Holding up a healthy mirror: Becoming a therapeutic parent to alienated children

An online development course for alienated parents and their families with Karen Woodall

Thursday 18 November 2021

Thursday 25 November 2021

Thursday 02 December 2021

Each session runs for two hours from

16:00 to 18:00 GMT

£180 Inclusive of Tax

LIMITED PLACES

You can check your local start time here (just click the link and enter your city in the blue box):

Time Zone Converter

About this course:

Children who hyper align with a parent and reject the other in divorce and separation are usually in the age group 8-14 years. This is because this age group is in a stage in which their sense of self and personality is under development and the ego is not strong enough to regulate the anxieties which are generated by the experience of attachment disruption in family separation.

What we know about children who experience these difficulties, is that they can be helped when one of their parents is able to understand their experience and in response, hold up a healthy mirror. When the holding of this mirror is consistent, the child who has suffered from induced psychological splitting which is demonstrated by aligning themselves with one parent and rejecting the other, can experience an integrated sense of self which assists in recovery.

In order to hold up a healthy mirror, the parent in the rejected position must first address the reactive splitting that they are likely to have suffered. Reactive splitting, which occurs when the child rejects, (often accompanied by false allegations), can cause a parent to feel natural reactions such as anger, bewilderment and shame. These feelings, which are normal in the circumstances, can become blocks and barriers to the child’s recovery as the parent refutes the allegations and shows the child their reactive feelings. In these circumstances, the child withdraws further, struggling with their own guilt and shame and begins to split off their feelings further.

Restoring health to rejected parents begins with an understanding of what has happened internally and how that has become entangled with the child’s own splitting reactions. When parents are able to map this splitting across the family system, their own reactive splitting can integrate and they can begin the work of developing the healthy mirror needed by the child.

Parents who have healed reactive splitting can then learn to apply the skills of therapeutic parenting. This is an approach to parenting children who are suffering from attachment disorder due to being emotionally and psychologically harmed. Alienated children with therapeutic parents, are shown in evaluation, to be able to recover quickly from the underlying harms which have caused their rejecting behaviours.

On this course you will learn:

  • What psychological splitting is, how it occurs and why
  • How to identify your own reactive splitting
  • How to integrate split thinking in a fractured landscape
  • How to build integrated thinking strategies
  • What to embrace and what to avoid when rebuilding health in the face of alienation
  • How to build the healthy mirror your child needs
  • Mentalisation strategies for mirroring health
  • The power and importance of consistent mirroring
  • How other parents have used integrated mirroring to bring their children back to health
  • Therapeutic parenting – an integrated skills set
  • Building a consistent communications strategy for recovering your children
  • Working with the counter intuitive approach necessary to enable alienated children to withdraw their projections
  • Staying healthy amidst the chaos caused by psychological splitting

Based upon successful work with many families around the world, Karen Woodall will share with you the deep knowledge of how to recover children from the nightmare landscape of psychological splitting. Karen has helped families to rebuild health and wellbeing with children of all ages and has developed a structural approach to working with alienation which is easily translated into strategies which can be used by parents.

‘I have worked with Karen Woodall for two years now and both of my children are back in our lives and thriving. One of my children was alienated from me for ten years and she is clearly suffering the impact of that. With Karen’s guidance, I am working to address her attachment difficulties, which I now understand and recognise. Karen’s guidance works, it helps children to come home and then heal. It has been invaluable to me to do this work and understand and feel skilled as parent again.’

Emma, Mum to two children aged 16 and 19.

‘My children are both in their thirties and I despaired of ever seeing them again. I have worked with Karen for six months and am delighted to say that I seeing them both regularly now. Working with therapeutic parenting skills, I have begun to understand how they have been affected and I can help them with confidence and see the difference it makes. I am recovering a sense that I can do something about this nightmare and that makes all the difference in my life’

Jack. Dad to two adult children aged 32 and 37.

This course will be recorded and can be purchased without the interactive element from December by parents and family members in Australia and New Zealand.

Purchase of tickets to this course offers access to the recordings by all participants for up to one month.

Live discussion sessions will be held on each date, these will not be recorded.


IMPORTANT:

  • This course will be held on Zoom.
  • To gain access, you must provide a valid email address along with your name and PayPal order reference number (you will receive this by email from PayPal after you have made payment

BOOK HERE


My Child is Possessed: Alienation of Children in Divorce and Separation

The most common phrase I hear when working with alienated children and their families is ‘my child is possessed.’ Parents whose children are induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation, can be forgiven for thinking this when the behaviours of the child are observed. It is the case however, that the ‘possessed’ child, only appears in the care of one of their parents. In the care of the parent to whom they are hyper aligned, they will appear to be compliant, content and without complaint. This poses difficulties for any practitioner who is working with the child because the structural narrative of the family system is split in two.

The structural narrative of the family system is the first listening post for any practitioner working in this space, by which I mean that what children say about their parents, is the first thing I hear when I am assessing them. When one is able to listen with an alienation aware ear, the split in the structural narrative becomes clear.

My mother is so lovely, she is cuddly and she makes me feel so safe and happy.

My father is scary, I don’t like it when I have to go and see him because he shouts at me and makes me feel little and all alone.

At face value, the child is describing their felt sense of each parent, they are telling us what it is about the parent which causes their rejection. As an alienation unaware practitioner, I am now faced with my own confirmation bias, which means that if I set about testing whether this child’s mother is cuddly and this child’s father is scary, I will go and find the evidence which proves that the child’s narrative is true.

The second listening post are the parental narratives and this is where the evidence of the split in the child becomes more apparent.

At times it feels as if my child is possessed. A dark and almost sinister self appears, angry and rejecting and incredibly difficult to handle. And then it is as if the sun comes out and my child is back with us.

My child is anxious and afraid, she does not want to see her father and I do not want her to be forced to do something she does not want to do.

Notice the split narrative, in the care of this father, this child moves in and out of the rejecting state of mind. In the care of this mother, the child displays fear and anxiety about her father. It is within the care of the parent who is designated as the one to be rejected, that the child displays the behaviours seen in psychological splitting. When the practitioner works with this child, the choices the practitioner makes will either make things worse or makes things better for the child. Making the right choices for children in this state of mind is essential because take a wrong turn and the incredibly infectious psychological reaction of splitting, will rapidly escalate. Making the right choices are about understanding the cause of splitting (which lies in the lack of boundaries within the relationship between the child and parent to whom the child is aligned) and about how to handle a situation when a child is the ‘no man’s land of alienation.

The core of the issue for practitioners working in this space is the way that we hear and respond to the child’s expression of feeling about the situation they are in. This goes to the very heart of why this work is so difficult to do in an environment in which children are increasingly seen as the decision makers in all aspects of their own lives. A child who is using psychological splitting as a defence, who is heard as if their wishes and feelings are always authentic, becomes the architecht of their own long term suffering.

The child who appears to be possessed, is signalling that their internal boundaries are breached and they have had to raise a false self as a defence against what is going on inside. That child desperately needs someone to put a boundary around what is happening to them, they need protection from the swamping of their felt sense of who they are by psychological and emotional manipulations from an often psychologically unwell parent. When an alienation aware practitioner is able to undertake the structural changes to the framework in which the work is being undertaken and can then hold the boundary with the child so that the child feels internally safe, the omnipotent defence, the false self which arises in an effort to regulate the parent who is causing the problem, disappears and the healthy child re-appears.

I say the healthy child re-appears but that is something of a misnomer because in reality, the defence of psychological splitting is, in fact, a healthy defence which is raised in very unhealthy circumstances. It is a defence which appears when the ego is under pressure and when fragmentation could lead to ego collapse. The defence appears to protect the healthy part of the child, the child who is attached to the parent who is being rejected. This is why, in the right circumstances with a rejected parent, the healthy child re-appears at times, making the parent feel as they are possessed.

Working with children who are psychologically split is a bizarre experience to say the least and it is not until one is capable of recognising the behavioural input which helps the child to hold an integrated state of mind, that a practitioner can confidently do this work successfully. In some circumstances, I have children who tell lies which are blatant and even when the evidence of the lie is right in front of us, the child will continue to tell the lie. These lies are not deliberate, they are products of the defence and in the moment the child hangs on to the belief that this is true. When the boundary is held however and the evidence of the reality is maintained, the child retracts the lie, often then switching into the other part of self and claiming not to be able to remember what they said.

Children in this state of mind will make allegations which match the narrative of the parent who is causing the pressure on the child to split. When children are in the active phase of making allegations, it is very important that these are heard without response. When a child is making allegations, they are actively experiencing ego splitting, which means that they are compartmentalising their felt sense of what is happening. The false self is aware of what they are saying and feels it to be true, the authentic part is aware and not aware, which means that the felt sense of telling lies, is being held away from the child’s super ego.

An alienated child cannot ever be held accountable for the things they say. Forced into a position where they have to identify with the person who is causing them to feel so anxious that they develop a false self which then identifies with that person, the child becomes the victim and the persecutor in a structurally devastated landscape. The child is a victim because they do not know that they have been weaponised in this way and a persecutor because they are sent out onto the family battlefield to fight on behalf of the unwell parent. A child in such circumstances needs urgent protection and the alienation aware practitioner’s first task is to provide that. The next task is to manage the case in such a way that there cannot be further damage done to the child. Conveying the role of protector to the child in the face of the hyper aligned parent’s negative projections (anyone who tries to fix the problem for the child is regarded as an enemy), is one of the most delicate tasks it is possible to undertake in therapy.

There is often the need to create a covert alliance with the child in which the child knows that the practitioner knows and the practitioner knows that the child knows that the pracitioner knows but nothing is ever said. Unravel that again. A child who is using defensive splitting, is led out of the structurally damaged landscape by a practitioner who knows that the child is not telling the truth, the child knows that the practitioner knows this and the practitioner knows that the child knows that the practitioner knows that the child is not telling the truth. This covert alliance is built through signalling to the child that one can be trusted not to tell anyone other than those who can make an immediate difference. ‘I am not sharing this with your mother and I will not ask you to reveal your healthy self in anything other than protected space,’ is what is conveyed to the child. When that alliance is built the child is covertly protected and the work can be done to reorganise the power dynamics so that the child cannot be re-traumatised by the influencing parent.

Far from ‘bonding children to their abuser’ which is the projected narrative of those who support alienating parents (often called protective in an attempt to skew the meta narrative), this work is about liberating children from abusive relationships which are often normalised by a society which is founded upon split narratives of good/bad. Watching alienated children integrate the split state of mind and develop a strong ego health, is all the evidence necessary to ensure that a practitioner who works successfully has the impetus to continue.

Working with ‘possessed’ children in an alien landscape has been my life’s work and the more I have come to understand them, the more I have become determined that their plight and what is necessary to help them, will be widely known in my lifetime. I often meet with children I have helped, to hear from them how their lives are progressing, here is one note, (shared with permission) from a young woman, now in her mid twenties, who was one of the first children I worked with well over a decade ago.

I look back now and wonder how I could have said those things, I remember the horrible things I said and I sometimes ask my mum why she never seemed angry with me. She always tells me that she knew that it wasn’t the real me and that I was doing it because I had to. I think she is brilliant for being able to cope with it and not confuse me further by saying horrible things about my dad. It was so hard when I first met you, I hated you. Do you remember how I used to say you were ugly and had a really stupid voice. I am so glad that you stayed with me so that I could say sorry when it was all over. I needed to say sorry, to you, to my mum and to my grandfather. As soon as I was able to do that I felt so much better. You told me I would and I did. I remember you used to say to me that it was important to feed the question marks in my mind because they were like flowers and that I should ignore the nasty things that my dad said because that was like pulling up weeds. You said that my mind is for my own thoughts and feelings and that anyone who tried to plant things in it was trespassing. I remembered that always, it has done me a lot of good as I have grown up. I still see my dad, he is still really negative but now I know how to handle that and it doesn’t affect me anymore.

Maise (aged 25) alienated from her mother for three years aged 11 to 14

Induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation is the underlying psychological harm which is seen when children are said to be alienated. My child is possessed is a common narrative we hear when encountering these children. With a strong skill set and the confidence to work with an extremely counter intuive approach, these children’s needs are being met.

Online Workshop for Practitioners

With Karen Woodall

28 October 2021 (16:00 BST)

5 Hours

Suitable for psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.


About this workshop:

Treating alienated children requires a deep knowledge of how to differentiate and tailor treatment routes to suit the unique needs of the child and family affected by the defence which causes alienation. It also requires that the practitioner delivering treatment, is capable of providing the structural intervention within the concentric circles of the courts, the welfare system in which the family is located and the family system itself.

Successful treatment of alienated children, is seen when they are able to integrate the split off parts of self and withdraw projections so that their capacity to relate to both parents is restored. Being able to deliver the treatment to the child as well as the family system and educate the court on what is required to maintain health, is a necessary skill for any practitioner in this space.

The Family Separation Clinic, in London, has pioneered the delivery of successful structural therapeutic interventions which provide full assessment, differentiation and treatment protocols for this group of families. The Clinic’s work is currently undergoing full evaluation by a UK university research team in preparation for the delivery of an accredited, evidence based training in the clinical model developed by the Clinic. This model combines psychoanalytic evaluation of the underlying defence mechanisms which cause alienation, with adapted structural family therapy and therapeutic parenting, combined to offer successful treatment routes. A practitioners handbook for the model is currently in preparation.

This online training is for practitioners who wish to prepare for working with the evidence based, accredited clinical model used by the Family Separation Clinic. Whilst this is an introductory level workshop rather than certified training, the content is clinical and technical in nature, providing a firm foundation for developing existing skills for this group of families.

What you will learn:

  • understanding of alienation of children in psychoanalytical terms and grounding of this in the psychoanalytical literature.
  • understanding of the alienated child and family in structural systemic terms
  • understanding of alienated children, their clinical presentations and the underlying reasons for this as well as how to respond to the alienated child
  • introduction to assessment protocols
  • introduction to differentiation protocols
  • introduction to building structural therapeutic interventions
  • introduction to the co-therapy model of practice
  • introduction to therapeutic parenting skills

As part of this workshop, we will evidence successful treatment of cases via the input of parents who have received their children in residence transfer and the input of previously alienated children who are now over the age of eighteen, who were helped by the Clinic’s intervention. The purpose of this is to assist practitioners to understand the co-therapy model used by the Clinic and its impact on treatment of alienated children.

This workshop is intended to provide entry level content for those wishing to develop their practice via the 2022 trainings.

There are 25 places available and practitioners from all countries are welcome to attend. We have set the start time at 16:00 UK time to enable US practitioners to join us.*

The workshop will be delivered by Zoom.

This is a clinical training, it is only for those who have achieved qualifications in one or more of the following disciplines (evidence of qualification is required on booking):

Psychotherapy – post graduate and above

Psychology – post graduate and above (clinical, forensic, developmental)

Psychiatry – doctoral level

Social work – graduate level

* Please note that if there is interest from practitioners from Australia and New Zealand we will set up a separate course, please email us to express interest.

Your trainer:

Karen Woodall - Family Separation Clinic

This training is delivered by Karen Woodall. Karen is a highly experienced psychotherapist who has worked with separated families since 1991. She is currently studying for a PhD. Using established therapeutic theory and practice, Karen has developed new ways of working with alienated children and is widely regarded as one of the foremost  Part 25 Experts in the courts of England & Wales. She is the co-author of Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to cope, helping to heal (Charles C Thomas, 2017) and her influential blog has a worldwide readership.


Book a place: CLICK HERE

Working with alienated children and their families: A structural therapy, evidence-based approach

Working with alienated children and their families: A structural therapy, evidence-based approach


Online Workshop for Practitioners

With Karen Woodall

28 October 2021 (16:00 BST)

5 Hours

Suitable for psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.


About this workshop:

Treating alienated children requires a deep knowledge of how to differentiate and tailor treatment routes to suit the unique needs of the child and family affected by the defence which causes alienation. It also requires that the practitioner delivering treatment, is capable of providing the structural intervention within the concentric circles of the courts, the welfare system in which the family is located and the family system itself.

Successful treatment of alienated children, is seen when they are able to integrate the split off parts of self and withdraw projections so that their capacity to relate to both parents is restored. Being able to deliver the treatment to the child as well as the family system and educate the court on what is required to maintain health, is a necessary skill for any practitioner in this space.

The Family Separation Clinic, in London, has pioneered the delivery of successful structural therapeutic interventions which provide full assessment, differentiation and treatment protocols for this group of families. The Clinic’s work is currently undergoing full evaluation by a UK university research team in preparation for the delivery of an accredited, evidence based training in the clinical model developed by the Clinic. This model combines psychoanalytic evaluation of the underlying defence mechanisms which cause alienation, with adapted structural family therapy and therapeutic parenting, combined to offer successful treatment routes. A practitioners handbook for the model is currently in preparation.

This online training is for practitioners who wish to prepare for working with the evidence based, accredited clinical model used by the Family Separation Clinic. Whilst this is an introductory level workshop rather than certified training, the content is clinical and technical in nature, providing a firm foundation for developing existing skills for this group of families.

What you will learn:

  • understanding of alienation of children in psychoanalytical terms and grounding of this in the psychoanalytical literature.
  • understanding of the alienated child and family in structural systemic terms
  • understanding of alienated children, their clinical presentations and the underlying reasons for this as well as how to respond to the alienated child
  • introduction to assessment protocols
  • introduction to differentiation protocols
  • introduction to building structural therapeutic interventions
  • introduction to the co-therapy model of practice
  • introduction to therapeutic parenting skills

As part of this workshop, we will evidence successful treatment of cases via the input of parents who have received their children in residence transfer and the input of previously alienated children who are now over the age of eighteen, who were helped by the Clinic’s intervention. The purpose of this is to assist practitioners to understand the co-therapy model used by the Clinic and its impact on treatment of alienated children.

This workshop is intended to provide entry level content for those wishing to develop their practice via the 2022 trainings.

There are 25 places available and practitioners from all countries are welcome to attend. We have set the start time at 16:00 UK time to enable US practitioners to join us.*

The workshop will be delivered by Zoom.

This is a clinical training, it is only for those who have achieved qualifications in one or more of the following disciplines (evidence of qualification is required on booking):

Psychotherapy – post graduate and above

Psychology – post graduate and above (clinical, forensic, developmental)

Psychiatry – doctoral level

Social work – graduate level

* Please note that if there is interest from practitioners from Australia and New Zealand we will set up a separate course, please email us to express interest.

Your trainer:

Karen Woodall - Family Separation Clinic

This training is delivered by Karen Woodall. Karen is a highly experienced psychotherapist who has worked with separated families since 1991. She is currently studying for a PhD. Using established therapeutic theory and practice, Karen has developed new ways of working with alienated children and is widely regarded as one of the foremost  Part 25 Experts in the courts of England & Wales. She is the co-author of Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to cope, helping to heal (Charles C Thomas, 2017) and her influential blog has a worldwide readership.


Book a place: CLICK HERE

Working with alienated children and their families: A structural therapy, evidence-based approach

Child Focused, Alienation Aware, Structural Therapy

I am back at the Clinic after a short break to rest and recharge, coming up is a big new phase of work at the Family Separation Clinic which includes the evaluation of the last decade of work completed. Early results from the first interviews with parents who received their children in residence transfer are in. They make grim reading in terms of the suffering of children and parents and the struggle to have this issue understood and treated. They make heartening reading in terms of the positive outcomes for the children involved.

We are now working on the development of evidence based, accredited treatment routes and training for practitioners who are working in this space. Our focus is upon alienated children and building replicable routes to prevention, protection and cure for the problem. This problem, which causes them to hyper align with one parent and reject the other after divorce and separation is readily understood when we work with the psychoanalytic literature. It is readily understood when we apply understanding of power and control dynamics, seeking to understand, from the child’s presentation, who holds power over the child and how the child has been induced to use the defence of psychological splitting. It is readily treated when we pair structural interventions with therapeutic parenting training which are held in place by the court.

It is not however an easy problem to treat, there are no simple answers to this complex child protection issue and the requirements of practitioners, to manage multiple tasks under extreme pressure, are clear. Being able to contain a family, in which boundaries are absent and relational trauma is dominant, requires a clear skill set combined with a mindset which is strong, resilient, flexible and capable. Being able to withstand personal and professional attack whilst continuing to do the work is essential.

The Family Separation Clinic uses a differential assessment which matches the treatment plan to the child’s entry into induced psychological splitting. This is a nuanced, depth assessment, which enables the intervention to be as closely matched to the child’s need for respite from the psychological and emotional pressures which cause splitting, to be prioritised. Our first aim is to stop the need for splitting, by enabling the child to be in the proximity of the parent being rejected, in clinical conditions.

I should say a word about the current furore around domestic abuse and parental alienation because it has clouded the issues we are working with, obscured the focus on the child and dragged the matter back to the gender wars of old. That, was no doubt the intentions of those who created the marketing strategy which is currently aimed at discrediting parental alienation theory. Suffice to say that I have kept out of this manufactured battle largely because it is a circular argument over a label. In truth, there is no need to fight this battle because in the UK at least, it has already been won. The UK has all the case law it needs for managing the issue of parental alienation and the Judiciary, Social Workers and Guardians are increasingly cognisant of the issue. Which is why the time is right for the development of accredited, evidence based training.

Recently I have been working with purely structural therapeutic interventions after fact finding and sometimes post residence transfer. In doing so I have found that what is necessary to treat the problem is well laid out in that literature. When we combine structural interventions with training rejected parents to use therapeutic parenting techniques such as ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’ and when we skill rejected parents to know how to provide secure psychological and emotional containment for their children, integration of the split state of mind is swift.

Alienated children have been described to me many times as being ‘zombified’. This very powerful description of the alienated child’s assumption of a physical presentation which is markedly different to the child’s ordinary self, is the marker of splitting. Some children are very aware of the zombified presentation, some are aware and then not aware, what is called in the literature on traumatic splitting knowing and not knowing. This splitting, which is caused when a child cannot hold two realities in mind because one of the realities is overpowering them, is at the root of alienation reactions in children. This is the problem which is seen in unstable personality disorder and that children are more likely to suffer splitting in the period during which they are building their own sense of self, is what makes this a child protection issue.

The development of accredited, evidence based training, is designed to increase the number of practitioners who are alienation aware and ensure that the work done with families affected by this problem remains child focused. Having moved right away from the diagnostic model of parental alienation theory, largely because it has little value in treatment terms, it has become ever more clear that a flexible, child focused, alienation aware differential assessment, combined with a treatment protocol which is tailored to each unique case, is the right way forward for this problem. That is what we are focused upon developing right now so that in 2022, that will be ready for low cost roll out around the world.

When the replicable assessment and treatment route which is rooted in successful outcomes becomes available, the paradigm shift from the focus on the battle over the label to the focus on treatment of the problem will occur. We are not far short of achieving that now and when that happens, what will come with it is a widespread recognition within children’s services that that when a child hyper aligns with one parent and rejects the other after divorce and separation, the child is under pressure. When that recognition comes, the paradigm shift from having to treat the problem to being able to prevent it, will come.

Just as in all paradigm shifts, we make the old ways obsolete by building the new way forward. What I see now, when I work in teams with social workers and guardians, is a recognition of the problem and the way in which those with statutory power, can make an immediate difference. As one of the major dynamics in this problem is the power that the parent causing the pressure has over the child, changing who holds power is one of the major structural interventions which have to be made. When the issue is recognised, as it increasingly is, that structural intervention can take place early in the trajectory of the pathological pattern of behaviours which cause the problem. When social workers and guardians understand this, they can take action earlier and prevent so much damage being done to the child.

From understanding, to treatment, to prevention of this problem through triage and correct protocols in differential assessment. Away from the battleground, the paradigm shift is well underway.

Structural, Child Centred Therapy With Families Affected by Alienation

Online Training Workshop for Practitioners Bookings Open 6th September, Limited Places

Working with a psychoanalytic informed, structural and therapeutic approach to treatment of induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation.

Cost £300 plus VAT

Limited Places Available

October 28 2021

Duration – 5 hours Live Training. Start time 4pm UK

2 hours video input on Therapeutic Parenting

Suitable for: Psychotherapists, Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists

About this course

Treating alienated children requires a deep knowledge of how to differentiate and tailor treatment routes to suit the unique needs of the child and family affected by the defence which causes alienation. It also requires that the practitioner delivering treatment, is capable of providing the structural intervention within the concentric circles of the courts, the welfare system in which the family is located and the family system itself.

