger sets off, and there is actually like, now people have to take sides, and now people have to do things. It feels like it really gets to survival. It gets to how do I survive and so for the alienating parent, it’s their survival needs, potentially they’re seeking justice for the targeted parent. It’s seeking cover and trying to get some sort of defense and for the kids, it’s, you know, kind of surviving whatever toxicity that their parents are putting forward or the caregivers or the adults in their life are putting forward. And so to me, I think to put some compassion out to all members of the system and not just vilifying the alienating parents, it seems like all of this seems to be rooted from really toxic unhealthy relationships rooted in their own traumas, and it becomes survival, and it becomes really twisted and distorted on how people perceive the situation. Is that fair to say?

Curt Widhalm 35:25
Absolutely. And I think that you’re naturally moving into treatment strategies here. But…

Katie Vernoy 35:31
Yay! I’m setting it up.

Curt Widhalm 35:35
I think that it’s really important to point out that a lot of the controversy in dealing with this is that neither the family court system nor the mental health system, on their own are capable of working through this. And this is where a lot of our treatment strategies involve ways that most therapists are not taught to conceptualize cases. Because most therapists are taught to look at things from here’s the person in the room, it’s a lot of what they choose to respond to. A lot of, you know, not forcing clients into doing things. And this is what can be really difficult is that if you’re only working with one part of the system that does not include the alienating parent, then you’re kind of going to be stuck forever in just kind of this, well, I get 45 minutes this week with my clients. And that’s approximately 96 hours that the alienating parent gets with this client. You’re going to be left feeling pretty ineffectual, and oftentimes just kind of trying to work with one, oftentimes minor childs in the system, who doesn’t have a lot of say over how they do things. And so I have found that the most successful approaches to this and in preparing for this episode, have found research that actually backs up where I actually thought of this, which is always a relief. But this is where your most effective treatments are going to be stepping up as a family systems viewpoint of being able to talk about the observations that you see. But working with the attorneys involved in the case, who are going to court, who can emphasize and get the judge to be able to make the recommendations of the therapeutic treatment team actually be enforceable. Because what the judge can do is make it to where if certain things that you’re recommending and treatment don’t happen, that there can be sanctions towards oftentimes the alienating parent in this case.

Katie Vernoy 37:59
Yeah, yes. And I’ve seen that play out other ways. I mean, I certainly there are alienating parents who are either feel righteous enough, or are strategic enough to either just skim along the surface of what’s required, or move against it, and then get back in compliance before real sanctions. So…

Curt Widhalm 38:26
You’re not wrong.

Katie Vernoy 38:28
Well, let me explain specifically, what I mean is like, the kid has a therapist, the therapist starts moving into this place and is able to then, you know, kind of some of the system gets assessed or addressed. And then the alienating parent pulls the kid from treatment. And then nope, the kid has to be in treatment, new therapist, and the new therapist doesn’t have permission to talk to anybody. So the process starts again. I mean, yes, the system is very helpful, and making sure that the kid at least has an eye on them, but it doesn’t necessarily get to treatment.

Curt Widhalm 39:00
And this is where if those of you listening to this episode, can walk away with some really practical steps here. These are things where you do have to be savvy in how this plays out. Because in talking with counsel, you know, the ideal situation is that everybody involved in the case has their own therapy or has their own attorney, alienating parent has their attorney, targeted parent has their attorney and minors councils are awesome in these situations because it’s in the best interest of the child. And this is where I’ve become more and more bold in talking with councils as far as here’s what I need you to do to help me do my job. I have found that being listed specifically by name in the court orders takes away the alienating parents ability to do what you just described. Of like, just go therapist shopping and you know, kind of rinse and repeat until the child turns 18 and moves out of the house. That by being able to be specifically listed by name, this child is ordered to therapy with Curt Widhalm, LMFT. I like it when they go so far as to say at the therapist discretion, because on some hands, I’ve had situations where it, you know, was phrased in a way that benefited the client, which most cases I’m going to agree with, you know, as client sees necessary. That usually happens with kind of teenagers in the alienation process where things are much further down the road. But I’ve also been tied into cases too where I’ve had to meet weekly with clients where once the system got addressed, that it was just kind of like, well, guess I’ll see you next week for your court appointed therapy that neither one of us agrees should be happening right now. So…

