Psychological Effect and Treatment of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Justice of the
Peace, Vol. 163 No. 3, 16 January 1999, p 47-50
The psychological affects and treatment of parental alienation
syndrome (PAS) has now been studied by such pioneers as Dr Richard
Gardner and others. It establishes that children who are alienated
from one of their parents by the custodial parent suffer considerably
both at the time of the alienation and often for a lifetime unless
action is taken to prevent such alienation taking place as soon
At present the judicial system is still reticent to provide fathers
with the same rights as mothers in connection with having an influence
on the rearing of children. As a result of a hostile separation
or divorce many parents subtly, or directly, attempt to turn a child/children
against one of their parents.
The current situation
What follows are attempts to present some of the problems suffered
by children due to the effects of parental alienation syndrome (PAS).
This is followed by a longer section dealing with the psychological
treatment of children who have suffered from PAS, and finally a
section is dedicated to treating the alienator of parental alienation.
The parental alienation syndrome has not been generally recognised
in the United Kingdom but there have been a number of court cases,
many of which have been attended by the current author to emphasise
the PAS condition. There are few psychologists in the United Kingdom
that have a great deal of knowledge concerning parental alienation
or the syndrome associated with it. It is for this reason that this
chapter is likely to be of special value to many psychologists dealing
with family problems and most especially custody disputes in the
United Kingdom. It should be recognised that the reaction to PAS
in children is not limited to British children. It occurs world-wide
in a similar manner.
There still is a great tendency among Judges and Courts in the
United Kingdom to virtually always give the benefit of the doubt
to one of the parents, usually the mother, when there are disputes
between former partners in relation to their children. It appears
to go unrecognised that the non-custodial parent frequently suffers
from the fact that the custodial parent has turned the child/children
against him/her in the process of an unhappy split in the relationship
between the partners (Stamps et al, 1997; Stamps, 2002)
The current author has been virtually the only voice in the United
Kingdom concerned with the process of repercussions or parental
alienation as a syndrome. It is hoped as a result of further court
actions that this important syndrome will be recognised and dealt
with appropriately by British Courts.
Problems suffered by children due to the effects of Parental Alienation
The effect of PAS on children has been investigated by relatively
few individuals in the United Kingdom so far. I should like to acknowledge
my own gratitude to one researcher, Dr Richard A. Gardner for the
work he has done in this area. (Gardner 1992, 1998, 2001), particularly
on behalf of those who find themselves in a PAS situation and need
some guidance and assistance to convince others that such a phenomenon
exists. There are both short term and long term of parental alienation
syndrome on children. Whatever one may think, the children become
victims, not of their own making, but of their parents, most especially
the parent who is carrying out the alienation process.
We hear a great deal about child abuse, increasingly so, especially
sexual abuse, but less so about emotional abuse resulting from PAS.
Many would consider parental alienation syndrome and the process
of indoctrination to be a form of child abuse, since children are
being used for the purpose of animosity and even revenge. This animosity
being shown toward the alienated parent can have a terrible affect
on the child in question. Those children who are participating in
the alienation process are often unaware of its impact. They merely
feel the consequences or take-on the views of the alienating parent.
Such views that the other parent is “evil”, “wicked”,
“stupid” or “dangerous” or all of these,
can do untold damage to the relationship with the non-custodial
parent who is being alienated. Children may be used as ‘spies’
or ‘saboteurs’ in relation to the alienated parent to
provide “ammunition” for the alienator or “fuel
for the fire” to be used against them. Additionally, the children
are encouraged to treat the alienated parent with a lack of respect
with the purpose of humiliating him/her. This is often taken up
by the immediate family of the alienator. Some children may even
be encouraged to behave in a deceitful manner toward the other parent
when visiting, by lying, stealing and causing problems with another
person with whom the parent may have developed a new relationship.
False accusations may also be levelled against the alienated parent
on the grounds of false information supplied by the child. Eager
misinterpretation of information given to the alienating parent
is then grasped to denigrate the other parent with whom they may
be having a custody battle. Denial of this will of course be made
by the alienator.
Encouraging a child to betray one of the two most important members
of the family produces a tendency towards psychopathic behaviour
within that child. Once the denigration process has started, the
child, the child, due to the pressure of loyalty on him/her and
the “power” wielded by the alienator needs to carry
on the process of denigration.
