Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The treatment of the alienator is the most difficult of all. The
trilogy of our alienator, child and victim of the alienation are
the three involved in the process of Parental Alienation (PAS).
The difficulty results due to the alienator feeling totally justified
in the programming being carried out. Sometimes, but rarely, the
alienator would not even be able to admit that he/she is programming
a child against the target parent. This is commonly termed “denial”.
Most alienators know exactly what they are doing and are prepared
to avoid any form of treatment in order to continue doing what they
are doing. This is because they feel totally justified in their
action of seeking to destroy any possible relationship between a
child in their care and the targeted parent. Normally, in order
to reduce the resistance of an alienator and to get them to participate
in therapy, there must be a Court resolution and pressure by the
Judge that parental alienation syndrome or programming must be eliminated.
The treatment process has three objectives:
- To prepare the alienator for the treatment itself.
- To treat the alienator.
- To monitor the effects of the treatment vis a vis the child
who has hitherto been programmed.
Preparation for Treatment
The therapist must be prepared for resistance from the alienator.
The attitude of the alienator will reflect the following types of
thinking when verbalised:
“There is nothing wrong with what I am doing. I don’t
need any treatment.”
“I am only coming along to the treatment as you call it
because the Court has forced me to do so.”
“There is nothing wrong with me that needs treatment. It’s..............”
With this kind of attitude, treatment involving a change in attitude
seems far from simple. It is however, important to repair step by
step this tragical destructive interaction by a means of convincing
the alienator that there is much to be gained by co-operating with
the therapist and by accepting the irrationality of their demeanour.
This needs to be emphasised as being so for two main reasons:
- The alienator would benefit via a better relationship with
the alienated partner including, possibly greater financial help,
care and support, and even friendliness from the alienated parent.
- One must appeal to the good sense of the mother. The mother
must realise, and the father for that matter, the benefit the
child would have in the short and long term if contact of some
kind were established with the alienated parent.
The treatment will initially have to be played by ear. It is vital
to win the confidence of the alienator. It must be stressed, that
one is concerned with the resident parent, that is the alienator,
as much as with the target parent. It is important to listen carefully,
sensitively to the grievances of the alienator and to sympathise
with their feelings of hurt, anger and having been betrayed in some
cases. It is similar to when one is involved in a hostage situation.
One must develop a positive relationship with the hostage taker.
The treatment, must, not only be concerned with the past but planning
a way forward of hope for the alienator. He/she has been living,
one can only term it, through their hatred of the alienated partner.
The way forward must be to collect one’s resources within
oneself and seek to establish a new relationship, if this is required,
or support from friends. One should also help the alienator to develop
new interests or pursuits which have a positive aspect and can eliminate
or counteract those negative feelings which tend to originate totally
within the person. One might say that the alienation process is
obsessive, compulsive and habit forming.
Promoting and guiding the alienator to develop a personal hope
for the future, does much to reduce or remove the often pathological
animosity towards the targeted parent. This has become the very
centre of the alienators ‘modus vivendi’. It can only
be counteracted by an attitude of looking outwards. It means being
optimistic and rebuilding a life and thereby putting behind them
the hurt that has led to the process of alienating the child against
the perceived perpetrator of acts of evil and betrayal.
The therapeutic intention is to change simultaneously the attitude
and behaviour of the alienating individual. The kind of treatment
adopted is cognitive plus behavioural. The success of this therapeutic
approach can only be ascertained via two interacting factors: changing
the hostility of the programmer towards the targeted parent and
the child being encouraged to have contact with the alienated parent
and actually spending positive time with that parent. This obviously
means requiring the child or children to be involved in the treatment,
once the alienating parent has shown the necessary signs and actions
of co-operating with the efforts of the therapist.
Monitoring the effects of the treatment against PAS
In order to prepare fertile grounds for the anti- PAS therapeutic
success the therapist must be involved in a positive reintroduction
of the child with the targeted parent. This can only be achieved
with the full agreement and co-operation of the previously alienating
The alienated parent, must also be prepared in how best to deal
with the initial likely difficulties of having contact with the
child that has hitherto been adversely programmed and hence inimical
to the targeted parent. If possible, there may be a need to establish
positive and workable ways whereby some communication takes place
between the alienator and the targeted parent.
