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Jun 27, 2022

What is Parental Alienation and How Can Therapists Successfully Treat it?

Curt and Katie chat about a controversial topic: Parental Alienation. We look at what parental alienation is, the controversies and complexities surrounding this process, how to assess for parental alienation, and how to effectively treat the family system. We talk about how traditional therapy methods are inadequate and potentially harmful in these cases and what to do instead.  This is a continuing education podcourse.

Transcripts for this episode will be available at!

In this podcast episode we explore Parental Alienation

We both have worked with families that  

What is Parental Alienation?

  • The impact a parent/guardian has over how a child interacts with another parent/guardian
  • Complex dynamic within a family where conflict is present
  • Breakdown of relationship based on behavior of alienating parent toward targeted parent
  • The Four Factor Model from Baker (2020)

How do you assess for Parental Alienation?

  • Challenges with correctly identifying this process/dynamic
  • Controversies and lack of recognition of Parental Alienation as a separate diagnosis from Parent-Child Relational Problem
  • Identifying what Parental Alienation is not
  • Clues that stories from kids are manufactured versus authentic stories of child abuse
  • The need for access to the full family system to obtain sufficient information
  • Exploring: What is alienating behavior? How does it work?

Effective Case Conceptualization and Treatment for Parental Alienation

“Research actually shows [for parental alienation] that only working with one part of the system and in a very isolated way, can sometimes create more harm in the system.” – Curt Widhalm, LMFT

  • The importance of a family systems approach
  • Involvement of government systems
  • Uncovering the generational or individual trauma for all members of the system
  • How to engage the tools available to advocate for important treatment elements to be in place
  • The importance of understanding scope and how to write recommendations to court
  • Preventing therapist shopping and treatment avoidance
  • Harmful recommendations that can hinder progress within these systems

“Don't be alone with these cases. Don't keep your observations to yourself – I think whether it's with a treatment team or your own consultation or your own therapy - these things can bring so much up in therapists because of their own stories, their own history and the just the intensity of what's happening in these systems.” – Katie Vernoy, LMFT

  • Treatment teaming and avoiding isolation
  • Educating about Parental Alienation
  • Supporting the targeted parent to improve the relationship with the child
  • Working with alienating parent to prepare for improvement in child’s relationship with targeted parenting
  • Co-parenting and conflict resolution
  • Therapist communication with all members of the system


Our Generous Sponsors for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:

GreenOak Accounting

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If you’re interested in scheduling a complimentary consultation, please visit their website at to learn more.


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Receive Continuing Education for this Episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide

Hey modern therapists, we’re so excited to offer the opportunity for 1 unit of continuing education for this podcast episode – Therapy Reimagined is bringing you the Modern Therapist Learning Community!

 Once you’ve listened to this episode, to get CE credit you just need to go to, register for your free profile, purchase this course, pass the post-test, and complete the evaluation! Once that’s all completed - you’ll get a CE certificate in your profile or you can download it for your records. For our current list of CE approvals, check out

You can find this full course (including handouts and resources) here:

Continuing Education Approvals:

When we are airing this podcast episode, we have the following CE approval. Please check back as we add other approval bodies: Continuing Education Information

CAMFT CEPA: Therapy Reimagined is approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to sponsor continuing education for LMFTs, LPCCs, LCSWs, and LEPs (CAMFT CEPA provider #132270). Therapy Reimagined maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Courses meet the qualifications for the listed hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. We are working on additional provider approvals, but solely are able to provide CAMFT CEs at this time. Please check with your licensing body to ensure that they will accept this as an equivalent learning credit.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

References mentioned in this continuing education podcast:

Baker, A. J. (2010). Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind. WW Norton & Company.

Baker, A. (2020). Reliability and validity of the four‐factor model of parental alienation. Journal of family therapy, 42(1), 100-118.

Garber, B. D. (2011). Parental alienation and the dynamics of the enmeshed parent–child dyad: Adultification, parentification, and infantilization. Family Court Review, 49(2), 322-335.

Templer, K., Matthewson, M., Haines, J., & Cox, G. (2017). Recommendations for best practice in response to parental alienation: Findings from a systematic review. Journal of Family Therapy, 39(1), 103-122.

*The full reference list can be found in the course on our learning platform.


Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

What’s New in the DSM-5-TR? An interview with Dr. Michael B First

The Risks and Consequences of Failing to Report Child Abuse

CYA for Court: An interview with Nicol Stolar-Peterson, LCSW


Who we are:

Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making "dad jokes" and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Katie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt's youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:


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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano