Parent Alienation or Wise Avoidance?

Practitioners who work with separating parents and their children are familiar with the distress, anxiety and fury that accompanies a child’s steadfast refusal to have contact with a parent. The therapeutic and legal community where the concept is invoked is also divided.

Some argue that parental alienation is not supported by ‘sound science’ or referred to in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association and hence should be excluded from testimony. Others contend that ‘The cluster of symptoms or behaviors indicating the presence of alienation in the child can also be reliably identified.’

A paper by Amy Baker reports on a study which attests to the reliability and validity of the four-factor model of parental alienation by having mental health professionals code vignettes representing a combination of presence and absence of four factors: a prior positive relationship between the child and the now rejected parent; absence of maltreatment by the rejected parent; use of alienating behaviours by the favoured parent; and presence of behavioural manifestations of alienation in the child. Of particular interest to practitioners is the eight behavioural manifestations including ‘(1) the campaign of denigration of the targeted parent; (2) weak, frivolous and absurd reasons offered by the child for the rejection of the targeted parent; (3) lack of ambivalence in the child’s views such that one parent is seen as all good and the other is seen as all bad; (4) lack of remorse in the child for the cruel treatment of the targeted parent; (5) the child’s automatic support for the favoured parent in all inter-parental disputes; (6) the ‘independent thinker’ phenomenon in which the child strenuously professes to have not been influenced at all by the favoured parent; (7) the child’s use of words and phrases borrowed from the favoured parent; and (8) the spread of the child’s animosity to the friends and family of the targeted parent.’

Such unequivocal and observable actions which practitioners can easily identify make a clear distinction between children whose right to a close relationship with a parent are being denied and those who are exercising wise and self-protective authority over their lives.


Baker, A. Reliability and validity of the four-factor model of parental alienation. Journal of Family Therapy (2020) 42: 100-118


Upcoming Workshop

Children’s rights—Adult responsibility. How to strike the balance?

27th March 9:30am – 4:30pm

Working with children and  their families, professionals are often confronted with questions about how to strike a fair balance between the rights of the child and support for the proper authority of adults who care for them.

This one-day workshop will present a framework for assessing and intervening in situations where adult’s authority is continually questioned, leaving children vulnerable and adults impotent. Based on the Bower Place Method and informed by principles of non-violent resistance, the approach helps practitioners clearly differentiate lines of appropriate authority and responsibility which are maximally protective. It proposes intervention that reinforces equitable division of responsibility between adults and children commensurate with the role of the adult and developmental stage of the child.

Theoretical input is complemented by working directly with clients who present with these difficulties, in the Bower Place Complex Needs Clinic. Participants will be invited to work in the room as assistants or as members of the therapeutic team allowing direct application of the ideas that are presented.

This workshop is suitable for those working with children and their families in multiple settings including, schools, child care and early learning centres, mental health and human services and medical and health settings. An opportunity to explore research drawing on live clinical practice.

Cost $190 for full day training with Bower Place Director, Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist Catherine Sanders.

Call (08) 8221 6066 or email for bookings and further information.