Children who suffer from the syndrome of PAS develop a concept
that one parent is the loving parent and hence to be loved back
while the other is the hated parent who has done ‘wicked and
nasty things’, and abandoned the family. This has been consciously
or unconsciously indoctrinated into the child and results in fear
as well as hatred for the alienated parent. Virtually all negative
indoctrination is carried out by the mother who retains the child
in residence. Occasionally it is the father who may have taken over
the role of parenting.
Gardner (1998) considers that there are eight cardinal symptoms
of PAS in its effect on the child:
- The campaign of denigration.
- Weak, frivolous and absurd rationalisations for the denigration.
- Lack of ambivalence.
- The “independent thinker phenomenon.”
- Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental
- Actions of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the
- The presence of borrowed scenarios.
- The spread of animosity to the extended family and alienated
In cases of PAS in which I have been involved, I have found that
the child has developed a hatred for the non-resident parent (usually
the father) and there have been attempts to denigrate and vilify
the alienated parent. The destruction of one parent can have serious
consequences, not immediately recognisable in the short-term, but
more so in the long-term. One might say the child has been robbed
of the possibility of having a supportive and caring parent. All
memories of a good relationship have been destroyed. Additionally,
there often has been brainwashing in order to make the child fearful
of the alienated parent, very often the father. The animosity created
permeates often to the extended family of the alienated parent.
This means the child will not merely lose one of his/her parents
but also the grandparents.
Another common reaction of children who have been programmed is
to pretend to the alienator that they have hatred or dislike for
the alienated parent, when in fact they do not feel this way, and
do not demonstrate this in the presence of the alienated parent.
Hence they have practised deception and a form of lying in order
to placate the alienator, while at the same time seeking to form
some kind of warm relationship with the absent parent. Such deception
is unlikely to lead to an individual who will be truthful and honest
in other dealings now or in the future.
Exploitation of the alienated parent either by the child or by
the alienator can also be practiced This is done in various ways
including seeking money or clothes or other material objects for
the children who are then used in this scheme of manipulation. The
manipulator may clothe the children in the shabbiest of clothes
hoping the alienated parent will be forced to buy new clothes for
the child. This teaches the child a strategy that is unlikely to
endear him/her to others in the future. and is also likely to be
repeated by him/her. Other forms of deception can be carried out
over the telephone by saying the child is absent when the other
parent calls, when in fact this is not the case. They simply are
not allowed to speak to the parent calling. The child who is aware
of the conversation learns from this that lying is acceptable. This
may also cause confusion with the child and forms a further rift
with the alienated parent, especially if they are not informed that
the parent has called to ask after them to make an appropriate arrangement
Lying and deception can become part of the child’s life,
especially if he/she wishes to endear himself/herself to the alienating
parent. This may be especially so if the other parent has another
family or relationship. This deception will develop a power of manipulation
through lies and will continue into later life and reflect on the
child’s own relationships in the future. In contrast non-PAS
homes do not maintain control over the child and the custodial parent
does all he/she can to promote a healthy feeling towards the other
parent by being truthful and to encourage the child to love and
respect that parent. It is important that parents who have been
divorced or separated do all they can to enhance the feelings of
the child for the parent with whom they are not in residence, and
As the child grows older in a family where PAS takes place, the
position often reverses. The child realises he/she is in a position
of strength where he/she they may manipulate situations in order
to get his/her way. This in turn reduces the capacity of the alienating
parent to utilise discipline to create the right type of ethical
behaviour. The alienated parent is dependent on the child to continue
the process of alienation. The child can use this against the alienating
parent and frequently becomes undisciplined as a result. Neither
parent can do anything with the child and the child is the loser
in the end.
In severe cases of PAS the alienator can create a seriously unhappy
situation for the child who will often develop panic reactions when
he/she is asked to visit the alienated parent. This in turn can
lead to repercussions in his/her attitude to school and his/her
capacity to concentrate on education. In some cases, there can be
psychotic delusions in the child due to the pressure to passively
submit to the alienating parent. In some cases intensive psychological
treatment is required to overcome such serious disturbances. Serious
indoctrination giving the child warped and worried views of the
alienated parent, following therapy, may learn to be able to be
more rational and realistic in the way he/she views the alienated
parent. This is difficult to resolve in the very young as well as
in the older child who may have developed a habit of hatred for
the alienated parent.
The most interesting scenario is when the child who has been party
to the alienation realises what the alienating parent has done and
eventually turns against them. This may be through a falling-out,
or merely through the emotional development of the child later in
life. Sometimes the child will seek the alienated parent and find
out the truth it at least be able to see things from the alienated
All of the above situations I have personally come across when
dealing with cases of PAS. Unfortunately there has not been the
willingness of the parents to resolve the situations not the backing
of the courts to uphold censures against the alienating parent.