Katie Vernoy 40:57
But before we go beyond that, because I think I like this idea for addressing this particular case, but it is kind of removing consent for these kiddos or for the system. And so ethically, what are we up against as far as a therapist saying, like, you need to put me on this, this thing? Like, I believe you’re a good therapist, or the legal and ethical therapist, and I think it’s great that you are on the documents here. I do not believe every therapist necessarily rises to the bar that I would feel comfortable that a judge says you have to go to therapy with that therapist. So how do you how do you think about that one, mister.

Curt Widhalm 41:37
So the times when I have been able to convince counsel to be able to get orders changed is not from the get go of therapy, but it’s from the ability to report to the therapeutic team, to be able to report to the attorneys as far as progress within therapy in a very good and helpful way. And this is where some of those therapists that you’re concerned about, end up over interpreting what is happening, that they’re making wild statements about why things are happening, versus what is seen as best practices of reporting what is actually happening in the room.

Katie Vernoy 42:24
Just the facts.

Curt Widhalm 42:26
Just the facts. Be Colombo. Ask your grandparents. But this is where, you know, so much of where therapists get scared of having to talk to anybody in the legal profession. You know, all of those scary law and ethics professors of which I am one, will be like, Be very mindful of what you’re saying. There’s a difference between client shows up to therapy, says X, Y and Z. When targeted parent comes into the room, child’s behavior is not indicative of the kinds of fears the child is expressing as evidenced by X, Y and Z. That is reporting what is happening in the room. That is, you know, stuff that’s basically kind of what goes into your case notes. And where I see therapists making mistakes and losing their credibility to the judge in these situations is when they say, child is expressing this because X, Y and Z. So you’re going to go, you know, really behavioral in your descriptions here, and say based on these recommendations. I think X, Y and Z needs to happen. Usually frequency of treatment, or even being able in some of the documentation that I’ve provided to courts before is this X, Y and Z happens immediately before court cases or before court dates show up. This escalation and behavior ends up happening, there may be concerned that therapeutic goals are being interfered with. And in order to best align with therapeutic goals as outlined, these are the kinds of things that need to be in place as to my suggested frequency and intervention of sessions. And so to your last point, as far as consent or anything like this is when it’s court ordered consent is no longer fully in the hands of the clients themselves.

Katie Vernoy 44:29
But it’s putting yourself as the choice and I understand the reason to do that. But I you know, thinking on therapists that may be aligned in a way or unethical in a way that this would be harmful to a client, but saying that not only is treatment court ordered, but treatment with this particular therapist is court ordered. And so I think for me, it’s I feel comfortable with that, for the reasons that you’ve described. I think it’s something where, you know, and I get maybe this is up to the court systems to decide, do we trust this therapist or not to do what’s in the best interest of this kiddo? But I think it’s just it’s that piece of being able to recognize that this is a bold move for a therapist to say, require treatment with me, because there is a financial benefit to you for that too.

Curt Widhalm 45:23
Now, anecdotally, oftentimes, by the time that you would have the opportunity to say that, there should be, there often is a history of therapist shopping. That and this is part of your background, you know, intake sort of paperwork in cases like this, is that what list every mental health professional that you’ve seen? And what dates that you saw them? Because what you’re trying to use is the history to be able to say, this client’s, the evidence of this client’s treatment is moving from one therapist to another has not benefited the client.

Katie Vernoy 46:07
Sure.

Curt Widhalm 46:09
Let’s, you know, stick to one plan and actually do it.

Katie Vernoy 46:15
So then how do you make sure because I see that and it sounds like make the case only the facts, make sure that you’re not doing it willy nilly. But to the point that you made earlier of now you’ve got court ordered sessions for the rest of the client’s before they turn 18? Like, how do you make sure that doesn’t happen? Because I don’t think that’s appropriate either, because that obviously financially benefits you. And it’s not a treatment thing. Like it’s not for treatment reasons. It’s for court ordered reasons.

Curt Widhalm 46:44
So many of the cases that I’ve worked on have had roughly a court date every three to six months following a recommendation like this. Oftentimes, which you’ll be asked for a update on treatment progress.

Katie Vernoy 47:01
Sure, progress report. Yeah.

Curt Widhalm 47:02
And each of those should make some sort of observations of how well clients are reaching their goals, why things are working, or why they are not, and recommendations as far as future treatments. And when you write those updates well, you will hear back from legal counsel that the judge really liked this, because you’re basing it on this. Where I see some therapists make mistakes is especially in like conjoint therapy, they’ll talk about the parent who’s not involved in the room, or in a disparaging way or interpreting, you know, a client that they’ve never seen or assessed before. Those things detract from your credibility. But when you’re able to report, here’s the progress in the room. Recent, you know, progress and treatments and my experience as a therapist or research suggests that continued treatment needs to include this. I’ve had recommendations in the past that we need to increase frequency of treatment, because it said, you know, twice a month, I’ve had times in the past where I’ve said, once a week is too frequent, like a lot of times, you know, kids have individual therapy, they’ll have to conjoint therapy with one they’ll have conjoint therapy with another, kid will need to be outside of therapy at some point.

Katie Vernoy 48:28
Yes, yes, not every hour should be therapy.

Curt Widhalm 48:30
You are, you are bringing up a very valid point. As far as you know, you’re, uh, you have a lot to financially benefit in these situations. And that’s where our ethics codes do suggest that we don’t make recommendations solely just for our own pocketbooks. And in a good successfully treated system like this, you know, being able to have it be at your discretion, you’re going to want to continue to document: here’s why. Here’s, you know, the progress towards you know, these things. And in the really successful cases, you’re able to say, you know, I recommend, you know, court ordered treatment no longer be ordered. And the child, the family, you know, are free to return to me on their own volition as they identify the need for continued support. That’s, that’s jumping to success here a little bit. First, I think that we do need to hit on a couple of ways that this has also gone bad.

Katie Vernoy 49:36
Well, before you before you move into that, I just want to summarize because I think it’s an important point. Putting your name or making sure that court ordered treatment happens in a way that’s effective is something where follow the laws and ethics of your jurisdiction, but it’s showing medical necessity and it’s showing that treatment is working and we have a whole episode on you know, kind of cya for court. And those things and talks a little bit more about progress reports and how you write them, I think, but we’ll put that in the show notes. But it’s these are logical things. But you’ve, you’ve absolved my concerns around…

Curt Widhalm 50:11
And you actually said what I said in a lot clearer way,

Katie Vernoy 50:16
You’re welcome. So moving on to treatment in when times that it doesn’t get to success, because I think that there’s, or before we reach success, I think is important, because we’ve got, you know, like 10 more minutes. So I want to make sure that we really are able to dig into, you know, what treatment looks like, because I think what you’re describing is, is important.

Curt Widhalm 50:38
So I’m gonna go back to the Templer article here, and talking about this interplay between the therapists and the courts here. This has been done with good intentions, but not in kind of that global overview of working with clients in this capacity. Where things end up in courts for a number of different reasons when it comes to therapy. These include making orders that leaving the child with the alienating parents, while the other targeted parent undertakes individual or family therapy is a good recommendation. It is not because that ends up playing to the alienating parents ability to continue influencing the child. So we don’t want to have that happen. Number two, setting in place really strict visitation schedules or limiting contact in between sessions, or a really strict monitored visit sort of scenario where a targeted parent and the child are not able to freely discuss where their relationship is at, that there’s always somebody watching, also plays to the alienating parents abilities to continue to influence the system. Threatening court sanctions to motivate parental compliance with orders, as I’ve alluded to, when done as part of a comprehensive team, from our end, the mental health treatment strategies. This benefits us that unless clients do the things that the hired mental health professionals are supposed to be doing that actually works, altering custody or residency arrangements, now, a lot of us have been told from the very beginning, you are not custody evaluators. Most of you aren’t. Don’t make custody evaluations. You can make suggestions for custody evaluations, or follow up custody evaluations based on parental alienating type factors, because a lot of the most extreme cases show that when a child is moved from an alienating parent’s household and into the targeted’s household, after a relatively short duration of time, many of these symptoms go away. And so changing some of these, again, you have to be smart and savvy with how you’re making these recommendations. If you’re not a custody evaluator, don’t be like I think custody needs to be changed here. But what you can say is that it might be worthwhile to reevaluate custody, because in situations like this, oftentimes, rebalancing the visitations or the schedules, could have a beneficial impact on the relationship with the targeted parent.

Katie Vernoy 53:31
So that would be relying on a custody evaluator or some sort of other system to make some recommendations. And I think what may be important is, is making sure that there’s a an understanding of potential parental alienation, so that that not saying that it’s present are not but just that that person has an understanding of it. So that’s at least taken into account. I mean, sometimes these systems are so so set on these false narratives or those types of things that the custody evaluator is going to just reinforce the alienating parent’s story, and what the alienating parent wants. I mean, sometimes these are so entrenched, and so believable outside of what you’ve described of some of these inconsistencies, or those types of things, that it’s, I think that this could be problematic if you don’t know that the custody evaluator is aware that that’s a concern that should be looked at.

Curt Widhalm 54:35
I might be fortunate in this case, but out of my career, whenever there’s been a custody evaluation going on while I have been a treating therapist or a recently treating therapists, somebody who terminated with me for one reason or another, as far as I’m aware of every single one of those situations has involved the child custody evaluator talking to me as part of their evaluation process, and that’s an opportunity to be able to say, these are my concerns, as pointed out by everything that we described earlier.

Katie Vernoy 55:09
Yeah. So the objective kind of this, here’s the facts that I’m seeing. This is where it doesn’t line up. And not necessarily saying, so it’s parental alienation, but saying these are the things to consider. And in situations like these, there may be these things to consider.

Curt Widhalm 55:24
Yes. Now, again, I’m going to highlight, these are in parental alienation situations, these are not in situations where the child has a reasonable reason for hating their other parent.

Katie Vernoy 55:39
Of course.

Curt Widhalm 55:40
So just pointing that out, in case you forget that from the beginning of the episode here.

Katie Vernoy 55:44
Well, and I think that the, I appreciate you pointing that out, because I think that there are times when cases of true abuse or neglect are potentially treated in this way, where then the parent that has caused abuse, is getting more access to kids, their kids and there’s a lot of things that can be very problematic. I mean, this is why this conversation is so important, and why I’ve harped on assessment, because I feel like there are clients that I have, where maybe it was parental alienation, or whatever, or maybe it was actually abuse. And it’s hard to really suss out even when they’re an adult, what actually happened there, you know, and it’s just, it’s so hard. And so this is why I feel like, I want to kind of put a constant caution over, like, make sure, like, you’re saying Curt, make sure you’re saying these are the facts. This is the inconsistency and not saying like, Well, I think this parent is awful. And I think this parent is good. Like, if it becomes something where you feel like you’re clearly taking a side. And there’s an emotional attachment to the outcome, I think you want to at least assess where your motivations are, and what you’re actually observing. Because these things are so emotionally intense, especially as they’re happening. It is, it is really hard to sort some of this stuff out. And so I think be very cautious.

