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Alienation as a Result of Therapy, by Mark S. Komrad M.D.

The following is an excerpt of advice from Mark S. Komrad M.D., author of: “You Need Help:  A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling.” 

mark-komrad--col-8x10The situation is one where a parent came to Dr. Komrad for advice on his child who is in therapy. In the course of treatment, his daughter has become alienated from her family, and has developed (possibly false) ideas about having been abused and broken within the family. The parents are seeking approaches to reconciliation in the face of bewildering accusations. We at PDAN know that all families are different, but if this situation sounds familiar, we hope that the following will help provide from advice and coping skills to get through this trying time.


“The situation you are in is not as uncommon as you think:  someone enters treatment and, in the course of that treatment, becomes alienated from family.  We know that sometimes this alienation is a RESULT of therapy, and sometimes even includes false memories with false narratives that are not corroborated by any objective evidence or by any other family member who was present to the alleged events.   Those “misremembered” narratives can actually sometimes be inadvertently reinforced and developed by treating therapists.  Those narratives typically involve memories of some kind of abuse, though occasionally veer off into the bizarre and macabre (e.g. memories of satanic cult rituals, etc).

Unfortunately there are not quick and easy solutions to correcting this situation for the families (typically parents, sometimes siblings) who are at the receiving end of such alienation.

Generally the approaches are.

  1. Realize that the only thing you can really do is address your own grief, sadness, and feelings of helplessness.  It can be very helpful for you to get psychological support, and fortification for these feelings—either by working with a therapist individually or in a support group.
  1. There is an organization that you should know about called the False Memory Syndrome Foundationand you should look at this website and this article on that site in particular. A particularly good book on this subject was written by my mentor and former chairman at Hopkins where I trained, Paul McHugh (who was involved in the founding of this organization) called “Try to Remember”
  1. There is some overlap here with the phenomenon of “Parental Alienation” however the literature on that phenomenon focuses primarily in children who cut ties with parents in the context of divorce and child-custody disputes.  It generally refers to a conscious or unconscious agenda that one parent is deploying to alienate a child from the other parent. So, it’s somewhat different, but the outcome, and experience to the parents who are the object of alienation are similar. Here is a siteabout that.
  1. If your child or relative who is alienated from you is in treatment, send the treater a small note or card every 6-12 months saying simply “If you are still working with our daughter, we continue to hope for reconnection with her, and that you might agree that this would be a healthy goal of her treatment. We are ready to participate in any kind of family therapy should you and she decide together this would be helpful. We are prepared to try and rejoin her support system when she is ready. ”
  1. So, though I have had a few patients over the years whose children broke with the family in this kind of way, attempts to mobilize these parents to make frontal, or sideways assaults to reconnect with them have either failed, or made the situation worse.  Generally my work with such parents has been to help them metabolize their grief, overcome self-blame, validate their bewilderment and anger, and steer them to other resources and groups for support.   If their child is in therapy, I’ve tried to help them appreciate that, sad at it is, at least that adult child has established a relationship with an alternative “parent figure” who has some psychological training to help guide them, and perhaps, over time, help them find their way back to reconciliation with the family.”


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