Also severe lack of funds for treatment or mediation limit what
can be done. Much of the liaison is left to the Court Welfare Officers
who do not have the clinical qualifications to carry out the necessary
treatment for the children who are, or will be, the victims of the
“warring factions”. Expert testimony is sought only
if the court is unsure of what direction to take in the case, and
also to guide the court as to the character of the alienated parent
and the manner in which contact visits should continue, i.e. supervised
or unsupervised. If called to assist in a case I take this opportunity
to spread the literature on PAS and seed to educate the Judiciary
and others of the existence of PAS.
Specific problems of children suffering from the effects of PAS
Children, when presented over a period of time, with ‘brain
washing’ or ‘programming’ against another parent
often exhibit the following symptoms. The effects are both short
and long-term. Not all symptoms occur in all children who are involved
in PAS. There will also be some difference between the very young
child and the older child whose reactions to PAS will differ. However,
some symptoms will need some form of treatment to help eliminate
the impact of the alienating process and the harm of psychological
injury to the child:
Anger is a common reaction of many children to the process
of alienation. Most of the anger will be expressed at the alienated
parent as sides are taken between one of the parents against
the other. The fact that the children are forced into this kind
of situation causes considerable distress and frustration and
the response often is to show aggressive behaviour towards the
targeted parent in order to accommodate the programmer.
Loss or a lack of impulse control in conduct. Children
who suffer from PAS are not merely suffering from aggression
but also often turn to delinquent behaviour. There is considerable
evidence that the presence of fathers and their influence can
do much to prevent and alleviate the possibility of delinquency
most especially in boys.
Loss of self confidence and self esteem. Losing one
of the parents through the programming procedure can produce
a lack of self confidence and self esteem. In the case of boys
identification with a male figure has been curtailed, especially
if the alienated parent is the father.
Clinging and separation anxiety. Children especially
very young children who have been programmed to hate or disdain
one of the parents will tend to cling to the custodial parent
who generally is the one who has carried out the programming.
Considerable anxiety may be induced in the child against the
alienated parent, by telling him/her negative things about that
parent, including the possible use of a great deal of negative
actions against the child as well as the programming parent.
Developing fears and phobias. Many children fear being
abandoned or rejected when they have been induced to feel that
one of the partners in a relationship, usually the father is
less than desirable. Anxiety factors about the custodial parent
may induce a school phobia, which is fear of attending school
due to the fear of leaving the parent. Some children suffer
from hyperchondriacal disorders and tend to develop psychosomatic
symptoms and physical illnesses. Such children fear for the
future and the safety of the custodial parent.
Depression and suicidal ideation. Some children who
are so unhappy at the tragic break up of the relationship are
further faced with animosity that exists between the parents.
This leads to ambivalence and uncertainty, and sometimes suicidal
attempts occur due to the unhappiness which the child feels
brought about by the two main adults in his/her life. An element
of blame for the break-up may also contribute to the child’s
Sleep disorders is another symptom which follows the
parental alienation situation. Children frequently exhibit dreams
of disturbance and often find it difficult to sleep due to their
worries about the danger of the alienated parent and the guilt
they may feel as a result of participating in the process of
Eating disorders. A variety of eating disorders have
been noted in children who are confronted by parental alienation.
This includes anorexia nervosa, obesity and bulimia.
Educational problems. Children who have pressure to
reject one parent, frequently suffer from school dysfunctions.
They may become disruptive or aggressive within that system
or withdraw and their grades begin to decline.
Enuresis and Encopresis. A number of very young children
suffer from bed wetting and soiling due to the pressure and
frustrations that surround them when there is acrimony between
the parents. This is the response to the psychological disturbance
of losing one parent and finding one parent inimical to the
Drug abuse and self destructive behaviour frequently
are present in children who have suffered from parental alienation
due to a need to escape the feeling of abuse they feel they
have suffered through the experience. In the extreme such conflicts
can cause self-destructive behaviour which may result in suicidal
Obsessive compulsive behaviour. This psychological reaction
is frequently present in the behaviour of children who seek
to find security in their environment by adopting a variety
of obsessive compulsive behaviour patterns.
Anxiety and panic attacks are also frequently present
and may be reflected through psycho-somatic disorders, nightmares,
and avoidant behaviours.
Damaged sexual identity problems. As a result of the
PAS syndrome, children often develop identity problems especially
as they may have failed to identify with one member of the relationship,
whether the same sex or opposite sex.