Curt Widhalm 57:08
And on this point, it’s working as a team on this. Because, you know, I haven’t always been this great at working with parental alienation, that I know, it may be hard for some of you to believe.

Katie Vernoy 57:21
I know,you haven’t always been perfect Curt?

Curt Widhalm 57:24
But you working in cases where this is going on can feel extremely isolating, because some of those alienating behaviors can be thrown at you as the therapist as well. Some of that isolation that we mentioned earlier about needing to fall in line with the alienating parents desires, et cetera, et cetera. It’s important to make sure that you’re working as a treatment team on this because the more eyes that you can have on a situation can help better everybody’s treatment. In situations where I’m a conjoint therapist talking with the child’s individual therapist, can say, you know, hey, where you’re following the child along, there’s no evidence for that in our family sessions, that you’re, you know, maybe needing to dive in or explore more with the kid on this and vice versa, working with the individual child, being able to bring out to the family like, Hey, this is where the kid trusts me as the individual therapist can we bring elevate this stuff up in the family sessions, and also just having that support of each other of being able to just kind of have that professional like, Alright, I’m not the only one, working in this very stuck feeling situation. Now, on to the goals of therapy. This is what a lot of the research ends up coming up with as far as practice recommendations. Whether you’re working with just one member, whether you’re working in conjoint, or whether you’re working conjoint with parents, that you want to be able to provide each family member with psycho education about parental alienation. Make this age appropriate. And, you know, this might be for a targeted parent to being very, very specific about the ways that alienation can show up. If it’s the alienating parent, you might want to be providing information about, you know, protecting their children, speaking to those needs that we talked about earlier. Age appropriate for children is being able to talk about what are your actual experiences with this parent and being able to help them trust their own observations rather than just falling into a narrative with somebody else.

Katie Vernoy 57:34
Well, I think that, you know, I think the conversations with an alienating parent, I just want to highlight that that seems like that would have to be very, very smooth.

Curt Widhalm 59:59
Very smooth.

Katie Vernoy 1:00:01
Because I think there’s there’s that need to really tap into their motivations, their fears, and help them to get to a place. And maybe motivational interviewing might be an interesting tactic here, but like getting to a place where they can identify like what they’re doing in this with the alienating behaviors, it’s actually harmful to their kids. But I think you tell them that, and I don’t think that that will resonate. So I think you have to get to a place where it’s, it’s smooth, and it makes sense. And you’re, you’re speaking to their, their their good intentions and their better nature,

Curt Widhalm 1:00:37
You’re going to want to protect the targeted child from further harm caused by the alienation. And so this is going to be using therapeutic interventions that reduce the targeted child’s distress. It’s going to be able to use techniques that challenge the child’s distorted thinking and help them with some of those critical thinking skills that I highlighted a little bit ago. But most importantly, it’s working on improving the targeted parent/child relationship. And I’ve found this to be most effective in working with the parent on how to respond to the specific concerns that the child is bringing up.

Katie Vernoy 1:01:19
Ooh, tell me more.

Curt Widhalm 1:01:20
So for example, if a child comes in with I’m always scared of my targeted parent yelling, screaming. Okay, let’s support you in being able to express that to your parent and working with the parent on let’s not get into defensive mode, let’s not provide facts of other times that haven’t, let’s highlight this relationship and work on in the moment now relational skills of here’s ways that I’m going to show you that I’m listening to you, rather than just responding in my own defensiveness of this. And really being able to provide the targeted child in these situations, new experiences with that targeted parent, that helps to provide new evidence that the narrative doesn’t fit.

Katie Vernoy 1:02:10
That makes sense, I think it is extremely hard, though, for mere mortals to be constantly told you’re scary, you’re abusive, you’re evil, you’re mean, I hate you, and not have any kind of defensiveness. I mean, I think that there is a lot of support that needs to go to a targeted parent so that they are able to, really, I don’t know, weather this.

