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Pathways For Change, Counseling Center for Children & Everyone

Jodi's Thoughts and Ideas


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Parental Alienation is a Serious Form of Abuse of Children

Posted on July 25, 2015 at 2:57 PM Comments comments (203)
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Our practice specializes in reunification counseling, particularly when there has been active parental alienation by one parent, against the non-custodial parent. The effects of parental alienation on children are devastating, unless intervention is successful. 

Parent-Child Reunification After Alienation Strategies to Reunite Alienated Parents and Their Children   Post published by Edward Kruk Ph.D. 
Pathways For Change Specializes in Parent Reunification Counseling and Parental Alienation intervention.
Children and parents who have undergone forced separation from each other in the absence of abuse, including cases of parental alienation, are highly subject to post-traumatic stress, and reunification efforts in these cases should proceed carefully and with sensitivity. Alienated children seem to have a secret wish for someone to call their bluff, compelling them to reconnect with the parent they claim to hate; despite strongly held positions of alignment, alienated children want nothing more than to be given the permission and freedom to love and be loved by both parents (Baker, 2010). Yet the influence of the alienating parent is too strong to withstand, and children’s fear that the alienating parent may fall apart or withdraw his or her love holds them back. Research has shown that many alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent, followed by an equally swift shift back to the alienated position when back in the orbit of the alienating parent (Fidler and Bala, 2010). Thus while children’s stated wishes regarding parental residence and contact in contested custody after divorce should be considered, they should not be determinative in cases of parental alienation.Reunification efforts subsequent to prolonged absence should be undertaken with service providers with specialized expertise in parental alienation reunification. A number of models of intervention have been developed, the best-known being Warshak’s (2010) Family Bridges Program, an educative and experiential program focused on multiplegoals: allowing the child to have a healthy relationship with both parents, removing the child from the parental conflict, and encouraging child autonomy, multiple perspective-taking, and critical thinking. Sullivan’s Overcoming Barriers Family Camp (Sullivan et al, 2010), which combines psycho-educational and clinical intervention within an environmentof milieu therapy, is aimed toward the development of an agreement regarding the sharing of parenting time, and a written aftercare plan. Friedlander and Walters’ (2010) Multimodal Family Intervention provides differential interventions for situations of parental alignment, alienation, enmeshment and estrangement. All of these programs emphasize the clinical significance of children coming to regard their parents as equally valued and important in their lives, while at the same time helping enmeshed children relinquish their protective role toward their alienating parents.In reunification programs, alienated parents will benefit from guidelines with respect to their efforts to provide a safe, comfortable, open and inviting atmosphere for their children. Ellis (2005) outlines five strategies for alienated parents: (1) erode children’s negative image by providing incongruent information; (2) refrain from actions that put the child in the middle of conflict; (3) consider ways to mollify the anger and hurt of the alienating parent; (4) look for ways to dismantle the coalition between the child and alienating parent and convert enemies to allies; and (5) never give up on reunification efforts. As much as possible, Warshak (2010) recommends, alienated parents should try to expose their children to people who regard them, as parents, with honor and respect, to let children see that their negative opinion, and the opinion of the alienating parent, is not shared by the rest of the world. This type of experience will leave a stronger impression than anything the alienated parent can say on his or her own behalf, according to Warshak.As Baker (2010) writes, alienated parents acutely feel the hostility and rejection of their children. These children seem cruel, heartless, and devaluing of their parents. Yet it is important to realize that from the child’s perspective, it is the targeted parent who has rejected them; they have been led to believe that the parent whom they are rejecting does not love them, is unsafe, and has abandoned them. Thus, the primary response of the alienated parent must always be one of loving compassion, emotional availability, and absolute safety. Patience and hope, unconditional love, being there for the child, is the best response that alienated parents can provide their children, even in the face of the sad truth that this may not be enough to bring back the child.With alienating parents, it is important to emphasize that as responsible parenting involves respecting the other parent’s role in the child’s life, any form of denigration of a former partner and co-parent is harmful to children. Children’s connections to each parent must be fully respected, to ensure their well being, as children instinctively know, at the core of their being, that they are half their mother and half their father. This is easier said than done, as alienating parents are themselves emotionally fragile, with a prodigious sense of entitlement and need to control (Richardson, 2006), and thus pose significant clinical challenges. Yet poisoned minds and instilled hatred toward a parent is a very serious form of abuse of children. When children grow up in an atmosphere of parental alienation, their primary role model is a maladaptive, dysfunctional parent. It is for this reason that many divorce specialists (e.g., Fidler and Bala, 2010) recommend custody reversal in such cases, or at least a period of separation between a child and an alienating parent during the reunification process with an alienated parent. I have come to believe, however, that the means of combating alienation should not themselves be alienating, and that a non-punitive approach is most effective, with co-parenting being the primary goal. Thus engaging and involving the alienating parent in reunification programs, whenever possible, is critical (Sullivan et al, 2010).Finally, it is often quite difficult to discern who is the alienating and who is the targeted parent in alienation cases. Thus equal or shared parenting is clearly preferable to primary residence or sole custody orders in potential alienation cases, as courts are ill-equipped to assess the dynamics attendant to parental alienation, and co-parenting is preventive of alienation.
Baker, A. (2010). “Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment.” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 16-35.
Ellis, E.M. (2005). “Support for the alienated parent.” American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 415-426.
Fidler, B. and Bala, N. (2010). “Children resisting postseparation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 10-47.
Friedlander, S. & Walters, M.G. (2010). “When a child rejects a parent: Tailoring the intervention to fit the problem.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 98-111.
Richardson, P. (2006). A Kidnapped Mind. Toronto: Dundurn Press.
Sullivan, M.J. et al. (2010). “Overcoming Barriers Family Camp.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 116-135.
Warshak, R. (2010). “Family Bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 48-80.

The Dog Days of Summer

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 11:36 AM Comments comments (123)
Pathways for Change helping with the The Dog Days of Summer!

It is almost August! It always seems August brings the longest, hottest days of summer. The kids may be starting to get a little "bored" of the day to day random activities of summer vacation. They are not as easily entertained throughout the day and they are looking for "something to do." 
One suggestion I offer parents is to create a loose daily schedule. Outline the day for your child. It will give them a bit of structure which kids thrive on throughout the school year, love to shed when the middle of June rolls around, and are looking for again once the month of August is upon us. 

Create a fun easy schedule so that your child is reminded of things they need to get done throughout the day, and also, what fun activities are planned for them. This way they can look forward to those activities, and stop "bugging" their parents about being bored! 

A schedule also provides some predictability and for kids who have a bit of anxiety and like to be able to predict their environment, a schedule can go a long way in reducing symptoms of anxiety. 

Give it a try! August is a long month. What have you go to lose? Enjoy the last carefree days of summer!  Here's to happy children! 
Cheers! Jodi Merrill
Pathways for Change helping with the

Happy Summer Days!

Posted on August 11, 2014 at 4:56 PM Comments comments (201)
Pathways For Change, ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Anger Management, Learning DisabiltyHappy Summer Days!

I cannot believe this week marks the middle of August. It has been a busy summer filled with fun adventures, and lots of happy faces!
The end of summer means "transition" time for myself, parents, teachers, and most of all, our children, as we prepare to send them back to school. Change, no matter how much we get used to it, is never easy, especially for children who may have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum,  AD/HD, and/or sensory integration difficulty. For most kids, returning to school is both exciting and dreadful! It is the return to friends, play dates, parties, and the like. It is also the return from the loose carefree days of summer, to early morning routines, schedules, structure, homework, practices, lessons, long days, long weeks, etc. 

As we turn our heads toward fall, and the start of school, be on the lookout for some symptoms your child may exhibit as they anticipate the start of a new school year:

Short fuse
Oppositional behavior
Withdrawing from friends and family and typical activities they usually enjoy. 
Worrying about things that may happen in the future (especially school-related worries). 

If your child begins to feel anxious, worried, or becomes angry and/or oppositional, try having a talk with them about what is going on for them. This could mean a ride in the car for an ice cream cone, or a talk over a favorite board game, or while taking a walk in the park or neighborhood. You will get more from the conversation if you are engaged in a simultaneous activity! 

If the behavior does not subside, it may be time to talk to a therapist who can help ease the transition. You can call our office any time for an appointment. We are always here to help! 

Enjoy the rest of the beautiful days of August. Fall is just around the corner!

Jodi Merrill, LMFT
Play Therapist

Summer Time!

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 3:59 PM Comments comments (187)
Summer Time!

Summer is the best time to do just about anything at all with your kids! Vacations, play dates, picnics, spontaneous adventures, sleeping in, staying up late, slumber parties, catching fireflies, campouts, late night swims, midnight snacks, and the list goes on and on. I love summer for all of these reasons, and more. 
     Kids are more relaxed in the summer. They seem to smile, skip, dance, and sing more too. I often wonder if it is because there are no stressors from school to deal with, OR.. is it that they are PLAYING a lot more, which is producing the relaxed state I see them in? School is stressful, for sure. No doubt about it. It is stressful for parents too (new schedules, books, backpacks, papers to sign, field trips to chaperone, lunches to prepare or pay for, etc) which then gets passed onto the kids, who pass it back to their parents, and the cycle continues. 
There is less of this in summer. There is more play time, kid time, mom and dad time, FUN time, in summer. And I see it in the children's faces, postures, and attitudes when they come through my door. It is a welcome change!
     As parents, take time to notice the different changes in your children during the summer months. Take advantage when you can, let them know how much you like their pleasant and carefree attitudes. Take note of things that make everyone happy, and try to carry over any small pieces you can from summer, into Fall, as we transition back into the new school year ( but not for another 5-6 weeks!) Until then...Enjoy your kids and your summer!


Posted on April 4, 2014 at 8:19 AM Comments comments (625)
Spring is upon us, finally! 

As I walked down Chestnut Street in Emmaus yesterday, I spotted Spring's first flowers in a neighbor's front yard. I was thrilled to be reminded that the harsh winter is indeed behind us, and we can look forward to warmer temperatures, and longer daylight hours. 

Spring is a season of renewal and rapid growth.  This is symbolic for so many things which occur during this time of year. Even the children who come to our center, are happier, brighter, and energized. They too, are opening up, and blooming in the warmer temperatures, which allows them to get outside, run, and play and move! The kids seem happier and full of energy. Spring is good for all living things!

To reap the benefits of the season, I encourage all parents to get outside with their kids and enjoy the warmer days (when it isn't raining, of course!) and extra daylight. Little ones love to dig in the dirt, and plant seeds and flowers. Watching a seed turn from just a seed to a blooming flower is an amazing transformation, and one kids love to see happen! Go out and look for birds' nests, squirrels rushing about, and frogs finally emerging from under the ice! See if you can hear the frogs' songs in the evening after the sun goes down! Spring peepers are out for sure, and have their own unique song! 

Planting a small garden with your child, is a wonderful activity that will last throughout the summer, and encourage healthier eating, as you eat what you grow in your own backyard! Have your child choose a few vegetables he/she wishes to grow, add a few in of your own choosing, and together dig a little earth, nurture your seedlings, and reap your harvest all summer long! 

Catch a local baseball game, shoot some hoops at a local park, or in your own driveway! Toss a ball in the yard, take long walks and see if you can see your own signs of Spring!

Remember, Spring is a time for renewal, new beginnings, and new opportunities! Take this time to try something new with your child. It is a great time to be inspired!

Happy Spring!
Jodi Merrill, LMFT

Emmaus Old Fashioned Christmas this Saturday 12/7

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 6:46 AM Comments comments (209)
This Saturday, December 7 is Emmaus' Old Fashioned Christmas. This is always a very festive time for kids and families, young and old. Christmas carols, Santa and Mrs. Claus, tree lighting, and sales in many of the quaint shops downtown. 

At Pathways For Change, and Turn the Page Reading Center, we will be hosting the Emmaus High School Pediatric Cancer Club. The students in the club will be cooking up hot dogs, and serving hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and various baked goods for donations, to raise money for a very local family in need this holiday season. Patrick Lester, from the Morning Call wrote this very inspiring article about these kids and their organization. Follow this link to the article:,0,5153181.story

Stop by our office for some holiday cheer, and great food! I am certain the kids' smiles will be very contagious! 

We look forward to seeing you Saturday!

A Great Cause, A Great Opportunity

Posted on November 19, 2013 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (249)
The Emmaus High School Pediatric Cancer Club, Founded by Zachary Clinchy, and Chris Scheirmeyer (EHS Class of 2014), sponsors a local family who have a six year child old battling Leukemia. This group of students have come together and supported this family as they struggle with mounting medical bills. The club hosts fundraisers regularly, and whatever else they can think of that may help give this family a boost, as they deal with their child's battle with cancer. 

We decided we needed to get involved and help these kids, help this family. Pathways For Change, Children's Counseling Center, together with Turn the Page, For Kids Reading Center are sponsoring an event for the Emmaus High School Pediatric Club, to raise more funds for the family this club has sponsored. 

On December 7, 2013 from 12:00 - 8:00PM during the Emmaus Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration, the Pediatric Cancer Club will be setting up tables at our offices located at 401 Chestnut Street (Corner of Chestnut and 4th on the triangle). The kids will be cooking up delicious hot dogs, mouth watering hot chocolate, and lots of homemade baked goods all for donations to support this local family, in the hopes of helping them have an easier time during this holiday season. Other childrens' activities are planned as well. 

Please come out and support this amazing group of high school students who are volunteering their time and effort to support a great family! 

We hope to see everyone there! It will be a wonderfully festive day in Emmaus!

With our warmest wishes to all families during this wonderful season of giving!

Jodi Merrill, LMFT & Kim Clinchy, MEd

Cooler Weather Doesn't Have to Equal Cabin Fever

Posted on October 10, 2013 at 9:06 AM Comments comments (200)
As the days of Autumn close in on us, and we feel the air get cool and crisp, we look ahead to long cold days of winter. Kids complain it is dark when they get up, and dark when they get home. This is winter. Kids can get stir crazy!

Plan ahead now for those days when the kids are cooped up in the house, bored, it's cold, and they don't know what to do. Jot down ideas now, for those occasions. Think of fun, inexpensive trips you can take for an afternoon, crafts you can make at home by the fire, treats you can make together and then later eat while watching a great movie the whole family can enjoy. 

If you are prepared in advance, those long, cold, winter days, will seem to fly by, and Spring will be here before you know it! 

If anyone has great fall/winter activities for their kids they can share here, please email your ideas to me at [email protected] I will publish them here. Together we can stamp out "cabin fever" and have a blast this winter season!

All The Best!