Successful treatment of alienated children, is seen when they are able to integrate the split off parts of self and withdraw projections so that their capacity to relate to both parents is restored. Being able to deliver the treatment to the child as well as the family system and educate the court on what is required to maintain health, is a necessary skill for any practitioner in this space.

The Family Separation Clinic in London, has pioneered the delivery of successful structural therapeutic interventions which provide full assessment, differentiation and treatment protocols for this group of families. The Clinic’s work is currently undergoing full evaluation by a UK University Team in preparation for the delivery of an accredited, evidence based training in the clinical model developed by the Clinic. This model combines psychoanalytical evaluation of the underlying defence mechanisms which cause alienation, with adapted structural family therapy and therapeutic parenting combined to offer successful treatment routes. A practitioners handbook for the model is currently in preparation.

This online training is for practitioners who wish to prepare for working with the evidence based, accredited clinical model, used by the Family Separation Clinic. Whilst this is an introductory level workshop, the content is clinical and technical in nature, providing a firm foundation for developing existing skills for this group of families.

Practitioners who undertake this course will have priority access to the 2022 training route and the cost of that will be discounted in recognition of attendance on this workshop.

What you will learn

  • Understanding of alienation of children in psychoanalytical terms and grounding of this in the psychoanalytical literature.
  • Understanding of the alienated child and family in structural systemic terms
  • Understanding of alienated children, their clinical presentations and the underlying reasons for this as well as how to respond to the alienated child
  • Introduction to assessment protocols
  • Introduction to differentiation protocols
  • Introduction to building structural therapeutic interventions
  • Introduction to the co-therapy model of practice
  • Introduction to therapeutic parenting skills

As part of this workshop, we will evidence successful treatment of cases via the input of parents who have received their children in residence transfer and the input of previously alienated children who are now over the age of eighteen, who were helped by the Clinic’s intervention. The purpose of this is to assist practitioners to understand the co-therapy model used by the Clinic and its impact on treatment of alienated children.

This course is intended to provide entry level training for those wishing to develop their practice via the 2022 trainings.

This course has 25 places available and practitioners from all countries are welcome to attend. We have set the start time at 4pm UK time to enable US practitioners to join us.*

This is a clinical training, it is only for those who have achieved qualifications in one or more of the following disciplines – (evidence of qualification is required on booking).

Psychotherapy – post graduate and above

Psychology – post graduate and above (clinical, forensic, developmental)

Psychiatry – Doctoral level

Social Work Graduates

*Please note that if there is interest from practitioners from Australia and New Zealand we will set up a separate course, please email karen@karenwoodall.blog to express interest.

The Purpose of the Academy is to develop, curate and promote clinical excellence in the treatment of children who become alienated as a result of family disharmony and dissolution.

News about the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children will be available very soon. Click to go through to the website here.

Fragmented reflections: How alienated children become trapped in the broken mirror

“the brain’s innate physical structure and two separate, specialized hemispheres facilitate left brain-right brain disconnection under conditions of threat. Capitalizing on the tendency of the left brain to remain positive, task-oriented, and logical under stress, these writers hypothesized that the disconnected left brain side of the personality stays focused on the tasks of daily living, while the other hemisphere fosters an implicit right brain self that remains in survival mode, braced for danger, ready to run, frozen in fear, praying for rescue, or too ashamed to do anything but submit.”
― Janina Fisher, Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation

Watching the recent return of the struggle to raise awareness of the needs of alienated children and their families, to a public battle over whether the phenomenon exists or not, is dispiriting to say the least. It is however, predictable and it is a good example of how the needs of children of divorce and separation become conflated with the needs and rights of their parents. It is the meta narrative which traps children in a broken psychological mirror and prevents them from having their sovereign needs understood and met.

Working solely from the perspective of the alienated child, removes one from the he said/she said battle and allows for a single minded focus upon the harms which are done to children of divorce and separation. This is the space, in my experience, which will ultimately support the paradigm shift which is necessary to move the debate on from whether alienation of children exists or not. Because it is beyond that binary argument that the work to understand the issue and build effective treatment routes takes place. This is the space where I am currently working with colleagues from all around the world, this is the space which brings forth the widespread understanding and tools for treatment which are necessary. When those two pieces of this particular jigsaw are finally in place, the paradigm shift becomes possible and the binary fight will be where it belongs, which is in the past.

Understanding alienation of children at the deepest level is the first essential tool of anyone who works in this space. In understanding alienated children one has to understand the defence which is raised in a child when a parent with power over them, fails in their duty to parent healthily. Failure to parent healthily, becomes child abuse when a parent is unable to unwilling to recognise that their child is a sovereign individual with rights and needs which are separate from their own.

Induced psychogical splitting is the defence we are working with when we work with alienated children. This defence presents in ways that are difficult to recognise unless you are used to working with denial and projection dynamics. What happens to the vulnerable child who is being pressured via emotional or psychological manipulation, leakage of feeling or projection of false beliefs, is that they enter into a process of denial of that in order to keep the parent causing this regulated and via that, themselves safe. It is a survival mechanism in a situation of extreme terrorisation of the child. The behavioural responses in the child suffering this are recognisable because they are projections caused by looking in a broken mirror. To the lay person they appear to be bizarre claims and allegations, to the experienced, they make sense of the child’s internalised fragmented world.

In my clinical experience, alienated children suffer from ego fragmentation, which is itself a defence against complete dissociative collapse of the sense of self. This ego fragmentation is evidenced when a child is shown to utilise several different versions of self and when a child is unable to maintain an integrated sense of who they are, maladapting their behaviours, compartmentalising feelings and where their words and behaviours do not match. These children are extremely vulnerable and they require a treatment route which is properly matched to the internalised psychological state of mind. Self alienation, which is the loss of the authenticity and sense of sovereign self, replaced by maladapted feelings and behaviours can (and is) compounded by unaware therapists and those who believe that children of divorce and separation should simply be listened to.

Children of divorce are trapped in the broken mirror when a parent binds them into their own psychological mindset, imposing upon them false beliefs and demands for allegiance. When a parent cannot tell the difference between their own feelings and those of the child, when boundaries are dissolved and reflections are fragmented, children cannot build a strong ego, they cannot properly develop and their individuation process is interrupted.

Treating children of divorce and separation demands that the boundaries around a child and the mirrors the child looks into, are cohesive and framed around their needs not parental needs or demands. Far from the argument about whether alienation is real or not, development of replicable treatment routes and proper protocols for intervention are the necessary tasks ahead of us. We are well along that road now. Despite it all, the paradigm is shifting.

Autumn Training and Parent Workshop Schedule

Next week I will have news about the next parent workshops and an update on the evidence based training which will be available from 2022. I will also post our updated autumn training schedule for professionals in the UK, USA and Europe.

moving the family furniture: therapeutic treatment of alienation of children in divorce and separation

Whilst many people claim to understand the issue of alienation of children in divorce and separation, not many know how to treat it successfully. Many who say they treat the problem, use the approach of ‘trying it for themselves’ in the belief that they know better than others. As Steve Miller M.D says however, this is often disastrous for the family, entrenching the problem rather than resolving it.

Many of those who come to this work without respecting the experiences of those who do it successfully, will, on failing to make an inroads into the problem, blame the rejected parent for not being ‘fixable’, failing to understand that the child has become the ‘homeostatic maintainer‘ in a system which is rigid and inflexible due to the personality profile of one of the parents.

Success in therapeutic treatment of alienation of children looks like one thing and one thing only, it is the withdrawal of the projection of good and bad onto the parents, which denotes that the child has integrated a sense of self. How that is achieved therapeutically, depends upon the capacity of the therapist to move the family furniture around, which requires the ability to manage the meta and micro systems which are in play. Achieving the capacity to do that swiftly, will depend upon the pressures blocks and barriers as well as the openings and opportunities available to the therapist. One therapist, acting as team leader, with control over all of the systems at play, is what is necessary to achieve rapid resolution.

Many practitioners in this space are too timid for this work, they are risk averse and unable to shoulder the burdens which are necessary to bring a family system through to resolution. Some are wedded to ideological concepts which force family members into strait jackets of the therapist’s own belief system. When this occurs, the family is led to a fragile place, in which the ‘shoulds’ of the practitioners own internalised beliefs, are imposed upon the family. Success will never be achieved this way because this imposition is an external projection of a person who is not a permanent part of the family system. Practitioners who lead families in this direction, will find that the alienated child remains alienated and, when able to, will return to the regulating role with the alienating parent, upholding that split narrative and claiming that they were ‘forced’ into compliance. Interventions which fail to treat splitting in the child, will leave the child vulnerable to influence again as soon as the power dynamic over the child shifts again.

Practitioners who are successful at this work are those able to hold boundaries, absorb negative projections, understand the need to manage the risk of splitting in teams and recognise that the model of intervention must be adaptable, flexible and creative. Capacity to hold clear boundaries around the work, preventing it from being diluted and upholding standards of practice which are transparent to all involved, is essential.

Therapy as it is ordinarily understood, cannot reunite a child with a rejected parent in a case of alienation. Anyone who claims that it can, does not understand alienation or is doing something else. The only approach to therapy which has any real meaning in this work is structural and even that has to be adapted in order to bring about the conditions in which a child can resolve the psychologically split state of mind. Life story work, making amends, shifting the power balance as in residence transfer, are all futile unless the systemic and structural conditions are right. It is folly to intervene in such a random and unevidenced way where splitting is in play and it is absolutely impossible to impose upon families an inflexible one size fits all model of intervention.

The Family Separation Clinic model of assessment, is a rolling differentiation and clinical trial approach to resolution which is undertaken over a period of twelve weeks. It is used in the High Court of England and Wales as well as other jurisdictions. It has a flexible structure which interlocks with different legislative structures. It is currently being used in live cases in Hong Kong, California and Israel.

The aim of the rolling programme is to scrutinise the family, move the ‘furniture’ around (meaning impose changes upon the system) and challenge the system into change. The model is flexible and creative, it empowers therapists to bring about swift change for children by interlocking the treatment with the legal management of the case and with therapeutic parenting training for the rejected parent. The model is the result of over a decade of work and successful interventions with 69 severely alienated children within the UK family court system. It is a short term, dynamic intervention with proscribed protocols, treatment goals and identified outcomes. It is capped costswise in the majority of cases so that intervention is transparent in terms of the financial costs. The Family Separation Clinic provides low cost intervention where possible by charging high where a family can afford it and subsidising input where it makes a significant difference and a family cannot afford it. The Clinic is also now extremely fortunate to have investment into development so that services can be replicated for all families who need them.


The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children

The fourth conference of this group of senior practitioners from Israel, Croatia, Republic of Ireland, UK, USA, Romania, Holland and Germany, will be held in Israel in 2022. More news shortly.

Evaluation of the Work of the Family Separation Clinic

The evaluation of the services of the Family Separation Clinic, including the outcomes of residence transfers carried out over the past twelve years, is ongoing, Results will be available in 2022.

Clinical Handbook and Training for Practitioners

An accredited and evidence based training for practitioners will be available as a result of the evaluation above. A handbook of clinical practice will accompany the training. Training which is underpinned by this model of understanding and intervention is already being delivered in the UK to Social Workers, Therapists, the Judiciary and Guardians and will be delivered across Europe, USA and Australia from 2022 onwards.

structural and systemic Treatment of induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation

The core of what we are working with when children are induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation is, the alienation of the self from the self which begins with the child. This is a splitting pathology, in which the child is forced back into the paranoid/schizoid position identified by Klein as a result of lack of healthy boundaries in the child’s primary relationship(s).

It is also a power and control pathology, with the most serious causal factor being the influence of one parent over the child and the willingness of that parent to hold and maintain power over the child. That power can be enacted in several ways, it can be the power held by a father, it can the power held by a mother, sometimes it can be the power held by grandparents. The willingness of the person holding the power and control over the child, to use it to obtain outcomes is the key factor in whether the child begins to use splitting as a defence.

According to Johnston, Roseby, and Kuehnle (1997), the resilience (or lack of it) in the child, to conscious or unconscious manipulative strategies, using power and control, by the parent who has the power, is the determining factor in whether the child resorts to using defensive splitting to protect a fragile ego. Further ego fragmentation is one of the possible outcomes of the child being induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation.

When a child is induced to use psychological splitting as a defence in divorce and separation, it is highly likely that the use of splitting, is already in play in one of the parents. Reactive splitting often occurs in the other as the splitting dynamic takes hold of the child.

The triangle of splitting, power and control over the child and the resilience or lack of it in the child, defines the dynamic regression in the child to the paranoid/schizoid position described by Klein, in which the world is split into several experiences in order to cope with overwhelming incoming pressures. This point is often identified via a ‘trigger event’, in which the child who was once able to hold two realities in mind, splits those realities into good and bad via a process of denial and projection. This denotes that the child has split the self into at least two parts, the good self and the bad self. These parts of self, which are those which are identified with parents, are then projected at the parents.

When we approach the understanding of this problem from a psychoanalytic perspective, the clinical treatments which are necessary become clear. We do not treat splitting via psychoanalytic methods, we treat it through systemic and structural methods, setting the splitting in the child at the heart of what we do.

When we approach this problem from its heart and stand in the shoes of the child so affected, the treatment routes are obvious. The problems in families affected by splitting are –

  • lack of healthy boundaries
  • lack of healthy mirrors to reflect integration of self
  • lack of capacity to hold in mind other people’s experiences
  • lack of emotional and psychological regulation

From this lack comes a swathe of pathological problems for the child and it is not just the lack in the family which causes these. A child who is induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation, has not been helped in any uniform way for decades, because the systems which have governed divorce and separation, have not understood that the problem in front of them is psychological splitting.

Social policy has, for the best part of five decades, been governed by the splitting narrative that fathers are abusive and mothers are abused.

Social policy has been infused with the split narrative of mother = good/abused and father = bad/abusive ever since the change in the divorce laws in the early seventies. This has led to a constant battle of the sexes, with mothers pitched against fathers and children’s needs lost in the middle.

I see splitting in extreme measures on social media around the topic of parental alienation, which has been dragged back into the gender war by those for whom splitting is a way of life. So much so that I see social media around the issue as being a toxic place with little benefit to anyone and as such I advise all parents to stay right away from it.

In structural terms, the outer ring of influence around the child who suffers induced psychological splitting, also contains the splitting pathology with professionals lining up for the battle between each other instead of forming a circle around the child. Little wonder so many children suffer induced psychological splitting and do not have the capacity to heal, the lack of healthy mirrors in the systems around divorcing and separating families is itself a gross lack of boundary.

The practitioner who works successfully with families affected by induced psychological splitting is the person who is capable of working within this chaotic and often terrorising space. When the concentric circles around the child are infected with splitting, that person is always at risk of personal and professional attack. Anyone who does this work has to be capable of withstanding the negative projections and remain capable of holding up a healthy mirror, even in the face of terrorisation which comes from all sides.

This is not the job for someone who needs to be liked. This is a job for someone who understands that inducing psychological splitting is abusive to the child and that structuring interventions which lift off the pressures from the child’s shoulders is the first goal. Recognising that being successful in doing that requires constancy, transparency, ego strength and the capacity to understand that if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks, you will never reach your destination.

Working with induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation also requires that the mirror being held up to the whole family is consistently healthy. This means that whilst we recognise that the phases of work to restore the relationship of self to self in the child are clearly delineated, meaning that we confront the child with the split off object relationship first – ie;we bring the rejected parent back into relationship with the child from the outset, the goal overall is to integrate the family dynamic towards the separated parenting system that is necessary. This cannot be achieved by using broken mirror dynamics – which means we don’t just swap over the control from one parent to the other as a treatment goal. Integrated mirroring means we are required as practitioners to achieve integration in the underlying dynamics of the family system.

Working with induced psychological splitting requires systemic and structural interventions. Using a psychoanalytic framework of understanding, those interventions become clear and treatment routes are easily developed. This is an integrated model of practice to resolve complex cases where children hyper align and reject in divorce and separation.


The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children

The fourth conference of this group of senior practitioners from Israel, Croatia, Republic of Ireland, UK, USA, Romania, Holland and Germany, will be held in Israel in 2022. More news shortly.

Evaluation of the Work of the Family Separation Clinic

The evaluation of the services of the Family Separation Clinic, including the outcomes of residence transfers carried out over the past twelve years, is ongoing, Results will be available in 2022.

Clinical Handbook and Training for Practitioners

An accredited and evidence based training for practitioners will be available as a result of the evaluation above. A handbook of clinical practice will accompany the training.

Broken Mirrors: The underlying harms in alienation of children

Continuing on with the theme of underlying harms, this week I have been working with families affected by alienation of children, in which the core reason for removal from a parent is serious attachment disorder.

Attachment disorder is one of the reasons why children are moved in residence transfer and it is worth explaining what that means and why it leads to removal from harm.

Attachment is often considered to be about a relationship between people but it is so much more than that.

‘Attachment theory emphasizes (…) the primary status and biological function of intimate emotional bonds between individuals, the making and maintaining of which are postulated to be controlled by a cybernetic system situated within the central nervous system, utilizing working models of self and attachment figure in relationship with each other.’

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Attachment is a relational system which is embedded into our central nervous system, we are attached to our primary caregivers in early childhood in a neuro-biological compulsion to survive. This is not about a relationship which can be decided upon in a rational and disconnected way, this is about the deepest emotional, psychological and biological bonds within us. Attachment becomes disordered because a child will adapt and maladapt in as many ways as is necessary to protect the primary attachment bonds. It is the child who maladapts, not the parent. This is because the child is utterly dependent upon caregivers who hold the unimaginable power of life or death over the child. When children present with attachment disorder, it is because something has gone wrong in the parent/child relationship and that is the responsibility of the parent, not the child.

Attachment disorder is recognised in psychological evaluation. When it is recognised, it is evaluated for its impact upon the child, to determine whether or not it can be treated via whole family interventions. The goal of whole family interventions, is to provide the framework, guidance and therapeutic work, which will restructure the caregiving and treat the underlying harms. Because cases of serious attachment disorder often involve parents with psychological profiles of concern, removal of the child from the full time care of the parent who is causing the problem, is one of the possible outcomes.

Attachment disorder is not just about separation anxiety or maladaptive responses to caregiving. Attachment disorder causes a child an immense sense of isolation and a pattern of behaviour which is recognised as dissociative. Children who suffer attachment disorder are often parentified, a condition in which they take responsibility for the care of a parent at the deepest psychological level.

when parent-child boundaries are violated, the implications for developmental psychopathology are significant. Poor boundaries interfere with the child’s capacity to progress through development which (…) is the defining feature of childhood psychopathology.’

Kerig, P. K. (2005). Implications of parent-child boundary dissolution for developmental psychopathology: Who is the parent and who is the child? New York: Haworth Press.

The parent child boundary violations which cause attachment disorder are seen when a child compulsively takes care of a parent’s needs. When such a child is induced to use psychological splitting because they are aware that a parent needs them to put the other parent at distance, the child is seen to participate further in their own isolation from incoming caregiving. The child is already without a healthy mirror when they are in a parentified relationship, pushing the other parent to the margins of their life, the child eradicates the only source of healthy care which remains available to them. In such circumstances, the child becomes bound in the unhealthy parent’s fragmented sense of self. Put simply, the only mirror the child now has to look in, is broken.

The impact of such an experience produces a bleak outlook for a child. In working with children and young people who have suffered such harm, the patterns of compulsive self reliance and absence of trust of other people are clear.

I have to be ready at any time to react to what is coming, what you don’t understand is that I need to be ready to escape, be ready to do what is necessary to get through. I can’t trust you, I won’t trust you because if I do and you let me down, what then? I can’t let myself go where you want me to go, it is not possible.

Annaliesa – aged 17

Children who grow up looking in broken mirrors, suffer attachment disorder amongst a range of other associated problems. Attachment disorder means that the ego is weak but the adapted behaviours caused by the disorder are defensive, which means that a child or young person can appear to be super competent on the outside, when inside their sense of self is fragile and often fragmented. Broken mirrors produce a fragmented ego and the child who suffers this way is often confused about who they are. Some children speak of this in ways that give the truth of what has happened to them.

I don’t know what you mean by sense of self, I don’t have a self, I have a series of selves that I use to get by. I know that these selves are all part of me, I am not talking about multiple personalities, but if you see me with this person, you will think I am this and if you see me with that person, you will see me as that. I don’t know how to hold all those selves together.

Jack, aged 14

Working with children who have been induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation, reveals the reality of the underlying harms which are caused when a child is said to be alienated. This is far away from the efforts to portray alienation of children as a litigation strategy which is currently being popularised amongst ideological campaigners and far away from simplistic signs and factors which are used in parental alienation theory.

Underlying harms in cases of induced psychological splitting are serious and systemic. Such cases require a framework of assessment, differentiation and treatment which is configured to relieve the child of the burden of harm they are carrying. Most of all they require a healthy mirror to help the child to integrate the fragmented sense of self which is the internal experience of the harm which has been done. Treating harm done by alienation is like treating a psychological cancer, it requires a nuanced, detailed and consistent intervention and it often requires repeated doses.

Holding together treatment routes in an environment which is surrounded by mischaracterisation requires a strong team which is capable of withstanding the splitting projections which emanate from parents who cause these harms. Parents who are often these days joined with ideological campaigners, parents who act in unboundaried and uncontained ways, terrorising practitioners and causing them harm too. If you ever want to understand how hard it is to do this work, read this recent judgment to see what practitioners in this space are up against.

What such parents do to their children, they will often do to practitioners who intervene, drawing the transference is a very big risk for all of us who do this work. Therefore, when you see parents and campaigners acting in uncontained ways online, sharing information about their case and ganging up with others to bully and harass people, bear in mind this is likely to be a furthering of how they have lived their lives and brought up their children.

Underlying harms in alienation of children are serious and it is essential that light is shone upon those harms in a sustained way so that hiding child abuse in the shadows of negative projections, is no longer condoned.

Children need healthy mirrors, they will only get them if the truth of what is happening is known.

Underlying Harm: What really happens when children are alienated in divorce and separation

I presented a webinar for a group of parents in the USA this weekend on induced psychological splitting and the harm it causes to children of divorce and separation. In my introduction, I explained that the label parental alienation is not useful when working therapeutically with families affected by a child’s outright rejection. This is because, what is seen in children who reject a parent outright after family separation, is a defence mechanism. And you do not treat a defence by telling someone they have a defence. To do so is to miss the point of defences, which are to protect from intolerable psychological pressure and to prevent psychological disintegration.

Children who reject a parent in circumstances where, upon investigation, there is no evidence to justify that happening, are suffering from induced psychological splitting. Psychological splitting is a defence mechanism which is infantile in nature, which means that we all used psychological splitting to cope with the world in our earliest years. When psychological splitting is induced to return as a defence mechanism, it is because a child or young person cannot hold two realities in mind. Which means that they are struggling to cope with relationships with both parents because of psychological pressure from somewhere. The job of those who do this work, is to find out where that pressure is coming from and to seek to lift it away from the shoulders of the child so that the defence can drop and the child can integrate their own sense of self. When they can integrate a sense of self again, the projection of idealisation and demonisation onto their parents falls away and the child no longer clings and rejects.

When a child rejects a parent outright, it is often because they have suffered early developmental trauma and are vulnerable to returning to this defence in order to cope with difficult circumstances. Outright rejection usually happens to children of divorce and separation between the ages of 8-15, the reason for this is likely to be that during this phase of development, personality formation is underway and there are particular developments in the brain which sensitise a vulnerable child to defending against psychological pressure. Watch this video to understand how trauma sensitises the brain.

Behind the presenting narratives in cases where children align and reject, are stories of early childhood developmental trauma, where children have become sensitised to the environment they are living in. This if often because a child is living in an environment where uncontained psychological material from a parent is being leaked through to them, or because the child is being triangulated into the adult issues which are unresolved. What happens when children reject however, is that their narrative, which is often infantile in nature (meaning that there are odd reasonings given as the child tries to make sense to the outside world of why a parent has suddenly become a demon in their eyes), becomes entangled with the ruminations of the parent they are idealising. This leads to a feedback loop in which the aligned parent picks up the child’s complaints as the absolute truth and upholds them as evidence of the danger posed by the other parent. As this feedback loop increases, new elements are added by what is now a fused dyadic echo, the child and aligned parent become ever more convinced that this is the truth of the child’s rejection. As this process escalates, the child’s psychologically split state of mind is mirrored back by the aligned parent who becomes increasingly vehement in defence of the child.

