Parental Alienation Syndrome -- a Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Extreme, obsessive, and ongoing parental alienation can cause terrible psychological damage to children extending well into adulthood. Parental Alienation focuses on the alienating parent's behavior as opposed to the alienated parent's and alienated children's conditions." (PAS Website, 2009)

There are stated to be seven specific stages of grief experienced in the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) Grief Model. Those seven stages are as follows:

Here is the grief model called "The 7 Stages of Grief":

1. SHOCK & DENIAL- You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

2. PAIN & GUILT- as the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

3. ANGER & BARGAINING- Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the loss on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")

4. "DEPRESSION," REFLECTION, LONELINESS- Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving. during this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

5. The UPWARD TURN- as you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.

6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH- as you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE- During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward. (PAS Website, 2009)

The work of Janet R. Johnston (2001) entitled: "Rethinking Parental Alienation and Redesigning Parent-Child Access Services for Children Who Resist or Refuse Visitation" states that the phenomenon of "a child's strident rejection of one parent, generally accompanied by strong resistance or refusal to visit or have anything to do with that parent, was first recognized by Wallerstein and Kelly (1976, 1980) in their seminal study on children of divorce. They described it as an "unholy alliance" between an angry parent and an older child or adolescent.

Later, Gardner (1987, 1998a) coined the label "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS) to describe a diagnosable disorder in a child in the context of a custody dispute, and it is this entity which has generated both enthusiastic endorsement and strong negative response." (Johnston, 2001) PAS is stated to have three components first identified in the work of Gardner. Those three components are:

(1) the child exhibits obsessive hatred of a target parent, makes weak, frivolous and absurd complaints, justifies the stance by quoting "borrowed scenarios," and lacks any ambivalence or guilt towards the hated parent;

(2) a vindictive parent who is involved in consciously or unconsciously brainwashing the child into this indoctrinated stance; and (3) false allegations of abuse that are generated by alienating parent and child." (Johnston, 2001)

Johnston states the argument that it is critical to "differentiate the alienated child from other children who also resist contact with a parent after separation, but for a variety of normal developmentally expectable reasons." (2009) This is because it is all "too often in divorce situations, all youngsters resisting visits with a parent are improperly labeled 'alienating parents'. Children's relationship with their parents after separation and divorce can be described on a continuum from positive to negative. This is shown in the following illustration labeled Figure 1 in this study.

Figure 1

A Continuum of Children's Relationships with Parents after Separation and Divorce

Source: Johnston (2001)

Johnston (2001) states that there are five principles of effective intervention in Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and states those five principles to be those as follows:

(1) First a careful clinical assessment or custody evaluation is needed to (a) Identify an alienated child,

(b) Distinguish alienation from realistic estrangement, and (c) Formulate the multiple interrelated factors in the family history, marital and divorce dynamics that have contributed to the problem.

(2) Second, it is vital to ensure continuity, consistency and coordination of professional involvement in the case, to guard against the insidious polarization and fragmentation within the family spreading among the professionals.

(3) Third, it is necessary to implement authoritative case management to pre-empt and manage the ongoing conflict and keep disputes out of the legal adversarial arena where the alienation is fueled.

(4) Fourth, early and timely interventions are critical to prevent entrenchment of destructive dynamics and to restore appropriate contact between the alienated child and rejected parent. Delays consolidate and reward the child's phobic or recalcitrant stance. And fifth, structural and therapeutic interventions need to be directed at the systemic array of factors in the family that contribute to the problem. (Johnston, 2001)

Johnston (2001) additionally states that effective intervention in cases of alienation "takes place within a legally defined framework (a stipulation, consent decree or court order). The legal contract between the parties or court order specifies the roles of all professionals and provides an overarching, coordinated, rule-governed process for managing the ongoing family conflict and implementing the intervention." Johnston states that court order should include the following elements:

(1) the goals of the service;

(2) the roles of any professionals working with the family;

(3) who will be seen in sessions;

(4) the limits of confidentiality for each professional with the court and with each other;

(5) the permissible lines of communication among disputing parents, nonprofessionals and collaterals;

(6) a timely procedure for resolving dispute issues when parents are stuck (such as mediation or arbitration);

(7) Payment for the intervention; and (8) an agreed-upon-process for terminating the intervention of transferring to another therapist or arbitrator. (Johnston, 2001)

Rand (2009) in the work entitled: "The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome" states that it was emphasized by Gardner that it is critically important to differentiated between "mild, modern and severe PAS in determining court orders and therapeutic interventions to apply." (Rand, 2009) Rand states that in mild cases "...there is some parental programming but visitation is not seriously affected and the child manages to negotiate the transitions without too much difficulty. The child has a reasonably healthy relationship with the programming parent and is usually participating in the campaign of denigration to maintain the primary emotional bond with the preferred parent, usually the mother. PAS in this category can usually be alleviated by the court's affirming that the preferred or primary parent will retain primary custody." (2009)

According to Rand (2009) in moderate PAS "...In moderate PAS, there is a significant degree of parental programming, along with significant struggles around visitation. The child often displays difficulties around the transition between homes but is eventually able to settle down and become benevolently involved with the parent he or she is visiting. The bond between the aligned parent and child is still reasonably healthy, despite their shared conviction that the target parent is somehow despicable. At this level, stronger legal interventions are required and a court ordered PAS therapist is recommended who can monitor visits, make their office available as a visit exchange site, and report to the court regarding failures to implement visitation. The threat of sanctions against the alienating parent may be needed to gain compliance. Failure of the system to apply the appropriate…

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