June 26, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Like all dishonest journalism, Cara Tabachnick’s article on parental alienation and the Family Bridges reunification program starts with a thesis and ignores the overwhelming weight of evidence that contradicts it (Washington Post, 5/11/17). In Friday’s piece I gave a few examples of her use of words, phrases and sentences that seem to intentionally mislead the reader. But those few barely scratch the surface. Tabachnick’s piece fairly teems with dodgy phrasing that points the reader toward her thesis – that parental alienation is a dubious theory and efforts to ameliorate its sometimes horrible results are mere “shams” designed to line the pockets of less than scrupulous mental health professionals.
As I mentioned Friday, Tabachnick undermines the first part of her thesis – that the very existence of PA is doubtful – by selecting a family on whose experiences she hangs the rest of her article, in which alienation had pretty plainly occurred. Tabachnick’s own description of the children of the Jeu family looks very much like that of alienated kids. Into the bargain, the mental health professional assigned by the court to evaluate them and the judge in the case concluded that, in fact, their mother, Sharon Jeu had alienated them. It’s a strange way to cast doubt on the existence of PA.
That too gave rise to another example of Tabachnick’s misleading her readers. As anyone who’s at all familiar with parental alienation knows, the tactics employed by alienating parents can be brutal and shocking to even the thick-skinned. What did Sharon Jeu do to alienate her children from their father, Rafael? Unsurprisingly, Tabachnick never says. After all, she doesn’t want readers to be horrified at the behavior of the very person she wants to portray as a protective mother wronged. Here’s 100% of what Tabachnick says about Sharon’s alienating tactics:
The alienation arose, the judge found, because Sharon “had an enmeshed parenting style with loose boundaries due to her needs and anxieties. … She had difficulty setting limits, and there were some parent-child role reversals.”
That fairly describes a parent who wants to be her children’s friend and peer rather than their parent, but it in no way describes parental alienation. It’s deficient parenting to be sure, but nothing that would, by itself, warrant a change of custody or an order prohibiting contact between the parent and her children.
And yet that is precisely what the judge in the Jeu case did. Why would a judge take such extraordinary steps to address Sharon’s behavior? He did so in a last-ditch effort to mend the father-child relationships that Sharon’s PA had done so much to damage. But Tabachnick carefully avoids any of the nitty-gritty of that alienation that countless mental health professionals acknowledge to be child abuse.
Having refused to let her audience in on what really happened to make one mental health expert and a judge conclude was Sharon’s alienation of the children, Tabachnick moves on to refuse to let her readers know about the aftermath of their attendance, with their father, at the Family Bridges reunification program.
I interviewed Dr. Deirdre Rand at length. Although she couldn’t tell me the specifics of much of the Jeu case, she was adamant that the program had worked well, that the kids came away from it with a far more positive, constructive relationship with their father than before. Indeed, according to her, they successfully completed the program that includes demonstrating the ability to listen positively to the other person and conduct a family meeting about whatever problems might arise.
And of course they continued living with their father for several months following the Family Bridges workshop.
So what does Tabachnick have to say about that? Almost nothing.
Raphael, however, believes that Family Bridges improved his relationship with his children. “I remember baking something … and I yelled ‘Ow!’ and the kids said nothing,” he recounted recently. “After Family Bridges, when something would happen and they would ask, ‘Are you okay?’ — that’s huge from where they were.” He also cited the fact that David sent him a text a few months ago; David said he sometimes responds to Raphael’s texts with a “yes” or a “no” out of fear for his younger siblings, who are still under court order to visit their father.
The whole result of the four-day program was that they would ask if he was okay? Really? Tabachnick’s giving the outcome of the program such short shrift is just another effort to downplay the positive results of Family Bridges and ignore the real reason for the children’s continued rejection of their father.
What was that reason? According to Rand, it was their too-early reintegration with their mother who, naturally, continued her alienation of them. That’s reunification poison. The effects of Family Bridges need time to become the norm in the family. Contact with the alienating parent before that’s occurred can undo the workshop’s accomplishments. Typically, Tabachnick makes it look like the program failed. It didn’t. The failure took place afterward.
More of the same comes when she refers to Dr. Richard Warshak’s study of the Family Bridges program.
The only psychologist who has evaluated Family Bridges, for example, is Texas-based Richard Warshak, who helped develop the program, served as one of its trainers and has testified in custody cases in support of sending children to the workshops, where his DVDs and books are often required materials. He has written three papers citing the efficacy of Family Bridges; one paper said 95 percent of interventions were successful, although the number dropped to 83 percent after the children returned home.
As I said earlier in my series on the WaPo article, the claim that Warshak’s “DVDs and books are often required materials” is simply false. Yes, attendees watch one of his videos, but Tabachnick makes it appear that they’re required to purchase both.
But far more amazing is the fact that, at the very worst, Family Bridges is apparently successful 83% of the time. Rand told me that their program accepts only the very worst-alienated kids. Given that, I’d say a success rate of 83% is outstanding and certainly better than any other approach to severe alienation. And of course that drop in the success rate is due at least in part to exactly what happened in the Jeu case – premature contact between the children and their alienating parent. Tabachnick, needless to say, never lets on.
More on this on Tuesday.
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