A broken reflection of reality is now substituted for the healthy mirror the child needs. On the outside, what this looks like is hyper alignment and rejection. On the inside, what it is, is the strenthening of a defence via the escalation and entrenchment of the very dynamics which caused it in the first place. This is why intervening correctly in such cases is necessary, because the lifelong harms which are caused for children who become trapped in this situation are clear.

Healing a defence however, can only be achieved by changing the dynamics which cause the defence. If what we do is abandon the child to the defence or worse still, uphold the child and aligned parent’s distorted beliefs, then we are complicit in doing further harm. Which is why, sometimes, the only recourse to changing those defences, is to move the child away from the parent who is unable or unwilling to change, in order that the child is relieved of the pressure causing the defence.

Children who are hyper or strongly aligned to one parent and rejecting the other in divorce and separation are in psychological trouble and it is incumbent upon us as a society to understand and address that. Amidst the lurid campaign headlines, the label parental alienation becomes unhelpful because it does not help us in working therapeutically but also because it has attracted the toxicity of the negative projections of those who want to obfuscate the reality of what is happening to children. Which is why I am writing about the underlying harms which cause children to be removed from unsafe parents and not about parental aliention.

Removal from harm to protect children who are being psychologically and emotionally abused in divorce and separation is set down in law in England and Wales and that law is clear.

From Re (S) Neutral Citation Number: [2020] EWCA Civ 568

13. In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less
stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a
solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger
party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt
at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to
long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child
and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall
welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will
amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not
necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate
action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has
become too late to take it.

Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King, Lord Justice Peter Jackson (2020)

We must be clear in what we understand about what happens to children in divorce and separation when they are induced to use psychological splitting, because it is their mental health which is at risk in the long term. Having failed generations of children of divorce and separation, it is vital that the reality is not lost amidst the manufactured fight around a label.

Children who are removed from parents who cannot or will not, shift their mindset to enable their child to resolve the induced defence of psychological splitting, are children who are being moved because of the harm that has been done to them. Removal from harm occurs after thorough investigation and often many years of hearings involving all of the checks and balances which are applied in the court process.

It is protection from that underlying harm, which is the truth of what is really happening when the state intervenes on behalf of children are alienated in divorce and separation.

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Family Separation Clinic Evaluation

Given the degree to which the debate around this issue is driven by personal experiences and, some may argue, political agenda, it is particularly important that more objective evidence is obtained.

We hope that the year-long, independent evaluation of the Clinic’s services, which is being carried out by researcher’s from a UK university, will contribute to that. For example, it is frequently argued that the term ’parental alienation’ is used by men to obscure allegations of domestic abuse that are levelled by mothers. And yet, the latest gender diseggregated statistics from parents seeking the Clinic’s support around rejection by a child after divorce and separation, reveals that, in the period 1 April to 30 June 2021, 75.4% of clinical work was with rejected mothers and 24.6% was with rejected fathers.

The study will utilise both quantitive and qualitative methodologies to, independently, explore and understand the experiences of those accessing the Clinic’s services. It is only through such objective approaches that we can shift the discussion about alienation reactions in children away from sensationalisation on both sides of this sensitive topic and towards a more nuanced, clinical and empirical understanding of the problem.

Underlying harms: The need for transparency in protection of children of divorce and separation

The paramountcy principle, which is enshrined in the Children Act in the UK, requires that the best interests of the child are held central to everything being considered in private and public family law cases. Many criticise the family courts for the secrecy which surrounds them and campaigns are underway to make what happens therein, more open to scrutiny. Transparency is to be welcomed, because it is only when the public at large, understand why decisions to remove children are taken, that the emotional and psychological harm which is done to children, will become visible.

The underlying harms which are caused in cases which are referred to as parental aliention, are clear in law.

From Re (S) Neutral Citation Number: [2020] EWCA Civ 568

The law concerning parental alienation


7. At the outset, it must be acknowledged that, whether a family is united or divided, it is
not uncommon for there to be difficulties in a parent-child relationship that cannot fairly
be laid at the door of the other parent. Children have their own feelings and needs and
where their parents are polarised they are bound to feel the effects. Situations of this
kind, where the concerned parent is being no more than properly supportive, must
obviously be distinguished from those where an emotionally abusive process is taking
place. For that reason, the value of early fact-finding has repeatedly been emphasised.


8. As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels. We agree with Sir
Andrew McFarlane (see [2018] Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive,
protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a
syndrome or diagnosed condition. It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad termswhat we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition of
alienation is sufficient:


“When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not
justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the
other parent.”

To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be
malicious or even deliberate. It is the process that matters, not the motive.

13. In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less
stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a
solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger
party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt
at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to
long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child
and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall
welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will
amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not
necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate
action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has
become too late to take it.

Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King, Lord Justice Peter Jackson (2020)

Cases which are considered to have met the welfare threshold for serious harm are those where the child concerned is considered to have gone beyond parental control or where the child is not receiving the parenting to which they are entitled to by law. This is the point, at which removal may be considered. Decisions about whether a case has met the welfare threshold, are made by judges and are taken after extensive investigation.

Those who work with families affected by a child’s outright rejection of a parent in situations where there is no evidence to suggest that the rejected parent has caused harm, and where the Court has heard all of the evidence and where the judge has made a decision that the child is being harmed, recognise that removal of the child from the parent they are hyper aligned to, is on the basis of the harm which is being caused by that parent.

Just as a child who is being physically or sexually abused, is removed from the parent causing that harm, a child who is being emotionally or psychologically abused, is, sometimes, removed from a parent causing that, when they are unable or unwilling to change their behaviours. That is the law and transparency in the enactment of the law, would demonstrate that.

Parents who have been rejected by their children, are once again recipients of shame and blame and their experience is being erased and mischaracterised. This is not unexpected, but it is deeply unpleasant to observe. One of the problems that we have, is that public discource around this problem is driven by the very people who have something to gain from relying upon anecdotal evidence. Surveys of self selecting groups of parents, tend to cloud the issue rather than illuminate it. If you ask people who have had their children removed from them, for example, it is unlikely that these people will tell you that the system is fair or that they have harmed their children. And yet, these voices are elevated by some, as the only reality, to a point at which they dominate the discourse around what is actually, a highly complex, psychological and relational child welfare issue.

Opening up the family courts in a way that remains protective of children’s right to anonymity, can only increase understanding of why decisions to protect those children are taken by judges. It will also prevent the public debate from being dependent upon anecdotal evidence and personal interest.


Family Separation Clinic Evaluation

Given the degree to which the debate around this issue is driven by personal experiences and, some may argue, political agenda, it is particularly important that more objective evidence is obtained.

We hope that the year-long, independent evaluation of the Clinic’s services, which is being carried out by researcher’s from a UK university, will contribute to that. For example, it is frequently argued that the term ’parental alienation’ is used by men to obscure allegations of domestic abuse that are levelled by mothers. And yet, the latest gender diseggregated statistics from parents seeking the Clinic’s support around rejection by a child after divorce and separation, reveals that, in the period 1 April to 30 June 2021, 75.4% of clinical work was with rejected mothers and 24.6% was with rejected fathers.

The study will utilise both quantitive and qualitative methodologies to, independently, explore and understand the experiences of those accessing the Clinic’s services. It is only through such objective approaches that we can shift the discussion about alienation reactions in children away from sensationalisation on both sides of this sensitive topic and towards a more nuanced, clinical and empirical understanding of the problem.

Unevenly Woven: The Emotional and Psychological Texture of Enmeshment between parents and children after divorce and separation

enmeshment n. a condition in which two or more people, typically family members, are involved in each other’s activities and personal relationships to an excessive degree, thus limiting or precluding healthy interaction and compromising individual autonomy and identity. (APA)

The texture of something is most usually that which can be described by the touch (as in cloth) or the sound (as in music), or in visual terms (as in art). The texture of enmeshment, is that which can be described in psychological and emotional terms, as the experience of the relationship between people. Thus, when I talk about the texture of enmeshment, I am talking about the way in which the enmeshed parent and child, are experienced as being without boundaries, close to each other in a way that most parent/child relationships are not.

When I talk about the texture of enmeshment, I am also talking about the boundarylessness of such relationships, where a parent is overly close in emotional and psychological terms, to the child and distant in places where one would expect a parent to be. In real terms this is evidenced by the parent who cannot experience their child as being separate from their own selves and then absent in terms of setting healthy boundaries for the child. Such parents will say that children know their own minds and can make their own decisions, even at times when the child is clearly not of an age where making their own informed decisions is possible. The texture of such relationships, gives a sense of a poorly woven sense of parenting, where the adult in the role of parent, appears confused about what their responsibilities are. One moment suffocatingly close, intrusive and incapable of determining who is who in the parent/child dyad, the next moment, distant in mind and sometimes body, absenting themselves from the responsibility of ensuring that the child, is provided with the care to which they are entitled.

In divorce and separation, children are exposed to the pressures placed upon their parents as they progress through the psychological change from together to apart. Children in such circumstances, are wide open to the pressures which cause pathological (hyper) alignment and rejection dynamics, however not all children fall into the use of defensive splitting, a curiosity which continues to appear in my clinical work, where even in the same family, one child will capitulate and others will not, almost as if the capitulating child is taking the brunt of the harm done whilst the others escape.

Johnston and Roseby (1997), demonstrate that where a child says no to a relationship with parent who was once loved dearly and who has not contributed anything which might cause such a reaction, one only has to have three ingredients present.

  1. A vulnerable child, likely one who has experienced early developmental trauma.
  2. A parent with control over the child who has uncontained and often uncontainable psychological material.
  3. A parent who is placed at distance and unable to parent due to the control over the child wielded by the other parent.

In such circumstances, the vulnerable child is rendered helpless and is often, in the run up to the onset of defensive splitting, seen to be struggling to cope with the pressures being placed upon them. (One of the reasons why we carefully curate the events which lead to the onset of splitting, is that we know that when we understand what happened to cause the child to enter the defence, we can better understand how to alleviate the pressures which caused it in the first place).

On closer inspection, what is seen to be happening in the relationship between the vulnerable parent and child is a range of pathological behavioural responses in parent and child, which include enmeshment, abandonment threat, identification with the aggressor (Howell 2014 ), (where the child splits off the awareness of sadistic and intrusive/controlling behaviours in the influencing parent and instead of resisting those, mimics them and then projects them at the rejected parent). The child in these circumstances, is a victim of that parent’s control and intrusiveness and a perpetrator of the same kind of sadistic and vindictive behaviour they have witnessed.

The uneven texture of the enmeshed relationship between an intrusive and controlling parent and a vulnerable child, is one which requires as much illumination as possible because it is this which lies at the heart of what is popularly called parental alienation. In our work in the family courts, we so not use the phrase parental alienation, because we do not need to, even though it is accepted in case law in the UK. We do not use the term parental alienation in our clinical practice either, largely because it is unnecessary and unhelpful to do so. Instead we use the clinical literature to articulate the underlying harms that are seen when children are seen to be using defensive splitting, we assess for how they came to be using the defence and then we intervene using psychotherapeutic programmes to test whether a parent can or cannot, will or will not change the behaviours which are causing the child to align with one parent and reject the other.

In an enmeshed relationship, the child is often prevented from knowing that they have an independent self and alienated children in divorce and separation are often pre-prepared for the alignment and rejection behaviours which are seen in alienation via what Kerig (2005) called boundary dissolution.

The breakdown of appropriate generational boundaries between parents and children significantly increase the risk for emotional abuse.

Kerig, (2005) Revisiting the Construct of Boundary Dissolution: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse ,5, 5-42.

In such a situation, there is a little in the way of generational hierarchy, meaning that children are seen as being friends or even allies during the period post separation. In a wider context, the idea that family hierarchies, generational or otherwise, should not exist at all, is one which is promulgated by some ideological campaigners.

Within this environment, work to resolve the dynamics which cause the split state of mind in the child is often futile as it simply circles around competing belief systems. Enmeshed parents will find others who support their belief that a child should be in charge of the decision making about who they do and do not have a relationship with and will carefully seek out professionals who might align with them. Many a case of alignment and rejection, will feature the enmeshed parent who is busy weaving professionals into their worldview, directing the gaze of naive practitioners towards the parent who is being rejected. This is the warp of the enmeshed parent, the weft is the sometimes frightening, always threatening, decompensation into a furious and vengeful state of mind in which complaint, allegation and litigation will soon follow.

This work is not for the faint hearted. Helping children who are enmeshed with a parent to recover their right to a sense of self, requires intervening and being able to cope with the backlash which that brings. One only has to look online to see the kind of attacks that those of us who do this work have to cope with from ideological campaigners who unleash their own uncontained material in our direction from time to time.

Enmeshment is one of the underlying harms in alienation, there are many more. Articulating those so that what lies beneath alienation of children in divorce and separation is properly understood by the outside world as child abuse, is an ongoing task.

References

Howell EF. Ferenczi’s concept of identification with the aggressor: understanding dissociative structure with interacting victim and abuser self-states. Am J Psychoanal. 2014 Mar;74(1):48-59. doi: 10.1057/ajp.2013.40. PMID: 24603172.

Johnston, Janet & Roseby, Vivienne. (2005). In the Name of the Child: A Developmental Approach to Understanding and Helping Children of Conflicted and Violent Divorce. Family Court Review. 36. 317-319. 10.1111/j.174-1617.1998.tb00511.x.

Kerig, (2005) Revisiting the Construct of Boundary Dissolution: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse ,5, 5-42.


Family Separation Clinic Evaluation

The work of the Family Separation Clinic over the past twelve years is currently being evaluated by a UK University to provice an evidence base for the model used by the Clinic. An accredited training which is based upon the outcome of the evaluation is currently in preparation. Linking the outcomes of the work with the model used, will provide practitioners all over the world with a route to intervention in cases where children are alienated. Voices of children who are over the age of 18 now, who were moved in residence transfer, will form a core part of this evaluation to illuminate the reality of what happens when the Court intervenes in serious cases of alienation. Articulating the harms done to children who are alienated is also part of the evaluation programme.

Results from this evaluation will be available in 2022. This is a separately funded project to ensure that the independence of the evaluation is protected.

Coming Home – A Podcast from the Lighthouse Project

In September I will be interviewing a father whose children were moved to live with him in residence transfer in 2016 to provide a unique glimpse of the recovery journey of the alienated child, the use of therapeutic parenting and the FSC model in supporting long term recovery of residence transfer children. The podcast will be available on my Anchor Channel and I will let you know when it is ready.

Underlying Harms: Child Protection and Alienation

Underlying Statistics

Start of another week at the Family Separation Clinic and I am reviewing questions coming in from the hundred or so parents who signed up for the webinar I recorded this week. Fifty four of these parents were mothers whose children are hyper aligned with their father and who, in rejecting their mothers, demonstrate exactly the same range of behaviours seen when children reject their fathers.

For anyone wondering why I repeatedly flag these statistics, I am emphasising that the underlying harms which cause the alienation of children, are perpetrated by mothers and fathers and the way to expose that reality is to publish disaggregated statistics of service use. I used to work on gender mainstreaming services for the UK government, so I know exactly how we demonstrate the problems which lie beneath the headlines.

When services publish gender disagreggated statistics, myths and stereotypes about an issue facing people are demonstrated to be untrue. In this issue the myth is that parental alienation is a tool used by abusive fathers to maintain coercive control over their children. The stereotype is that all mothers are vengeful and vindictive exes who prevent children from seeing their fathers.

Here are the stats for last week’s webinar

Mothers attending 54 (49%)

Fathers attending 57 (51%)

Induced Psychological Splitting Webinar – Produced by Moment Events June 2021 for KarenWoodall.blog

In the midst of campaigning about who is affected by the problem of a child’s hyper alignment and rejection behaviour, the only real way to illuminate the reality, is to expose what is previously hidden. This is why publication of service use of the Family Separation Clinic is important. As one of the most used services in this field, we have an extensive case load and extensive records of service use, providing a unique glimpse into the reality of this issue and how it is experienced around the world. More of that in the months to come, for now, hold that thought above – 54 mothers and 57 fathers attended our latest webinar. Behind the campaign headlines, this is the reality of what is happening to families who experience a child’s hyper alignment and rejecting behaviour after divorce and separation.

Underlying Harms

One of the problems with parental alienation theory is that it attracts a huge amount of argument about whether or not it is a real thing. In my work with families, I was trained to understand the underlying harms which cause the pattern of hyper alignment and rejection of parents, at a time when parental alienation was not a label used in the family courts. My work with families, is rooted in psychoanalytic understanding of the problem, not in the reductivist approach of factors and signs. The eight signs curated by Gardner, whilst being used to understand whether or not a case requires further intervention, are not helpful in clinical practice. This is largely because there is no guide to practice in parental alienation theory, what there is, is a guide to whether or not the signs of parental alienation are present or not. This is useful in a legal framework but in treatment terms it has little use. The other problem with parental alienation theory, is that it does not expose the underlying harms which impact upon the child and it does not give a clear map of how to intervene.

Over the years, as we have defined and refined the model of work used by the Family Separation Clinic, we have come closer to being able to differentiate cases of a child’s rejection in ways that enable us to build treatment routes which have rapid outcomes. Some of these interventions mirror those seen in countries like the USA, with residence transfers to protect children who are in the care of a personality disordered parent and more nuanced, in situ interventions, with children who are in the care of a parent who cannot contain their emotional and psychological states of mind. As we have developed this work, we have kept records of the underlying harms which have led to the interventions provided, so that we now have a significant amount of information about the diagnoses made by the psychologists and psychiatrists providing assessments and the decisions these led to in court. We also have the information about the interventions provided by the Clinic and the outcomes of those, which adds up to a 360 degree view of this work over the past ten years.

When we began this work in the UK in 2009 (my first experience of working with the problem is recorded in Thomas Moore’s account of residence transfer and healing in his book ‘Please Let Me See My Son), the label parental alienation was not well understood. Today it is well known as a label and is as bitterly fought over by campaigners as the family assets (and children) are by some divorcing parents. Allegations are flung around like confetti, lurid tales are spun and lies and half truths are passed around in ways that mirror the worst behaviours seen in parents who harm their children. This does nothing to further clinical understanding and practice.

Working with the underlying harms which cause children to be removed from parents, demonstrates that whatever we call this problem, it is, at its root, child abuse. When a parent is so enmeshed with a child that they cannot see the difference between their own experience and that of the child, when a child is captured in a situation in which they are forced to fear a parent who loves them and who has never caused them harm, when a child is abducted, terrorised into submission, threatened with abandonment, intruded upon, parentified, made into a replacement spouse, prevented from knowing their own mind or having their own sense of self, when a child is lied to, caused to believe that they have been abused, put through unnecessary medical procedures, rendered helpless by the chaotic emotional world a parent inveigles them into, then intervention is not optional, it is not harmful, it is necessary and it is protective. That is why alienation of children (from their own right to an unconscious experience of childhood) and then from a normal loving relationship with a good enough parent, is a child protection issue. The rejection of the parent is a by product of the underlying harm which is being done to the child by the parent to whom they are aligned.

What we are working with in parental alienation is a denial and projection dynamic where the child is both victim of the abusive parent, who then becomes helplessly bound into the perpetration of harm in conjunction with the abuser. The reality of what is happening is a mirror image of what we see, it is a projection (which is why children will claim that rejected parents are doing something that it is later evident was actually being done, by the parent to whom the child is aligned. Children become hyper aligned to a parent because of something that parent is doing to them, because they are being abused. Children who witness the abuse of a parent, are seen to align with the abuser and not the abused.

abused children, robbed of their senses by trauma, enter a dissociative trance and become transfixed by the desires and behaviors of the aggressor. Rather than purposefully identifying with the aggressor, their personalities fragment, and they automatically mimic their abuser. This process includes a “confusion of tongues” between the abused child and the abusive adult.

Salvador Ferenzi

Coming Home: A Lighthouse Project Podcast

In September, I will be delivering a very special podcast about the recovery journey of the alienated child. Joining me to illuminate this journey, is a parent of a child who is now of age, who was moved in residence transfer in the UK Family Courts. This parent and child are participating in the evaluation which is currently being undertaken of FSC services and have agreed to share their experiences, in order to help others to understand the reality of this process.

Against the backdrop of increasing ideological efforts to mischaracterise what is happening when children reject a parent after divorce and separation, hearing directly from these families provides an essential view of what is really going on when children are seen to be hyper aligned with one parent and contemptous and disdainful towards the other. We will hear from this parent, the realities of the serious emotional and psychological harm done to the child which was the reason for the removal and the long journey of recovery to bring the child back to full health.

This podcast will be accessible free of charge here and I will post details of the date it will be available shortly.

COming HOme: A lighthouse Project Podcast on the recovery journey of the alienated child

In September, I will be delivering a very special podcast about the recovery journey of the alienated child. Joining me to illuminate this journey, is a parent of a child who is now of age, who was moved in residence transfer in the UK Family Courts. This parent and child are participating in the evaluation which is currently being undertaken of FSC services and have agreed to share their experiences, in order to help others to understand the reality of this process.

Against the backdrop of increasing ideological efforts to mischaracterise what is happening when children reject a parent after divorce and separation, hearing directly from these families provides an essential view of what is really going on when children are seen to be hyper aligned with one parent and contemptous and disdainful towards the other. We will hear from this parent, the realities of the serious emotional and psychological harm done to the child which was the reason for the removal and the long journey of recovery to bring the child back to full health.

This podcast will be accessible free of charge here and I will post details of the date it will be available shortly.


Understanding Induced Psychological Splitting – A Depth Approach to Helping Alienated Children

June 28th

We have been overwhelmed with bookings for this seminar, many of which have been from parents in Australia. In recognition of the fact that Australian parents would need to wait up until the late hours to watch the webinar, we have decided to record it on the 28th and then send the link to participants to watch it in their own time. The link will be active for a month.

As an additional extra, we have planned a follow up live Q&A for July 6th, where anyone who has booked for the webinar can send in a question and I will endeavour to respond to as many of those as possible. This Q&A is free of charge. Booking for the webinar will remain open until July 5th and all details of the Q&A will be sent on booking. You can book here.


IAPAC (Formerly EAPAP) News

News about the fourth conference of senior clinicians working with children and families affected by induced psychological splitting, will be held in Israel in 2022 and will feature the work being done to protect children of divorce and separation, in sixteen countries around the world. More news here soon.


The Family Separation Clinic in London

This week I returned to working face to face with families at the Clinic in Wimpole Street in London. Throughout the pandemic, I have sporadically been working with families face to face where it has been possible, however much of the work we have been doing has been online. It was therefore a real pleasure to be able to go back to clinical work on a face to face basis

The Clinic is however, over stretched right now and unable to take on any work which is not agreed ahead of time. Unfortunately with very low service provision in this area, parents are having to wait for long periods before work can begin. This is not what we want for families and children who are suffering the problems seen when a child rejects a parent. We are a small team and rather than build a bigger team, we have chosen to train others to understand and work with the issues, meaning that over time, more practitioners doing this work will be available.

This is why the university evaluation of FSC services over the past ten years is an important step, the evidence of outcomes which are provided by this, will support the development of accredited training for social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and legal people who wish to understand and work with the problem. In 2022 a formalised and evaluated model of work, which provides the evidence base for why it is essential to intervene, what intervention looks like and the outcomes this provides for children and families, will be available. We are writing the handbook for practitioners now. When all of this is complete, a model of work which can be used by any practitioner seeking to bring about change for children affected by induced psychological splitting, will be available, meaning that service provision will grow.

Evidence based, accredited training in the FSC model will become available over the coming months, details will be posted here and on the FSC website as soon as it is ready.

Hyper Parental Alignment: Looking the right way at the problem of alienation of children in divorce and separation

Hyper alignment between children and parents after divorce and separation, is seen when a child is hyper (meaning excessively, as in hyper sensitive), aligned (meaning lined up with) one parent against the other. Hyper alignment which is accompanied by the child showing disdain and contempt for a parent, especially when that echoes the parent to whom they are aligned, is the real problem we are dealing with when we are working with what is popularly called parental alienation.

In my work with families where hyper alignment and rejection occurs, I have come to recognise that one of the problems we face, in helping others to understand what is happening to the child, is that what we are looking at when the child rejects, is a projection of the adult material which is emanating from the parent to whom the child is aligned. Therefore, whilst everyone is busy looking at the rejected parent, trying to find out what is needed to fix that parent, the parent causing the problem is not recognised as the cause. We need to shift our gaze and look not at the rejection but the hyper alignment, because it is in that dynamic, that the truth of what is happening to the child, can be found.

