Some mental health professionals and religious leaders empower parental alienation according to Dr. Abe Worenklein, a professor at Dawson College in Montreal.
Worenklein made his comments at the recent Canadian Symposium on Parental Alienation Syndrome in New York City. The conference drew approximately 200 parents, legal and mental health professional interested in helping parents and children maintain normal, healthy relationships after divorce or separation.
“Sometimes mental health professionals who do not know how to interview parents and children and are unfamiliar with the themes of the alienating parent acutally end up empowering the children and reinforcing the parent’s position,” Worenklein said. “Furthermore, some religious leaders may focus on the parents’ degree of religiosity when telling one parent to limit the less-observant parent’s time with the children.”
Worenklein explained that the themes of the alienating parent are the words and actions a parent uses to damage, and in some cases destroy, the child’s previously normal relationship with his or her other parent. Some of the themes include:
- Denying the existence of the other parent by never talking about him or her, destroying photos of the parent, changing the subject when the child mentions the parent, or not relaying the parent’s messages to the child.
- Putting the child in the middle by asking him or her to spy on the other parent, remove possessions or take important papers from the parent and child’s home.
- Attacking the parent’s career, interests, hobbies and family.
- Saying things like, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with your mother/father.”
- Threatening to withhold love or acceptance from child.
- Scaring the child into believing the other parent isn’t capable of taking care of him or her.
- Creating a new reality for the child that excludes his or her relationship with the other parent.
Worenklein told conference attendees how professionals can use different interview techniques to identify these themes. “Dr. Worenklein pointed out that asking a young child at the beginning of an interview if the child has anything he or she was supposed to tell the professional is a great way at getting at the child’s rehearsed or programmed answers,” said Mike Jeffries, author of A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation and a conference attendee. “This not only allows the professional to see if the child’s answers were programmed, but after fulfilling his or her obligation to the alienating parent the child can relax and participate much more honestly in the interview,” Jeffries added.