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The forgotten parents : experiences, consequences and coping mechanisms of targeted parents of parental alienation

Lee Maturana, S-LG ORCID: 0000-0002-7594-9558 2020 , 'The forgotten parents : experiences, consequences and coping mechanisms of targeted parents of parental alienation', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Background: Parental alienation (PA) is a phenomenon that occurs among families during and after separation. It can be defined as the influence of one parent over a child to turn him or her against the other parent (Bernet, von Boch-Galhau, Baker, & Morrison, 2010; Garber, 2011) without legitimate justification (Bernet & Baker, 2013). The child is encouraged to refuse or resist a relationship with the other parent, the targeted parent, and align themselves intensely with the other, the alienating parent (Garber, 2011). The experience of the targeted parent is under-researched. Although some studies identified common emotions experienced by targeted parents such as frustration, stress, fear, powerlessness, helplessness and anger at the constant interference by the alienating parent (Baker, 2010b; Baker & Andre, 2008; Baker & Darnall, 2006; Vassiliou & Cartwright, 2001 ); this literature relies on the reports from children and mental health and legal professionals rather than the views of targeted parents themselves. In addition, most of these studies have small sample sizes with data predominantly from United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
Aims: This thesis aimed to explore, identify and describe targeted parents' experiences of being alienated from their children, the consequences and their coping mechanisms from their own perspective. This research provides a greater understanding of targeted parents' experiences and needs, and may aid in the development of future appropriate support services and intervention programs.
Methods: This thesis consists of three related studies. Study One is a systematic review of the literature following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta­Analysis protocol, PRISMA-P (Shamseer et al., 2015). The study was registered in PROSPERO, ID= CRD42017062533 (Booth, Clarke, Ghersi, Moher, Petticrew, & Stewart, 2011 ). The findings were analysed using "guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews" (Popay et al., 2006). Study Two (exploring participants' experiences of PA) and Study Three (exploring the consequences of the alienation on participants' and their coping strategies) employed a qualitative descriptive design (Sandelowski, 2000), and used a purposive sample by criterion sampling method (Patton, 2002). Participants were recruited through advertisement in the media, online support groups and psychology and legal practices who agreed to advertise the study on behalf of the researcher. Fifty-four self­referred targeted parents alienated from their children participated voluntarily in the studies. Data were collected through a demographic survey developed by the researcher and in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted in person, via telephone or Skype. The interviews were audio recorded for data accuracy purposes and transcribed verbatim. Each participant was provided with a copy of their transcript to give them the opportunity to modify or confirm the information provided. Data were analysed thematically and inductively following the six phases proposed by Braun and Clarke (2006): familiarisation with the data, generation of codes using NVivo-11 (QSR International, 2015), searching for potential themes, reviewing the themes, defining and naming the themes and weaving together the narrative and data extracts contextualising the analysis to existing literature. Trustworthiness strategies (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) were used to ensure the quality of the thesis such as: peer debriefing and members checking (credibility); purposive sampling (transferability); audit trail, code-recode procedure and peer examination (dependability); and reflexivity (confirmability). Ethical approval was obtained from the University of Tasmania's Social Sciences Human Research Ethics Committee (Ethics Ref No: H0015333).
Results: Study One demonstrated the lack of studies focusing on the views of targeted parents. Only 11 % of articles pertaining to PA focused directly on targeted parents, with only 3.6% describing their characteristics and experiences from their own perspective. In addition, gaps in the literature regarding the experiences and consequences of targeted parents and their coping mechanisms used to deal with the alienation were identified. Study Two found that targeted parents were equally likely to be mothers and fathers and family violence was found to be a key aspect of the alienation process. The targeted parents in this study were active in their efforts to maintain a relationship with their children despite alienation. Moreover, extended family members and schools could also be alienators. Study Three found that targeted parents suffer ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief manifested as psychological difficulties. Targeted parents described experiencing sadness, distress, frustration, anger, guilt and shame. They appeared to be at risk of suicide thoughts/attempts, and they tended to engage in negative automatic thoughts. Their social networks had been affected by the alienation however, they were involved in different types of activities that work as coping strategies.
Conclusion: This thesis has shown PA is not bound by geographical borders and the experience of targeted parents is universally the same. This thesis adds valuable information that can be used by practitioners working with targeted parents. Understanding targeted parents' experiences of PA involves understanding how they feel, how they behave and how they think about being separated from their children. Targeted parents are active in their attempts to reunite with their children. Targeted parents can be considered survivors of family violence perpetuated by the alienated parent and their allies. As such, targeted parents can present with symptoms of trauma. There appears to be specific events that trigger the alienation. Understanding these events and the sequalae of these events is important in the development of prevention programs. In conclusion, this thesis allows for a greater understanding of targeted parents' experiences of parental alienation. It also illustrates how targeted parents' lives are affected in a range of ways including ongoing emotional pain, displayed as psychosomatic symptoms of unresolved grief, placing them in need of appropriate psychological interventions.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Lee Maturana, S-LG
Keywords: Parental alienation, targeted parents, alienated parents, qualitative description, divorce, parental conflict
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