Being aligned to one parent’s narrative of the breakdown of the adult relationship is something that many children experience. It is not possible to entirely remove children from the end of the adult relationship, they, like the adults, have to live through an often messy and painful process. Life is ambivalent however, it is not clear cut and children do not, unless they are encouraged, permitted, persuaded or otherwise, become permanently triangulated into parental matters easily.

Many children in divorce and separation, also do not become advocates for their parent, even in circumstances where they have witnessed harm done by one or both parents. Most children who witness abuse of a parent, become either submissive in the face of the abusive parent or anxious about provoking the kind of behaviours towards them, which they have witnessed. Some children who witness abuse, align not with the abused parent but with the abuser, a dynamic which is explained by the defence of Ferenzi’s identification with the aggressor in which the child fears that if they do not align with the abuser, they will be next in line for that treatment. This explains why, some children who have witnessed the abuse of their mother, align not with her but with their abusive father.

When we call this issue parental alienation, our gaze is drawn to the parent who is being alienated. When we call this issue hyper parental alignment, our gaze is drawn to the parent to whom the child aligns. When we understand that hyper parental alignment, coupled with the child’s disdain and contempt for the parent they are rejecting, is evidence that something is wrong in the aligned relationship, we can stop wasting time trying to fix the rejected parent or find out what is wrong there and start to assess the real underlying dynamics.

Hyper parental alignment is caused by a range of behaviours which triangulate the child into adult matters –

Some or all of the above are seen in cases where a child is hyper aligned and rejecting in divorce and separation and as such, all should be investigated and assessed for the role they play in the hyper alignment because this is the evidence that a child has been induced to use psychological splitting as a defence.

Psychological splitting is an infantile defence and causing a child to return to the use of it is emotionally and psychologically harmful. To explain why it is harmful, watch this short video.

Parents who enable their child to enter into the belief that a good enough parent should be treated with contempt and disdain and who, on being shown the damage inducing that causes, are unable or unwilling to stop their behaviours or change them, are causing serious emotional and psychological harm to children.

The age group most likely to reject a good enough parent outright according to Fidler (2010) is 9-15 years, although I would argue from my own clinical experience that children as young as 8 can also be affected. The use of rejection as a coping mechanism in these children, is due to the fact that this is the period during which they are organising the personality (Munley 1975), which is why causing a child to reject, or upholding rejection as a tool with which to manage relationships, is so harmful to them. Children do not reject good enough parents and when they do (and there is clear evidence that the rejected parent has not done anything to warrant this), close examination of the hyper alignment to the other parent is necessary.

It is necessary because hyper alignment is caused by a number of pathological behaviours in the relationship between child and parent. Those pathological behaviours, which include hyper sensitivity in the parent (coupled often with complete lack of insight into the feelings of others), cause a pattern of coercive control of the child in its truest sense. A child is completely dependent upon a parent and even more so upon a parent who is enmeshing the child into their experience of the world. The abandonment threat that is conveyed by parents whose children are hyper aligned with them after divorce or separation, causes children fear and anxiety which in turn translates into the use of psychological splitting as a defence.

In my clinical case load, I see many parents in a hyper aligned relationship with a child, who suffer from personality disorders. Referrals to the Clinic for treatment, demonstrate that the most common PD present in parents, which is diagnosed by psychologists or psychiatrists when children are hyper aligned after divorce or separation is emotionally unstable personality disorder which is also known as borderline personality disorder. EUPD is difficult to treat and one of the strongest symptoms seen is the use of the defence of psychological splitting. When a child is in the care of a parent who has EUPD, the child becomes susceptible to seeing the world in a psychologically split way too. EUPD parents lack strong clear boundaries and their sense of self is fragmented and not integrated, for these parents, everything is personal and everyone who does not see them as perfect, is persecutory. When a parent like this has all of the power over the child, to the point where they have overwhelmed the child with their own anxieties and lack of regulation and where they lack insight and cannot change, protecting the child is the most urgent intervention necessary. EUPD is not the only personality disorder seen in this group of parents, but it is a common one. Signs of EUPD are lack of insight, personalising everything, seeing others as the problem and the self as perfect/imperfect, idealising and demonising others, lack of emotional and psychological containment, needing to denigrate others to make the self feel stable.

Children’s hyper alignment with a parent in divorce and separation, when accompanied by disdain and contempt from the child to the parent being rejected and where the rejected parent is good enough and the parent to whom the child is aligned is unable to change, requires inervention. How we intervene depends upon what is seen when the child’s relationship with the parent to whom they are hyper aligned is assessed. At the Clinic, we now work primarily with cases after fact finding and after psychological assessment has been undertaken, meaning that we have the maximum amount of information needed to provide interventions which protect the child and stabilise the care they are being given. In addition, we are working with an increasing number of social workers, in cases which have passed the welfare threshold, using structured clinical trials to test whether behavioural change is possible in situ. As such, recognition of this as as a child protection issue, is strengthening.

Protecting children during the formation of personality and enabling them to live free of the risk of induced psychological splitting is a core goal of this work. Finding ways to help other practitioners understand, assess and treat the problem is the outcome of over a decade of work with these families. With the evaluation of our services and accredited training in development, this issue is gradually being brought to light in ways that enable more children to be protected from this hidden harm.

References

Fidler, B. (2010). Children resisting postseparation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums. Family Court Review. 48. 10 – 47. 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2009.01287.x.

Munley, P. H. (1975). Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and vocational behavior. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 22(4), 314–319


FSC NEWS

The Family Separation Clinic is currently only accepting cases for treatment which are in the High Court of England and Wales and the Central Family Court or cases which have already undergone fact finding and psychological or psychiatric assessment. We do not accept referrals without prior agreement. Enquiries about referrals or instructions should be made here

The Evaluation of the Clinic’s model of work and the impact of twelve years work in this field, will provide an evidence based accredited training for practitioners in this field from 2022. Training for Social Workers, Psychotherapists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Mediators and Parenting Co-ordinators, will be available. Judicial training, is a separate training pathway, which will also be accredited and which will become more widely available around the world in 2022.

Alienation of Children in divorce and separation: A legacy of Transgenerational trauma

“Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.”

― Alice Miller

Working with alienated children and their families teaches me that what is popularly called parental alienation, is in fact, most often, a transgenerational trauma pattern which is passed in the attachment relationships to appear in the here and now as an alienation reaction in a child.

What this means is that when a case of a child’s outright rejection of a parent is analysed, the roots of the behavioural patterns seen, lie in the family tree on one (sometimes but not often both) side of the child’s family. The child’s hyper alignment with one parent and rejection of the other, accompanied by contempt and disdain for the rejected parent, is a result of a trauma, long buried, which has erupted in the present day. The child’s manifestation of disdain and contempt, is the confirmation of the presence of what Winnicott (1960) called the false persona. When the issue of alienation of a child in divorce and separation, is understood through a psychoanalytic lens therefore, the reality of what we are working with is unresolved trauma in the family line.

‘Postmemory’ . . . the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before–to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, andbehaviours among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Post memory’s connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection,and creation. To grow up with overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one’s birth or one’s consciousness, is to risk having one’s own life stories displaced, even evacuated, by our ancestors.

HIrsch 2012

My work is largely with the group of children who are the most seriously alienated, those who make false allegations and those who display extreme behavioural patterns. Within this group of families, the issue of factitious illness, personality disorder and encapsulated delusions feature strongly. There is a quality about this group which separates it from others in the spectrum of alienation. That quality is, in my experience, the behavioural patterns which are seen to emanate from one parent, overshadowing the children and eventually, as in an encapsulated delusion, causing the child to enter into the belief that what is being said about the other parent is reality, even when it is demonstrable that it is not.

When an encapsulated delusion is in play, the person who suffers it will become fixated upon the belief that they know the truth that others do not. In their efforts to persuade others that theirs is the true version of what is going on, they will escalate their stories about the target of their delusional belief. When a child is being influenced by this kind of behaviour, they are vulnerable to persuasion, that what they feel and believe is untrue. The families where this kind of behavioural pattern emerges, are inward looking and closed to the outside world. Children who live within this environment do not have words for their experiences because they are living a life which is prescribed by the generation before.

Abrahams and Torok (1994) called this experience ‘nescience’ and articulated it as a family secret which was passed silently through the generations. Neuroscience gives us the evidence of how this happens in the description of the limbic system in human beings and how this creates neural networks between people who are emotionally close. A neural network is how a toddler makes sense of how to feel for example, if a parent reflects that falling over in the park is no big deal, the toddler will learn that it is no big deal and will cope with the experience. If a parent is anxious and afraid of the toddler falling over, the toddler will learn that running in the park is a potentially harmful thing to do. ( Lewis, Amini & Lannon 2000). The child is dependent upon its caregivers first in learning how to make sense of experience, if the caregiver overshadows the child with their own, unresolved material, the child, in relational space, which is actually the neural network between the child and parent, will learn the lessons which are conveyed by anxiety and fear.

My own clinical observations of alienated children demonstrate that many have no words to describe what they are experiencing when a parent is overshadowing them with an unresolved trauma. Many children repeat a mantra along the lines of ‘he knows that he has done‘ but cannot articulate it any further than that. Other children will repeat descriptions of parents which have echoes heard in the family to whom the child is aligned. ‘She was never really good at being a mum‘ being one of the commonest phrases in cases where fathers are overshadowing a child’s experience. This is often echoed by the paternal grandmother and when it is, it is there where the investigation into trauma would normally begin because the narrative of failed motherhood, is often one which has been repressed. Ghosts of unresolved traumas, passed through the attachment relationship (Salberg 2015), are given voice in the here and now and by listening carefully to what is being said in the present, the past can and does reveal itself.

In my view, what is popularly called parental alienation, is the manifestation of such a secret in the form of the child’s hyper alignment and rejection behaviours, which are often caused by unresolved trauma.

When those unresolved traumas are excavated and understood, treatment routes are clearly delineated. Whilst much work has been done to curate different ways of describing what we are looking at, not much has been done to develop and describe how to treat it. Through a psychoanalytic lens, treatment of this problem becomes clear and the unusual aspects of treatment, for example the counter-intuitive approach which is necessary (a child who is rejecting a parent needs more time with that parent not less and there is no point in waiting for the child to say yes to seeing a parent because they cannot do so), are readily explained. The child’s rejection of a parent is a denial and projection defence, which arises from the overshadowing of the child by the influencing parent/grandparent’s unresolved trauma. The child is not afraid of the parent they are rejecting, (they are afraid of the consequences of not acting afraid). The child is not experiencing their own phobia about a parent who is being rejected, they are reacting to the anxiety and fear in the neural network with the parent/grandparent who is anxious and afraid.

This approach is far away from the concept of deliberate and malicious alienation of a child, although even where those behaviours are seen, I would argue, unresolved trauma is the foundation of it. Anger, anxiety and fear do not arise in a vaccum, they are products of a life lived with adults who can give children reassurance and resilience, or suspicion and mistrust. When families where children are severely alienated are examined, suspicion and mistrust are the predominant feedback loops present in the system.

In the current environment, where we have campaigns being run by people who claim that parental alienation is only a tool used by abusive fathers, I find myself wondering what the meta narrative of trauma which caused this is. When one understands neural networks, the way in which fear and anxiety in one person, will cause the same feeling in another, makes sense of the the lurid stories currently being passed around on the internet. Drawing attention to unresolved trauma, causes a denial and projection defence, in which to avoid the reality of what is being unearthed, defensive action is taken. One of the best ways of fending off scrutiny in such circumstances, is to project what is being denied and shout loudly that you can see it in other people.

The closer we get to exposing the reality of what is happening to some children in divorce and separation, the more fierce the projections become. That should not mean that we are stopped in our efforts to assist children, it should mean that we tread carefully because when a child says no and shows disdain and contempt, the legacy of family trauma, is not far away.

References

Hirsch, M. (2012),The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust, New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Lewis, T. Amina, F & Lannon, R. (2000) A General Theory of Love. NY: Vintage Books.

Miller, A. (1984). Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child. NY: Meridan Printing.

Salberg, J. (2015), The Texture of Traumatic Attachment:Presence and ghostly absence in transgenerational transmission. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 84: 21-46.

Winnicott, D. W. (1960). “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self“. The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. New York: International Universities Press, Inc: 140–57.


Family Separation Clinic Case Studies

The Evaluation which is currently being undertaken of the services delivered by the Family Separation Clinic over a decade, will include case studies of families where children were moved in residence transfer. These cases studies, which give depth information about the family background, will include the experience of children who are over the age of eighteen now. Reflecting upon the experience of being moved to a parent they said they hated and against whom some of the most serious allegations were made, these now adult children, will give testimony on the way that the intervention changed their lives.

The Challenges in treatment of children who are induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation

Working with children who suffer from induced psychological splitting after the divorce or separation of one of their parents, is a challenge in many ways. The issue of a child’s rejection of a parent is still one which is being hotly contested in campaign terms around the world and the use of ‘parental alienation theory’, has recently been challenged in some European countries.

Even within teams working with children who reject a parent there are challenges to overcome before conditions can be created which promote the resolution of the split state of mind in a child. This field is criss crossed with the signs of split thinking, which in reality is the defence of denial and projection. Helping children in this fractured landscape is extremely difficult indeed.

I work with alienated children and their families. In doing so I work from the perspective of understanding how splitting is induced in children and how to assess where the pressures are arising in a family system where a child is rejecting a parent. Understanding how and why a child is using induced psychological splitting as a defence is not rocket science in my view, the question is not why does this happen, but why does it not happen more often. As I wrote in my last blog, the reason why it doesn’t happen more often is, in my clinical experience, down to the presence or absence of developmental trauma in the child who goes on to use splitting as a defence.

When the step approach to understanding how a child came to use psychological splitting as a defence is used, the practitioner gaze is drawn not to the parent who is being rejected but to the parent to whom the child is strongly aligned. Whilst the naive practitioner will spend their time reasoning why a child would reject a parent, examining that parent for the behavioural patterns which hook into their confirmation bias, the alienation aware practitioner looks at the parent to whom the child is aligned. In doing so, we examine this relationship for the signs of a fused coaltion between parent and child, enmeshment of the relationship and the identification with the aggressor dynamic in which the child is aligned to a parent who is terrorising them with an abandonment threat. The step approach begins with ascertaining whether the child is using psychological splitting as a defence (the child divides their feelings for parents into good and bad) and leads on from there to examine how the child was forced into a position where they cannot hold their feelings for their parents in mind in an integrated way.

This is a rolling programme of assessment, it is not snapshot view, it determines how the family system operates under scrutiny and it delivers intervention where it is possible over the period of time it is being delivered. Held within the Court system (this programme is currently used in the High Court in England and Wales) this intervention is interlocked with the legal framework to provide a detailed excavation of what is causing the problem, how deep the psychological splitting is present and whether it is responsive to practitioner input. Where it is, therapeutic work can be undertaken in situ, where it is not, the Court may need to make changes to the care arrangements for the child in order to provide protection from the harm that the child is suffering in the care of the parent to whom they are aligned.

As such this is a child protection approach to treatment of induced psychological splitting which is no different to the approaches used when a child is being abused in other ways. The difference in the case of induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation, is that the harm caused by the actions of the parent causing it, is not yet universally understood very well. When it is, just like a parent who causes a child to believe that being hit or sexually abused is a normal part of life, the parent who causes a child to feel afraid, dismissive, contemptuous or disdainful towards the other and who attempts to normalise that or who fails to recognise that the child is an individual with sovereign rights to their own feelings, will be recognised as the abusive parent.

One of the challenges to doing this work currently is the organised campaign to mischaracterise alienation of children as something which is only used by abusive fathers to escape domestic abuse allegations. Once again, the naive person in this field, when listening to these campaigners, will be drawn to hearing the lurid stories being passed around about how children are being ‘handed to their abusers’ via a court system which is systemically biased against protective mothers. Alienation aware people however, will be drawn to examine the narratives of these campaigns and their underlying intent. In doing so, the recognition that the split state of mind, which is seen in families affected by alienation, is being displayed within these campaigns, explains the vehemence within which these campaigns are operated. Denial of all wrong doing and projection of blame are the twin dynamics which are clearly articulated. When that is understood, the work which is being done by these campaigns, which is to obfuscate the reality of what happens to children who are induced to use psychological splitting, is clear.

Working with alienated children and families in concentric circles of influence, the aware practitoner must ensure that the counter – intuitive grasp of the psychological dynamics within these families, is held firmly. This work is not for the practitioner who is drawn to alignment with ideological views on either side of the campaign fence. Nor is it for those who think they know better than the established research on working with denial and projection and splitting. Anyone who attempts to do this work by shoe horning the alienated child and family into undapted therapeutic approaches will fall foul of the confirmation bias which blinds them to the reality of what is really going on. This work is about smoke and mirrors, denial and projection, absorption of fractured psychological material and reflection of expected behavioural changes. This work takes its toll on the practitioner, which is why working with alienation aware colleagues is absolutely necessary for longer term survival.

When outcomes for children who are in this state of mind are achieved rapidly, it is because the team around the family held the boundary tightly so that the children could integrate the split state of mind. When that occurs, from the Judge to the social worker and all in between, resolution is swift for the child. The task then is to deliver the longer term therapy which determines whether the influencing parent who was strongly aligned to the child, can change. Once again this is a combined assessment and treatment programme which evaluates the potential for the influencing parent to change and sustain that change.

Those who do this work successfully, understand the step approach necessary to establish, evaluate, differentiate, assess and treat the problem. The challenges in treatment of children, are to get that step approach right and have it held in place by the expectation of the court in a landscape in which practitioners are being constantly bombarded by incoming attacks from the campaign world.

When the world understands the harm that induced psychological splitting does to children, the work will get easier. In so many ways it already is, but there is much work yet to be done to make prevention, intervention and cure, routinely possible.


Family Separation Clinic Evaluation

The work of the Clinic is being evaluated by a UK University team to provide an evidence base for accredited training for professionals who work with children affected by induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation. Building upon our existing training provision, online training courses for social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, using the step approach to differention/assessment and treatment of families developed by the Clinic will be made available. Developing our existing training for social workers and the Judiciary, the evidence based outcomes from over a decade of work, will be articulated and explained within the training programmes. The new programmes will be ready in 2022 alongside outputs from the evaluation of our work.

International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children (Formerly EAPAP)

The fourth conference of this senior group of clinicians in this field, will take place in Israel in 2022. Renamed as the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children, this group will produce practice standards for practitoners who wish to work in a psychoanalytic model of understanding and differentiation and a trauma informed model of prevention and intervention with children and families affected by induced psychological splitting after divorce and separation.

Membership of this group is by invitation. The conference programme for Israel 2022 will be available later this year.

Nick Woodall and Karen Woodall – Lecture to the Conference Together Against Parting – June 15th 2021 – Poland

The together against parting conference is organized by Komitet Ochrony Praw Dziecka as part of the project of standardisation. pl from the Program Aktywni Obywatele-Fundusz Krajowy Programme Financed by the EEA Fund grant.

A Spectrum Problem: The experience of induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation

splitting n.

1. in Kleinian analysis and Fairbairnian theory, a primitive defense mechanism used to protect oneself from conflict, in which objects provoking anxiety and ambivalence are dichotomized into extreme representations (part-objects) with either positive or negative qualities, resulting in polarized viewpoints that fluctuate in extremes of seeing the self or others as either all good or all bad. This mechanism is used not only by infants and young children, who are not yet capable of integrating these polarized viewpoints, but also by adults with dysfunctional patterns of dealing with ambivalence; it is often associated with borderline personality disorder. Also called splitting of the object.

2. in cotherapy, divisiveness that a client provokes between therapists to polarize them on treatment decisions and to undermine the therapeutic process. Also called splitting situation.

APA

Children in recovery from alienation from their own selves and a loved parent after divorce and separation, show distinct markers, one of which is early developmental trauma (Johnston & Roseby 2005). The longer I do this work with alienated children, the more I understand that the children who are most vulnerable to being induced to use psychological splitting as a defence mechanism after divorce and separation, are those who grow up in families where unresolved developmental trauma is a feature. Either the child themselves grew up with unresolved early trauma or one or both of their parents did. When a family history on both sides is collated, those children who are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence after parental divorce or separation, are seen to be situated within a family where trauma has transmitted itself, as described by Salberg (2015), through the attachment bonds, to appear as alienation in the present day.

The problem we call alienation of children in divorce and separation is a well known defence mechanism which is deployed by vulnerable children who are captured in the unresolved emotional and psychological landscape of parental divorce. These children are triangulated children, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time in their lives and they are used by a parent to meet their needs instead of vice versa. These children are compliant children, they service the needs of adults before they are even aware that they have their own needs. (Jurkoviic 1997). These are the children who align with one parent and reject the other and their experience is recognised by the division of their feelings into good and bad which are projected onto parental relationshoips as a splitting of the external object relationships of mother and father, which arise from the splitting of the child’s ego.

‘The Ego is incapable of splitting the object – internal and external – without a corresponding splitting taking place within the Ego.’

Melanie Klein

When it is understood in psychoanalytic terms, the reality of what we see when children divide their feelings into wholly good and wholly bad after divorce and separation, is a well known defence mechanism which we all deploy at various times in order to avoid the complete fragmentation of our sense of self. The task for those of us who work with children who are induced to use this defence, is to understand how they came to use it in the first place, which of their parents is the cause and what is the depth of the unresolved trauma in the family we are looking at.

The more we understand psychological splitting, the more we recognise its impact. A child who cannot hold two realities in mind, has to adopt the use of psychological splitting to resolve the dillema they face. If they do not, the overwhelming of the child’s own ego would cause fragmentation of the sense of self. Splitting is a defence which protects us all from that outcome, it is little wonder that children of divorce and separation are induced to use it to protect themselves.

If one parent is overwhelmed or anxious or angry or decompensated in the face of the family separation, there is no space for the child’s own feelings. If the other parent responds to the control behaviours over the child, the space around the child is squeezed tighter. A child who is receiving messages that it is not ok to love both parents, whose once unified attachment is now split into two separate parts, is a child who is vulnerable to the use of splitting. The question on my mind is not ‘why does this happen’ but ‘why does this not happen more often?’

Because it is well evidenced that not all children who are subjected to the spectrum of behaviours which induce psychological splitting, do not enter into the use of that defence. Some will use it in some circumstances and not others, some will not use it at all. Some maintain absolute and resolute, recognition of what a parent is doing and refuse to be drawn in it. Others however, collapse like a pack of cards when a parent uses those behaviours and are not only drawn into trying to resolve the adult relationship, they jump into it as if their lives depend upon it. These are the children who when examined more closely, have suffered some form of early developmental trauma. These are what I would define as truly alienated children, those suffering from the triangulation into the adult breakdown whose own vulnerabilities mean that they cannot hold two realities in mind and whose fragile ego means that they have no other form of protection.

It is additionally well evidenced that not all children are drawn into the adult relationship via uncontained material from a parent (meaning unconscious influence). Some are deliberately and consciously induced to align with one parent and reject the other. These children present differently in my clinical experience, they are more startling in their allegations about a parent and they are more omnipotent in their efforts to control the family system. When a parent and child are seen to be in an angry, fused, dyadic coalition against the other parent, the child will often be seen to escalate allegations and embellish them. The key to understanding the presentation is to look at the way the child relates to each parent, a child who idealises one parent and denigrates the other, especially when they are seen to be in fierce alignment against the other parent, is the child who is more likely to have been exposed to deliberate strategies of alienation.

I want to say something about the way that alienated children present, in closing this piece because I saw something online recently, which really concerned me. What I saw was a video, purportedly made by a young person who had been alienated in childhood. This young person was giving advice about shared parenting and suggesting that had they been brought up by two parents, they may not have become alienated. I am extremely uncomfortable with this approach to what is actually stealth campaigning. This young person was not in my view alienated, she was either an actor or she was speaking the lines which had been written for her. Whilst her words fitted the to popular narrative about parents who prevent their child from having a relationship with the other, her presentation was nothing like an alienated child, either one who is currently alienated or one recovering from the problem.