Poor peer relationships may follow the PAS situation
due to the fact that such children often are either very withdrawn
or aggressive in their behaviour.
Excessive feelings of guilt. Guilt may be due to the
knowledge deep down that the ostracised parent who has done
nothing wrong to deserve the kind of treatment received. This
may effect the child’s later life as they become increasingly
aware of the truth and the destructive alienator’s motives.
Children who are exposed to PAS suffer in a variety of general
as well as specific ways from this experience. It will often have
both temporary and lasting effects on their lives. This was not
the intention of the alienator but it is the result of such alienation
procedures and programming.
The psychological treatment of children who have suffered from
Having stated the difficulties that may arise in the behaviour
of children involved in PAS, we must consider the help that can
be given. In the United Kingdom the symptoms of PAS are rarely given
over to treatment providers. This is both due to the denial of occurrence
and lack of funding where it can be proved to have happened. Less
than 10% of cases are treated. This is often due to the resistance
of the alienating parent and the lack of reinforcement and co-operation
by the courts. It also is difficult to overcome the continuous negative
influence of the alienator which has been brought to bear on the
opinions of the children.
Before any treatment can commence, it is vital to assess or diagnose
such children carefully. This is done through in-depth interviews
as well as psychological personality testing. At the same time it
is valuable, whenever possible, to deal with the alienating parent
and make them aware of the possible damage that will be done to
the child. The objective of the treatment procedure is to de-program
children who have been turned against the target parent. Needless
to say the most effective treatment is achieved through gaining
the co-operation from the family members concerned and instructions
and orders from the court process. Within the treatment process
efforts should be made to reduce and eliminate if possible, the
hatred and paranoia that has been created in the child towards the
alienated parent. It is important to develop independent thinking
in the child so that he/she is not influenced by one party, the
alienator, as has been the case in the past. The development of
a conscience about the treatment that the child has meted out to
the alienated parent needs to be made with the child in order to
alter his/her feelings toward the alienated parent. The goal of
the treatment is for the child to make contact with the alienated
parent to re-establish as far as possible a positive and loving
relationship with that parent.
The only instance where this would not be possible or recommended
is where some form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse has taken
place. On the whole though, where treatment is recommended the alienated
parent has done nothing to deserve the hostile treatment by the
child and the alienator. The therapist who carries out this treatment
must be aware that the alienator is likely to be working constantly
behind the scenes against his/her efforts. It is essential, therefore,
that there is some form of support, and recognition in the form
of threats or orders by the court if the alienator persists in sabotaging
the efforts made on behalf of the child. It is this very problem
that often stops the treatment process before it starts or causes
it to be given up once it has started.
1. Dealing with the hatred developed
Dealing directly with the hatred and paranoia used by the alienator
to encourage the child to hate or blame his/her misfortune on the
alienated parent is essential. This may have been done directly
or very subtly. The therapist needs to ascertain not only the strength
of the paranoia developed but the reasons for it. He needs to counter-act
the arguments that the child has been given and which he/she has
been given and with which he/she has identified and which lead to
such antagonistic behaviour towards the parent. The hatred must
be demolished through rational and logical arguments from the therapist.
The paranoia must be dispersed as a delusion and, therefore, of
no substance. Children who have developed a strong hatred and paranoia
are difficult to influence through logic and reason, but nevertheless,
the therapist should make this effort. The real evidence for such
feelings must be sought and discussed and all other evidence counteracted
accordingly as hearsay or the opinion of others not based on real
2. The child identifying with the alienator.
The only course for children with whom alienation is practised
is to take the side of the alienating parent. In order for therapy
to be successful, such identification with the alienator must be
broken down. The alienated parent must be seen in a more realistic
and favourable light and the child needs to recognise why he/she
feels as he/she does. By confronting the child with evidence from
the past, often provided by the child from memories, photographs
and story telling, of positive feelings of the alienated parent
it must be pointed out to the child that the opinions he/she held
once are accurate but have been overtaken by the negative opinions
of others. The child should be made aware that he/she is merely
repeating the views expressed by the alienating parent. Those children
who have suffered a reasonably long period of indoctrination by
an alienating parent find it difficult to deal with confrontation
type therapy. Older children who have developed free thinking are
more amenable than younger children to this method.
The child of parental alienation is a victim. The other victim
of course is the alienated parent. Any love for the beleaguered
alienated parent is destroyed and it becomes difficult to reverse.
