As of mid-October, we have the latest analysis of the Family Bridges workshop that seeks to repair the relationships between severely alienated children and their targeted parents. Previous studies of Family Bridges strongly suggested positive results of the program along with positive attitudes of its participants. The latest study is larger and a more comprehensive examination of both.
It must be noted that the study was conducted by Prof. Richard Warshak who originated the concepts put into practice by Family Bridges. That said, Warshak has had no professional, legal or financial connection either to Family Bridges itself or to the professionals who conduct its workshops.
The study, published by the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage can be found here. It involved the most intractable cases of alienation.
According to the parents, the children had rejected them for an average of 3 to 4 years. Typically the judges, custody evaluators, and guardians ad litem said that this was the “worst case of parental alienation” or the “most severely alienated child” they had seen in their career.In the study, 83 children and 68 parents who’d taken part in the Family Bridges program were both analyzed by the mental health professionals conducting the program and were themselves asked about their experiences and attitudes about Family Bridges. That was done both before and after the workshop. The results were impressive.
For example, a signal aspect of parental alienation is that children feel free to ignore court orders to have contact with the targeted parent.
[A]t the outset the parents perceived that only 15% of the children cooperated with the orders a lot or moderately. By the end of the workshop, the percentage of perceived cooperation rose to 94% as rated by parents and 96% as rated by professionals.Overwhelmingly, mental health professionals assessing children’s behavior regarding court orders came to the same conclusions as did the parents.
If the criterion for “success” is a post-workshop alienation score in the bottom half of the scale, then 96% of the children had significantly overcome their alienation…
Parents rated 75% of the relationships as “much better” and another 24% as “somewhat better.” The professionals’ perceptions resembled those of the parents.
In contrast, only 31% of the children reported that their relationship was “much better,” and 43% reported “somewhat better.” These results are encouraging, considering that the children were described as the most severely alienated children by the professionals with whom they were previously involved, that previous attempts to help them reconnect with their rejected parent had failed, and that most admitted experiencing very negative feelings about Family Bridges at the outset.And parents and children alike considered Family Bridges a positive, constructive experience.
The results suggest a high level of parent satisfaction with the workshop. Even those parents whose children did not all sufficiently overcome their alienation rated the experience as good and beneficial. In no case did parents report that the workshop harmed their relationship with their child.
As predicted, most children (83%) began the workshop with predominantly negative expectations. Also as predicted, most of the children (nearly 90%) felt better about the workshop after having experienced it. Two-thirds of the children rated the workshop as “good” or “excellent,” and only 8% rated it as “poor.”Of course, the sine qua non of any program that aims to reverse the alienation of a child from a parent is whether their relationship improves because of their participation in the program.
Parents and children rated on a 4-point scale the extent to which the workshop helped improve various aspects of their relationship. As seen in Table 4, parents gave the workshop very high ratings on achieving all its goals. As predicted, children’s ratings were lower than parents’ ratings, but still on the positive end of the scale. Children gave the workshop the most credit for improving their ability to communicate and manage conflict with their parent. But it is noteworthy that most children also credited the workshop for improving their feelings about the parent, making the relationship better, and helping them get along with each other better.Specifically, 74% of children, 99% of parents and 94% of professionals rated the parent-child relationship “much better” or “somewhat better” following the four-day program.
This of course is not the last word on Family Bridges or on other efforts to rectify parental alienation. One obvious area for future study is the duration of the change in the parent-child relationship. The current study asked participants their opinions shortly after the conclusion of the workshop and of course those can change. Alienators don’t often change their tune about the targeted parent and, since Family Bridges requires that physical custody be changed from the alienator to the targeted parent, usually for 90 days, what happens once the alienating parent re-establishes contact with the child is of interest to researchers and Family Bridges personnel.
But Warshak’s most recent effort is impossible to dismiss, however much those who deny the existence of parental alienation would like to do just that. Periodically, we see those people resort to the most scurrilous tactics to attempt to discredit the very concept of PA. I’ve written a fair amount about those unprincipled efforts. Most importantly, those who do so implicitly promote child abuse, which is what parental alienation unquestionably is. Considered criticisms of judicial conduct are fine as are those of attempts to ameliorate parental alienation. Nothing and no one is above criticism.
But the people I refer to and about whom I’ve written are the furthest thing from principled critics. They reflexively view PA and efforts to improve relationships between targeted parents and their alienated children as little more than attacks on “protective mothers.” Their astonishing ignorance demonstrated by their claims would alone be bad enough, but clearly, if the arguments they put forward are the best they have to offer, our understanding of PA and how to address it, both in court and in settings like those of Family Bridges are in no danger. More importantly, we’re coming to understand that even the most severely alienated children can be helped to re-establish meaningful relationships with their targeted parents and avoid the type of long-term harm caused by parental alienation.