Sunday, February 08, 2009

More on Dr. Richard Warshak and "Deprogramming" Parental Alienation

Family Workshop, Dr. Richard Warshak's counter-parental alientation programme, was at the centre of last month's controversial Ontario Superior Court decision on parental alienation in A.G.L. v. K.B.D. (our previous reports are here and here).

The Dallas-based clinical psychologist, continues to attract the attention of Ontario's media and courts.

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday on a February 6 decision of the Ontario Superior Court, overturning an arbitrator's order that would have sent a Toronto teen to the Warshak programme. See Judge blocks sending teen for deprogramming treatment:

An Ontario judge yesterday blocked an attempt to forcibly send a Toronto child for deprogramming treatment in a controversial parental-alienation program in California.

Madam Justice Thea Herman of the Superior Court became the first judge to rule against the controversial treatment orders, overturning a 2008 arbitrator's order that the 14-year-old boy be coercively treated.

"The remedy of the Family Workshop, as acknowledged by the arbitrator and the parties, is an extreme one," Judge Herman said in her ruling. "That means that caution should be exercised in awarding such a remedy."

Treatment at the clinic - founded by Richard Warshak - involves isolating a child from the parent who is identified as having poisoned his or her emotions toward the other parent. Therapists then attempt to undo the child's hostile feelings.

Of particular interest, the current Globe article claims that the cost of the four-day programme is $40,000.

The case, as reported by the Globe, should not be interpreted as a repudiation by the Court of the Warshak programme. Rather, the Court appears, on the specific facts of the case, to have determined the treatment to be inappropriately extreme for the specific family involved.

For more on Dr. Warshak's views and therapeutic approach, see this June 2008 feature from Macleans: Interview with Richard Warshak. A short excerpt from the Q & A formatted article is below, discussing an earlier Ontario ruling:

Q: In this case, Judge Turnbull seemed impressed by your proposed remedy. His ruling caused a bit of a stir in Ontario. He ordered this boy be flown, against his will if necessary, to this program you helped design, the Family Workshop for Alienated Children. Would that be an unusual ruling?

A It's becoming more common as the courts learn about the damage to children in the present and on. Particularly when judges learn they hold the power to help the family, judges are more willing to tell kids that they don't get to choose their parents just as they don't get to vote or drink alcohol. Not only do the kids have to stop acting like entitled adults, the judges tell the grown-ups to stop acting like kids.

Q: A newspaper report of that case calls the program "a facility that deprograms children." Is that how you would describe it?

A: Not at all. This is a gross misconception of the work we do. Our program teaches children how to stay out of the middle of adult conflicts, and how to maintain a compassionate view toward each parent. We teach children to think critically. When children learn how to see a problem from different perspectives they usually begin to heal their relationship without having to acknowledge that they had been treating the parent with contempt and without having to apologize for it. They begin relating in a more positive way.

Q: Yet I understand that, to varying degrees, children can be forced to attend, either through a court order or by being physically escortedto the workshop. This is after the courts have already said they're going to make them live with a parent they've already rejected. It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

A: Again, what we have going for us is that the child really has an underlying wish to get out of this bind. I should clarify that often it is not the judge who orders the child to attend the workshop. Rather, the judge awards decision-making authority to the rejected parent who may then choose to enrol the child in the program, just as the parent is free to make other decisions regarding the child's health and education. Our program is designed to jump-start the reconciliation and offer a safe way to contain a child's anxiety and conflict. It's a misconception that the children are restrained. No child has been brought to me in restraints, and I would never work with a child under such conditions. They are oftentimes lectured by the judge about the necessity that they repair the damaged relationship. Once they understand they no longer hold a power that they should have never been given in the first place it's remarkable how much they co-operate.

...Q: You've got some major parental repair work to do as well then?

A: We do. And in truth we're not as successful with [alienating] parents as we'd like to be. We have much more success in healing the damaged relationship the child has with the parent who was rejected. We have had success with the other parent sometimes but in other cases they have no interest in co-operating. In the most unfortunate situations, the other parent will end up rejecting the child themselves. "If you're not on my side you're against me." Even if the other parent does not change their attitude the children can learn enough often to withstand that kind of influence without succumbing to it.

Q: They're inoculated?

A: Yes. We give the children the tools to be children and to stay out of adult conflicts.

An extensive listing of Dr. Warshak's media coverage is here. His Wikipedia biography is here.

- Garry J. Wise, Cancun

Visit our Toronto Law Firm website: www.wiselaw.net

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