L. Baker, A. J. (2005). The long-term effects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 289-302. doi:10.1080/01926180590962129
The Long-Term Effects of Parental Alienation on Adult Children:
A Qualitative Research Study
Parental alienation is experienced by children after divorce when one parent uses emotional manipulation to make the child dependent on them and turn the child against the other parent. In 2004, Opperman estimated that 20 million children were victims of parental alienation and predicted that an additional 25 million children will experience parental alienation to some extent (i.e. mild, moderate, or severe) before reaching adulthood (as cited in Baker, 2005, p. 290). Although it is considered that immediate negative effects of parental alienation include various psychological and emotional issues, there is no empirical data on the long-term effects of parental alienation, which warrants research in that area. The study by Baker (2005, p. 290) was to address that gap in literature and determine how people perceive the effects of parental alienation during adulthood.
The sample was obtained by posting the information about this qualitative retrospective study on Internet message boards and through word of mouth (Baker, 2005, p. 290). The sample included 38 participants (14 male, 24 female) between the ages of 19 and 67 (Baker, 2005, p. 291). Data was collected through semi-structured interviews to allow each participant to express their stories while collecting the same type of information from all of them (Baker, 2005, p. 291). The statements were coded into 11 major categories based on their essential idea, but this paper discussed on the sub-categories identified in the “impact of alienation” category (Baker, 2005, p. 292).
Six themes pertaining to the impact of parental alienation were identified. The most prevalent themes included low self-esteem (68%) and depression (70%) (Baker, 2005, pp. 293-296), followed by substance abuse (33%) and lack of trust (42%) (Baker, 2005, pp. 297-298). At the time of the interviews, 28 participants had children, and 50% of them have experienced parental alienation from their own children (Baker, 2005, p. 299). Other non-prevalent issues included lack of self-identity, low achievement, anger, and lack of sense of belonging, but they were not as prevalent as the six themes discussed in detail (Baker, 2005, p. 301).
Discussion and Conclusion
Although a variety of issues were reported by the sample, it is important to note that none of the participants reported experiencing all of the negative effects identified, and the study did not discuss the positive experiences reported by the participants (Baker, 2005, p. 293). The study did identify six major and several minor outcomes related to parental alienation, but the author does not discuss the implications of the findings for future research or propose a theory that explains the long-term effects of parental alienation (Baker, 2005, p. 301).
Characteristics of the Article that Demonstrates the Relation of Psychology as a Science
This article only partially demonstrates the relation of psychology as a science because the author does not follow a specific approach with a predefined conceptual or theoretical framework. The article simply describes the characteristics of the population studied, so it is a descriptive type of research, which cannot be replicated or used to establish causal relationships. In order to discuss the implications of the findings, the author would need to engage in follow-up examinations. However, the data was collected using a semi-structured protocol and it was analyzed by coding similar statements into categories and sub-categories, which is a systematic approach in qualitative research that increases its objectivity and validity. The researcher also does not use personal interpretations when reporting the findings, which suggests that the data is objectively reported.
Strengths and Limitations of the Study
This study has several limitations. First, it is impossible to determine whether the outcomes reported are connected to parental alienation alone or to the general experience of parental divorce (Baker, 2005, p. 293). Second, the negative outcomes reported do not describe the common experience of all participants (Baker, 2005, p. 293). However, the study provides insight into the personal experiences of the participants who had experienced parental alienation.
The qualitative exploratory design was suitable for investigating a problem that has not been clearly defined by previous researchers, but a better approach perhaps would have been a grounded theory study. The author uses existing theories in relation to each problem experienced independently. For example, depression is discussed in the context of the stages of grief theories (Baker, 2005, p. 297), and psychoanalysis is used to discuss their lack of trust (Baker, 2005, p. 293). However, a grounded theory approach would have allowed the author to propose a theory on the long-term effects of parental alienation that could be tested by other researchers.
Description of the Research Method Used in the Study
The data analysis and result reporting resemble phenomenological research, but the researcher does not follow any common conceptual framework and does not assign meaning to the experiences reported by the participants. The article simply describes how the participants perceive the effects of parental alienation on their life, which makes it an exploratory, descriptive study.
Possible Causal Inferences of Results
Six outcomes were identified in individuals who had experienced parental alienation, but causal inference is not possible because of the descriptive nature of the study. The sample consisted of individuals at different stages of development (19-67 years of age), which means that many confounding variables and maturation could have been a threat to internal validity. A better approach would have been to focus on a narrow group, such as adults between the ages of 40 and 60. Because of the diverse age range and the small sample size, the findings cannot be generalized to the entire population. Finally, causal inference cannot be based on observational or self-reported data alone, which was the only data collection method in this study. Obtaining information through multiple sources would have increased the reliability of the data obtained from the participants.
Statistical Significance or Practical Significance
The article successfully identified that low self-esteem (68%) and depression (70%) are the most common outcomes in people who perceive to be victims of parental alienation (Baker, 2005, pp. 293-296). Therefore, future quantitative research is needed to investigate the effects of parental alienation by isolating it from divorce and individual risk factors. The focus of the researchers should be only on the most prevalent variables identified in this research.
Validity of Conclusions
Because of the descriptive nature of the study, the researcher did not propose a hypothesis at the beginning of the study or draw conclusions regarding the causal relationships between parental alienation and negative psychological outcomes. When discussing the limitations of the study, Baker (2005, p. 293) admits that it would be impossible to attribute the reported outcomes to parental alienation alone because the study did not contain a control group and it would be impossible to isolate the influence of divorce on the reported outcomes.