PR for PA

Everyone must know that Parental Alienation has a Public Relations challenge. The world gets hot under the collar. We divide into two polarised camps, each equally certain of our opposing views. I think reaching the unconverted is even more important than preaching to the converted.

We all know that fury and volume fuel the converted, turn the enemy’s volume up and probably turn the rest of the world off. As each side shouts furiously louder, mirroring the escalating original family and court conflict, what do others think – the newcomer, the concerned deeper thinker, the learner?  Might they decide to give us all a miss?! So what kinds of PR profile will raise awareness best for PA?PR

Let people rage and shout, some would say. The right to free speech. Many thinkers are happy to lambast readers. Here on ‘the alienation experience’ we do speak out but also work hard on engaging the more moderate interest. For example, we broaden the scope of the term ‘alienation’. See ‘Not sure about?‘ The name of the blog is itself a nod to a more inviting way to think about it.

In an email exchange with Dr Richard Warshak, here’s what I said. It arose from wanting to get a UK publisher for his famous book, Divorce Poison. (Any offers? Let us know!)  His reply follows (with his permission). I wrote:

… Certainly an important aspect of raising awareness is publishing good literature. Google provides magical access to vast amounts of information – but leaves it to the reader to know how to judge what is worthwhile or not. And nowadays I imagine that those who want to buy any particular book can find it fairly easily through Amazon et al even if it isn’t published locally.

But there is something about how the supporters of PA and opponents view it that means that the divide is widened rather easily, not bridged. If both sides turn up their volume, the PA polarised pattern is further escalated and mirrored. Each side despairs of getting the other side to be sensible and reasonable. Alleged evil motives are exchanged and add to the heat. Turning up the volume is certainly part of what is needed in raising awareness, but it may go with preaching only to the converted.

Book titles

In other words, getting Divorce Poison by Dr Richard Warshak published in Britain may mean that the already converted buy it, rather than that new minds are engaged – even though it doesn’t mention PA in the title, it is a punchy title (however true everyone knows it may be).  No harm in punchy-ness, of course. But I have a feeling that something of the British silent ignorance and resistance against a transAtlantic language will be fuelled rather than countered. PA in the USA and here has become a cultural and political football even though it has evidence based credentials now.

I have argued in the distant past that Thomas Szasz chose a populist title for his famous book “The Myth of Mental Illness”. That meant that most general psychiatrists were infuriated and certainly didn’t buy it and read it. Those psychiatrists, you might have argued, were the very ones who needed to buy the book – even if it didn’t sell as many that way.

Yet the content of the book itself was in fact right up biological psychiatrists’ street since if Szasz had more accurately titled it “The Myth of Hysteria as Illness”, or indeed just as an interesting framework about human conduct, he would have got an entirely different response and readership. (Hysteria is a “disease” where, by definition, someone believes they have a disease when there is no organic disease.)  And with a different title, I think he would have reached the key people who would agree with him – the medical model psychiatrists. Of course, they would have used it to stick with their own thinking and practice rather than head for where Szasz would have wanted them to go.

I don’t know enough about what the many who did buy and read Szasz’s book made of its contents, but I feel that the provocative title – just the title, not the contents – has attracted all the polemic and attention on both sides. So the worthwhile contents are not well read or used by anyone! The title immediately signals for people to take up their sides and start their stand-off fighting.  (Now, Szasz did generally argue constantly elsewhere against the concept of “mental” illness. So the title does represent his general thinking. So the polemic would continue anyway.)

For Parental Alienation

The relevance for us in PA, is that the heated stand-off between the two sides can also be triggered just by the now infamous PA label ‘on the tin’ or book. People assume what’s inside without reading it and adopt their ‘for or against’ positions.

Also relevant for PA, for those with the time and interest, is a parallel interesting philosophical discussion to be had about PAS as a psychiatric label or not in so far as DSM labels are used as a scientific diagnosis of mental illness but are also attached to family-system patterns too.   And of course there are many other good reasons for creating categories of disorder – like getting professionals to learn about it, making it a properly recognised phenomenon, health insurance funded treatment options, etc.


But I think some other key or door into PA in the UK is needed to unlock the un-awareness loop here … I’m trying out a few keys in my e-published writings to see if they work at all. One key I’m trying is to make PA line up much more as part of a natural ubiquitous spectrum of relationships, that it should be no surprise at all, that it is not as rare or weird as it seems when packaged in neon lights that trigger people to line up for and against it.

So I try for example to show PA as a combination of two extremes of relationship with each parent  at either end of the universal wide spectrum of normal relationship closeness – ‘inseparable’ to ‘distant’ or worse. And characteristically PA contains one extremely (‘pathologically’) close and one extremely (‘pathologically’) distant relationship with the child in the middle.

And I try for example to show that the triangular pattern we call alienation is also a ubiquitous pattern in real and fictional relationships absolutely everywhere – one person turns a second person against a third without good reason. Though of course, PAS is an extreme harmful version of this in a particular context, and it needs all the special attention it gets.

So, in terms of PR for PA, I am trying out whether the gentler path into PA takes some people up it who do not take to the more robust language. Of course, it is important also to point out that PA is not a gendered pattern, since the biggest polemical attack comes from those who assume it is.  … For sure I may be mistaken in this gentler approach. But that’s what I’m trying out. Read more in my calling-card overview here:

Richard replied:

I think you are on the right track in trying to situate parental alienation in a wider context . This is what we did in the video, Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation, where we defined several types of alienation (e.g., alienation from peers, from society, from oneself) before introducing parental alienation. Several models of psychological functioning contribute to an understanding of parental alienation. One example comes from the literature on the development and maintenance of negative stereotypes. Another example is the research on intrusive parenting.

I have received a lot of mail from parents who read Divorce Poison and recognized that they were perpetrating the problem with their children and used the book’s guidance to do a better job of protecting children from their anger at the other parent. This gives me reason to think that the book is reaching, not only rejected parents, but also parents who need to do better at supporting their children’s relationship with the other parent.

Richard A. Warshak, PhD
Building Family Bridges

Nick adds a note about ‘Family Bridges’ – Randy and Deirdre Rand’s short programme to enable alienated children to get back together with their rejected parent that Warshak has promoted a lot. They use a range of engaging resources on how we get pressurised into thinking things (e.g. advertising, peer group) – things that we might not think when we are able to think more for ourselves. Again, in helping work with PA, an example (at the other end of the PA process) of drawing on a wide range of ordinary social influences that seek to shape or ‘alienate’ us … even from ourselves!

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.

One comment

  1. Pingback: A quart into a pint-pot: how to spread the word | the alienation experience

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