Coercion adds to trauma
Judges have a responsibility to look with skepticism at new offerings from medical or psychological professionals. Yesterday it was repressed-memory syndrome; today, parental-alienation syndrome
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010 12:12AM EST Last updated on Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010 4:12AM EST
If the appearance of U.S. child deprogrammer Richard Warshak at a national judges' conference in Toronto portends acceptance of his ideas, it's more than troubling; it's downright terrifying.
Dr. Warshak, a psychologist, offers services ranging from $8,000 to $22,000 (accommodations and travel extra) for a four-day session for a child who has been taught by one parent to despise the other. Coercion is inevitable, and sometimes even the force of the state, including police and handcuffs.
In one Ontario case, he suggested a 13-year-old boy would travel to the United States for treatment with transport agents on his flight, his mother following on another; the judge ordered the treatment. Last week, the National Judicial Institute, which trains judges from across Canada, gave Dr. Warshak a forum at an educational event in Toronto. He is, more and more, a force to be reckoned with.
As medicine has an obligation to do no harm, judges have a duty to act in children's best interests. Using coercion may add to the trauma children have experienced when one parent in a divorce heaps abuse on the other. Judges need to exercise caution because they are moving well beyond their expertise, and dealing with a vulnerable population.
Where is the evidence that the treatment does more good than harm, or is safer and more reliable than other methods of treatment? There is none, except for a paper that Dr. Warshak has authored. No independent research has been done on the outcomes, and there are no trials comparing deprogramming to more traditional therapies, as Marshall Korenblum, the psychiatrist-in-chief at Toronto's renowned Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children, points out. There were two legal experts on the NJI panel with Dr. Warshak, but no therapists.
It is understandable that courts would want to find ways to repair the damage that they themselves have in many cases aggravated; a dysfunctional family-law system has allowed some disputes to drag on for a decade. Judges can exercise contempt powers and the power to change custody orders, when parents who do not abide by court rulings.
Judges have a responsibility to look with skepticism at new offerings from medical or psychological professionals. Yesterday it was repressed-memory syndrome; today, parental-alienation syndrome and Richard Warshak's deceptively easy answer to it.
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