What is an alienation crisis?
When a child resists or refuses contact with a parent without a reasonable explanation, the family goes into crisis. The resisted parent is alarmed; the favored parent is alarmed. Accusations, blame, and threats fly back and forth between parents. The child becomes distressed, if not traumatized. Polarized and often exaggerated explanations emerge to explain what is going on. Coparents are unable to agree on an explanation for the child’s resistance.
Is it caused by poor quality parenting, alienation, the child’s exposure to domestic violence, or something else? Typically, coparents end up pitted against each other in a bitter dispute that involves extended family and legal advocates supporting one parent against the other. The peaceful, safe family nest the parents wanted to create is self-destructing at enormous cost to all.
Parents faced with an alienation crisis often feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to do. They may feel confident about how and why the problem developed, but their ideas are in polar opposition to what their coparents believes. Coparent’s trust in one another is at such a low level that their communication basically stops. In spite of assistance from attorneys and behavioral health professionals the strained relationship between the child and the resisted parent may be getting worse. Parents may see no good choices - the child losing a relationship with a parent would a disaster, but is going to court to “force” the relationship the best alternative?
Consultation with Parents
An alienation crisis is one of the most complex and difficult problems a family can face. And one of the most challenging family problems for behavioral health professionals to treat. Parents need to consult with professionals who have specialized training and experience with an alienation crisis. Consultation with Individual parents, coparents together or the entire family can help in
Understanding what makes an alienation crisis so hard to resolve
Understanding the multiple challenges that must be met for the resisted parent and the resisting child to get close again
Understanding the needs and communications of a child caught in an alienation crisis
Developing the special parenting skills needed when a family is in an alienation crisis
The favored parent understanding how to respond to support the child and support reunification
The resisted parent understanding how to respond when love and affection for their child is met with unreasonable anger, rude or defiant behavior
Re-establishing the coparenting communication and cooperation that is needed to best support their child
Dr. Moran consults with parents either in person or via telepsychology as permitted by rules of the psychology board in the parent’s state of residence. Dr. Moran consults with parents who voluntarily seek his services, or when he is appointed by a court to provide services to an individual family member, the coparents, or the entire family. Dr. Moran’s fee schedule is provided upon request.
Parent-child resist refuse problems often are intractable, that is, hard to manage and resolve. Parents try best as they can but the problem keeps getting worse. How to parent in response to resist refuse problems is far outside the skill-set usually needed by parents. Individual consultation can help a parent to understand what is going on, how to respond to the various family dilemmas they encounter, and how to provide self-care throughout what often is a long ordeal.
Intensive Interventions for an Alienation Crisis
An intensive family intervention is delivered by a team of behavioral health professionals to help families confronted with an alienation crisis to normalize parent-child contact. Intensive interventions typically occur for 8 to 15 hours over the course of a weekend. Sometimes the severity of the problem requires a series of intensive interventions extended over several months while the family concurrently works with a local family therapist who is part of the intervention team.
Intensive interventions may be needed when an alienation crisis is the moderate or severe range. When an alienation crisis is in the moderate range, the child’s family time with the resisted parent occurs, but it tends to be sporadic, infrequent, or delayed. When an alienation crisis is in the severe range, the child and the resisted parent have infrequent or no contact. Typically, families consider an intensive intervention when less intensive interventions have not succeeded. Sometimes families seek an intensive intervention as an alternative to going
How do Intensive Family Interventions work?
Usually the family is ordered to engage the Intensive Family Intervention by a Parenting Coordinator or the Court. The order appointing the intervention team identifies by name the intervention team, the general goal(s) for the intervention, authorities and responsibilities of the intervention team regarding matters such as confidentiality, access to information about the family, and authority to identify who is to participate in the intervention. The order usually says how the intervention team is to report to the court, and who is responsible for the payment of intervention fees
After the structure of the intervention is set, the team conducts a treatment assessment of the family. Documents are reviewed, behavioral health providers currently or previously involved with the family may be contacted, and each of the parents and children is interviewed. After the background data has been collected an treatment assessment report is issued describing the type and severity of the alienation crisis and setting preliminary treatment goals for the intervention and each of the family members.
Typical general goals for an intervention include establishing trust in the intervention team to
De-escalate family conflict
Improve coparent’s ability to communicate and negotiate agreements about the issues that typically arise in families struggling with an alienation crisis
Assist family members to implement a plan for normalizing contact between the child and the resisted parent
Restore the family’s leadership to the coparents such that fewer legal and behavioral health services are needed
 A treatment assessment is different from a custody assessment.
The cost of an intervention depends on the number of hours the intervention team works on the case and the hourly rate they charge. If an intensive is done over one weekend, the team might work 15 hours gathering, reviewing and analyzing background data, 15 hours during the intensive weekend, and a few hours after the intensive weekend preparing a progress report. A typical intervention team will include two or three behavioral health professionals, including a local family therapist who continues to provide services after the intensive intervention concludes. Dr. Moran’s fees schedule is provided upon request.
Do Intensive Family Interventions Work?
While there are a handful of studies showing that intensive interventions are more likely to succeed than typical outpatient therapies for RRD families, social science has yet to accumulate enough high-quality research studies that data-based predictions can be offered to a family about the likely benefits of an RRD intervention. Research on the broad topic of conflict resolution and case studies about the results of interventions for families experiencing an alienation crisis indicate Intensive Family Interventions are more likely to succeed when some of the following circumstances are present:
Coparents cooperated in raising the child before the onset of the Alienation Crisis
After the onset of the Alienation Crisis, coparents retained some ability to communicate and negotiate solutions to coparenting issues
Coparents have a history of flexing the parenting time schedule to accommodate special events
Coparents seek an early intervention from a qualified provider
The child had a good relationship with the resisted parent before onset of the alienation crisis
The child’s resistance is in the mild to moderate range
Is it worth trying an Intensive Family Intervention if the RRD is in the severe range?
Intensive Family Interventions often are sought as an alternative to a court-ordered change of physical custody for the child. Social science literature is clear that an untreated alienation crisis usually gets worse, and the worse it gets, the more the child’s long-term health and development is at risk.
A key to the success of an Intensive Family Intervention is the parents realizing that working together to find solutions is their best option. If the parents persevere in normalizing the relationship between the child and the resisted parent, with the support of an intensive intervention team their profound distrust in one another can be supplanted by a belief that they can identify and implement a path out of the alienation crisis toward renewed, healthier, and more stable family relationships.