Children who are induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation are often unable to know that they are suffering from it and so will deny it. This is because splitting is a defence and the purpose of the defence is to protect a vulnerable mind. As young people grow up and the brain develops, the balance between the different parts of the brain grows and there is a greater perspective and capacity for reflection. A young person recovering from induced psychological splitting however, will shift back and forth across the teenage years and twenties, seeking to integrate the sense of self and develop a stronger ego. During this period it is highly unlikely that their perspective will allow the kind of narrative that I witnessed in this video and when they enter into campaigning for the once rejected parent’s point of view, they have most definitely not healed, what they have done is continued the use of splitting by reversing who they are aligned with and who they are rejecting.

I want people who use online groups and videos, those who seek answers in all places, to know that there is risk in doing so. Everywhere I look nowadays, there are people claiming expertise and setting up campaigns and using language they do not really understand. Alienation of a child is a serious matter, it is a mental health issue not simply about a child who doesn’t want to spend the weekend or a growing child whose friends mean more to them at the moment. Please make sure that when you are looking for guidance and seeking answers, that you are careful about who you listen to. The internet is a wonderful thing, it is also a dangerous thing if not used with discrimination.

Induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation is a serious child protection issue. It involves working with psychologically unwell people who harm their children. It is not a matter of believing everyone who claims they are alienated just because they say they are, it is about careful differentiation and most of all about detailed and nuanced assessment and intervention. Take care out there. Most of all be careful about how your children see you, expecially if you are visible online. Telling a child they are alienated will never resolve the problem. A defence is there for a purpose, spend your time more wisely by analysising how the defence in the child arose in the first place and then seek the routes which give you the most information about how to help to heal that.

Children who are induced to use psychological splitting after divorce and separation are abused children. The more we understand about the problem, the more we know about how much protection these children and their families really need.

References

Jurkovic, G. J. (1997). Lost childhoods: The plight of the parentified child. Brunner/Mazel.

Johnston, Janet & Roseby, Vivienne. (2005). In the Name of the Child: A Developmental Approach to Understanding and Helping Children of Conflicted and Violent Divorce. Family Court Review. 36. 317-319. 10.1111/j.174-1617.1998.tb00511.x.

Salberg, J. (2015) The Texture of Traumatic Attachment: Presence and Ghostly Absence in Transgenerational Transmission, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 84:1, 21-46, DOI: 10.1002/j.2167-4086.2015.00002.x


Family Separation Clinic Diary of Upcoming Events

POLAND

Akademia Dobrego Rozstania

Inaugral lecture of the Conference – Together Against Parting

Recognising and Responding to the Needs of the Alienated Child

Nick Woodall & Karen Woodall – 15th June 2021

BOOK HERE

PRESS HERE TO GO THROUGH TO FMA

Defending the Defenceless: Practice with Alienated Children

“If not consciously acknowledged and mourned, uncertainty about one’s descent can cause great anxiety and unrest, all the more so if, as in Alois’s case, it is linked with an ominous rumor that can neither be proven nor completely refuted”

Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence

Working with children in divorce and separation who are induced to use psychological splitting, I see first hand, the damage done when parents are unable to contain their own experiences. The defencelessness of children and their utter dependency upon their parents, means that whether they are exposed to deliberate badmouthing or inter-psychic leakage of unresolved psychological material, the maladaptation of behaviours due to defences being raised, are often unavoidable.

Children have to survive and to do so in the face of adult decompensation, they will find any way possible to carry on as near to ‘normal’ as possible. In the case of alienation, where one parent is focused upon ensuring that the other parent is kept at distance, the child will adapt to fit the internal narrative they are being exposed to, producing ‘evidence’ for the influencing parent to ensure the regulation of the family system. The problem for such children, is that the repression of their own connection to an authentic sense of self and the prioritisation of the need to keep the influencing parent calm and contained, leads to adaptation, not only of behaviours in the here and now but potentially in the longer term. For too many generations, children of divorce and separation have been abandoned to their suffering of psychological splitting, due to lack of understanding, mischaracterisation of what is happening and the difficult nature of the work itself.

Those of us who do this work want to ensure that all children are protected from all forms of abuse including alienation, which in reality is the child’s triangulation into the adult relationship brerakdown. In some of the most serious cases of this I have worked in, triangulated children have made allegations which were so implausible that it was evident these were false. In others, there are patterns of allegations which are repeated and sustained but which, on medical examination, are proven to be without any foundation whatsoever. The parent who shows delusional beliefs and who insists the child has been abused to the degree where they demand (and sometimes organise themselves) medical investigation, causes serious harm to a child. The psychiatric and psychological profile of such a parent makes therapeutic work impossible and child protection very necessary.

Added to the complex nature of this work, the often aggressive nature of online anti- alienation campaigners, which is directed at those who do this work, can be offputting and for new practitioners, frightening. I recently came across a tweet which claimed ‘Karen Woodall is the devil’ which I have to say, is mild compared to the more lurid claims made about me on the internet. I am used to this, but practitioners who are new to this work will most certainly be startled when they receive their first attacks of this nature. This kind of behaviour is common place in field, it is the uncontainable material which causes children to use psychological splitting as a defence. When used by campaigners it is a defence against the reality that children can be influenced by parental thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When the unwell parent is surrounded by campaigns of this nature, which seek to divide the narrative into good parents/bad parents and good campaigners/bad practitioners, keeping the truth of what is happening to children visible, is not always easy.

This is the reason why this problem for children, has been so well hidden for so long. The uncontainted material, erupting from people with problematic psychological profiles, who are in control of defenceless children (and seeking to stay in control of them), causes chaotic narratives. If practitioners are disturbed to see themselves depicted as the devil, imagine what child might feel like when they are confronted with the inter-psychic messages that a parent is harmful to them. Adapting behaviours to placate and regulate angry and unwell parents, is the major defence mechanism that children utilise in such circumstances, because that is all they have got to protect themselves. When parents go bad or mad or both, children will do anything to avoid being the target of the next attack and if that includes identifying with the influencing parent, hyper aligning with them and joining in a campaign of rejection of the other parent, that is what they will do.

Strengthening a workforce with the skill to address the issues facing vulnerable influenced children is a major aim of a group of senior practitioners working together across borders. With members in the UK, Israel, Ireland, Croatia, USA, Malta, France, Germany and Poland, the group which used to be called EAPAP, is renamed as the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children (IAPAC). This renaming heralds the focus upon the alienated child which has always driven our clinical practice. With a raft of new projects ahead of us, including a journal of practice (all news here and on the IAPAC website which also comes soon), developments in the field of clinical practice with alienated children and their families, will be our focus.

Defending the defenceless, is the major goal of IAPAC and we will achieve that by development of a workforce with the skills to bring about real change for alienated children. Bringing our knowledge of what works with children, as well as our experience in our individual countries, to working within different legislative systems, we will steer a path away from the concept of alienation as a mental condition in the child and around the use of labels such as resist and refuse, to find clarity and precision in our work within the psychoanalytic literature, which tells us exactly what this issue facing children who align and reject after family separation is. It is a defence mechanism, deployed in an impossible landscape, a way of managing uncontainable dynamics within a separating family and a method by which the child attempts to make the uncontainable, contained again. As such it is child abuse and making sure that fact stays visible amidst the uncontained material of the campaigns around the issue, is what IAPAC will also work to achieve.

But the major goal of IAPAC is to make real change in alienated children’s lives through education, information, training and consciousness raising. As all of the senior clinicians involved are well connected in their member countries, what we develop together will be mainstreamed throughout the services which touch the lives of alienated children. Showing how to intervene in families where children reject by utilising the mental health and legal interlocking framework, showing why it is necessary and what happens when everyone in the team around the child understands what is really happening, is a core goal which we will not be distracted from by arguments about whether or not alienation is real.

Giving children their right to an unconscious childhood back, enabling children to know their heritage and helping children to avoid the ghastly fate of having to eschew their own dreams, in order to keep a parent calm and regulated, is our driving force.

Defending the defencless, triangulated children in divorce and separation is what moves us forward, together.


International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children

Formerly known as EAPAP, this group of senior clinicians are working together to set standards, evaluate impacts, discuss and debate interventions and write about clinical practice. More news about a journal of practice as well as the work of IAPAC will be announced shortly.

The fourth conference of this group of clinicians will be held in Israel in 2022. More news here and at the soon to be launched IAPAC website.

AFCC Presentation – When a Child Says No

IAPAC members Kelly Baker (USA) Nick Woodall (UK) Amy Eichler (USA) and Karen Woodall (UK), recently recorded an on demand clinical seminar for the 58th AFCC Conference entitled when a child says no. Press here to book.

Family Separation Clinic – Evaluation of Services

The Family Separation Clinic has welcomed a university research team to evaluate all of the services delivered over more than a decade of work in this field. This major step, which has received third party funding to preserve the independence of the evaluation process, offers a unique insight into the work undertaken with alienated children and their families in the UK, Hong Kong, USA and Israel. Evaluation of the training to other clinicians which has been developed and delivered by the Family Separation is a part of this process. A full description and evaluation of the model developed by the Clinic is included. This insight into the work of the Family Separation Clinic, includes the voices of children over the age of eighteen who were moved in residence transfer in England, supported by the Family Separation Clinic. This will provide a window on the longer term outcomes for alienated children who are moved due to emotional and psychological harm. First results will be available in 2022, providing an evidence base for an accredited training for those working with alienated children and their families in legal and mental health settings around the world.

Help For alienated Parents: Making the right choices

This short guidance is for anyone who wants to understand whether the webinars I am making will be useful in your case. I know that wise choices when you are in the most vulnerable of situations are often difficult to make and so, I am posting some guidance, in the form of questions, to enable you to make sense of whether these webinars might be right for you.

I have a long experience in working directly with alienated children and their families in the family courts in the UK, Hong Kong, USA, Sweden and Ireland. I have assessed and worked directly with many severely alienated children and have reunited seventy seriously alienated children with the parent they were rejecting in the last decade. In recent years, I have been working with families with adult alienated children in the age range 18 to 50, using a model of work which we have developed at the Family Separation Clinic over the past five years.

This therapeutic model, is psychoanalytical in nature, which means that it gives you an understanding of what is really happening when your child becomes alienated from you. Working on the basis that knowledge of the psychological issues facing your child, empowers you as a parent, this grounding in theory, enables you to prepare for the work of receiving your child and reparenting them. This next webinar in the series I have prepared, gives you that grounding but in addition, it pairs that with the therapeutic parenting skills that you need in order to provide for your child the incoming care that they need. In addition, the seminar takes you through the behavioural and organisational steps that you need to take, in order to enable people in the court process to be able to see what is happening to your child. When you know the language to explain the phenomenon, you become more able to deal with the process without suffering vicarious trauma. When you understand the blocks and barriers to other people’s understanding, you build skills to speak about the problem in ways that other people can understand.

Here are some answers to the questions received since I published the link to the next webinar.

Question: I am cut off from my child and the family courts do not seem to understand how to deal with this, will this seminar help me?

Answer: In this seminar you will learn how to articulate the problem of your child’s behaviours in ways that make sense to other people. Instead of using emotionally charged language such as parental alienation, you will learn to document the behavioural patterns that you see and present them in ways that are easy to understand by family court personnel.

Question: I would like to book for this seminar, but would first just like to confirm please that this seminar could be of help for my, and my adult son’s, particular situation: he is my youngest and most alienated child (there is another, older, slightly less severely alienated child) who is just turned 20, and has lived alone with the father in a *highly* enmeshed situation (parentification, adultification, even spousification) for most of 4+ years now.

This now-adult child is still meeting the emotional needs of the father – an alcoholic, who could possibly be classified as a ‘druggie’ as well – and he aggressively ‘protects’ the father from me (the father, who clearly has a severe personality disorder, is the actual abuser, a very severe abuser, but plays the role of ‘fragile/abused victim’ and can’t be reasoned with. This behaviour is of course all closely connected to me finally separating from him because, ironically, of his abuse).

The experience of watching children who have experienced domestic abuse become alienated is extremely painful and liberating the adult child from the experience of identifying with the abusive parent, takes time and patience. It also relies upon the capacity of the healthy parent to provide for the adult child, the consistent signals that a reconnection is safe. Understanding how the child in these circumstances, uses psychological splitting as a defence, enables you to put into place a communications strategy which is realistic and properly timed and paced. This webinar also offers you the basic skills for therapeutic parenting and the reasons for using this with alienated adult children. Shifting focus from the problem to the solution, which is based in the integration of splitting in the rejected parent and the child, the psychological skill set for helping adult alienated children is explored and explained.

Question: How is what you are doing different to those working with the concept of parental alienation?

Answer: Working with alienated children in recovery, we noticed at the Family Separation Clinic that the splitting of parents into wholly good and wholly bad, which is seen when children align with one parent and reject the other after divorce and separation, is actually an internalised splitting which causes the child to display a false persona. Working with children in recovery, using treatment routes for splitting, we have developed a stepped programme to enabling the integration of the split state of mind and the sustaining of this over time post intervention. In doing this work we recognised that it is not possible to heal a defensive split by telling the child (of any age) that they have a defence, this is because the purpose of a defence is to protect the child from the impossible situation they are in. We noticed that if we used the phrase ‘parental alienation’ in working with a child of any age, it was more likely to make things worse rather than better. This is because telling a child they have been influenced by another parent or are suffering from parental alienation, simply causes the child to raise the defence further. For the child, this is a lived experience, it feels genuine. Therefore, to tell a child who is using a defence mechanism which causes them to feel a particular way, that they feel that way because of a defence, does nothing to heal and in fact makes things worse.

To drop a defence mechanism, the dynamics that cause it must be removed. Therefore, all of our work with families is about helping to change the dynamics around the child in order that the reason for the defence is removed. Doing this when we know that one parent is highly unlikely to change anything, means that we have to employ higher level psychological and emotional skills sets to create change.

This webinar introduces you to those higher level skill sets which can be used by practitioners and parents with alienated children and families. It offers the complex and nuanced understanding which enables a greater capacity to mentalise the child’s experience. The greater the capacity to mentalise the child’s experience, the greater the capacity to understand how to move the family ‘furniture’ around to enable the relief of the pressure which is causing the child to reject. This approach empowers you to work with the psychological and emotional themes which underpin what is popularly called parental alienation, so that your understanding is deeper and your capacity to help healing is expanded significantly.

This series of webinars is based upon clinical practice and measurable outcomes, we are clinicians first and foremost. Putting skills into the hands of alienated parents and practitioners has however, always been one of my goals in doing this work. As our case load is currently being evaluated by a UK University, much of what we do will be made visible in the coming months along with the successful outputs we have achieved. As part of this process, the voices of those we have helped over the past decade, including adult children we have reunited with rejected parents, will be evaluated and amplified. As the results of this work come in, we will begin building our accredited training for practitioners and I will develop more focused and content rich material for parents, some of which will be free of charge through the Lighthouse Project.

Working out how to translate clinical work into practical skills for parents is an ongoing task but I am committed to it because I know that the very best therapist for children who suffer from psychological splitting, is a healthy parent.

These webinars are, for now, charged for at as low a cost as possible and I hope that this information today helps those of you who want to know more about whether they will help you.

Monday 28 June 2021
16:00 London time

The event will also be available for 30 days after the live broadcast for you to view at a time that suits you.

You can check your local start time here (just click the link and enter your city in the blue box):

Time Zone Converter


In this intensive webinar, Karen Woodall will lead you through a depth understanding of what psychological splitting means and what it does to children who are induced to use it as a defence. Unpacking the psychologically split state of mind in children, demonstrates that behaviours which seem irrational on the surface, are actually a normal defensive response to a highly abnormal situation.

Children who become alienated are often sensitive and exceptionally bright children. They have often been parented prior to separation, in ways that have caused developmental trauma. Parents who are rejected, have often been unable to prevent that harm, either because of their own experience of trauma or because of the control that a parent has had over a child. When psychological splitting is understood, parents who are rejected, become more able to recognise the need to adapt their own parenting skills with children so that they can meet the needs of the child who has been drawn into the adult dynamics.

Learning to spot the signs of psychological splitting and to avoid the scenarios which may cause a child to enter into the defence without warning, helps parents to adapt their parenting to avoid unnecessary triggers which can lead to splitting. Like all defences, splitting can occur suddenly, in response to difficult and traumatic events or slowly, due to powerful dynamics which eventually exhaust and overwhelm the child’s capacity to relate to both parents. In either scenario, understanding the risk factors, the red flags and the progression of the problem, gives parents the skills to prevent alienation from escalating.

Detailing the framework which must be achieved in order to help the severely alienated child, the link between the legal and mental health management of serious cases of alienation, will be fully explained. Sharing her experience from working closely with alienated children over more than a decade, Karen will then lead you through the experience of psychological splitting from the child’s point of view, to help you to understand the steps you can take to ensure that the child receives the right input to assist them to recover.

This is a psychoanalytic approach to understanding and analysis and a therapeutic parenting approach to healing children affected by alienation which has been used inside and outside of the family court process around the world. This is a new way of thinking about the problem of alienation of children in divorce and separation, it offers skills for resolution with children who are on the mild to moderate spectrum of alienation reactions and detailed analysis of what is necessary to help children at the severe end. This approach is used currently at the Family Separation Clinic, with children and adults who were alienated as children, to release them from the bind which is caused by psychological splitting in families suffering from relational and trans generational trauma. It is used with adult children around the world and it demonstrates that the combination of understanding of psychological splitting with a therapeutic parenting skill set, provides for the child, the reassurance that it it safe to reconnect, even in some cases, after decades of rejection.

(This model of understanding and intervention with families, is currently being evaluated by a UK university, to illustrate the process being utilised and its success with families suffering from alienation of children after divorce and separation. Results from this will be available in 2022.)

Suitable for: Parents with and without contact with children both inside and outside of the family court process.

Practitioners: who wish to understand the problem of induced psychological splitting and how to assist alienated children.

Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

Cost: £50

Book Here


IMPORTANT:

Induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation: A depth approach to understanding and helping alienated children: A Zoom Seminar with karen woodall

Monday 28 June 2021
16:00 London time

The event will also be available for 30 days after the live broadcast for you to view at a time that suits you.

You can check your local start time here (just click the link and enter your city in the blue box):

Time Zone Converter


In this intensive webinar, Karen Woodall will lead you through a depth understanding of what psychological splitting means and what it does to children who are induced to use it as a defence. Unpacking the psychologically split state of mind in children, demonstrates that behaviours which seem irrational on the surface, are actually a normal defensive response to a highly abnormal situation.

Children who become alienated are often sensitive and exceptionally bright children. They have often been parented prior to separation, in ways that have caused developmental trauma. Parents who are rejected, have often been unable to prevent that harm, either because of their own experience of trauma or because of the control that a parent has had over a child. When psychological splitting is understood, parents who are rejected, become more able to recognise the need to adapt their own parenting skills with children so that they can meet the needs of the child who has been drawn into the adult dynamics.

Learning to spot the signs of psychological splitting and to avoid the scenarios which may cause a child to enter into the defence without warning, helps parents to adapt their parenting to avoid unnecessary triggers which can lead to splitting. Like all defences, splitting can occur suddenly, in response to difficult and traumatic events or slowly, due to powerful dynamics which eventually exhaust and overwhelm the child’s capacity to relate to both parents. In either scenario, understanding the risk factors, the red flags and the progression of the problem, gives parents the skills to prevent alienation from escalating.

Detailing the framework which must be achieved in order to help the severely alienated child, the link between the legal and mental health management of serious cases of alienation, will be fully explained. Sharing her experience from working closely with alienated children over more than a decade, Karen will then lead you through the experience of psychological splitting from the child’s point of view, to help you to understand the steps you can take to ensure that the child receives the right input to assist them to recover.

This is a psychoanalytic approach to understanding and analysis and a therapeutic parenting approach to healing children affected by alienation which has been used inside and outside of the family court process around the world. This is a new way of thinking about the problem of alienation of children in divorce and separation, it offers skills for resolution with children who are on the mild to moderate spectrum of alienation reactions and detailed analysis of what is necessary to help children at the severe end. This approach is used currently at the Family Separation Clinic, with children and adults who were alienated as children, to release them from the bind which is caused by psychological splitting in families suffering from relational and trans generational trauma. It is used with adult children around the world and it demonstrates that the combination of understanding of psychological splitting with a therapeutic parenting skill set, provides for the child, the reassurance that it it safe to reconnect, even in some cases, after decades of rejection.

(This model of understanding and intervention with families, is currently being evaluated by a UK university, to illustrate the process being utilised and its success with families suffering from alienation of children after divorce and separation. Results from this will be available in 2022.)

Suitable for: Parents with and without contact with children both inside and outside of the family court process.

Practitioners: who wish to understand the problem of induced psychological splitting and how to assist alienated children.

Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

Cost: £50

Book Here


IMPORTANT:

  • This webinar will be held on Zoom.
  • To gain access, you must provide a valid email address along with your name and PayPal order reference number (you will receive this by email from PayPal after you have made payment).


Protecting children from alienation when you leave an abusive relationship

Following on from a couple of comments recently, I thought I would write a piece on leaving an abusive relationship when alienation of children is a risk. In our work with alienated parents, we are regularly presented with the problem of someone who managed to leave a relationship but at the same time, lost their children to the coercive control of the abusive parent. I understand that leaving an abusive relationship is difficult and that doing so can take enormous courage, (as well as careful planning), but I am always concerned that in managing to leave, so many do not understand the dynamic which causes the child to align with the abusive parent and reject the one who leaves. Therefore, In my view, anyone who is planning to leave an abusive partner, must first recognise the risks of the abuser turning their coercive control strategies onto the children.

Even if there has been no evidence of alignment with the abusive parent before leaving, there is still a very high risk that on being left behind, this person will seek to use the children to do one or more of the following –

  • Bolster their sense of control over circumstances
  • Regulate their sense of self
  • Protect them from feelings of abandonment
  • Regulate their rage at losing control

In very severe reactions, abusive parents may suffer serious psychiatric reactions such as the Medea Complex or in the case of fathers, intermittent explosive disorder, in which children’s lives are at risk due to the extreme desire for revenge and the inability to regulate behaviours.

The point at which an abused person leaves the relationship is the most dangerous point of all. It is when the control that the abuser holds over that person is about to be broken and when the abuser becomes aware of that, they will attempt to tighten their grip. On leaving an abusive relationship therefore, you must have all of your plans in place to keep you and the children safe before you take such a step. We work with too many parents who managed to escape an abusive relationship, who do not understand that what was done to them is now being done to their children. Being aware, well ahead of leaving, of the risk to children of being triangulated into the coercive control dynamic, is to be well prepared for protecting your children from what comes next.

Do not be confused by this post. I am not writing about people who leave relationships and then decide that the left behind parent is abusive. I am not writing about those who leave a relationship and on doing so decide that their children should too because if they’ve moved on, so should their children. I am writing about the abused parent who has suffered a campaign of coercive control, who is choosing to leave the relationship to protect themselves and their children from harm. There is a big difference between the two and whilst DA campaigners want to roll up all mothers who leave relationships into one homogenous group, the difference between an abused parent and children at risk of alienation and one who is claiming that they are protecting their children from an abuser, is clearly differentiated.

Differentiating the child who has been abused by a parent who is being rejected, (what we might call explained rejection), from the child who has been triangulated into a parent’s emotional and psychological reactions, who is rejecting because of that, (what might be called unexplained rejection), is all about understanding induced psychological splitting. Let me say something about explained rejection and unexplained rejection here because I am using different terms to justified and unjustified rejection, which are commonly used in this field. When I say explained rejection, I mean that there is something that a parent has done to cause the child’s rejection. We can explain it. Explained rejection might be evidenced by a parent having been abusive to the child, neglectful or frightening over a period of time. Differentiating this is very important, because unexplained rejection can also involve allegations of harm and fear and the child who is using splitting as a defence often presents as fearful (although the quality of this fear is very different from genuine fear).

Explained rejection is evidenced by fact finding in court cases. Unexplained rejection is also evidenced by fact finding. The difference in the child’s presentation in explained rejection and unexplained rejection is the presence of psychological splitting which is accompanied by contempt, disdain and an omnipotence in the child. The child in explained rejection, does not display disdain and contempt for a parent but instead wishes for the parent to change. The child who is being influenced in unexplained rejection, will readily show disdain, contempt, omnipotence and will echo the aligned parent’s narrative about the other parent.

Cared for healthily, children do not reject parents. They do not even reject abusive parents but rather they adapt their own behaviours to try and placate that parent. Only in situations where there are pathological patterns of behaviour, such as in domestic abuse, do children maladapt their behaviours and use psychological splitting as a defence. Children are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence when they are under threat and under pressure. In circumstances where they are witness to domestic abuse, there is a real risk that they will maladapt their behaviours and align with the abuser, taking on that parent’s behavioural patterns in order to regulate the abusive parent and protect themselves from suffering what they have witnessed being done to the other parent.