A form of mediation should take place between the two adults with
the help of the therapist. This is in order to develop agreement
between them which can then lead to some kind of co-operation in
the initial and ongoing process of re-establishing a harmonious
relationship between all concerned in a family which was once united.
This must initially be done individually rather than as a couple.
Once there are sufficient signs of agreement, the couple can be
The therapist must ascertain with great care, each step of the
way how much further he can go, or what further can be achieved
to advance the process of harmonising the formally acrimonious relationship
as far and as much as this can be achieved.
Success in reducing the acrimony inherent in the PAS situation
can only be measured in degree. The success depends both on the
skill of the therapist and the sincere willingness of the alienator
to co-operate in the process of reducing or removing the PAS. Much
again depends on the support of the Court, whether the treatment
of the PAS has the desired successful outcome without such support
little if anything is likely to be achieved.
Outcome of PAS treatment when ordered by the Court
It has been well established that very few Courts of Justice endorse
putting pressure on the alienator to be involved in treatment to
counteract the PAS. This is because Judges on the whole, consider
it counter-productive, or even unlikely, that any form of treatment
will be successful. Judges therefore rarely order an alleged perpetrator
of PAS to participate in and benefit through therapy. The outcome
of therapy in a relatively few instances when it is ordered to take
place and accepted, is surprising. The table which follows indicated
what can be achieved via the therapeutic intervention of just one
psychologist who has for some time specialised in severe or recalcitrant
cases of PAS.
Table: Result of Treatment for PAS
Targeted and former PAS parent
|Has led to effective harmony being developed
|Some positive contact established
|No effective change
Discussion of Results
The results of this rather small study indicates what can be achieved
through a form of mediation and therapy with those individuals involved
intensively in programming a child or children against another parent.
Parental alienation syndrome is a process which has been occurring
over time and is much more common than is realised. It occurs not
only in acrimonious separations and divorces but also in often unhappy
marital relationships, or where one of the partners seeks almost
total control over a child or children at the expense of the other
In a happy or loving relationship between partners this is much
less likely to occur as each will seek to involve the other partner
in making decisions concerning children and in dealing with them.
It also means they will adopt a unified approach to the rearing
of children and most especially to the application of discipline
which is necessary from time to time. In dealing with PAS we are
however, not concerned with parents of that ilk who are loving and
caring, towards their children and one another, but with parents
that are opposite to this. PAS parents often feel and express a
great deal of antagonism, hatred and hostility towards the other
partner and will do anything they can to cause damage to the partner,
who they feel has let them down in one way or another.
In extreme cases alienation becomes pathological where the individual
virtually thrives on his/her antagonism and animosity towards the
other party. Unfortunately the victim is not only the alienated
parent but the children themselves involved in the trilogy.
Judges, as it has been stated, are reluctant to pressurise the
recalcitrant programming parent to participate in therapeutic efforts
to change this pattern. They realise there is so much hatred and
antagonism that forcing anyone to participate in treatment against
their will is likely to fail. This however, is not always the case.
The previous table indicates that when Judges are strong in their
desire to resolve the alienation process, much can be done by psychiatrists
and psychologists to deal with the alienation and to reduce or even
remove it altogether.
It is important for the Judiciary to realise their responsibility
and potential power, to change PAS. Failing to comply with the order
of a Court must incur punishment. This includes both parents having
responsibility for the rearing of, their children. PAS must be viewed
as an injustice to the alienated parent and also to the child in
question. Judges therefore, must adopt a much more firm approach
to alienators who fail to comply with court rulings and who may
require some form of severe punishment, threatened and carried out
if necessary. Among the punishments could be imprisonment or passing
the child or children on to the alienated parent or relatives of
the alienated parent who have hitherto not had these children in
residence. These are extreme measures which should only be applied
if there is a total lack of co-operation from the alienating parent
with the court ruling. In order for rulings to be made they must
have “teeth” and this provides a favourable climate
and strong therapeutic pressure for the participant who is the alienator
to seek to benefit from the treatment being carried out. It can
also lead to better relationships eventually between the alienator
and the former targeted parent. There is much to be gained but the
course of action is not easy and relies heavily on the commitment
and strength of the Judiciary system supporting the therapeutic
process. It also relies greatly on the wisdom, sensitivity and skill
of the therapist.