Skip to content

10 Common Mistakes That Therapists Make When Counseling Estranged Parents

Mistakes Therapists Make Counseling Estranged Parents

8. Failing to understand the long-term impact and damage to parental alienation. 

Parental alienation often begins when children are young, though alienation can occur at any age. Either way, research shows that the damage may be lifelong to both the targeted parent and the alienated child.

Therapists who are unfamiliar with these realities may damage the self-esteem of their clients and fail to provide them with an accurate understanding of the etiology of the problems.

In addition, they may provide strategies and interventions that are counter to what is likely to increase the chance of a reconciliation. 

9. Being unwilling to interview people related to the estrangement. 

Sometimes a 360-degree view is required before the right intervention is discovered.

This may mean interviewing aunts, uncles, grandparents, or even ex-spouses to determine what steps need to be put in place to maximize the chance of a potential reconciliation.

10. Not being willing to reach out to the estranged adult child. 

While the estranged child may be unwilling to talk to the parent, they are often willing to provide the parent’s therapist with information about their perspective that can prove critical to a potential reconciliation.


  • Amy Baker, “Parental Alienation: A Special Case of Parental Rejection,” Parental Acceptance 4, no. 3 (2010): 4–5; Amy Baker and N. Ben Ami, “Adult Re-call of Childhood Psychological Maltreatment in Adult Children of Divorce: Prevalence and Associations with Outcomes,” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 52, no. 4 (2011): 203–19. 
  • Kristina M. Scharp, Lindsey J. Thomas, and Christina G. Paxman,  ‘It Was the Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back’: Exploring the Distancing Processes Communicatively Constructed in Parent-Child Estrangement Backstories,” Journal of Family Communication 15, no. 4 (2015): 330–48.
  • Joshua Coleman, Philip Cowan, and Carolyn Pape Cowan, “The Cost of Blaming Parents,” Greater Good magazine, Berkeley, California. Joshua Coleman, “Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict” (New York: Harmony/Random House).
  • Becca Bland, “I Am Estranged from My Family,” andstyle/2012/dec/15/becca-bland-estranged-parents; Kylie Agllias, “Disconnection and Decision- Making: Adult Children Explain Their Reasons for Estranging from Parents,” Australian Social Work 69(1) (2016a): 92–104, http://; Blake and Bland, University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research and Stand Alone
  • Jennifer J. Harman, Edward Kruk, and Denise A. Hines, “Parental Alienating Behaviors: An Unacknowledged Form of Family Violence,” Psychological Bulletin, 144, no. 12 (2018)
  • Joshua Coleman is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written three books: 
  • When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins, 2007)
  • The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
  • The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin’s Press, 2004)

His new book: RULES OF ESTRANGEMENT will be released in Nov 2020

Written By Joshua Coleman

Originally Appeared In Psychology Today

Even though therapists can be a godsend when it comes to solving many deep-seated problems between parents and children, they can also end up making a few mistakes. If you see any of these signs in your therapist, then maybe they are not the right fit for you.

If you want to know more about the mistakes that therapists make with estranged parents, then check this video out below:

10 Common Mistakes That Therapists Make When Counseling Estranged Parents
10 Common Mistakes That Therapists Make When Counseling Estranged Parents
Pages: 1 2

Joshua Coleman

Dr. Joshua Coleman is a psychologist, speaker, and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, The BBC, NYU Psychiatry Radio, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. He has written for the New York Times and his work with parental estrangement has also been featured there. He has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Variety Magazine, CNN, Greater Good Magazine, and The Huffington Post. He is the co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of seven online volumes of Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.View Author posts