This means that a parent who is leaving an abusive relationship, must be able to find ways of protecting their child at the end of the relationship, this of course, ideally means, ensuring that the child leaves the dangerous situation at the same time as the parent because to leave the child behind, is to expose the child to the dynamic which will cause psychological splitting.

I recognise in writing this that leaving and taking the children with you is not always possible, especially when an abusive parent is in control of the children already. If you have to leave and cannot take your children with you, keep in mind that you may have to use external control to remove the power the abusive parent has over the child. This means the family court. If you are going to use the family court in these circumstances, here is a quick guide to managing the process.

  • Time is of the essence. If you have left an abusive relationship and your children have aligned with the abuser and are refusing to see you, DO NOT WAIT TO ISSUE AN APPLICATION FOR CONTACT, the longer you leave it, in the hope that the children will come around, the worse it will get.
  • All of your efforts to establish a contact routine should be recorded carefully.
  • All of your communications about contact, should be in writing, should be polite, should be reasonable and should be child focused.
  • Your proposals should be made regularly, you should not respond to any abusive emails, letters, texts or other communications but should keep them as a record.
  • Keep a clear chronology of all of your efforts, do not make this emotional or weighted with huge amounts of evidence but keep it short and to the point. You should record the date, the proposal or communication and the response.
  • Put together a short, neat, photographic record of your relationship with your children.
  • If your children are angry/aggressive towards you during any contact you have, use therapeutic parenting skills to support them. Keep short, clear, detailed records of all issues arising in contact.
  • Get support to keep healthy and manage your emotions, this is a marathon and not a sprint, you need to be strategic and resilient.
  • When you go into court, write your position statement for court focus only on the facts – your children are rejecting you, there is no explanation for this, you are concerned for their welfare and want the court to investigate. You can explain that you have left the relationship because of abuse but do not focus upon this because it is unnecessary and distracting, this is about your relationship with the children, not your relationship with the other parent.
  • Your position statement should be no longer than six pages, your short, neat, chronology of events can be appended to this.
  • You must be cool, calm and collected so that when the other parent tells the court that you are unpredictable and the children are scared of you, this is recognised as a manipulative tactic.
  • You can avoid the he said/she said bias of family court professionals by understanding that the family court is a place where you must put your case and your case must be carefully presented and coherent.

Children of divorce and separation are abused when their parent alienates them and this can be caused by abusive parents who frighten the child into alignment and abusive parents who enmesh the child into alignment.

As family court practitioners, we differentiate between the genuinely abused parent who is protecting their child in an explained rejection from one who is alienating the child in an unexplained rejection. We begin to do this, by understanding the following reality –

  1. Not every parent who is rejected is being alienated, some have caused the child to reject by their actions. In such circumstances, the rejection by the child will not present as induced psychological splitting but will be more ambiguous.
  2. Induced psychological splitting causes the child to reject in a recognisable pattern of behaviours, these include idealisation of one parent an demonisation of the other accompanied by disdain and contempt for the parent who is demonised.
  3. Induced psychological splitting is present when children are being pressured and that can be caused by both parents in conflict and using alienating strategies against each other.
  4. Fact finding on domestic abuse allegations is a must, to properly differentiate the case the clinic does not accept any cases, where allegations are in play, for treatment for alienation, without a judgment on disputed facts.
  5. Only when investigation has demonstrated that the rejected parent has not made any contribution to the child’s rejection, do we move into thinking this might be alienation.
  6. When we assess for alienation we look for the presence or absence of psychological splitting in the child. When we see this is present we move onto clinical observations of the child with the parent they are rejecting.
  7. This process can take weeks because we do not undertake snapshot assessments, we spend time with the family and examine the capacity for all members to change their behaviours in order to release the child from the dynamics causing alienation.

If you are an abused parent whose children are rejecting you, understanding the above can help you to manage the process of assessment and when intervention begins, you can assist through your understanding and use of therapeutic parenting skills, to free your child from the coercive control which has caused the rejection. Coercive control in such circumstances, is an unexplained rejection because the child who aligns to the abusive parent, will echo that parent’s narrative (my mum is mad/bad, my dad is dangerous/frightening), and will demonstrate contempt and disdain for the rejected parent. The child who is in a situation where they are rejecting because of something a parent has done, is not contemptuous and the omnipotence, which is created when the aligned parent gives the child permission or encourages a child to reject, is not present.

I know that there are parents out there who have been cut out of their children’s lives because they left and abusive relationship and the abusive parent took control of the children. Those parents, both mothers and fathers, are alienated from their children’s lives. Alienation of children, which causes alienation of the child’s self from the self (hence the false self which is omnipotent when the child is alienated), is an outcome of patterns of behaviours which include coercive control, enmeshment and parentification as well as other complex psychological and psychiatric issues.

Understanding all of this is the first step to protecting yourself and your children when you leave an abusive relationship. It is not a binary issue of good mothers/bad fathers, it is a complex and nuanced problem which requires a great deal of differentiation and understanding. If you are in this position, it is important to spend time thinking about how your children will manage the dynamics you are escaping so that they do not become trapped when you do.


Differentiating Alienation of Mothers and Fathers

The differences between alienation of mothers and fathers will be explored in the evaluation which is now underway at the Family Separation Clinic. With a case load of 48% mothers and 52% fathers in most years, the Clinic holds substantial gender disaggregated records over a period of twelve years. These will be analysed and evaluated to demonstrate the numbers of mothers and fathers who are alienated from children and their experiences as well as the different alienating influences used by mothers and fathers.

Voices of Adults Who as Children Experienced Residence Transfer

The evaluation which is underway will also include the experiences of adults who as children underwent residence transfer after a finding of emotional and/or psychological harm, who were assisted by the Family Separation Clinic. Longer term outcomes of residence transfer will be identified and evaluated via this part of the evaluation process.

Domestic Abuse and the Risk of Alienation of Children

The experiences of parents who left an abusive relationship and lost a relationship with their children afterwards, will be explored within this evaluation. Approaches to resolution, including assistance given by the Family Separation Clinic will be articulated.

Understanding patterns of behaviours seen in cases of alienated children – the split debate of DA vs PA

I came across the trailer of a film which is badged as being about a father’s coercive control of a child. It is heralded by anti-parental alienation campaigners as being about domestic abuse of a child, when in fact it is a classic depiction of how children are alienated by a father. As I have written before, the underlying dynamic which is present when a child becomes alienated, is the imbalance of power over the child. When one parent holds all the power and the other holds little or none of the balancing power, coercive control becomes all the more potent.

This film depicts the boy being able to tell someone, which means two things – a) he has a strong enough ego (sense of self) to do so and b) he is aware that on telling, his mother will have enough power to take action and keep him safe from his father. Those twin dynamics, are what keeps children safe from the splitting of the ego which occurs with the identification with the aggressor dynamic which causes alienation, first from the self and then from a loved parent.

When children’s sense of self (ego) is weak and they have witnessed powerful patterns of coercive control which have weakened the other parent’s capacity to fight back, their belief is that the parent who is being controlled cannot protect them and then splitting, (an unconscious defence against the anxiety), denial, (of the love for the parent who is to be rejected) and projection, (of negative aspects of self and other onto the rejected parent), relieves the anxiety that if they do not conform to the abusive parent’s wishes, they will be harmed next.

The current and constant battle between DA and PA campaigners is a real distraction from the reality of what so many children face in the post separation landscape. So much so that I find myself wishing that those who ‘get’ this film, would open their minds just a little bit more to recognise that what they readily recognise here, is what is happening to children of mothers who are alienated from their children. Of course, the reason they cannot accept that this is alienation, is because to do so, would be to recognise that this film could so easily be made to show a controlling mother who is causing her child to reject a father. These campaigners themselves defend against the reality that both mothers and and fathers control children. They do this by splitting off and denying the reality of maternal control of children and then projecting the belief onto fathers that only they can do harm in the post separation landscape.

Alienation of children and coercive control dynamics are intertwined. The child is triangulated into an inappropriate relational dynamic, they are made to feel that this is a coalition against the other parent, towards whom, they are encouraged to feel fear and anxiety. When a child is made to feel afraid and anxious by a parent and is made to keep this a secret, unless their ego is strong enough, they will use splitting as a defence.

Spotting the signs of alienation of children by fathers is about understanding the identification of the aggressor dynamic. Identification with the aggressor causes children to split the ego and the object which means that they split off their love for the parent they perceive as weaker and project onto that person the negative aspects of self, the parent they are identifying with and the rejected parent. The love they feel for that parent is disposed off into the unconscious and what arises in the child then, is a false self which idealises the perpetrator of abuse and rejects and devalues the loved parent.

Spotting the signs of alienation of children by mothers is about understanding enmeshment and parentification dynamics. Mothers who use their children as regulatory relationships to confirm for them their feelings about the ending of a relationship, the disappointment in the father, the anger and rage of abandonment (which also triggers alienation of children by fathers), are also creating reservoirs of anxiety in their children. Sometimes mothers will use readily recognisable coercive control dynamics, they will threaten and instil fear and anxiety into their children. But more often, alienating behaviours by mothers are covert, they are a pattern of suffocating enmeshment or they are a fixed belief that having left a relationship, their child should too.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is caused by patterns of behaviours, some of which overlap with those behaviours seen in domestic abuse (as depicted in this film).

  • Significant power imbalance over the child (one parent assumes control and pushes the other out of the child’s everyday life)
  • Coercive control strategies both overt and covert
  • Causing a child to feel afraid of being abandoned (you can see him but I don’t know what that will make me feel or whether I will be here when you get back)
  • Labelling the other parent as being deficient or somehow harmful to the child
  • Triangulating the child into the adult relationship (we have escaped)
  • Terrorising the child into alignment (I will do to you what I have done to her if you do not do as I tell you)
  • Using the child to regulate adult feelings
  • Causing the child to believe that the other parent does not love them anymore

A child becomes alienated when they do not have a strong enough ego (sense of self) to withstand the psychological pressures placed upon them. Early develpmental trauma is one of the reasons why a child may not have a strong enough ego, this can be caused by being exposed to a pattern of coercive control behaviours when the family is together. It can also be caused by a pattern of enmeshment and parentification.

Relational family trauma in divorce and separation is far more complex than this short trailer shows us. When we are working to disentangle this, we must be aware of so many more signs than are shown here because children who are triangulated into adult issues at a time when the family is at its most fragile, maladapt their behaviours in order to survive. This boy manages to tell, far far too many do not. They are the children of the lost generations, the ones who suffered in silence, the children who were not helped.

Alienation of children is part of a pattern of domestic abuse and coercive control of children by fathers is the most easily recognised aspect of this. Until however, we recognise all of the signs and are collectively able to see that children can be triangulated by mothers as well as fathers, the splitting debate of DA versus PA will continue.

losing the labels: Evidencing Clinical practice with alienated children and families

The Family Separation Clinic will welcome university researchers next week as the evaluation of over a decade of work with alienated children and families gets underway. The Clinic has been active in court mandated interventions in the UK since 2009 and in recent years has extended its work to include Croatia, USA, Sweden, Hong Kong, Israel, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. With a substantial case load of successful interventions with families, this evaluation will examine several areas of service delivery, including outcomes of residence transfers undertaken in the UK and outcomes of supervision of residence transfers in other countries. Clinical work with families affected by alienation will be examined along with the experiences of children who are now in their majority, who were moved in residence transfer with support from the Clinic. This evaluation will be undertaken by a team of researchers funded separately, to ensure the independence of the evaluation results. Results of this evaluation are expected in 2022 and will be the evidence base upon which a range of accredited training for court mandated interventions will be develped. We are excited by this opportunity to make visible to the outside world, the model of clinical assessment, differentiation and intervention, which has been developed over the past decade. This can be used in different legislative settings around the world, to treat the problem which is popularly known as parental alienation. In clinical terms, this is a well recognised defence in children, which when understood, can be more readily and properly, prevented and treated.

I say treated because that is what I mean. When we work with families affected by a child’s hyper alignment and rejection behaviours, we examine for the red flags which tell us that the child is suffering from induced psychological splitting. Those red flags, which are unique to the harm a child is suffering when they become alienated from their own self first and then from one of their parents, are determined not by using diagnostic labels but by understanding the relational dynamics which have become configured around the child. When we see hyper alignment and rejection behaviours, we know we are looking at family trauma, but to ensure that the family trauma we are looking at is caused by the parent to whom the child is aligned (as opposed to the rejected parent), we look more closely at the child to understand the quality of the hyper alignment and rejection. Is the hyper alignment accompanied by disdain and contempt for the rejected parent? If the answer is yes, then we look even closer at that child’s relationship with the parent to whom they are aligned. A child does not usually display disdain and contempt for a parent who has been abusive towards them, instead they display ambiguous feelings, sometimes, out of fear, they align with that parent in order to avoid being further harmed. What they do not do, is reject the parent with contempt and disdain and they do not display omnipotence (the belief that they and only they can control the outcomes within the family).

Notice that as I write about this, I do not use the popular label of parental alienation. In the UK, we do not need to use the popular label parental alienation because case law has established what the behaviours are that cause a child’s alienation of self and it has established the route to intervention AND to prevention.

As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels.We agree with Sir Andrew McFarlane(see[2018] Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive, protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a syndrome or diagnosed condition.

It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad terms what we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition of alienation is sufficient:

When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be malicious or even deliberate.It is the process that matters, not the motive.Where a child’s relationship with one parent is not working for no apparent good reason, signsof alienation may be found on the part of the other parent. These may include portraying the other parent in an unduly negative light to the child, suggesting that the other parent does not love the child, providing unnecessary reassurance to the child about time with the other parent, contacting the child excessively when with the other parent, and making unfounded allegations or insinuations, particularly of sexual abuse. Where a process of alienation is found to exist, there is a spectrum of severity and the remedy will depend upon an assessment of all aspects of the child’s welfare, and not merely those that concern the relationship that may be under threat.

Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult

Since the Appeal Court Judgment in Re S was handed down in 2020, there has been no need in the UK to use parental alienation as a label in court. In fact in the UK, I would argue, that the label has never been necessary. When I began work in the field, the label was regarded as being a concept imported from the USA, the focus in court here, being the underlying psychological and psychiatric conditions in parents which created the dynamics which cause a child to align and reject.

Unfortunately, the importation of the concept of PA into the UK, has been accompanied by USA style campaigns against it, the most notorious of which has been the co-ordinated effort to convince the outside world that PA is a tool used by abusive men. This campaign, which is frankly at times, accompanied by some bizarre allegations by its campaigners, has dragged the project to establish alienation of children as a serious child protection issue, back into the fight about whether PA is a real thing or not. And therein lies the rub. Whilst those who work with families are doing so without having to refer to parental alienation, (except as a label which is in popular use), the campaigners are slogging out a battle about whether PA is a tool used by abusive men or whether it is real. The focus on children has been lost in this battle (which I would argue was the intention of the anti PA campaigners all along, because they want the focus to be on women) and the chance to educate the outside world about the pernicious harm to children, becomes lost in a fog of he said/she said gender war. It was ever thus.

Let’s go back to Re S and take the most cogent point from it in terms of how the issue of alienation is addressed in the UK Family Courts, because this is the reality of what is happening in the UK – (the campaign battle to prove or disprove parental alienation as a real thing is simply a side show).

A Where a process of alienation is found to exist, there is a spectrum of severity and the remedy will depend upon an assessment of all aspects of the child’s welfare, and not merely those that concern the relationship that may be under threat.

Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult

It could not be written in starker terms, that where a process of alienation is found, the remedy for the problem depends upon assessment of all aspects of the child’s welfare. This is not a fight about whether or not a child is alienated, this is about how a child became alienated, who is doing what to cause it and why are they doing it, what psychological and psychiatric issues are in play and how do those affect the child. Finally, the question is, what is the most appropriate intervention to address this?

It is incredibly important that parents understand that there is no need to use the label parental alienation in court in the UK. It is also vital that parents understand that telling a child that they are suffering from parental alienation, is never going to resolve the problem. For all the years that I have done this work I have been clear that going into court and telling a Judge that this is a case of parental alienation is foolish. I have also been clear that telling your child that they are alienated is equally foolhardy. Going into court and telling people who do not know your family, who have not observed your children and who are part of a system which is not primarily geared towards immediate forensic analysis , that a child is alienated, is going to fail as a strategy. How do they know that your child is alienated? For all they know, you could be an abusive parent who is using parental alienation as a cover for your own deficiencies – court personel, are as vulnerable to campaigning messages as anyone else. It takes time and patience to demonstrate the patterns which are seen in alienation cases and that means losing the label parental alienation and focusing upon the behaviours instead. Equally, alienation of children causes a defence in the child and you cannot take down a defence by telling someone they have a defence. The only way to remove the defence is to reorganise the dynamics so that defence can drop, this has never been more true than in cases of alienation of children. Therefore, your task as an alienated parent is to understand how to show the patterns of behaviours which have caused the child’s hyper alignment and rejection of you and show that to the court and ask that the power imbalance, which underpins the control that the alienating parent has over the child, is changed.

Treatment of alienated children has been my major focus for the past decade and more. It has been my goal at all times, to bring the reality of the harm to a child, which is flagged by the hyper alignment and rejection behaviours which are seen, into public consciousness. Helping the outside world to understand that when a child is induced to use the defence of psychological splitting in such circumstances, the child is suffering an alienation of the self from the self first. The child has developed a false self, a defence which if left untreated, not only removes the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood, but which leaves them with a lasting legacy of harm which they do not know that they have suffered until later in their lives.

My secondary goal has been to bring more people to do this work in ways that fully heal the split state of mind in alienated children. I have written reams of words in pursuit of these goals and worked with many families. Along the way I have been praised and pilloried, appreciated and attacked, I have found support in many surprising places and I have been subjected to campaigns to alienate me from others. I am the recipient of so many projections, all of which I understand, none of which I have allowed to get in the way of my overall goals.

But finally, here we are. We have arrived at a place where the work we have done with alienated children and families over a decade or more, will be collated and analysed in order to show the outside world exactly what can be done when a child says no after divorce and separation. In opening the doors to the Family Separation Clinic this way, our aim is to show what works, to analyse what gets in the way of successful treament and to evidence all of those words that I have written over all of these years.

I have worked with children of divorce and separation since 1991. Three decades later, as our work is analysed, understood and made transparent and those we have helped are invited to speak about their experiences, our clinical practice in this field will be evidenced and the model we have developed will be made visible and replicable. When it is, more will come and when they do, the thirty years I have spent talking, writing, training and working to flag the needs of children of divorce and separation, will have been worth it.


FSC Evaluation of Services

This project begins on May and runs to September 2022. First results will be available in April 2022 and will be presented at the fourth conference of the group of senior clinicians which is currently called EAPAP but which will change its name shortly to widen its clinical focus worldwide. The fourth conference of this group, will be held in Israel in spring 2022.

AFCC on Demand

This week we recorded our on demand clinical seminar for the AFCC Conference with Kelly Baker and Amy Eichler from the USA. Focusing upon the clinical partnership work between the Family Separation Clinic and two highly experienced clinicians in the USA, this seminar examined induced psychological splitting in children and how to assess, differentiate and treat this using the Family Separation Clinic model. This seminar can be viewed by those who register for the conference.

FSC Worldwide – Resources for Parents

The FSC Worldwide service offers access to webinars and resources for parents, some of which are free to watch as part of the Lighthouse Project, some of which are available at low cost. This service will go live shortly and access details will be announced here soon.

Healing children and families affected by alienation after divorce and separation

The reason why parents mistreat their children has less to do with character and temperament that with the fact that they were mistreated themselves and not permitted to defend themselves.

Alice Miller

Whatever we call it, children who hyper align with one parent and reject the other after divorce and separation need our help. As children, they are powerless in the face of their dependency upon their parents and will do anything possible to adapt and cope with the circumstances they find themselves in. In clinical practice with families, helping children to integrate the split self is the first goal of intervention, in doing this, we encounter many splits within the family itself which radiate outwards from the original defensive splitting the child has utilised in order to cope with the pressures of adult dynamics around them.

Integrating the split state of mind in a child cannot be achieved by telling the child that they are alienated. In this respect, the label parental alienation is not useful in clinical practice. Whilst the label is in popular use, we do not subscribe to the idea that parental alienation is a mental condition in a child, rather it is a relational dynamic which arises when the configuration of unresolved issues triangulates the child into adult issues.

Relational trauma occurs because every part of us, from the moment we are born, is designed to be in relationship to others. We are driven to interpret and respond to interpersonal signals and we suffer psychological and emotional trauma when that neurobiological need is blocked. When our home environment hurts us, we develop defences and adapt our behaviours to survive. One of the survival mechanisms which has been used by generations of children in divorce and separation, is defensive splitting, which causes hyper alignment with one parent and outright rejection of the other. The tragedy for all of these children, is that the defence is well known and it is treatable but it has been hidden for too long behind denial and projection, two other defences which come into play when splitting occurs.

Divorce and separation causes relational trauma for children, some of whom do not recover and instead make significant adaptations to their behaviours. All around these children, a war rages between advocates for parents, the argument about parental alienation being something made up which is used by abusive fathers to harm protective mothers vs parental alienation being a real thing, is simply the arms war which obscures the reality of what is happening to the child.

Away from the war, the alienated child shows the reality of what this has done and the alienated adult children, show the lasting harm that all of this causes. Healing the child demands our focus is placed right there, where the original alienation occurred. Alienation of the child is an alienation of self from the self. It is the creation of the false self in order to defend against the adult dynamics. It is a primary wound from which many do not recover. On this day of awareness, my thoughts are first with the alienated child and those adults who as children were harmed and who did not, because they could not, recover.

“Part of what makes having a child such a morally transformative experience is the fact that my child’s well-being can genuinely be more important to me than my own. It may sound melodramatic to say that I would give my life for my children, but, of course, that’s exactly what every parent does all the time, in ways both large and small. Once I commit myself to a child, I’m literally not the same person I was before. My ego has expanded to include another person even though—especially though—that person is utterly helpless and unable to reciprocate. And even though—especially though—that person’s desires and goals may be very different from mine. That’s at the heart of the paradox of dependence and independence.”


― Alison Gopnik, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

Those children whose lives are lived in a state of alienation of the self from the self, are those who did not have parents who could expand their ego to include their child, the tragedy being that the parent with most power and influence over the child, is the parent who uses the child to meet their own unmet childhood needs, pushing the parent with the capacity to put the child first, to the margins.

For decades this dynamic has been plain for all to see but we have failed to recognise what we are looking at and instead have spent our time fighting a war which is manufactured to keep children in the care of one parent and at distance from the other. What we are looking at is family trauma, unhealed splits and scars from divorce and separation which are caused by unwell parents who lack the capacity to parent effectively. We have enabled those parents to keep control of their children and push the healthy parent out of the childs life. In doing so we have failed generations of children. We must step out of this warzone and into a place of healing and health.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is readily understood now, it is treatable and it does not need to leave a legacy of suffering and unresolved trauma. We know what the problem is, the task now is to get help to children, so that on April 25th in years to come, the world will know that their suffering is over.


Family Separation Clinic News

Evaluation and Training

The work of the Family Separation Clinic over the past decade is being evaluated by a UK University to give an evidence base for clinical practice with alienated children and their families. This will provide an evidence based, accredited training, in clinical work with alienated children and families from 2022. This training will include; evidence based differentiation of cases of alignment and rejection behaviours in children, focusing upon identification of the child’s route into the use of psychological splitting to offer a clear formulation of the necessary intervention. Interventions which interlock with the legal framework to provide rapid resolution of splitting in children and a therapeutic model of practice for adults alienated as children. The training is for those qualified in the helping therapies who seek to work in clinical practice with children and families.

EAPAP Conference 2022

EAPAP will change its name shortly to widen its scope to international clinical practice with alienated children and families. The fourth conference of this group of senior clinicians, will be held in Israel in 2022 and will be a hybrid of face to face and online delivery. Headline speakers will include those working in psychological and relational trauma, psychoanalysis, family therapy attachment plus specialists in family violence and coercive control. A new resource for clinicians in this field will be announced shortly. More news here soon.

Coercive control in cases of alienation of children in divorce and separation

Coercive control is defined in the UK, in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 as follows –

Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

(1)A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a)A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive,

(b)at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,

(c)the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and

(d)A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.

