Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

How to Find a Parental Alienation Expert, Part 1

Not all specialists are bona fide specialists.

Posted Nov 06, 2015

Parental alienation, a family dynamic in which one parent engages in behaviors that are likely to foster a child’s unjustified rejection of the other parent, is all too common.  By some estimates 80% of all divorcing parents engage in some PA behaviors.  Although, not all children exposed to PA behaviors become alienated (unjustifiably reject one parent and align with the other), rates of alienation in children may be as high as 1%. A body of research now exists establishing the negative long-term effects of exposure to PA behaviors for children.  Some research, along with a host of memoirs, also documents the extremely painful experience of alienation for the targeted parents.

Many targeted parents find themselves involved with legal as well as mental health professionals as they navigate their parental alienation journey.  Although there is considerable research and clinical wisdom in our current knowledge base, PA is still an emerging field.  Presently, there is no credentialing body to provide professionals with an evidence-based training protocol and/or related information to address the problem of parental alienation.  

This parallels the progression in other mental health fields.  For example, although addictions existed well before the 1980’s, it wasn’t until 1988 that the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders was created to provide credentialing as a Certified Addiction Specialist.  Prior to that, anyone could claim to be an expert in the treatment of addictions regardless of his or her knowledge, experience, or skill.

This is problematic because—as a bona fide field of practice—there is a knowledge base and core content that experts must have to properly assist families affected by parental alienation and to avoid common errors that can result in poor outcomes for such families.  Such errors are very common among non-specialists because many aspects of parental alienation are highly counterintuitive.  The field is counterintuitive because the human brain is hard-wired to commit certain types of systematic cognitive errors that are particularly common in PA cases.  Consequently, non-specialists who attempt to evaluate or manage such cases will often fall prey to a variety of cognitive and clinical errors, particularly if they rely on naïve intuition rather than a highly-specialized knowledge base.  Furthermore, such clinicians are likely to have great confidence in their incorrect conclusions.  Indeed, the usual repertoire of clinical skills is often inadequate in such cases and will often result in poor clinical and forensic outcomes.  To avoid such errors, clinicians require highly-specific training in PA and related family dynamics such as pathological alignment and pathological enmeshment.  PA-specific training and knowledge is required in order to avoid such mistakes.  

The remaining sections of this blog will outline (1) the types of errors non-specialists are likely to make (2) factors to consider when selecting a PA expert and (3) core beliefs that any PA expert should endorse.

This blog is based on the collective work of the following people:

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D.

Steven G. Miller, MD.

J. Michael Bone, Ph.D

And in alphabetical order

Katherine Andre, Ph.D.

Rebecca Bailey, Ph.D.

William Bernet, M.D

Doug Darnall, Ph.D.

Robert Evans, Ph.D

Linda Kase Gottlieb, LMFT, LCSW-R

Demothenos Lorandos, Ph.D. JD

Kathleen Reay, Ph.D.

S. Richard Sauber, Ph.D.