June 30, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Cara Tabachnick’s woeful Washington Post article on parental alienation and the reunification program, Family Bridges, seeks to question the efficacy and even the morality of Family Bridges as well as the very existence of parental alienation. I’ve pointed out a number of ways in which the latter is simply absurd. And, as to the former, last time I referred readers to Dr. Richard Warshak’s website that gives a more in-depth look at the program than I can here. I also described Dr. Deirdre Rand’s responses to some of the more egregious claims in Tabachnick’s piece. And I quoted a Canadian judge who called Family Bridges “nothing short of remarkable” in its ability to reintegrate alienated kids with their targeted parents.
But, it may be argued, while Warshak no longer has any connection to Family Bridges, he helped create the program and may still consider it, to an extent his “baby.” Rand still conducts the program and draws an income from it, so clearly she has a stake in its good reputation. And Justice Trimble, not being a mental health professional, may not be the best person to offer an opinion on the subject. For example, he may only know a few cases in which the Family Bridges program worked well and not those in which it failed. In short, his opinion may be based on too few selected cases to be valid.
Those are fair criticisms of the information I’ve produced so far.
But Dr. Joan Kelly is unimpeachable on all those fronts. She’s not only a highly-thought-of psychologist who’s been researching, publishing and practicing in the field of clinical psychology for over 40 years, she’s studied parental alienation for almost that long and is therefore well qualified to, in a balanced and incisive manner, analyze Family Bridges and report on it.
And that’s just what she did in the journal Family Court Review in 2010. Did Tabachnick read it? If she did, she never mentioned the fact in her article, nor did she contact Kelly for comment. Those failures are shameful in the extreme if they happened. On the other hand, she may have read Kelly’s piece, in which case her article deserves even greater condemnation. To have read Kelly’s piece and then to write what Tabachnick did would amount to frank misrepresentation, intentional intellectual dishonesty.
Read Tabachnick’s article; then read Kelly’s. Nothing could better acquaint readers with the debased nature of the WaPo piece.
Here’s what Kelly had to say in the summary of her review of Family Bridges:
Titled Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships, the program is a rigorous and disciplined approach designed to help participants repair severely derailed parent–child relationships. Family Bridges uses evidence-based instruction principles to maximize learning and create a safe atmosphere enabling the alienated child(ren) and rejected parent to be, and work, together. The multimedia materials selected for the 4-day program draw from social science research and focus on multiple and universal processes by which distortions of perception, memory, and thinking occur; negative stereotype formation; the impact of high conflict on children and parent–child relationships; effective communication and dispute resolution; and parenting skills training. Based on a small and diverse sample of families, Family Bridges demonstrates considerable promise as one type of intervention designed for these severely troubled relationships.
Tabachnick quotes a lawyer who claims the program is a “sham” to line the pockets of Family Bridges principals, but not the above.
What of Tabachnick’s claim that the very concept of parental alienation is an illusion? Here’s what Kelly had to say:
The challenges in understanding and providing effective legal, judicial, and psychological assistance to these troublesome and highly conflicted families were first reported in the mid-1970s when Wallerstein and Kelly (1976, 1980) described an unusual constellation of child and adolescent attitudes, feelings, and behaviors not normally seen in families, and which developed, escalated, and consolidated in the months following a difficult separation…
In the intervening years, dozens of articles and books elaborated on this aberrant development in parent–child relationships precipitated or facilitated by a turbulent and high-conflict separation and divorce (for a recent comprehensive review, see Fidler, Bala, Birnbaum, & Kavassalis, 2008a; Warshak, 2003).
So much for Tabachnick’s “no empirical evidence” of parental alienation claim.
Recall that, among my many other objections to Tabachnick’s article, I criticized her for promoting a passive and uncaring approach to alienated kids. PA is child abuse and, by writing an article that (a) questions PA’s very existence, (b) speciously attacks efforts to ameliorate its harmful effects and (c) offers no alternative, Tabachnick opens herself to the charge that, in the final analysis, parental alienation is acceptable to her and nothing should be attempted to care for its child-victims.
Well, apparently, she’s not alone. Kelly again.
A few feminists and legal scholars continue to contest the very existence of child alienation; minimize its severity, impact, and duration; and strongly object to any court-ordered educational or therapeutic interventions.
Let that sink in. Those people, like Tabachnick, literally countenance the child abuse that is parental alienation. As if that’s not bad enough, they excuse their turning a blind eye to it by resort to entirely untrue claims. According to them, the very concept of parental alienation is a sneaky scam perpetrated by abusive fathers on unwitting judges, mental health professionals, guardians ad litem, etc. in order to gain custody of their children. That even the most rudimentary texts on parental alienation make clear that fathers and mothers alike can be alienators deters the zealots not a whit.
Needless to say, Kelly sets those “feminists and legal scholars” aright.
However, there is broad consensus among the mental health and family law community that some older children and adolescents do become pathologically alienated from a parent following separation (see Fidler & Bala, 2010) and that the risk of child alienation is increased in highly conflicted separations accompanied by protracted adversarial child custody disputes. The angry defiance, contempt for the rejected parent, enmeshed and overly dependent relationships with the favored parent in some cases, black/white thinking, and aggressive behaviors seen in these youngsters pose seemingly insoluble problems for the courts, as well as bleak prospects for the children’s own future psychosocial well-being including balanced and healthy intimate relationships.
Keep in mind that those “bleak prospects for the children’s own future psychosocial well-being” are precisely what Tabachnick and her sisters in arms not only accept but promote.
More on this tomorrow.
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