In the course of my practice, I come across children from a number of different types of families. I see children whose parents are still married, those who were never married, those with a deceased parent, and those who are divorced or separated. Within those types of families there are those who are able to get a long and those who don’t. None of these family styles are immune from their children having difficulties whether emotional or behavioral, but there are definitely things parents can do to make it better and definitely thing that make it worse.
When parents are still together, I will often have the opportunity to meet them both at some point in treatment. This tells me the parents are (relatively) on the same page and are both interested in their child’s treatment. The difficulty comes in (as a therapist) when parents are no longer together and only one of them participates in their child’s therapy. This can mean a lot of things:
- The “other” parent is not involved in the child’s day-to-day life. This parent may live far away or may not be exercising their rights to visitation with the child on a regular basis.
- The “other” parent does not believe the child needs therapy. This parent might not believe in therapy in general or may not thing their child specifically will benefit from treatment.
- The parent bringing the child to therapy is intentionally excluding the “other” parent and does not allow them to attend sessions. This is accomplished a number of ways – keeping sessions secret and not sharing appointment dates and times to name a few.
The challenge for the therapist is to determine which of these reasons is accurate for the family in treatment. Why does it matter? Well, often the relationship (or the lack of the relationship) with the non-present parent is often a significant part of the child’s treatment. We are given one-sided information from the parent who is present and must determine how biased this information might be. We need to wonder if parental alienation is a factor in our treatment.
What is parental alienation? Parental alienation is when one parent repeatedly trashes the other parent in hopes of creating a strong bond with the child while separating (or alienating) the child from the other parent. This is often done in hopes of obtaining custody of the child and to punish the other parent for some perceive wrong. This is detrimental to the child in a number of ways – not the least is the loss of a relationship with a potentially loving parent. These kids can end up hostile, angry and confused.
What can the “other” parent do in these types of situations? Fight for your child. If they are therapy, attend and participate. If you are being restricted from seeing your child for your regular visitations, involve the courts and seek their assistance. Try not to be pulled into your ex’s strategy by bashing him/her, but try to “take the high road”. If you are able to remain calm, consistent and present for your child, they will eventually mature enough to be able to view the family dynamic with some distance and see what has happened more clearly. Be there for him or her, without anger and judgment. Parental alienation did not just happen to you, it happened to them, too.