Too Many Therapists Misdiagnose and Mistreat Alienation
Far too few therapists know how to help alienated children. More could learn.
Posted Nov 25, 2020
Early this morning I received this poignant email. The request echoed a request I receive repeatedly:
Dear Dr. Heitler,
I am in desperate need of an educated therapist who is VERY knowledgeable and up to date on how to help children with SEVERE Parental Alienation, and I’m unfortunately on a very short time frame. Do you have ANY contacts whatsoever to be able to help me find the best therapist to help my children and I with our relationship?
I’m being forced to find for my children within two weeks a new therapist who is trained on and understands PA, by Dec. 3rd. If I don’t find an alienation-knowledgable therapist this time it could be catastrophic for my children.
The judge has given me only two weeks to find someone or she is going to find someone for them. That would mot likely be someone like the other therapists my children have seen, therapists who did NOT understand severe alienation—severe meaning that my kids have been kept away from me for over a year and have been so turned against me that they now are no longer willing even to talk or text with me on the phone. These uninformed therapists have done terrible damage. They have sided with my alienating ex, reinforcing the alienation instead of helping my kids to overcome it.
If you do not have a list of providers in the Houston area. can you give me names of anyone I could reach out to?
A desperate parent.
Far too many alienated parents face a similarly dreadful situation. The difficulty is two-fold: too few therapists with sufficient knowledge about alienation, and finding those few therapists can be very difficult.
To start, too few child or family therapists, or therapists of any type, have taken it upon themselves to become knowledgable about alienation. They therefore miss the diagnosis. If so, they are likely to side with the alienator against the targeted parent, which makes the alienation all the worse.
This situation is particularly poignant because if therapists have not educated themselves about how to recognize and treat alienated children, they are likely to rely on standard child therapy treatment techniques such as listening to and empathizing with what the child says. For alienation situations, this technique used alone can do more harm than good.
Empathy must be augmented with then finding ways to break the enmeshment between the child and the alienating parent. The children need to be helped to allow themselves to experience and re-discover, via therapy jointly with the rejected parent, that what they have been taught about that parent is untrue. They need a massive re-education campaign.
Severe alienation generally also needs cooperation from a judge, who may forbid the severe alienator from any contact with the children for at least three months or until the alienation has been reversed and the alienating parent understands and ceases the alienating behaviors. With this separation plus treatment with an alienation-knowledgable therapist, the chances of children's successful recovery zoom upward.
How can parents find one of the few knowledgeable therapists in their area? This challenge can be difficult to impossible. Here, however, are at least three ideas:
- Contact lawyers in your area who are knowledgeable about alienation to find out if they have suggestions. Usually lawyers with this specialty list alienation as one of their areas of expertise on their website.
- Check out the members' list on the website for the Parental Alienation Study Group. Join so you can scroll through their membership list. (Membership is free.) This group includes parents, therapists, and legal professionals also who work in the area of alienation. Besides checking the members listing, post a message on the forum asking for names of alienation-trained therapists in your area.
- Find a therapist who is open to learning about alienation. For starters, this blog post on what therapists need to know about alienation teaches the basics. If a competent therapist is willing to study this and similar articles and videos, they should be able to self-educate enough to become able to spot an alienated child, identify the parent's manipulative actions, and to treat alienation cases successfully.
- Another vital source of information for therapists (and parents, grandparents, and legal professionals as well) can be found here, especially by clicking "More" on the menu at the top of the page and then clicking various names in the list.
Over time, the current scarcity of therapists who are alienation-knowledgable hopefully will change. For now, though, I am hoping that this article will encourage more therapists to learn on their own about the syndrome and how to treat it.
Meanwhile, thank you "desperate parent" for your email, as I have written this post in response to your poignant plea.