Curt Widhalm 1:02:35
This goes back to the first point of being able to provide information to the targeted parent of, even though you’re being accused of this, here’s how this fits within parental alienation. That you’re going to have these criticisms, or these criticisms are going to pop up out of nowhere, despite you know, months, or potentially even years. Because there’s something else going on from the alienating parents side, this is helping that parent understand, you know, not directly in front of the targeted child, but help them to understand, here’s how you fit within this system. Here’s how it’s going to show up. Here’s where your patience now pays off down the road by being able to provide this alternate, more factual reality for your child’s complaints.

Katie Vernoy 1:03:25
And I think there’s a lot of coping strategies and a lot of support, moral support all of that, because to me, it just, it feels so painful to see what how some of these folks are managing it. And it’s hard, especially, you know, in systems that have generational trauma, or other things going on, I mean, this can bring up all kinds of stuff. I’m thinking about a targeted parent that I was working with, and I wasn’t part of the system, but that person felt very threatened, felt very, very triggered. And it was something where being able to get to a place of calm, you know, peace, whatever was really, really hard. Because it hit every single button, it hit every single self doubt. You know, there was there was there was defensiveness. But there was also self flagellation. I mean, it’s it’s something where these targeted parents and parental figures can be really, really emotionally abused by this behavior. And so I think I just want to acknowledge that, yes, it sounds easy enough for the targeted parent to come in and be like, I hear you and this is how I’m going to behave with you and blah, blah, blah. But when it’s an incessant accusation after accusation, especially escalating accusations like these, these, these adults are going to need some support to be able to weather this.

Curt Widhalm 1:04:57
I have nothing to add to that. That is Yes. Actually, I have more to add off of my list, but not to that great job.

Katie Vernoy 1:05:08
Thanks, Curt.

Curt Widhalm 1:05:11
Another huge step that gets overlooked here is preparing the alienating parent for the improvement in the quality of the relationship between the targeted parents and the child’s that, I don’t think it’s a mystery to anybody that in dual household families where there’s always going to be a transition sort of period of like, kid coming back from custodial days and just kind of being grumpy in the transition or whatever. But that as typically more mature children tend to find out, hey, alienating parent’s narrative is wrong. What else are you lying to me about? That there may be more conflict coming up in that relationship as well. Helping with this, and this involves a wide ranging set of strategies is employing conflict resolution techniques in the co-parenting relationship. One area of my practice, I don’t have a ton of desire to expand is in co-parenting in this capacity, and I’m thankful to have some really awesome people that I love referring to who do like this. But in being able to work with that part of the treatment teams that I do, this involves either directly working together, I’ve seen some court orders before where parents are ordered to co-parenting, but they never actually end up in the same session, it takes more of a parallel parenting approach through just the therapist or in a lot of situations, moving from a court ordered situation like that to going a special master, can make some of the parenting decisions that the parents can’t make in those parallel parenting sort of situations. And lastly, and probably most important for you as the therapist, have good healthy boundaries and communications with all members of the family. That you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be more strongly influenced by one parent or another, you’re not going to talk to the motivations of anybody involved, unless they’re actually your client. And that’s what you’re doing in session, keep things very respectful. We all have our countertransference, especially when it comes to parents that we may be seeing as things in the wrong, monitor your own countertransference. But don’t let that get in the way of what is really looking at the primary goal of the system improving, not any one particular individual.