In the courts, many Judges administering alleged fair and just decisions
find it difficult to deal with seeking to reverse such powerful
indoctrination against one parent and are often advised to leave
the “status quo” especially if there is resistance from
the child. This is a contradiction of the evidence presented to
the fact that alienation has been seen to take place. As a result,
they will enhance the difficulties of the alienated parent by providing
limited or practically no contact with the child.
Unwanted contact from the point of view of the child has its drawbacks
too as the child may scheme against the alienated parent and make
up stories in order to force contact to cease. The fact that this
is a possibility should be drawn to the attention of the child and
such practices discouraged. Even if the child has had contact with
the alienated parent and not found anything favourable with that
parent, it is the role of the therapist to do all that he can to
promote a better attitude toward that parent. In time a relationship
may grow, and the advantages of having both parents willing to help
a child to develop positive attachments to both parents can only
be to the child’s advantage. Rational and logical thinking
comes into play and less so the emotional side of the argument.
This is difficult to tackle in young children since they have not
developed the capacity for a well developed conceptual and cognitive
ability and the influence of the alienator is stronger. However,
from the cognitive and attitude frame of reference the child must
be encouraged to behave properly toward the alienated parent.
Stories told by a child against the alienate parent must be looked
into thoroughly to determine the source of these impressions and
why they have been designed and expressed. For instance, the disciplining
of one parent may be different than the other. In a case I recently
attended, the child claimed she was ‘forced’ to eat
a certain amount of vegetables. The real explanation was that the
father preferred her to try to eat different kinds of vegetables
while the mother and stepfather, the custodial parents, let her
eat whatever she wanted. The child obviously wanted to follow the
line of least resistance and consequently exaggerated the actions
of the father, knowing the mother would complain about it.
I have even counselled adults who have been victims of PAS who
have been troubled in their adult life by the guilt that they have
come to feel over the alienation process. One such case involved
a woman who had been teased as a child about her preferred vegetarianism.
This became a massive exaggeration of the father’s terrible
and insensitive behaviour towards her when younger and was encouraged
by the mother to remain so. When she had problems in her later life
with divorce and separation she sought the help of a therapist to
see the truth of the matter and initiated action to correct what
occurred between her and her father
Many alienated parents are put at a disadvantage with the child
by the alienator or custodial parent. A good example of this is
when a father makes an arrangement to attend a football match with
his son and the arrangement is not finalised soon enough. His plan
clashes with the arrangements made by the alienating parent who
then cancels the outing but also points out to the child that the
father has let him/her down. Ambivalence from the child also puts
the father in a no-win situation. If he offers to attend an event
with the child and the child indicates to the mother while there
that he really is not wanted, then this indicates that the father
is rejected by the child who is embarrassed by his presence. Why
this should be so should be carefully investigated by the therapist.
Needless to say therapists vary in their approach to the problem
of PAS. Some will actually view the situation from the child’s
current thinking and not attempt to alter that thinking in any way.
This will do little to reduce PAS or eliminate it and will in fact
allow it to continue mostly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding
of the situation. The approach recommended would be to be sensitive
to the indoctrination process. Logic and reason must be applied
and the helpless plight of the targeted parent must be improved
in order to allow a healing process, or more balanced view of the
alienated parent, to take place. In extreme cases of PAS, it may
be necessary to resort to ‘anti-psychological’ approaches
and make the child actually feel guilty for the way he/she behaves
towards the alienated parent. Such feelings of guilt can have a
positive effect in removing the alienator’s influences on
The alienators influences may be a burden to the child and the
child may welcome the intervention of the court in the decision-making
A recent case illustrates this in that the acrimony between the
two parents had reached an absolute deadlock over access visits.
The child was torn between both parents and felt compelled to support
the mother and the new blended family of which she was part. The
new family was laissez-faire in their discipline of the girl and
the father mor autocratic with her and his new family members. As
a result the difference in the parenting styles and discipline of
the two families toward the child constant friction resulted and
eventual physical threats occurred from the father toward the mother.
This caused the child to feel that access visits should be terminated,
which caused great distress to the father. My interview with the
child revealed that the child still felt she wanted to see the father
but she would not accept the father’s angry reactions toward
the mother. My recommendations to the court were that drop-off and
pick-ups should be supervised and that the father attends a course
of anger management. Thus the child could resume visits with the
father because the court ordered it so and the influence of the
mother was less of a burden to the child who could say: “I
am only doing this because the court demands it and I want to get
you to avoid any trouble”.
