Dr Emma Katz

Dr Emma Katz



The belief system of 'parental alienation', where a child's dislike of a parent is attributed to the 'brainwashing' of the other parent, is deeply problematic. One way it is super problematic is that it is adult-centred, & ignores children's own views. Long🧡

When a parent alleges they've been 'alienated' this often (though not always) comes to dominate the narrative about what's happened. Professionals & communities often don't stop to ask the child with a genuinely open mind - 'what's happened?'

But there are so many reasons a child might not want to see a parent. Their parent might be: emotionally cold & uncaring; unpredictable & volatile; stressful to be around; dull & not much fun for a child.

The parent might be in a new relationship & the child might not like the new partner. The new partner might have children and the child might not like these children & not want to spend time with them. Abuse from the step-family could even be an issue here.

The child might just be going through a stage of development where they aren't that interested in their parents and are more interested in their peer relationships. If one parent keeps pushing the child for attention, the child may become increasingly annoyed with that parent.

A parent might have political beliefs that an adolescent disagrees with. For example, a gay child might not want to engage much with a parent who expresses homophobic views; a child might not like parent whose views are very sexist or racist.

A neuro-diverse child may not like a parent who does understand their neuro-diversity & isn't supportive about it. A child might not like the neighbourhood or the house the parent lives in, or just might not enjoy spending a significant portion of their time in a second home.

There are so many commonplace reasons why a child may not wish to spend time with a parent, either in the short term or on a longer-term basis. Yet a parent feeling rejected & upset could easily come across the notion of 'parental alienation' & fall down the rabbit hole.

The 'PA' industry will happily take many thousands of pounds from a parent with the promise of 'reunifying' them with their child. The problem is 'PA treatments' lack a robust evidence base, & carry a very high risk of traumatising & harming children:

'PA treatments' generally focus on overriding the wishes of children, convincing them their concerns aren't real or valid, forcing them to spend time away from their preferred parent, & threatening them into submission. Not likely to result in a healthy outcome for the child!

However, the main problem with 'PA' - & the reason I know so much about it as a domestic abuse expert, is that abusive parents whose children have every reason in the world to strongly dislike them, are claiming to be alienated & taking child custody from loving parents #DVAM

This is a gendered issue: when a mother says a father is abusive & the father says he's alienated, the father is pretty likely to get custody When a father says a mother is abusive & she says she's alienated, the mother is far less likely to get custody:

This is partly because the notion of 'PA' draws on sexist stereotypes about women being manipulative, vindictive & lying, & men being more honest, stable, truthful & credible. The UN calls 'PA' a regressive and pseudo theory

When abusive fathers/parents use 'PA' claims in family court to take custody of children from protective mothers/parents - the consequences to children of being raised by abusers & losing their protective parent are often extremely grave, e.g.

Making a 'PA' claim tends to get fathers custody even in cases where fathers have in all likelihood been sexually abusing their children - their is medical evidence, child disclosers, and multiple professionals attesting their belief that the father has sexually abused the child.

Indeed, the whole concept of 'PA' originated with Richard Gardener Gardener, the 'father' of 'PA', made many pro-pedophile statements & used his idea of 'PA' to get fathers accused of incestuous child sexual abuse custody of their children in family court

Of course there IS a circumstance where a parent might successfully manipulate a child into turning against a healthy, loving parent: where the manipulating parent is a clever, controlling domestic abuser. Many, though not all, domestic abusers of this kind are fathers.

In this circumstance, the sabotage of the loving parent-child relationship is part of a whole pattern of long term domestic abuse by the abuser. Remember here that domestic abuse is not just hitting, it includes isolation & psychological abuse too.

This could be tackled as part of tackling the domestic abuse. See: Using the highly problematic concept of 'PA' to tackle it is very risky, especially as 'PA treatments' are so unproven & carry a high risk of traumatising children.

One tactic that domestic abusers love is 'DARVO': Deny their abuse, Attack the credibility or the victim, and Reverse the narrative about who is the Victim & Offender. So abusers who are manipulating children love to claim that they themselves are the victims of this behaviour!

Abusers frequently take the protective and loving efforts of the victim-survivor parent (most often the mother), who is attempting to shield the child from further harm, & use these to claim the protective parent is 'alienating' the children. Professionals often buy into this.

Let me leave you with links to these threads about the shocking history of the concept of 'PA', and the ways it is doing harm today. 1. 2.

And finally, returning to the point that 'PA' is adult centred & tends to ignores the voices of children (having a voice is a child's right): this picture was made by children at a 'PA therapy camp'. They were asked to describe their time at the camp. This was their description.

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