“Bad information” is pervasive in society. It is harmful and yet often acted or relied upon. It is especially pervasive in the understanding of and treatment for parental alienation, whether in family counseling or family court.
A lesson on the difference between misinformation and disinformation
There are two types of or incorrect information:
- Misinformation: This is bad information that people create or repeat innocently, unknowingly. It is created by misreading or misunderstanding and can even be influenced by internal biases.
- Disinformation: This is bad information that people intentionally twist or reshape.
It is an important distinction to make. Misinformation is arguably more damaging than disinformation due to the fact that it can go unchecked or unnoticed more often, becoming “truth” over time.
The origin and literature of parental alienation in psychiatry, psychology and law
Dr. Richard Gardner coined the phrase “parental alienation syndrome” in the 1980s. He defined it as:
The concept of the parental alienation syndrome … includes not only conscious but subconscious and unconscious factors within the parent that contribute to the child’s alienation. Further (and this is extremely important), it includes factors that arise within the child—independent of the parental contributions—that contribute to the development of the syndrome.
This definition opened the door for the discussion and application of parental alienation in courts and counseling. It wasn’t too long before those who are tasked to make decisions in cases involving claims of parental alienation required more information and guidance.
Today, many practitioners rely on publications from national professional organizations, such as the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges or American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
But is the information shared always correct?
A scientific tracing of misinformation regarding parental alienation
Child psychiatrist and forensic psychiatrist William Bernet recently dove into the possibility that misinformation is widespread throughout the area of parental alienation, prompted by claims from critics that failed to include evidence or explanation.
Bernet conducted a scientific tracing of the origins of false/incorrect claims relating to parental alienation, such as the statement: parental alienation theory assumes that the favored parent has caused parental alienation in the child simply because the child refuses to have a relationship with the rejected parent, without identifying alienating behaviors by the favored parent.
What did he find?
After tracing the claim above through 27 years of literature, he found 40 different iterations of the same argument — with a steep increase in the past few years. Notably, the only sources for these claims were other arguments to the same effect. When he traced the claims back to their original sources, he found no support in studies or evidence. The claims were unfounded.
Bernet suggested the myth may have begun from a misunderstanding. After all, the myth deliberately overlooks the core of parental alienation theory. Parental alienation theory does not “assume” alienating behaviors. It needs evidence of them. To diagnose parental alienation, mental health professionals must find two things:
- Evidence of “alienating behaviors by the favored parent”
- A child’s display of symptomatic behaviors
He published his results in the The American Journal of Family Therapy in the hopes that professionals would come together to discuss the implication of this misinformation and collaborate to make changes.
The takeaway for families
What is the important takeaway from this scientific tracing of the origins of the pervasive misinformation about parental alienation theory? It is simple: Do not trust your case in the hands of someone who does not have sufficient experience and training in the specific area of practice.
There are many legal and psychiatric professionals who rely on the misinformation unintentionally and unknowingly. They may give their efforts and advice with the best intentions, but with implications that could affect your family.
Our owner and managing partner, Attorney Ashish Joshi has studied, published and practiced extensively in this highly specialized area of law in jurisdictions across the globe. His eyes are wide open when it comes to the standards, practices and treatment of parental alienation.
When it is your child and your rights at the center of a family law dispute, who would you trust?