(2)A and B are “personally connected” if—

(a)A is in an intimate personal relationship with B, or

(b)A and B live together and—

(i)they are members of the same family, or

(ii)they have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

The construct of coercive control was conceptualised by Evan Stark as a gendered issue in which women’s disadvantage, put men in a position of inherent power over them. UK law is not gendered in that it is conceptualised as being about what one person does to the other in a position where there is a power imbalance.

Curiously, the power imbalance between parent and child is delineated in the act, so that control of a child, is not considered to be an offence – the act states –

But A does not commit an offence under this section if at the time of the behaviour in question—

(a)A has responsibility for B, for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (see section 17 of that Act), and

(b)B is under 16.

Section 76 – Serious Crimes Act 2015

Which means that the coercive control of a child, in a post separation setting, is not recognised as a crime and yet it is the coercive control of a child, the basis of which is the power that the parent holds over the child, which lies at the heart of all cases of alienation.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation depends upon a power imbalance, without that, alienation as a dynamic, cannot take root. A child has to be under the control of one parent and out of the control of the other, in order for induced psychological splitting to occur. Psychological splitting, which is a readily recognised defence mechanism, is induced in the child when they are coerced into being unable to hold two realities in mind. When psychological splitting is induced, the child enters into a hyper alignment with the controlling parent and a rejection of the other. The basis of this is power and control over the child. This is a form of intimate terrorism, in which the child’s indepedent sense of self is removed and dependency upon the terrorising parent is induced and maintained.

Coercive control of children is readily seen when fathers alienate children as part of an ongoing pattern of control behaviours which are present before the relationship breakdown and which continue on via the child. Many of the alienated mothers we work with, ask why their children have become hyper aligned with their fathers, in situations where there was abuse of the mother by the father, which was witnessed by children. The reason for this, is the dynamic of intimate terrorism, which causes children to feel powerless, anxious and afraid, that this same abuse will be inflicted upon them should they not align with the father. Children who love their mothers, will become disdainful, cold and rejecting towards her, when they are held in the grip of control by their father post separation. Children who start of living with their mothers after family separation, can end up living with their fathers after being subjected to a pattern of coercive control which causes fear and anxiety. I have worked in many cases where fathers have systematically undermined the relationship between mother and child in order to obtain control over the child as a way of punishing the mother. Children can be induced into psychological splitting by abusive fathers, even if they only spend a very short amount of time with their father. Some children have had minimal contact with a father only to flip into wanting to spend all of their time with him. Coercive control is a deeply harmful pattern of behaviour which can end up costing a mother their relationship with their child and the child their capacity to hold an integrated sense of self as they hyper align with their father to reject their mother. Power and control is at the heart of this but currently in law, there is no recognition of the control of a child by a parent and so there is very little recourse to resolving this horrible problem.

Coercive control of children by their mothers is far less easy to recognise, this is because the control that mothers have over their children takes a more covert, less well articulated route. Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour, covert enmeshment and manipulation is a pattern of behaviour which controls children’s sense of self and which causes fear of abandonment and anxiety. We do not understand these covert behaviours as well as the overt patterns which have been carefully and systematically articulated by women’s rights activists, perhaps because there is a lack of recognition of the harm that they do to children and perhaps, because they are largely carried out by mothers. In a world which is focused upon men=bad and women=good, where psychological splitting is a foundation for analysing power and control dynamics, this missing piece is why so many women fight against the reality that children are alienated by mothers as well as fathers. Nevertheless, even if we did recognise coercive control of children by their mothers, it is not recognised in UK law and thus is not a criminal act.

It seems curious to me that the law on coercive control deliberately delineates parental control over a child as something which is not criminal, in a scenario which is clearly one which is recognised as a serious problem in the post separation landscape. Perhaps this is the next step to protecting children from the dynamics which cause hyper alignment and rejection behaviours.

Perhaps this is the place upstream, where the alienation of children in divorce and separation, could be properly arrested.

Whose Life is it anyway: enmeshed relationships after divorce and separation

enmeshment n. a condition in which two or more people, typically family members, are involved in each other’s activities and personal relationships to an excessive degree, thus limiting or precluding healthy interaction and compromising individual autonomy and identity.

APA definition

One of the most common problems seen in post divorce relationships between parents and children, is enmeshment. This problem, which causes serious harm to children, arises from the inability of a parent to promote develpmental stages towards individuation in a child. When it is seen in families where children are outright rejecting a parent, it is one of the red flags which prompt further investigation into the child’s relationship with the parent they are aligned to. Enmeshment causes emotional and psychological problems for children because it prevents normal, age appropriate steps towards independence of mind and body. It is a serious problem when the child is seen to be enmeshed to the degree where they are regulating parental anxiety. When this is seen, the child is highly likely to be parentified, a situation in which they are meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the parent, eschewing not only their own needs in favour of the parental need but being prevented from knowing that they have needs. In such circumstances, where thechild is strongly aligned to one and rejecting the other parent outright and where the child is meeting the emotional and psychological needs of a parent they are aligned to and that cannot be changed in situ, they are considered to be without parental care they are entitled to and beyond parental control, another risk factor which meets the welfare threshold in the UK.

The welfare threshold is crossed, when parents are doing something that has already caused harm, doing something which may cause future risk of harm or when the child is beyond parental control. The welfare threshold being crossed in a case is likely to result in an order for intervention. Whilst enmeshment alone is not enough in most cases to cross the welfare threshold, when it is accompanied by a child being beyond parental control due to the range of issues including parentification, resistance to outside intervention, inability to accept external authority and rejection of a parent who could provide healthy care, the likelihood is that the threshold is crossed and a Section 37 report, in which the Local Authority is asked to make an assessment of the family is ordered. In many cases I have worked in, this is the route through which enmeshment between a child and parent is addressed.

Enmeshed relationships look like love from the outside but from the inside they are a distortion of what is healthy. In enmeshment, the parent experiences their own feelings as indivisible from the childs and expects and demands that the child aligns with their world view after divorce or separation. Not only is the child expected to feel the same, projections from the parent onto the child, mean that the parent sees their own split off feelings enacted by the child, meaning that the interpretation of what a child says and does is coloured by the parents own feelings which they deny. Parents who are enmeshed with their children do not understand that their children may feel differently to them and the signals that they give to the child in the inter-psychic relationship are that the other parent is to be feared/pitied/kept at distance/not trusted/rejected. When the child acts to reflect these unconscious signals from the parent, the parent is comforted that the child is saying and doing what the parent expects and uses that as evidence to show that the child feels the same way as they do.

Differentiating enmeshment from a situation where a parent is helping to keep a child safe from an abusive parent, is undertaken by observation of whether or not a child is using defensive splitting as a coping mechanism. The child who is rejecting a relationship with a parent because of something that parent has done, will show a more ambivalent resistance to the relationship and their pattern of rejection will not have echoes of the other parent’s feelings. A child who is enmeshed however, will show a strong and unrelenting rejection accompanied by a strong and unrelenting alignment and their speech and behaviour patterns, will echo that of the parent to whom they are aligned. In observation of these dyads, the child and aligned parent will act in ways that demonstrate enmeshment, the child will not answer a question without looking at a parent to check the parent’s reaction for example or the parent will answer for the child repeatedly. An enmeshed child will not be able to manage independence of mind and feelings in such circumstances and will be seen to need to regulate a parent in order to feel safe in themselves.

Enmeshment is very difficult to treat in situations where a child is strongly aligned and rejecting and it is therefore with the aligned parent that we must begin work first. Many practitioners new to this work, undertake the intervention the wrong way around, trying to fix the rejected parent enough to please the aligned parent in the belief that the child will then be released from the enmeshed grasp. This is unhelpful because it does nothing to address the real issue and simply re-traumatises the child by exposing them to the false reality that the parent they are rejecting is the problem. Starting with the parent to whom the child is aligned is the right approach and asking the Court to order a trial of contact between the child and rejected parent which enables the testing of the depth of the enmeshment (the more time the child is asked to spend with the rejected parent, the more the enmeshed behaviours are provoked into plain sight). When enmeshed behaviours are in plain sight, it is then possible to provide the kind of consistent support which regulates the aligned parent (supporting handovers, giving information about how the child is in real time, providing support in situ for the child and assisting with the child’s return home). This allows for testing of whether the enmeshment is transient and related only to the failure to adjust to post divorce life or whether it is deeper and related to psychopathology in the aligned parent.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is a complex issue which involves parental mental health and prevention of harm to children. I hope that by reading more detailed accounts of what this work is about, the campaign strategy to portray this issue as only a tool used by abusive fathers will be diluted in its power to detract from reality. In my work with families over the years, the notion that children are plucked from innocent mothers to be placed in the care of abusive fathers, is made a nonsense of by the rigorous assessment, differentiation and thorough analysis of the courts who hear these cases. In the High Courts, where I am currently only working, the thoroughness of hearings, the depth of understanding and testing of the evidence in such cases, ensures that every action taken to protect a child, is done so on the basis of careful and detailed excavation of risk of harm. When a child is removed in such circumstances, it is done on the basis of the underlying psychopathologies in the case, not on the basis that parental alienation has been claimed as a counter argument to domestic abuse.

Protecting children and their right to independence of mind and body is what working with alienation in the family courts is all about. Divorce and separation are adult issues and ensuring that children are not triangulated into them is a core aim. Being able to differentiate between childrens needs and parental wishes and feelings is an important skill in this work. Capacity to put the child’s needs first and hold that boundary is a necessity.

Recognising that outright rejection, when accompanied by hyper alignment, causes the child to produce a false self, denoting alienation of the self from the self, enables a child protection approach which puts the child’s right to their own life first. This is what this work is about, children first and nothing else. Don’t let those enmeshed with a false narrative convince you otherwise.


FSC Evaluation

The evaluation of the services of FSC is underway. Accredited training which is based upon the evidence base of the work of the Clinic since 2011 will be available in 2022. I will update on this project here and you will find further details of the project shortly on the Family Separation Clinic website.

EAPAP

I will have news soon of exciting developments in EAPAP, which includes an expansion in geographical converage and launch of a new resource for clinicians working with alienated children and their families. News of the next conference, which will be held in Israel in 2022, will be available shortly.

Supervision

I am often approached for supervision of cases. Whilst I run an international supervision group with colleagues from EAPAP, I do not currently supervise work with anyone who has not been trained by the Family Separation Clinic. This is because we use a model of intervention which requires that a clinician is working in a way which is conversant with international research on interventions with alienated children and families. From 2022, practitioners will be able to access evidence based, accredited training from FSC and anyone completing this will be eligible for supervision. More news on this over the coming months.

Training for Practitioners

I am currently delivering online training for the Family Mediation Association and other Therapeutic Services in the UK.

FSC will be delivering training face to face again when the pandemic allows. Our current suspended schedule of face to face training includes Poland, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Malta, USA, Australia and Germany.

Training for practitioners in the evaluated and accredited FSC model will be available from 2022.

When child abuse looks like love: protecting children from psychological and emotional harm

The task to demonstrate that a child who is rejecting a parent outright is displaying symptoms of hyper-alignment with the parent they are clinging to, continues. This parent is often referred to by campaigners as the protective parent, when in reality they are anything but protective. The problem for many professionals and, for the outside world in general, is that until the reality of the psychological and emotional abuse which underpins alienation is properly articulated and recognised, this abuse, which looks like love, will continue.

What do we mean by abuse which looks like love? What we mean is that to the outside world, the child is strongly aligned to one parent and outright rejecting the other. This behavioural display is, in itself, the first red flag that tell us that something is wrong because children who do not have a relationship with a parent, children who are afraid of a parent and children who have been physically or otherwise abused by a parent, do not reject that parent outright. When they reject for what is called a justified reason, their rejection is more hesitant, more ambivalent, less stringent and determined. When they reject outright, particularly if that rejection is accompanied by disdain and dismissal of a parent’s feelings, the defence of psychological splitting has come into play. The child is using a coping mechanism which resolves the problem they face of being unable to hold two realities in mind.

Children who cannot hold two realities in mind are being pressured to reject one and align with the other and that occurs either because of deliberate and conscious strategies, because of unconscious leakage of feeling from adults to children, because a parent has a serious personality disorder which is impacting upon the child or the child is enmeshed and parentified or spouseified. Sometimes a mix of all of these elements of pressure are in play, sometimes it is a clear and distinct pattern of behaviours in a parent which is seen and sometimes alienation and counter alienated strategies are being deployed by parents. Whatever the combination of factors, the result is that the child is unable to tolerate the emotional and psychological pressure and defensive splitting is the result.

Defensive splitting looks like a child who says no to a relationship with a parent. It looks like the child is rejecting the parent. On closer investigation however, what the child is doing is hyper aligning with a parent who is causing them harm, the child is using denial, splitting and projection, to cope with that and is reconfiguring that harmful behaviour to mean love. Many parents have asked why, a child who has witnessed domestic abuse, will align with the abuser and reject the abused parent. The answer to that is simple. The child who is pressured through witnessing domestic abuse, knows at an unconscious level that if the abusive parent can do that to the abused, they can do it to the child. Children adapt their behaviours in such circumstances, splitting off their awareness that the abusive parent is causing harm and identifying instead with that parent, joining with them in a campaign of determined rejection in order to ensure that they do not receive the same abuse. The reconfiguration of abuse as love in the child’s mind, allows them to live with the abusive parent. The same occurs in a situation where a child is being enmeshed with a parent and who is aware that the parent requires them to confirm their allegiance. Despite knowing that they love the other parent, they will split off that feeling, make it unconscious and deny all feeling for that parent, in order to regulate and keep stable, the parent who is enmeshed with them. Both scenarios are abusive to the child, who is required to give up their right to an unconscious childhood in order to keep a parent psychologically and emotionally regulated. The first scenario is more likely to occur with abusive fathers and the second with abusive mothers. In both situations, the abusive parent will claim that they are protecting the child from the harm being caused by the rejected parent.

The red flag of alienation is the child’s defensive splitting behaviours. When a child outright rejects and that is accompanied by hyper alignment, particularly with disdain from the child about the rejected parent, alienation of the child’s own self from the self is likely. Evidence of the child’s inauthenticity can be heard in their language patterns and rigid behavioural displays. The child who is in this situation is potentially being seriously harmed because they are often beyond parental control, having been given the decision making power by the aligned parent and the other parent has been pushed to the absolute margins of the child’s life. It is being beyond parental control which takes the level of harm to the Welfare Threshold in the UK and fortunately, with more professionals in social work and the psychological therapies, becoming aware of the risk of harm to a child in this position, better outcomes for children are being seen.

The task to demonstrate the harm being done to children in situations where they are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence after divorce and separation is one which requires tenacity, particularly in the face of the toxicity surrounding these families which at times spreads out into the professionals around them and which is relentless in the ideological campaigns. These campaign groups, which often feature people whose profiles mirror the problematic behaviours seen in parents who are found to cause serious harm to children, lead to uncontained attacks on professionals. which put many off this work. Those of us who continue on despite this, do so because protecting children from harm is the primary driver in doing this work, which will not stop until the outside world is aware of the serious nature of the impact of this on children.

I received an email last week, one of many I receive every week, this one, shared with permission, describes, for me, the reality of what children who are induced to use psychological splitting suffer.

Dear Karen,

I read what you write and I think it applies to me. I am a thirty eight year old woman and I rejected my mother when I was twelve years old. I haven’t seen her since I was thirteen, when a social worker tried to help our family but failed. That is twenty five years ago and I have spent most of that time hating my mother and staying out of her way, even though she lives just two miles from where I live now. Three months ago I found out that my mother is dying of cancer, she is only sixty three. I found out by accident from a friend of a friend and whilst my first thought was ‘good, I am glad the old bag is not going to be here for much longer’ I found myself crying uncontrollably over the following weekend. Since then I have felt incredibly low and actually very frightened, I keep thinking what if she dies before I see her, how can I see her, what can I say and then I swing back to hating her and feeling that if she dies I will feel happier. But in truth I know I won’t feel happier, I know that I will be absolutely torn apart, I can feel it sometimes, it feels like being sick with feelings and then just as suddenly, it goes away again. I feel confused about this, one moment I am panicking then next I am strangely numb and unaffected. I feel as if there are two of me sometimes and when I read what you write about splitting, I wonder if I am feeling things that I couldn’t feel then because my father was so determined that I should not see my mother. I was very frightened of my dad at some level. Not because he hit me or hurt me but because I knew that he was so hurt by my mother leaving and because I worried every day about what would happen if I went to school and something happened to him. Rejecting my mother was part of me looking after him and I suppose showing him that he had someone, that he wasn’t going to be alone. It went on for a long time, so long that I don’t know now what I can do to change how I feel. My dad is remarried now and happy, he doesn’t need me as he did for a decade after my mum left. I live on my own, I have never had a serious relationship. I see my dad and his wife regularly and they have two younger children who are my half siblings. I just wish that I could work out what I feel and how to do something about this situation. Can you help me?

This woman, like so many other adults out there, is suffering. Her mother is suffering. This loss, which is caused by the triangulation of children into adult matters after divorce and separation, continues to cause suffering all over the world.

When the outside world understands that very often in this situation, what looks like love is actually child abuse, our job will be done. Until then, I will keep doing what I do regardless.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation: An undeniable suffering around the world

On March 26 2009, I wrote my first blog. It was Mother’s Day and I wrote for alienated mothers around the world and my understanding of their hidden suffering. Since then, I have written thousands of words about the undeniable pain experienced by families affected by alienation of children. The wordpress stats which were presented to me yesterday on the twelfth anniversary of my first blog post, tell the story of that anguish.

Karenwoodall.blog unique visits per month between 2009 and 2021

This blog began as a diary of the work I was doing with families affected by children’s outright rejection after divorce and separation. This work was inspired by meeting Thomas Moore who writes about his experience of alienation in book Please Let Me See My Son. My work with Thomas led me into working with other alienated children and families in the family courts in England. Since that time, I have worked in the family courts in the UK and around the world helping children who are being harmed by induced psychological splitting to recover an integrated state of mind via their relationship with the parent they have split off and rejected.

When I began doing this work, the words parental alienation were not readily admissable in the court process. The phrase ‘intractable hostility’ was used instead to describe the parent who would not or could not allow a child to have a relationship with the other parent. Whilst parental alienation became a more readily used phrase in the court process, it is not used in our assessment and differentiation work and it is not used in treatment because it is simply not necessary. Trends in language come and go but the overall reality that some parents cause their children harm by inducing psychological splitting as a defence, remains. This is well established in case law and it is now well recognised by the High Courts in England and Wales.

These days, I only work in cases of induced psychological splitting in children after fact finding. This means that when I begin work with a family, the facts of a case have been heard and judged. This is a necessary condition for rapid treatment of children suffering from induced psychological splitting because it means that there can be no continuing argument about the facts of a case. Using contracts requiring behavioural change and structured contact trials, the re-introduction of a loved parent, assists the integration of the split state of mind. Rolling scrutiny of behaviours ensures that compliance with the Court’s rulings on the best interest of the child is achieved.

In 2009, I was pretty much a lone voice in this area of work and I was ridiculed in some arenas for writing about the work that I do and the underlying dynamics which allowed alienation of children to become so normalised over many decades. Having understood how the construction of social policy in the years after the divorce laws changed in the UK, had been with an intent to transfer power and control over children to mothers after family separation, my work with the Oxfam UK Poverty Programme, led me to further understand why there was such a focus on fathers. The idea that the family did not need fathers was prevelant in the nineties, led by Anna Coote, Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, which meant that by the time I began this work with families in 2009, this was a routine assumption and conclusion in the family courts.

Through the years this blog has been a place where I have charted by journey of understanding of how children become alienated and why that hidden harm must be recognised. In doing so I have encountered angry people who do not like what I write, as well as the warmest of welcomes from those whose experience I am articulating. There have been some days when I think I will never pick up my bloggers pen again, because the aggro isn’t worth it and others when I know that until this hidden harm is fully understood around the world, I will not stop.

And each time I swing between frustration and despair to the deepest sense of satisfaction when I see the recovery of alienated children, I come back to this blog. I read the comments and the emails that are sent and I look at these statistics and I know that what I started in 2009, will not stop now. I look at the work that I am doing with senior clinical colleagues around the world, the evaluation of the work of the Clinic which is underway and the increasing development of treatment routes for families and I know there is no going back to how things were when I began this blog.

The hidden harm to children in divorce and separation and the appalling suffering of families around the world is exposed by the statistics produced by wordpress yesterday. From a readership of 14 people to a regular readership of over 20K each month, the experience of alienated children and their families is charted here.

To those whose experience I am articulating, those who want to find out more and yes, even those of you reading this who loathe what I do (the very fact that you come here means that what I write has meaning), thank you for listening.

harming the child: induced psychological splitting after divorce and separation

For many decades now, divorce and separation have been treated as an everyday occurence, something that happens to many families and something that should be traversed as if it is part of life. Working as I do, with children affected by divorce and separation, I see that far from being a simple life transition, divorce and separation is a traumatic event which leaves lasting damage to some children in its wake.

Not all children suffer lasting damage from the separation of their parents. I am not an advocate of lifelong marriage at all costs. I am however, an advocate for children, for their right to live an unconcious experience of childhood and their right not to be triangulated into the breakdown of adult relationships. Whether mummy doesn’t love daddy or daddy doesn’t love mummy anymore, is not for a child to be conscious of. Whether mummy did something bad to daddy or daddy did something bad to mummy, is not for a child to be concerned with. Children have the right to an unconscious experience of childhood, to be concerned only with playing and developing healthily. If their parents break up or break down, that is an adult responsibility to manage. Parenting a child does not include using that child as an emotional or psychological crutch and it does not give you the right to require that your child sees the world exactly as you see it. Your burdens, your fights, your pains and your suffering as an adult, are yours and yours alone to bear. You didn’t have children in order that they carry your responsibilities, you had children so that you could give them the love, security and guidance they need to become healthy adults in their own right.

Which is why, when I work with families affected by a child’s alignment and rejection behaviours, I approach it from the perspective of how to help the child retrieve and retain their right to an unconscious experience of childhood. A child who is strongly aligned to a parent and who is showing hyper attachment accompanied by anxious outright rejection of the other parent, is a child who is using an infantile defence which, in normal times, they would have long ago left behind. Hyper attachment to one parent and outright rejection of the other, is the red flag which gives away that the child has been induced to return to the infantile defence of psychological splitting. This coping mechanism, which is triggered in a child because of the adult dynamics around them, is one which causes lasting damage if it is not addressed. Which is why, whatever is thrown my way, I will continue to do this work with and for children. Harm to the child, in the form of induced psychological splitting, is an alienation of the child from their own authentic sense of self first and from a loved parent second.

Induced psychological splitting is a denial and projection of the alienation of the child from their right live an unconscious experience of childhood. Triangulated into adult matters, the child is forced into a place where they can no longer hold the reality of each parent in mind and so they must ‘choose’ one and reject the other. In doing so, this reaction formation defence, alters the child’s internal object relationships and causes them to mistrust their own self. It also makes the child’s behave as if they are experiencing the exact opposite of what they are really feeling. This is the nature of reaction formation defences, which are designed to reduce anxiety and it is this which we are looking at when we see a child who is hyper aligned to one parent and rejecting the other.

In all respects we are looking at a mirror image of what is really going on when we see a child who is showing alignment and rejection and it is this which we must get to grips with if we are to see beyond the current mythology which has been carefully spun for us by the ideological campaign groups. This mirror image, which looks like a child who is rejecting a parent and saying that parent is harmful to them, is actually a reaction formation defence in the child, against the anxiety that they are experiencing from the parent to whom they are seen to cling to fearfully. A simple way to understand this is to look at school refusal, which is another area in which children use reaction formation defences in order to cope with an impossible situation.

In school refusal, it is widely known and accepted that the child refuses to go to school, not because of something that is happening at school (even though the child will say that it is), but because of something that is happening at home. The child cannot leave home because of their anxiety about a parent or parents, there is something happening at home which is causing the child to feel so afraid, that they must defend against that anxiety and fear and deny it and project it onto their experience of school. The fear and anxiety about what is happening at home, is so big, that the child defends against it by becoming afraid of school, which has the benefit of enabling the child to cling to the parent who is making them anxious and afraid.

In divorce and separation, the same principle applies. The child is threatened by something that the aligned parent is doing and becomes hyper anxious and afraid. This is either threat of abandonment – if you go to the other parent’s home I don’t know how I will cope or whether I will be here when you get back – or overt threats – he is a bad and dangerous man who has hurt me and you will be hurt too if you see him – or enmeshment – you and I are one person and you must feel as I feel – or parentification – you must take care of me, I am afraid and lonely and cannot cope without you …..