It has long been known that broken homes create instability in
the child and can often lead to psychological problems, delinquency
and other serious difficulties. A more harmonious break-up where
both partners seek to love the child and encourage the child to
love both parents, and where parents are unified in their approach,
can avoid many problems. It should always be made clear to any child
involved in a marital break up that the love for the child has not
been lost and the friendship between the parents can be maintained
for that reason. The child then realises he/she has two parents
who both care for him/her even though they cannot live with each
other in harmony. They may even choose another partner but this
does not in anyway reflect on both parents seeking to continue their
support, love and care of the child. This is the very opposite of
parental alienation, parental co-operation.
Children who turn against one parent are developing a process
leading to serious consequences. Changing behaviour relies on changing
the attitude or cognition of the child, but equally important is
the changing of the behaviour of the child towards the alienated
parent. It must be remembered that both parents can practise PAS,
one as the initiator and the other as the reactor, setting up a
‘tit-for-tat’ situation with the child often in the
middle. Children can suffer in the long-term from the alienating
process emotionally, educationally and in later life relationships
which may cause them to develop and become future alienators.
3. Treating the alienator
The treatment of the alienator is the most difficult task of all.
The difficulty results in that the alienator feels totally justified
in the programming being carried out. There is often “denial”
that this is indeed happening.
Most alienators know exactly what they are doing and are prepared
to avoid any form of treatment in order to continue their alienation
process. They seek to destroy or end any possible relationship between
a child in their care and the targeted parent. Normally, in order
to reduce the resistance of an alienator, and to get them to participate
in therapy, there must be a Court Resolution and pressure by a Judge
that the parental alienation must stop.
The treatment process has three objectives:
- To prepare the alienator for the treatment itself.
- To treat the alienator.
- To monitor the effects of the treatment vis-a-vis the child
who has hitherto been programmed.
4. Preparation for treatment
The therapist must be prepared for resistance from the alienator.
The attitude of the alienator will reflect the following types of
thinking when verbalised:
“There is nothing wrong with what I am doing. I don’t
need any treatment”.
“I am only coming along to the treatment as you call it because
the Court has forced me to do so.”
“There is nothing wrong with me that needs treatment, it’s
my former spouse who needs therapy.”
With this kind of attitude, treatment involving a change in attitude
seems far from simple. It is however, important to repair step-by-step
this tragically destructive interaction by a means of convincing
the alienator that there is much to be gained by co-operating with
the therapist and by accepting the irrationality of their demeanour.
The two main reasons for this are:
The alienator would benefit via a better relationship with
the alienated partner including, possibly greater financial
help, care and support, and even friendliness from the alienated
One must appeal to the good sense of the mother, or father,
who must realise the benefit the child would have in the short
and long-term if contact of some kind were established with
the alienated parent.
5. The treatment
The treatment initially will have to be spontaneous. It is vital
to win the confidence of the alienator. It is important to listen
carefully and sensitively to the grievances of the alienator and
to sympathise with their feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal in
The treatment must not only be concerned with the past but also
in planning a way forward by giving hope to the alienator. Hatred
and resentment toward the alienated parent have permeated the life
of the alienator. It is vital to seek to establish a new relationship
and possibly a new direction in life by developing new pursuits
which have a positive aspect and can eliminate or counteract those
negative feelings which tend to originate totally within the person.
The alienation process often becomes obsessive, compulsive and habit-forming
in their rituals.
Promoting and guiding the alienator to develop a personal hope
for the future, does much to reduce or remove the often pathological
animosity towards the targeted parent which has become the centre
of the alienators ‘modus vivendi’. It can only be counteracted
by an attitude of looking outwards with optimism and putting behind
them the acts of evil and betrayal they perceive to have happened
The therapeutic intention is to simultaneously change the attitude
and behavior of the alienating individual which involves cognitive
plus behavioral treatment. The success of the therapeutic approach
can only be ascertained via two interacting factors: changing the
hostility of the programmer towards the targeted parent and the
child being encouraged to have contact with the alienated parent
and by actually spending positive time with that parent. This obviously
means requiring the child to be involved in treatment, once the
alienating parent has shown the necessary signs and actions of co-operating
with the efforts of the therapist.
Monitoring the effects of the treatment against PAS
In order to prepare fertile ground for the therapeutic success,
the therapist must be involved in a positive reintroduction of the
child with the targeted parent. This can only be achieved with the
full agreement of the alienating parent. In turn, the alienated
parent must also be prepared to deal with the initial likely difficulties
of having contact with the child who has hitherto been adversely
programmed against them. If possible, there may be a need to establish
ways whereby some communication takes place between the alienator
and the targeted parent. A form of mediation should take place between
the two adults with the help of the therapist. In this way an agreement
can be developed which can then lead to some kind of ongoing co-operation.
