Choosing a therapist for high conflict divorce and custody issues is really tricky. It becomes even more challenging if Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is involved. There are no reliable sources out there, other then a referral from someone you know, available to check if there is a skill set present to handle your specific need. State licensing boards or Board of Behavioral Sciences in California only report if there is a disciplinary action registered against a therapist.
In my case, the court ordered therapy for my children, their mother and me to deal with Parent Alienation and co-parenting. It was a pretty laborious task to find a therapist who was qualified to handle high conflict cases that involve PAS. Every therapist I interviewed claimed to have those qualifications. I have found this not to be true. After my ex and I presented our respective choices of therapists to the court, which we were ordered to do originally, the judge chose someone that the minor's counsel recommended. And after almost a year of weekly sessions, the choice therapist made absolutely no difference in my case. She did not make it worse or better. She just did not make any difference.
How do you find a therapist who is truly qualified to handle your situation that involves Parent Alienation Syndrome?
When choosing a therapist, first and foremost, you must understand the problem you need professional help with and study available information on the subject yourself. In my case it was PAS, reunification and co-parenting. Most therapists do not have the proper training to handle PAS and issues surrounding it. All they do is make you play games with your alienated children in their office for an hour trying to warm your kids up to you which is a waste of your time and money because when kids leave the therapist’s office, whatever they warmed up to is undone by the alienating, custodial parent. During sessions family therapists tend not to ask pertinent and direct questions as to why your kids reject you, for instance. It's an enigma trying to understand why therapists are timid when performing their duty in PAS cases? Is it because of some possible liability? Are they scared of the other party’s aggressive attorneys? In my case, I decided early on to address problems with my children without beating around the bush. I wanted to know why they stopped calling me 'PAPA' which happened right after the alienating parent sued me in family court. I did go against my therapist’s demands not to talk this way to my children. But, I figured my kids are already rejecting me so being forward with my questions will not do anymore harm. If anything, maybe it may make them think about why they are acting this way.
I do not have all the answers but so do the therapists I have encountered. All of the ones I have met treated my children and me as emotionally unstable idiots. None displayed so very much needed professional fortitude backed by years of dealing with PAS. None had a clear plan on how to approach this emotionally crippling, destructive form of child abuse.
Therapists must have a plan dealing with your problem. This is something you must insist on otherwise you will be going to therapy for the rest of your life and see no progress.
Do you have to go through the court ordered individual therapy?
Here is another instance where I had to do lots of asking around and phone interviewing. The presiding commissioner, the "God" over my case, ordered me to take therapy to learn how to cope with PAS and co-parent. At the end of my search, I chose the cheapest therapist and made the right decision. After months of weekly sessions, I did learn how to deal with PAS. I was taught to inhale and exhale while counting to ten. This is the honest to goodness truth.
Were you ordered either a Solution Focused or 730 evaluation?
My first journey into the therapeutic establishment began when my ex, our kids and I were court ordered to go through Solution Focused Evaluation to determine if I am a fit father to my kids, amongst other issues. This was a very unexpected blow since before the law suit started I was being a father to my children and no one ever questioned it. I guess the presiding commissioner believed my ex’s attorneys that I could “potentially” be a violent and abusive parent even though there was no evidence of such behavior. That was one of the first shocking revelations of what lied ahead. Well, I had to get up, dust off and do what was necessary to fight for my kids. I was representing myself and had to do plenty of research to find out what my rights were at this point.
The first thing I decided to do is talk to the therapist who was appointed to perform SFE and make her aware that this is a high conflict PAS case. She was polite, professional and listened to me without interruption. Yes, I did take a chance and would not recommend this strategy unless this is what you want to do no matter what happens as a result. I was driven to do this by the premise that PAS is not recognized by the family court system as a legitimate legal concept or psychological/psychiatric disorder part of DSM. Therefore, unless one lets the establishment know that PAS is present, therapists or judges will not acknowledge it voluntarily.
Solution Focused Evaluation – family court’s alternative for a 'poor man’s evaluation' that usually takes place within one business day with a court appointed psychiatrist/psychologist. Both parents and children are interviewed and the psychologist is required to give testimony at a hearing usually scheduled for that same day. It's up to the judge who will cover the bill for SFE.
730 evaluation is a full service evaluation where both litigants’ parenting style is evaluated. This is a more comprehensive process that takes more time and money.
Judges rely on the above evaluations when deciding custody and visitations. The "BEST INTERESTS OF A CHILD" doctrine is supposedly the main focus.
The following are some of the issues covered by both evaluations:
. Child abuse.
. Substance abuse.
. Mental health issues.
. One parent wants to move out of state taking children and the other parent objects.
. Questionable parenting practices that could have a negative impact on a child.
. The parents are unable to agree on the custodial arrangement.
. Issues of child's upbringing.
To find the right therapist you have to be extremely diligent or you may be throwing your money away for nothing. In my case, the court appointed therapist did not know PAS even though she said she did. She was very difficult to replace because of high conflict with my ex. One of the biggest problems was her inconsistency. During sessions she expressed her empathy to my situation but her reports to the court did not reflect those sentiments at all. The reports were timid to say the least. But were they timid because of this therapist's own professional short comings or fear of being embarrassed in court during her testimony? I do not know.
She is no longer our therapist because my children were allowed to move to another state.
The above is only one of many instances that take place in the family law system every day. This is why we urge our members to care enough and write on this website sincere and honest experiences with family therapists.
There are some competent and caring family therapists out there. Would you let us know who and where they are by reviewing them here?