Katie Vernoy 1:07:49
I think that that truly is the most important thing, I as you’ve been talking about it I’ve been putting myself kind of in each seat, so to speak, the targeted parent, for sure, we talked about that. But the alienating parent, I mean, especially depending on their motivations, it can be very, very threatening if things shift, and they’re probably going to continue to frame things based on the story that they’re telling themselves and their children, which is the kids are freaking out when they get back because of something the other parent is doing during their custodial time. I mean, I think that there are a lot of things that will escalate and rise to the to the surface throughout, I’m assuming both parents are going to be triggered and targeted, like or triggered and traumatized, as I talked about with the targeted parent, but I think it’s it’s something where as clinicians, because most of us grew up in families that had some sort of family dynamics that potentially can trigger us and our own stuff, I think it’s so important to not be alone. I’m just reiterating and summarizing, because we probably should close up now but but don’t be alone with these cases. Don’t keep your observations to yourself, I think whether it’s with a treatment team or your own consultation or your own therapy, I think these things can bring so much up in therapists because of their own stories, their own history and the just the, the intensity of what’s happening in these systems. And so make sure that you’re sticking to the facts both for all of the documentation and all of the interaction with court but also for yourself and hold hold open the possibility that there is, there is truth and fiction in almost anything that’s coming to the surface and be more of a detective be a Colombo, if I may throw back to that statement, because I think that there is so much complexity and even in saying parental alienation syndrome and having an alienating parent and a targeted parent, I think some cases it is that simple and obvious. And in some cases, it really is way more complex than that and I think it can be hard to sort through if you’re kind of on your own or not addressing your own, quote unquote countertransference.

Curt Widhalm 1:10:08
You can find our show notes over at mtsgpodcast.com. Oh, the CE procedures and the show notes also at the beginning and end of the show here. And if you love this longer form content, please…

Katie Vernoy 1:10:20
And you want to join in a Q & A with us about this episode.

Curt Widhalm 1:10:26
And that. Be a patron support the show and come and hang out with us and talk about these kinds of cases. And you get all sorts of wonderful access as far as being a patron with some ongoing stuff that we do throughout our year. If being a patron isn’t for you, you can also do Buy Me a Coffee and we’ll include links to both of those as well. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy.

Katie Vernoy 1:10:55
Thanks again to our sponsor GreenOak Accounting.

Curt Widhalm 1:10:59
GreenOak Accounting specializes in working with therapists in private practice, and they have helped hundreds of therapists across the country reach their financial goals. They offer a number of monthly packages to fit a growing practices needs from bookkeeping to CFO services. Other specialized services include Profit First supports, compensation planning and customized KPI dashboards. They help therapists achieve their clinical goals by making sure they have a profitable practice and offer unsurpassed support along the way.

Katie Vernoy 1:11:29
If you’re interested in scheduling a complimentary consultation, please visit their website at greenoakaccounting.com/consultation to learn more.

Curt Widhalm 1:11:39
This episode is also brought to you by Thrizer.

Katie Vernoy 1:11:42
Thrizer is a new billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible, and clinicians should earn what they are worth. Every time you build a client through Thrizer an insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to the clients insurance from there. Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursement quickly directly into their bank account by eliminating reimbursement by cheque confusion around benefits and obscurity with reimbursement status. They allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It is very quick to get set up and it works great in complement with EHR systems.

Curt Widhalm 1:12:20
Their team is super helpful and responsive and the founder is actually a longtime therapy clients who grew frustrated with his reimbursement times Thrizer lets you become more accessible while remaining in complete control of your practice. Better experience for your clients during therapy means higher retention. Money won’t be the reason they quit on therapy. Sign up using bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code ‘moderntherapists’ if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free. You will get one month of no payment processing fees, meaning you earn 100% of your cash rate during that time.

Katie Vernoy 1:12:57
Once again, sign up at bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code ‘moderntherapists’ if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free. Just a quick reminder if you’d like one unit of continuing education for listening to this episode, go to moderntherapistscommunity.com, purchase this course and pass the post test. A CE certificate will appear in your profile once you’ve successfully completed the steps.

Curt Widhalm 1:13:21
Once again, that’s moderntherapistscommunity.com

Announcer 1:13:25
Thank you for listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. Learn more about who we are and what we do at mtsgpodcast.com. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter and please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of our episodes.

 

0 replies
SPEAK YOUR MIND

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.