This should be sought initially on an individual basis once there
are sufficient sign of agreement, regarding the two of them meeting.
The therapist must consider with great care, each step of the
way how much further he can go, or what can be further achieved
to advance the process of harmonising a former acrimonious relationship.
Success in reducing acrimony can only be measured in degree. It
depends on the skill of the therapist and the sincere willingness,
voluntarily or ordered by the court for the alienator to co-operate
in the healing process. It also depends on the continuous support
of the court over time to maintain the pressure for the alienator
to comply with their request for reconciliation for the sake of
Outcome of PAS treatment when ordered by the court
In Great Britain, it is likely that very few courts would endorse
establishing pressure on the alienator to be involved in treatment
to counteract the PAS. This is because Judges on the whole, consider
it counter-productive, or even unlikely, that any form of treatment
will be successful. Judges, therefore, rarely order an alleged perpetrator
of PAS to participate in therapy. The outcome of therapy, in the
few cases where it is ordered, may be surprising. The table that
follows illustrates the outcome of the therapeutic intervention
of the present psychologist specialising in severe or recalcitrant
Table 1 - Result of Treatment for PAS
Targeted & Former PAS
Relationship with child
Has led to effective harmony
Some positive contact established
No effective change
Discussion of Results
The result of this rather small sample indicates what can be achieved
through a form of mediation and therapy with those individuals involved
intensively in programming a child against another parent. Parent
alienation is a process which has been occurring over time and frequently
occurs more often than is realised. It not only occurs in acrimonious
separations and divorces but it may be manifested in unhappy marital
relationships. One of the partner’s motivation is to seek
almost total control over a child at the expense of the other partner.
In a happy, loving relationship these attempts at alienation are
much less likely to occur as each will consider the other partner
in making decisions concerning the children and how to deal with
them. It also means they will adopt a unified approach to the rearing
of the children and most especially to the application of discipline.
PAS practicing parents are opposite to this and often feel and express
a great deal of antagonism, hatred and hostility towards the other
estranged partner and will do anything they can to cause damage
to the partner. In extreme cases, alienation becomes pathological
where the individual virtually thrives on antagonism and animosity
towards the other party. Unfortunately, the real victim is the child
of the trilogy.
Judges are reluctant to force the recalcitrant programming parent
realising that treatment against their will is likely to fail. This,
however, is not always the case and Table 1 illustrates that when
the court upholds the desire to resolve the alienation process,
much can be done by mental health professionals, to deal with the
alienation, reduce its extent, or even to eliminate it.
The Judiciary must realise their responsibility and adopt a firmer
approach to confront those who practice PAS. Judges, therefore,
should develop a plan of action to include punishment for the lack
of co-operation with a court order. Both parents should have a responsibility
for the rearing of their children if they want it. Mediation at
an earlier stage of the proceedings should be made available, with
a set timetable for reaching the necessary decisions. In order for
rulings to be made they must have “teeth” and this provides
a favourable climate and strong therapeutic pressure for the participant
who is the alienator, to seek to benefit from the treatment being
carried out. It can also lead to better relationships eventually
between the alienator and the former targeted parent. There is much
to be gained but the course of action is not easy and relies heavily
on the commitment and strength of the Judicial system supporting
the therapeutic process. It also relies greatly upon the wisdom,
sensitivity and skill of the therapist.
Recent changes in the PAS approach by the Judiciary in the United
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is becoming slowly becoming
recognised in Great Britain. Attention has been drawn by Barristers
such as Willbourne and Cull (1997) and by Lowenstein (1998,a, b;
1999 a, b, c, d.)
There has even been a political party developed by Coe: The Equal
Parenting Party. Another organisation that has become involved is
the Association for Shared Parenting. Rand, (1997) produced her
series of articles, The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome,
published in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology. In Great
Britain, the voice of parental alienation syndrome has been less
vocal but one particular article appearing in the Sunday Times,
22 May, 2000, entitled “Children with Fathers in Family Have
Head Start in Life” points to the importance of both parents
playing a role in the rearing of children.
There have recently been some remarkable cases that have highlighted
the importance of judging parental alienation in the courts. Judges
are becoming bolder in insisting that all things being equal, both
parents have the right to have contact with their children. The
exceptions of course are, when one or both parents have proclivities
towards violence or paedophilia, to name but two negative features
which must be considered.
