Collaborative and Proactive Solutions


Disinformation or misinformation:

The sad saga of “Collaborative Problem Solving”

According to Wikipedia, disinformation is a subset of propaganda and is defined as false information that is spread deliberately to deceive people. Misinformation is false information but is not deliberate. Neither is honest.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think honesty is important, especially given the popularity of fake news, false narratives, alternative facts, and spin these days. The thing about false narratives is that when they’re not challenged people come to think they’re true. And honesty directly impacts trust, another virtue I value highly.

There’s one false narrative in particular that I’d like to call to your attention. For quite some time now, I’ve seen my former trainee, Stuart Ablon, referred to as the co-originator of the “Collaborative Problem Solving” approach. While I’ve seen this before in advertisements for Ablon’s presentations, it was recently called to my attention that this error appears in Dr. Bruce Perry’s book, The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog. (Perry has agreed to remove this statement from the book.)

The problem, of course, is that Ablon is not the co-originator of the “Collaborative Problem Solving” approach. Ablon had nothing to do with originating the model, which I originated and first described in published form in 1998 in my book, The Explosive Child, and in trainings well before that. Thus, despite my aversion to blowing my own horn, the need for me to speak out.

So why the confusion? The advertisements for Ablon’s presentations have certainly furthered the falsehood. It might also be due to the fact that while I originally called my model “Collaborative Problem Solving” — and referred to my work by that name in my books and scientific papers until 2013 – I was forced to change the name of my model because of legal action taken by Massachusetts General Hospital, home of the Think:Kids program now directed by Ablon. In 2008, MGH demanded that I relinquish my intellectual property to the hospital; when I refused, MGH took legal action to prohibit me from referring to my model as “Collaborative Problem Solving.” (This, despite having “allowed” me to use the name “Collaborative Problem Solving” without issue for many years.) Not very collaborative, I know.

It’s also possible that my including Ablon as co-author on the book Treating Explosive Kids contributed to the fallacy. That book was published seven years after I published The Explosive Child, and, by his own admission, Ablon actually contributed minimally to Treating Explosive Kids.

The Think:Kids website also sows confusion. It says that the Collaborative Problem Solving approach was developed at Massachusetts General Hospital. Very clever choice of words, since “developed” can have several meanings, none of which apply here. “Developed” can mean “to bring into being,” but neither Ablon nor MGH brought the Collaborative Problem Solving approach into being. “Developed” can also mean “to bring to a more advanced or effective state.” While Ablon has certainly made changes to the model, I’m not aware of any research suggesting that he’s brought it to a more advanced or effective state.

If Ablon and MGH were going to explain things transparently – pure, unadulterated honesty, in other words — here’s what it would say on the Think:Kids website:

The Collaborative Problem Solving approach was originated by Dr. Ross Greene in his book The Explosive Child. In 2008, when Massachusetts General Hospital demanded that Dr. Greene relinquish his intellectual property to the hospital, he refused. He made clear at the time that the fidelity of the CPS model, not money, was his primary concern. He wanted oversight of what was being done with his work and who was doing it, something to which MGH would not agree. In federal court, MGH won trademark ownership of “Collaborative Problem Solving,” and prohibited Dr. Greene from continuing to refer to his model by that name. Neither Stuart Ablon, the current Director of Think:Kids, nor MGH had anything to do with originating the Collaborative Problem Solving approach, but use that name to market a variant of Dr. Greene’s work through MGH’s Think:Kids program. They are doing so without Dr. Greene’s consent.

It doesn’t say that on the Think:Kids website. I’m guessing it never will.

So, back to our original question: as it relates to disinformation or misinformation, which best characterizes the scenario in which Ablon is being referred to as co-originator of the Collaborative Problem Solving approach?

You make the call.

Ross Greene