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Family Treatment for Moderate Child Alienation

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Summarizing the Challenge and Opportunity

Child alienation is often a by-product of high-conflict custody and divorce battles. In its many instances, it obliterates ties between the child and the rejected parent, leaving any positive or ambivalent feelings dormant. Alienation can cause a developing child to live in a state of constant anxiety, and/or anger, while devoid of critical thinking skills and an individuated sense of self. Such children are at significant risk for depression, substance abuse, interpersonal difficulties, and poor adaptive functioning.

The challenge of reversing child alienation requires the support and direct involvement of the entire family, especially the favored parent. Family treatment for moderate child alienation consists of individual, dyadic, and full family sessions within an intensive course of treatment that may require one to two years to complete. Key components of family treatment for moderate child alienation include:

  • Secure court appointment to serve as therapist for mandated family treatment.
  • Request assessment for child alienation, preferably by forensic evaluator, including individual and conjoint interviews of each parent and child.
  • Maximize structure through written contract and consent, based on court order, and including delineation of obligations and consequences for noncompliance in behavioral terms.
  • Provide psychoeducation on the adverse effects of child alienation.
  • Set short- and long-term behavioral goals with full participation of all family members.
  • Desensitize the anxious/fearful child to the rejected parent, facilitating the development of critical, individuated thinking.
  • Address personal issues individually with each parent that are relevant to family dynamics contributing to child alienation.
  • Expose child to respectful parental interactions, following dyadic parent sessions promoting contrition, forgiveness, and joint commitment to child.
  • Establish a new family narrative via dyadic and full family sessions.

Gries, L. T. & Gries, J. R. (2019). Family treatment for moderate child alienation. Journal of Health Service Psychology, 45, 105–113.

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