Parental Alienation Syndrome a Family Systems Perspective Research Proposal

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Parental Alienation Syndrome -- a Family Systems (systemic) Perspective

Parental alienation is stated to be a term that has been coined for the purpose of describing "a phenomenon that occurs when a child becomes allied with one parent and disparages or rejects the other." (Appell, nd) This is generally known to occur in "cases of high conflict divorce." (Appell, nd) Gardner (1989, 1999, 2000) coined the term 'parental alienation syndrome" or PAS due to a common cluster of symptoms in such families and the child suffering from PAS may exhibit the following behaviors either in full or in part: (1) the child is aligned with the alienating parents in a campaign of denigration against the target parent, with the child making active contributions; (2) rationalization for deprecating the target parent are often weak, frivolous or absurd; (3) animosity toward the rejected parents lacks the ambivalence normal to human relationships; (4) the child asserts that the decision to reject the target parents is his or her own; (5) the child reflexively supports the parents with whom he or she is aligned; (6) the child expresses guiltless disregard fro the feelings of the target or hated parent; (7) borrowed scenarios are present and the child's statements reflect themes and terminology of the alienating parent; and (8) animosity is spared to the extended family and others associated with the hated parent. (Rand, 1997 in: Appell, nd)Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Research Proposal on Parental Alienation Syndrome a Family Systems Perspective Assignment

The idea of a 'syndrome' is stated by Appell to have resulted in controversy for Gardner in the psychological community since this term "implies a discrete set of symptoms with a consistent constellation of causes" and while the blame for PAS was held by Gardener to rest with the alienating custodial parent, Kelly and Johnston (2001) posited that this is not always the case and instead that the reject "is likely to have multiple causes." (Appell, nd) it is suggested by Kelly and Johnston (2001) that the "child's post-divorce affinities with the parent(s) lie on a continuum and that there are five categories or stages that a child may pass through on a progressive process of estrangement from one parent. Those stages are stated to include: (1) positive relationships with both parents; (2) affinity with one parent; (3) allied child (child forms an alliance with one parent); (4) estranged child (child distance from one parent with corresponding negative attitudes); and (5) alienated child (relationship with one parent broken down completely). (Appell, nd)

It is the contention of Appell that there are various reason for parental rejection and these reasons are often "multiple and complex." (Appell, nd) While rejection of one parent may result in some cases from deliberate manipulations of the other, the problem is frequently "multi-causal." (Appell, nd) Appell states that it is of great help to examine the "intraspychic dynamics of the individual, the interactive dynamics of the family, and the influences of the wider social sphere to fully understand all of the contributing factors to parental alienation in any given case." (Appell, nd)

Appell states that it is important to obtain information in relation to certain issues of each member of the family. First, Appell states that the allied parents "...vary in their individual dynamics" with some parents deliberately retaliating at the other parent in the case of a high conflict divorce through limitation of access to the child and other "act out their anger unconsciously by making negative comments and/or by their non-verbal gestures in regard to the other parent." (nd) as well, the parents who are anxious may fear letting go of their children due to their own feelings of vulnerability and often the parent in the alienation syndrome has been victimized in their own life and this sense of victimization is carried into the present. In other instances the allied parent is unable to "tolerate and appropriately respond to the child's full range of feelings because any anger the child might express toward the allied parent or positive feelings toward the other parents can feel like a personal betrayal." (Appell, nd)

In regards to the rejected parent, Appell (nd) states that rejected parents "have historically been involved parents, for whom the accusations of the child and the other parent are ill-founded." However, in other cases the rejected parent may "have personality deficits" or be "lacking [in] appropriate parenting skills, and/or have been previously only minimally involved in their children's lives." (Appell, nd)

In regards to the child Appell (nd) states that there are variations in the thoughts and experiences of children that results in their rejection of a parent." Appell (nd) states that diagnostic questions for children include those of: (1) What is the child's developmental history? (2) What is his relationship history with each parent? (3) How has his internal view of the rejected parent changed over time? (4) Does the child display anxiety, and is this anxiety focused on the target parent or does it apply in other aspects of his life? (5) if there are questions of abuse, does the child have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder? (6) Can the child express a full range of emotions? (7) Does the child mirror the allied parent's words when describing the alienated parent? (8) Does the child's explanation of events make sense or are there holes and contradictions? (9) Are his reactions appropriate to the stated "crimes" of the alienated parent? (10) Does the child have flip-flopping views of the parent(s)? (Appell, nd)

Other factors important for examination in the case of PAS are those of: (1) family dynamics; (2) the couple; (3) the sibling subsystem; (4) the allied parent-child subsystem; (5) the rejected parent-child subsystem; (6) the parent a-parent-B-child subsystem; (7) external influences; and (8) extended family. (Appell, nd)


(1) PAS -- Parental Alienation Syndrome: Defined as " any behavior by a parent, a child's mother or father, whether conscious or unconscious, that could create alienation in the relationship between a child and the other parent. Parental alienation can be mild and temporary or extreme and ongoing. Most researchers believe that any alienation of a child against (the child's) other parent is harmful to the child and to the target parent. Extreme, obsessive, and ongoing parental alienation can cause terrible psychological damage to children extending well into adulthood. Parental Alienation

focuses on the alienating parent's behavior as opposed to the alienated parent's and alienated children's conditions." (PAS Website, 2009)

(2) Programming -- the content, themes and beliefs transmitted by the programming parent to the child regarding the other parent. (Rand, 2009)

(3) Brainwashing -- the interactional processes by which the child is persuaded to accept and elaborate on the program. Brainwashing occurs over time and involves repetition of the program or code words referring to the program, until the subject responds with attitudinal and behavioral compliance. (Rand, 2009)


The work of Grossman and Okun (2006) entitled: "A Systems Understanding of the Legal System-Further Discussions" states that from a systems perspective "if given the opportunity, family psychologists can try to improve the decision making process and the utility of interventions by enhancing the quality of information provided to the court. They can attempt to educate members of the judiciary, the legal system and the mental health community to the potential problems in obtaining neutral information from treating therapists and in interpreting information provided by experts."(Grossman and Okun, 2006)

In addition to this, specific interventions are able to be customized to the family-specific situation therefore, grasping a more thorough understanding of the affects of systems and subsystems within the family unit is important in many aspects of the lives of the individuals who are experiencing parental alienation syndrome. Finally, intervention is extremely difficult in the family experiencing parental alienation syndrome and this syndrome is one that begs to be better understood as its impacts are spread throughout the fabric of today's society when a family is experiencing PAS. Moreover "alienated children need interventions that include the child, siblings, both parents and members of the family system who contribute to the alienation dynamic." (Grossman and Okun, 2006)


The objectives of this study include the objective to examine parental alienation syndrome from a systemic perspective in the initiative to gain a better understanding of what factors contribute to PAS and what interventions may be used to most effectively treat PAS within a family system and its subsystems.


It is important to understand the underlying causes and the roots of the child-specific parental alienation syndrome and furthermore is critical to understand the systemic processes within familial interactions that contribute to or further the likelihood of parental alienation syndrome occurring in order to effectively cope with and mitigate the harms of this destructive syndrome.


Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is defined as " any behavior by a parent, a child's mother or father, whether conscious or unconscious, that could create alienation in the relationship between a child and the other parent. Parental alienation can be mild and temporary or extreme and ongoing.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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