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The “American Psychological Association Review”

CHILDMYTHS: The “American Psychological Association Review”

The “American Psychological Association Review”

A colleague recently called my attention to the
This is one of many Internet sites that argue in highly personal terms against
“parental alienation” and claim that a former spouse and a judge have
interfered with the author’s relationship with his [usually] children. Kenneth
Gottfried was told he could not have contact with his children following a
psychological evaluation. The two teenage girls had stated that they did not
want to see him, a situation that Gottfried attributed to “alienation” on the
part of the girls’ mother.
This is a sad and all too common situation, and I
would say nothing about it except for the fact that the unfortunate Gottfried
has become a megaphone for spreading the questionable views of the “parental
alienation” advocate Craig Childress. I think I am right in assuming that
Gottfried has not spent his time studying the various aspects of psychology he
mentions, but that he has picked up his claims from Childress, either directly
or via Internet.
The thrust of Gottfried’s statement is that the
American Psychological Association is responsible for “countless” deaths
associated with judges’ decisions not to give custody of children to one of
their parents.  The deaths he refers to
are said to include a case of what he apparently means to call “self-immolation”.
 Gottfried claims that he has personally
witnessed 30 deaths of separated parents in the last 4 years, but does not
provide any evidence for this statement. He also appears to think that such
deaths would not occur if APA were to recognize “parental alienation”; he does
not say how such recognition would affect courts or parents. It may be that
Gottfried confuses the American Psychological Association with the American
Psychiatric Association, both confusingly referred to as APA. The latter is
responsible for DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
and in preparation of the 2013 edition declined to include “parental alienation”
as a diagnosis. No actions by the American Psychological Association would
determine inclusion of a disorder in DSM.
Gottfried uses a letter written by APA to argue that
the organization knows it is contributing to causing deaths. The letter,
however, is on the subject of separation of immigrant children from their
parents, and refers to suicides in that group. Although abuse of analogies is
common in arguments about “parental alienation”, to conflate families where
children avoid one parent with parents and children involuntarily separated (and
poorly treated)  is surely the
achievement of a new rhetorical low.
I am a member of APA (the psychology one) but hold no
particular brief for the organization and would like to see quite a few changes
in it. However, although I see no way APA can or should make the moves
Gottfried proposes, I think I can guess why he thinks what he does. His
positions stem from those of Craig Childress. It’s my opinion that these Gottfired
charges against APA stem from the events two years ago when Childress and some
of his adherents delivered a petition to the APA headquarters in Washington,
DC. Childress had made excited announcements on the Internet about how they
were going to do this and what APA might do in response. I wasn’t present at the
delivery, but what I have gathered is that someone in the office took the
petition and said “thank you” and the Childress group then left. That was, not
surprisingly, the end of that. But Childress has been muttering about this for
two years. He has also been muttering about the events involving his
presentation at a conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation
Courts group, which culminated in having APA cancel the continuing professional
education units that had been planned for presentation attendees. This led to
even more fulmination against APA, and more recently against AFCC, with some
special personal remarks about the AFCC head Matthew Sullivan.
What do I see on americanpsychologicalass that makes
me so sure that Childress is behind this? For one thing, there is the very fact
that Childress is referred to. He is barely mentioned in the literature about “parental
alienation”, although Jennifer Harman (not Harmon, that’s someone else) in 2018
said she thought there should be some empirical research into his ideas.  Gottfried did not come across Childress by
picking up a professional journal article, but by seeing and being drawn into
Childress’s and his followers’ large and noisy Internet presence.
I also see Childress in a number of references made by
Gottfried. Anyone who has read Childress’s self-published work will recognize
the tireless repetition of certain names: Bowlby, Bowen, Minuchin, Madanes—
and then more recently, van der Kolk and Tronick. The connection of specific
ideas to Childress’s work is not elaborated  anywhere, and connections are made by jumping
rather than step by step. For example, citing Bowlby’s discussion of
attachment, Childress arrives quickly at the conclusion that a child who avoids
one parent has had his or her attachment system suppressed.
There’s more Childress in this site, but I’ll just
point to the lengthy and meaningless discussion of APA ethics guidelines by
Gottfried. Childress rather specializes in describing how unethical other
professionals are, especially with respect to the use of the best science.
Those who disagree on various points with the “parental alienation” approach
are said to be  outside the boundaries of
their competence and therefore in violation of ethical guidelines.
It would be easy to look at americanpsychologicalass
and conclude that it was the work of an individual angry and frustrated man,
and of course it is. But there is more to it than that. On that site we see an
amplification of the views of a psychologist whose claims about parents and
children are recognized as concerning by many professionals but few laypeople.
These views are potentially harmful to children and families because they encourage
courts to order unnecessary separations and ineffective treatments. Please,
readers, if you find yourselves confronted with the Gottfried site or anything
like it, understand that there is more here than fury and goofy ideas. These
arguments have the power to do harm and need to be countered.  


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