I’m not what you’d call Dr. Phil’s biggest fan. He’s always struck me as more of an entertainer than a responsible mental health professional. And his bias in matters related to domestic violence distorts that issue almost beyond recognition.
But Dr. Phil is undeniably a name a lot of Americans recognize. He’s a high-profile personality with a fair amount of influence over popular conceptions of a wide variety of mental health issues. So it’s good to see him deal with the subject of parental alienation of children by interviewing Jill Egizii. Here’s an article on that interview (WICS, 10/20/10).
Egizii is the president of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization and is on the Illinois legislative committee that’s recommending changes to that state’s family laws. She’d like to see some recognition of parental alienation and its deleterious effects on children established in law.
She says what is meant to hurt a spouse is usually far more harmful to the child. She described for us a typically Parental Alienation situation.
“A spouse is systematically brain washing the children against the other spouse, or what we call the ‘target’ parent. So the children are affected just horribly. Really it’s a form of child abuse” Egizii told ABC News Channel 20.
She says there are three types of Parental Alienation: mild, moderate and severe. Without intervention with both parents (and sometimes the children) cases can quickly escalate to severe “parental alienation syndrome’ (or PAS) for the
child, which typically results in the child having no contact at all with one of their parents.
That’s basically what pioneers like Dr. Richard Gardner and Dr. Richard Warshak and many others have been saying for years. It’s what countless mental health professionals are telling the American Psychiatric Association in order to include PAS in the updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Whatever the near-term outcome of that endeavor may be, awareness of parental alienation of children is growing by the day. That’s true in large part because parents keep doing it, courts keep hearing about it and hiring professionals to investigate it. In short, there’s always more grist for the PAS mill.
As I reported not too long ago, Brazil has passed a new statute providing civil and criminal penalties for attempting to turn a child away from a parent. And states are starting to pass family friendly legislation aimed at assuring real relationships between both parents and children post-divorce.
Against all the momentum that favors recognition of PAS and parental alienation, opponents have little to offer. Their instinctive reaction has been to try to paint PAS as a nefarious plot by abusive fathers to get access to their children. But that’s undermined first by the fact that many perfectly good dads have become estranged from their children by mothers. That’s not exactly news and it rarely has anything to do with an abusive father.
So the fact of parental alienation is sadly far too prevalent to ignore howevr much the anti-father crowd would like us to.
Nobody argues that only mothers alienate children. No mental health professional I’ve ever heard of has said any such thing. That’s because fathers are as capable of alienating behavior as are mothers.
It’s true of course that the vast majority of custodial parents are mothers. That likely means that it tends to be fathers who have something to gain by proving alienating behavior. After all, it’s easier for a custodial parent to alienate than for a noncustodial one to. So it probably seems that the only ones to benefit from the concept of parental alienation are fathers.
But again, both sexes are capable of alienating behavior. And far more important is the fact that recognition of parental alienation together with legal consequences for engaging in it, should help to diminish the practice. That should mean greater access to children by noncustodial parents of whichever sex and reduced conflict between parents.
The whole thrust of recognizing and putting a stop to parental alienation of children is to give children a fuller relationship with the noncustodial parent than they might otherwise have. If that’s to be accomplished, parents will have to get the message that neither of them is the sole arbiter of the other parent’s relationship with their child. And that should be a benefit for everyone.