The case of Cox v Cox (1990) in Family Law, was one of the first
to prove the sentencing and imprisonment of parents who refused
access to fathers for contact with the child. This was done by a
highly courageous Judge, who truly believed in “justice for
all”, even though there was considerable embarrassment in
having to put a mother into prison. This was despite the likelihood
of also being castigated by the press by sending the mother to prison.
What is often not mentioned are the efforts made beforehand to gain
the assent of the obdurate parent for such contact before such an
action is taken and by threatening less stringent means than imprisonment.
In most cases of lack of co-operation, it is the mothers refusing
the fathers. Sometimes, following an acrimonious separation or divorce,
the mother will claim there to be a serious cause for concern about
the father, such as being excessively punitive, permissive, being
a substance abuser, and even a paedophile. In many of these cases,
such allegations are shown to be unfounded. In cases unfortunately
it is the fathers who are often considered guilty by allegation
alone and need to prove their innocence rather than the alienator
having to prove the guiltiness of the alienated father!
Judges are naturally averse to imprisoning mothers for failing
to honour the contact arrangements with fathers. This is because
mothers usually are responsible for the day-to-day care of the children.
Judges are also aware of the likely adverse publicity that would
follow such a judgement. The alternatives, however, often fail to
achieve what is desired, that is, to comply with offers of mediation
such as recommended by one psychologist (Lowenstein, 1999 a, b,
c, d). However, by having the threat of punishment, including the
possibility of imprisonment hanging over the head of an uncooperative
parent, like the sword of Damacles, there is a possibility that
such mothers can be brought to the “negotiating table”.
Those who alienate children, much as anyone else, must stand before
the law as either innocent or guilty of such an offence. Failing
to adhere to the judgement of a Court must be considered as breaking
the Law, with threatened punishment following.
Parents who thus fail to observe their legal responsibility to
co-operate, are likely to suffer from severe and often unfounded
hostility towards the other parent. Such hostility, can and often
does, reach pathological proportions. There are only two possible
In extreme cases, imprisonment must be threatened, until the
parent is willing to co-operate with the law.
Accepting some form of mediation and treatment by a qualified
psychologist over a prescribed period, normally two weeks to
a month or longer, in order to resolve the ‘impasse’.
Failure by the alienating parent to co-operate must lead to
punishment including imprisonment as a final alternative only.
It could also result in the alienated parent being given custody
of the children temporarily or permanently.
Most alienating parents would and should learn to co-operate under
such strictures and resolve the matter of parental alienation syndrome.
It is hoped that future legal procedures will find it easier to
deal with such cases and follow the courageous footsteps of earlier
pioneering Judges. These Judges were not deflected from doing the
just and right thing, despite the criticism from individuals and
the mass media.
- Coe, T. Equal parenting party. Headquarters: 30-40 Gloucester
Road, Kensington, London, SW7 4QU.
- Dobson, R. (2000, 21 May) Children with father in family have
a head start in life. Sunday Times.
- Gardner, R. A. (1992) True and false accusations of child sex
abuse. Creskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
- Gardner, R. A. (1998) The Parent Alienation Syndrome - A guide
for mental health and legal professionals, Second Edition, Cresskill,
NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
- Gardner, R. A. (2001) Therapeutic interventions for children
with parental alienation syndrome. Creskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1998a, December) Parent alienation syndrome:
A two step approach toward a solution. 20(4) Contemporary Family
- Lowenstein, L .F. (1998b) Parent alienation syndrome, (chapter
20). In L. F. Lowenstein, Paedophilia (pp 257-277). Hertfordshire,UK:
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1999a, January) Parent alienation syndrome
(PAS). 163(3) Justice of the Peace 47-50.
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1999b) Parent alienation syndrome: What the
legal profession should know. 66(4) Medico-Legal Journal 151-161.
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1999c, Sept) Mediation in the legal profession.
163 Justice of the Peace 709-710.
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1999d) Parent alienation and the judiciary.
67(3) Medico-Legal Journal 121-123.
- Rand, D. C. (1997) The spectrum of parental alienation syndrome
(Part II). 15(4) The American Journal of Forensic Psychology 1-13.
- Stamps, L. E; Kunen, S; Rock-Faucheux, A. (1997) Judges’
beliefs dealing with child custody decisions. 28(1/2) Journal
of Divorce and Remarriage 3-16.
- Stamps, L. E. (2002) Maternal preference in child custody decisions.
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- Willbourne, C; & Cull, L. (1997, Dec) The emerging problem
of parental alienation. Family Law, 807-808