Many of these messages to the child are in the inter-psychic relationship (between minds) and are not explicit threats at all. The result of this pattern of behaviour however, is that the child is forced into use of the defence of splitting, in order to regulate the parent who is pressuring them and in order to defend against the anxiety that causes. When the defence is in play, the child splits the self, denies their own reality, develops a false self which is omnipotent and often grandiose in nature and then projects the split of dislike and hatred onto the rejected parent.

This complex and yet at the same time, very simple defence, is incredibly difficult to treat in the environment where there are constant running battles between campaign groups. Trying to treat school refusal amidst controversy between parents and school teachers about whether it is the parent or the school which is the source of the problem, would be the same. Only it isn’t, because in school refusal, absent of anything that is seen to be happening at school, it is accepted that this is a defence in the child which tells us that something is going on at home which needs to be addressed. In the case of children of divorce and separation who refuse contact with a parent outright and cling anxiously to the other parent, in the absence of anything that is seen in the relationship with the rejected parent which is causing this, there is something going on in the relationship with the parent to whom the child is aligned which is the cause. Our task is to find out what it is and when we know what it is, we can treat it and treating it always means, (just like school refusal), building a programme of intervention which addresses the child’s anxieties at home with the aligned parent and then supporting the child to encounter the split off and projected experience (of school or parent who is rejected).

I was reading recently, that Salvador Minuchin, father of family therapy, had to rewrite some of his work in the seventies to placate feminists who did not like his theories of family and how to heal the problems therein. It lead me to understand, how the school of structural family therapy, (the very therapy which had at its heart, all of the understanding and treatments necessary to deal with alienation of children after divorce and separation), got lost as a treatment route for this problem. It got lost because the issue of children’s hyper alignment and rejection, became a political football between campaigners for mothers and fathers rights. It got lost because the theory of parental alienation, which is treatment light, meaning there is little there to help clinicians to treat the problem, led clinical work down a blind alley.

In the five decades since then, all that has happened is that the label parental alienation, which is in reality a label which is used in legal terms but which has little of benefit in clinical treatment, has been used as that same political football, kicked one way by its advocates and the other way by its detractors. In the midst of which, children who could have been helped, have lost their right to an unconscious childhood, because everyone has been busy arguing over a label which means, in clinical terms, nothing very much at all.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is a real psychological problem, which is caused by induced psychological splitting, a defence which causes lasting harm to a child but which, like school refusal, is treatable in the right conditions.

Behind the label lies the reality, working with the reality brings change for children and changing alienated children’s lives is what we are all about.

Isn’t it?

For Mothering Sunday

It is Mothering Sunday in the UK and I woke up this morning to read a letter from a mother who is worried that she may not be around next year, asking me for guidance on how to reach out to her child. This stark reminder, that mothers all over the world suffer from their child being alienated from them, prompted me to go back in time to the very first post I wrote for this blog, which ironically, for someone so often accused of being for fathers, was about alienated mothers. Here it is.

Mothers Day Can be A Painful Reminder – 16th March 2009

When the daffodil trumpets start to open up, it’s time to think about Mother’s Day again. For many families, this is a day when children make cards and dads remember to take them shopping for presents.

For separated families, it can be a day that is as complicated as Christmas or birthdays. A special day that requires all the planning of a military campaign. For separated mothers who live apart from their children, Mother’s Day can be another painful reminder of what has been taken away, of what has been lost, of time passing by.

Mothers who do not live with their children after divorce or separation all share something in common; the trauma of loss and the silence surrounding their status. Some of that silence comes from mothers themselves, unable to talk about their situation for fear of judgement, but most of it comes from the society in which we all live. A society that conspires to believe that a mother who is not the main carer for her children is somehow not really a mother at all.……Read the full article here


In the last few weeks, as the issue of alienation of children has been widely debated in the UK, I have been frankly appalled at the callousness of those who purport to support women and their denial of the suffering of alienated mothers. When I look at the readership of this blog, the comments on it and the hundreds of emails I receive from desperate parents, there are often more from mothers than from fathers. When I look at who attends our online seminars, it is mothers, more than fathers who seek our help. This group of silenced women, who have recently tried to have their voices heard and who have been ignored, are abused by their sisters who tell them that they are being persuaded by men that they are alienated when in reality they are not because alienation doesn’t exist.

Alienated mothers know that this is not a gender war. They know that mothers alienate children and that fathers alienate children. They know what alienation does to children because they see it and they suffer it and for too long they have had to suffer it in silence. I was writing about their plight twelve years ago. That there are some who still want to silence them twelve years later, is sickening but it won’t stop those of us who know, standing up for alienated mothers (and fathers) and it won’t stop the work to raise to public consciousness the harm that alienation does to children.

For the mother who doesn’t know how long she has left and who wants to do the right thing for her alienated child, for the mothers who have been silenced and for the mothers who tried to have their voices heard, and for all mothers everywhere who put their childrens needs first last and always. From me to you around the world. Happy Mothering Sunday.

Containing the uncontainable when children reject a parent after divorce and separation

The past few weeks in family politics in the UK, has demonstrated the way in which uncontainable emotional and psychological material, dominates the space in which children become alienated from a parent. Watching this, I am reminded that what we are doing when we are working with children who have been induced to use psychological splitting as a defence in divorce and separation, is containing the uncontainable.

The eruption of intra-psychic material, which in some situations may have lain dormant until the crisis of separation, can be sudden and explosive in terms of the impact upon children. When one parent cannot cope with the prospect of a changing landscape and, particularly, where there are unresolved mental health issues in the background, children can become overwhelmed by a tsunami of adult emotion, causing an immediate threat to the child of either abandonment or aggression, both of which can induce the use of psychological splitting as a defence.

Inducing psychological splitting in a child is an act of child abuse. It is a non accidental injury to the mind of a child and that is true whether the inducement is done consciously or unconsciously. We do not leave children in the care of parents who abuse them physically or sexually, when the seriousness of induced psychological splitting and the harm it does to children is properly understood, neither will we routinely leave behind, children who experience the emotional and psychological harm caused by induced psychological splitting.

Induced psychological splitting is a forcing of the child back into the use of an infantile defence mechanism. It is caused by the child not being able to hold two realities in mind anymore. Whilst some children suffer this mildly, others suffer it seriously and in a prolonged manner and when they do, it is often intertwined with other harm such as encapsulated delusional disorder or fabricated illness.

Alienation of children has recently been mischaracterised as a defence against allegations of domestic abuse. It is absolutely nothing of the sort and whilst part of me has always admired the collective determination of ideological campaigners, I utterly abhor their disregard for the children and families who suffer this terrible problem. Frankly, the idea that alienation of children is only something which is used to defend men against allegations of domestic abuse, is one of those psychological manipulations which are seen in the plethora of alienating strategies employed by parents who induce psychological splitting in their children. It is a deliberate skewing of the core reality, which is that alienation of children in divorce and separation, is a deeply damaging form of child abuse.

I work with alienated children and their families. I spend a great deal of time with them recording their struggle to recover from induced psychological splitting and assisting them to understand that the person they have been taught to fear, is not harmful to them. I watch children who believe that a loving parent is dangerous, move from a place of feeling fear to feeling relief. I watch them let down the blockages to a parent’s incoming care and then I watch them blossom into the child they always were as the defence drops and the reality of the parent’s love becomes real again for them.

Children who are induced to use psychological splitting show behaviours which demonstrate the abuse they are suffering. They look afraid, their faces are robotic and there is little presence ine relational sense. This is because they have been terrorised, not by the parent they are rejecting, but by the parent they are being forced to take care of, obey, align fearfully to in order to defend against abandonment threats. What the child is being taught, is that love is about being coerced into alignment, love is about feeling afraid that someone is going to leave, love is something that has conditions set upon it. The child learns that the world feels safe when they are doing what makes the alienating parent feel safe and so they do what is necessary to create those conditions and if that is rejecting a loved parent and splitting that off into the unconscious mind, projecting the feelings of fear and anxiety caused by the alienating parent onto the rejected parent, that is what they will do. Threaten a child enough with fear of abandonment and they will, as Ferenzi told us, submit themselves to the aggressor, seeking to divine their needs at all times.

identification with the aggressor can be understood as a two-stage process. The first stage is automatic and initiated by trauma, but the second stage is defensive and purposeful. While identification with the aggressor begins as an automatic organismic process, with repeated activation and use, gradually it becomes a defensive process. Broadly, as a dissociative defense, it has two enacted relational parts, the part of the victim and the part of the aggressor.

Ferenczi’s concept of identification with the aggressor: understanding dissociative structure with interacting victim and abuser self-states

Elizabeth Howell

When a child is removed from the control that the aggressor/alienating parent has over them, their intra-psychic world is cleared of the fear and anxiety and the lights come back in their faces. Holding them in protected space, whilst reconnecting them with the parent they have rejected, demonstrates again and again that when proximity is held in place, the child stops blocking the rejected parent’s incoming care and health and wellbeing returns. It is the holding of the boundary and the protecting of the child from the uncontainable psychological material which enables this process to occur. This is delicate and sometimes tricky work, especially in teams of professionals where there are low levels of understanding of how induced psychological splitting occurs and how to reverse it. But with a strong Judge holding the line and a knowledgeable team around the family, recovery from induced psychological splitting, even at its most serious, is demonstrated as possible within a short time frame.

The work which is done with children induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation continues in the UK and around the world. It continues despite the efforts to mischaracterise it and despite the personal and professional attacks upon those of us who do it. Working in a world of uncontained psychological projections is not easy but it is necessary to protect children in divorce and separation who are being abused. Children whose experiences are being hidden by campaigners who seek to make this a fight between men and women, when in reality it is about child protection.

Domestic abuse must be dealt with properly and so must psychological and emotional abuse of children in divorce and separation. The two are not pitched against each other, they both demand that we contain the uncontainable material in divorce and separation which harms families and children.


FSC Services to be Independently Evaluated

Family Separation Clinic services will be independently evalauted between April 2021 and March 2022 by a UK University research team. This will include evaluation of the outcomes of residence transfers undertaken in the past decade and depth analysis of the voices of children now over the age of eighteen, who were moved in residence transfers. This work is funded independently of the Family Separation Clinic. Full details of this research will be available over the coming months.

transgenerational trauma in the form of alienation of children and the epigenetic legacy

Today in the House of Lords, Baroness Meyer withdrew her Amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill after a lengthy and considered debate about the issue of alienation of children in divorce and separation.

My experiencing of listening to this was that at last, the seriousness of alienation of children after divorce and separation, is being recognised more widely for the serious issue of child abuse that it is. I was particularly heartened to hear Baron Winston speak about the scientific evidence which supports the reality of the harm that alienation does to children. This is the reason why those of us who do this work, continue to do it in the face of such serious attack. We know that it is child abuse, we know that it is hidden and we know that if it is not addressed it will lead to epigenetic changes which cause harm down the generations.

Whilst Baroness Meyer may feel disappointed in the outcome of her campaign in this particular bill, she has given careful and diligent attention to the issue she has worked tirelessly to raise to public consciousness over the past nineteen years. Whilst the words parental alienation may not be in the domestic abuse bill, the reality that so many in the House of Lords have been able to see beyond the toxic rhetoric which has infected this debate over recent weeks, is a breath of fresh air.

Alienation of children is, as Robert Winston told us, a hidden form of child abuse.

That acknowledgement alone, will protect many children for generations to come and Baroness Meyer is to be thanked for creating the opportunity for that reality to be known.

Watch Baron Winston on Parliamentary TV:

Baron Winston on Parliamentary TV speaking about alienation of children – 8 March 2021

The alienation of mothers: shame, blame and the reconfiguration game

There is a current strategy to convince alienated mothers that they are really suffering from coercive control and that they are being conned into believing that they are alienated. The problem with this argument, is that it only focuses upon the experience of the mothers themselves, it ignores completely, what is happening to the child.

The argument that mothers who are alienated are suffering from coercive control but fathers who are alienated are coercive controllers, falls down when we shift our focus to the alienated child. In the former scenario, which comes from an ideological perspective (women’s rights come first and must be protected before all else because they are victims of patriarchy), mothers who are alienated from their children and mothers who are ‘protecting’ their children from abusive fathers are all classed as victims of coercive control.

The problem with this view, is that when we shift our focus to what is happening to the children in these circumstances, we find that the children who are alienated from their mothers and the children who are alienated from their fathers, are all showing the same behavioural signs of psychological splitting. Children in the care of their fathers who are psychologically split, idealise their father and reject their mother, children in the care of their mothers who are psychologically split, idealise their mothers and demonise their fathers.

When children show idealisation of one parent and demonisation of the other, in the absence of any findings that a parent has caused harm, they are showing signs of alienation – from their own selves first and then one of their parents. Alienation is harmful to children because it causes a false persona to arise, which is followed by projections onto the parent of a belief that one is wholly good and the other is wholly bad. A child showing these signs, will experience interruption of normal healthy development and it is vital to examine the dynamics which lead to this presentation. Only by doing so can we discover why the child has utilised defensive psychological splitting as a coping mechanism.

If then, all children who are alienated show signs of psychological splitting and that happens if children are in the care of mothers or fathers, how can it also be true that only mothers experience abuse in the form of either alienation or allegations of alienation? The answer is, it can’t be true and it isn’t true and no amount of effort to reconfigure alienation of children as only being about coercive control of mothers, in order to obfuscate the reality that mothers and fathers become alienated from their children will hide that.

The shaming and blaming of alienated mothers has been going on for a very long time. It continues today, with what I can only describe as the deeply disturbing and brutal treatment of alienated mothers, by women who want to convince them that their children are not alienated, because what is really happening is that they are suffering coercive control.

Telling an alienated parent that their child is not alienated, is like telling a bereaved parent that their understanding of how their child died is wrong. It is like careering into someone’s personal suffering and imposing your own experience upon them. Alienated parents know what alienation does to their children, they have lived it, breathed it, cried a thousand tears over it. Whether it is caused by coercive control, bad mouthing, mental health problems, cold malicious determination, enmeshment, parentification or anything else, the harm that it does to the child is clear and present, it is obvious, it is like a light being switched off in the child’s mind as the child struggles with the onset of a false persona, which is designed to help the child survive the unsurvivable.

Alienated mothers, like alienated fathers, do not need to be lectured to about what they are experiencing, they do not need to be re-traumatised, what they need is care and compassion, understanding and most of all, to be heard and to have their suffering recognised.

The ‘alienation is really coercive control‘ agenda, which is promoted by ideological groups, is a red herring, it is designed to make this a war between mothers and fathers and it completely ignores the needs of alienated children and their parents, who are forced to stand by and watch their children being abused.

Alienation of children is part of a strategy of post separation abuse which is carried out by fathers and by mothers, using strategies which are often gender specific (fathers use readily recongised coervice control strategies, mothers use less easily recognised covert strategies of enmeshment and parentification) but which are also rooted in a range of mental health problems. The child carries the symptoms in the form of induced psychological splitting, which causes the most appalling changes in behaviour which are created by the defence which the child is driven to use.

For sure there are false claims of alienation, I have worked in cases where I have clearly said that this is not a case of alienation (and have been harassed by parents for saying so). But false claims of alienation, like false claims of domestic abuse, do not mean that all cases of either are falsified.

.My enduring interest in doing this work is protecting children from having to use induced psychological splitting as a defence and treatment of families where that occurs. I care about alienated children and the parent they are rejecting because I know that it is within that relationship that the child can properly recover an integrated sense of self. Watching what is done to alienated mothers (and fathers) but right now, particularly mothers, appalls me. For a group so shamed and so blamed, the hectoring and lecturing seems to me to be without compassion.

Which from an ideology which purports to put women’s needs first, is something of a contradiction.

For ignoring their sisters exortations to change their understanding of what is happening to their children, alienated mothers continue to be blamed, shamed and isolated from the help that they need.

On International Women’s Day, my thoughts are with them.

Fabricated or induced illness in cases of alienation of children: A serious form of child abuse

This is the second in a series of articles which examine the underlying mental health issues which are seen in cases of alienation of children in divorce and separation.

I began working in this field over ten years ago, a time period when the issue of alienation of children has become increasingly understood in the UK Family Courts. Alongside that, the issue has become one which is more understood amongst the general population. Since 2020 however, a strategy to hide the reality of what happens in families where children reject a parent in the absence of harm done to them by a parent, has been underway. This strategy, is designed to hide the reality of the harm which underlies the problem of what we call alienation. It is designed to hide child abuse.

The argument that alienation of children is only about abusive men making false claims in order to control protective mothers, holds no weight when such cases are examined in the court process. It also holds no weight in scientific research. The idea that protective mothers are routinely losing their children to abusive men is simply not borne out in evidence and it is evidence that the Court relies upon when making decisions about protection of children.

Serious cases of alienation of children in divorce and separation always, in my experience, involve mental health problems in the alienating parent, whether that is a mother or a father. Serious cases of alienation are seen when a child is bound to a parent with encapsulated delusional disorder, a personality disorder which is unresponsive to therapy and issues such as fabricated or induced illness are at play. Serious cases of alienation of children often involve false allegations by the parent to whom the child is aligned and often echoing allegations by the child. Some of these allegations are made in cases of induced illness, an issue which is diagnosed by psychiatrists and psychologists in the process of assessment of the underlying psychopathology in families.

The idea that a child who makes an allegation of abuse is not listened to in such circumstances is about as far away from reality as it is possible to get. The alienated child’s voice, is heard throughout proceedings, because this and the child’s behavioural display, is one of the major ways that alienation is evidenced. Whenever I have worked with alienated children in the family courts, their voices have been heard by a Guardian, often by a Social Worker and they have often been asked their wishes and feelings repeatedly in the run up to any ruling that they have become alienated from a parent. The alienation from a parent, in serious cases, is secondary to the underlying psychological and emotional harm that the child has suffered, it is a by-product of the problem which the Court is dealing with, which is that the child is not safe in the care of the parent to whom they have become aligned. The notion that a child’s wishes and feelings are being ‘translated’ by experts is equally a nonsense. The child’s wishes and feelings are considered in the light of the context in which they arise, they are ascertained and the Court makes the decision about how those wishes and feelings should be weighted in any decision made.

In ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child, the court will examine harm that the child has suffered and harm that the child is at risk of suffering in the future. Harm of a child is defined as any treatment which impairs the child’s health and development both now and in the future.

The idea therefore, that children are simply handed over to abusive fathers is a myth borne of ideological intentions. Children who are removed from a parent, in cases of serious alienation, are those judged to have been at risk of serious harm because they were being cared for by a parent who was unable to recognise the damage they were causing and who were unresponsive to other means of protecting the child.

An example of how fabrication or induced illness is seen in cases of alienation is written about by Thomas Moore in his book ‘Please Let Me See My Son’. In this description, of the complexity of alienation of children and the underlying psychological and emotional harm, which is caused by personality disordered parents, the impact on the child is held central to the narrative. The removal of this child, from the care of his mother who was causing him serious harm, was only the beginning of the recovery process. Induced illness, over a long period of time, was a feature of this case.

It is this, centrality of the child in such cases which is so important because in cases of serious alienation, where the child is psychologically bound to a parent because of what that parent is doing, it is only by holding the child’s needs at the centre of the analysis, that decisions about protection from harm can be made. A child who is being physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally harmed, must be protected, even if that child does not want that protection.

The popular and increasingly unrealistic claims being made about alienation of children are an attempt to obfuscate the reality of why this is treated as such a serious issue in the court process. Far from this being about the ignoring of domestic abuse and false claims of alienation routinely being upheld to give children to abusive fathers, the impact upon children, of serious harm being inflicted upon them by mothers and fathers who have mental health problems, is the real story that the public needs to know about.

This is not a DA versus PA debate, domestic abuse which is found as fact precludes a case from being considered as alienation at the Family Separation Clinic. This is about the need to protect children and the underlying mental health conditions in parents which drive that. Alienation, in such circumstances is simply a by product of those mental health issues, it is the red flag which alerts us to the deeper problems which cause serious harm to children.

That may be unpalatable for some, it does not make it any less true or any less urgent in terms of protecting abused children in divorce and separation.

Encapsulated Delusional Disorder and Alienation of children in divorce and separation

APA Definition of Delusional Disorder

delusional disorder in DSM–IV–TR, any one of a group of psychotic disorders with the essential feature of one or more nonbizarre delusions that persist for at least 1 month but are not due to schizophrenia. The delusions are nonbizarre in that they feature situations that could conceivably occur in real life (e.g., being followed, poisoned, infected, deceived by one’s government). Diagnosis also requires that the effects of substances (e.g., cocaine) or a medical condition be ruled out as causes of the delusions. Seven types of delusional disorder are specified, according to the theme of the delusion: erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, persecutory, somatic, mixed, and unspecified. Criteria changes for delusional disorder in DSM–5 include the following: The delusions may be either nonbizarre or bizarre (i.e., implausible), and their potential presence as a result of an ingested substance, a medical condition, or another mental disorder sometimes associated with firmly held delusional beliefs (e.g., obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder) must be ruled out. Formerly called paranoid disorder.

An encapsulated delusion is a belief in one area of life which is fixed and unshakeable even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Encapsulated delusional disorder, is seen in cases of alienation of children, when a child is showing the signs of psychological splitting and is aligned with a parent who has an unshakeable belief that the other is harmful to the child’s wellbeing. Encapsulated delusions are extremely powerful and in their strongest display, will cause the holder to bend all evidence to shape their beliefs. Children in the care of a parent who is suffering from encapsulated delusions, become fearful, anxious and bound into the belief of the parent that the parent who is being rejected, is harmful. When a child suffers a fixed and unshakeable belief that a parent is harmful, where there is clear evidence that the parent is not, the child is considered to be suffering from significant emotional and psychological harm. In such circumstances, removal from the care of the parent who is suffering the delusion is often necessary.

Encapsulated delusions occur in people who in many other areas of life appear to be normal. The fixation of the delusion, which is not accompanied by hallucination, is the key symptom. The person suffering from such delusions, is unusually obsessed by the focus of the delusion, believing that they have discovered something or know something that others do not know. This belief is often accompanied by a grandiosity which is narcissistic in nature and which causes the sufferer to believe that they are better than others, because they know a truth that others don’t. Efforts to dissaude the sufferer are futile and in fact can escalate the fixed nature of the belief. Unfortunately, for children in the care of someone who suffers encapsulated delusion, there is no choice but to enter into the shared persecutory belief that the other parent is harmful.

Children who grow up believing that a healthy parent is dangerous to them when they are not, suffer significant harm. In some cases of encapsulated delusion, the beliefs are so fixed and so harmful, that a parent will demand that a child is medically examined, for example, for signs of sexual abuse. In the absence of evidence that the child has suffered sexual abuse, to make such a demand is, by any measure of responsible and healthy parenting, itself, abuse. Sadly, in too many cases of encapsulated delusional disorder, this is one of the outcomes and this is often the point at which the threshold for significant harm is considered to be crossed and the state in the form of local authority child protection services step in.

Encapsulated or shared persecutory delusions, are uncommon in alienation cases, but they are one of the range of reasons why, children are removed from the care of a parent. Such a persecutory belief arises from behaviours which are defensive in nature and which are usually fear and anxiety based. The belief that the other parent is seeking to do harm, simply by wanting to have a relationship with the child, appears to stem in many cases, from unresolved childhood abuse in the parent suffering the delusion. The projection of the unresolved issues onto the child, especially during the period post divorce or separation, when anxiety is already high, is often the beginning of an episodic reaction in the parent who is suffering the delusion. Over time, the child becomes bound into a process by which, the rejected parent’s love begins to be experienced as persecutory and something to be afraid of. This causes serious emotional and psychological harm.

In my experience of working with families where encapsulated delusional disorder has been present, the suffering parent will bend all incoming evidence which contradicts the delusion they are suffering, to ensure their belief is upheld. So, for example, anyone who presents evidence that the rejected parent is not persecutory, but is healthy and well, becomes aligned in the mind of the sufferer to the rejected parent and becomes persecutory simply by their existence. In such circumstances, where the Court itself is also often experienced as persecutory, the parent binds the child tighter into the sharing of this encapsulated delusion, making it impossible to protect the child without removal from the parent. It must be recognised, that even where a child is removed in such circumstances, every effort is made by the Court to maintain a relationship between the child and the parent they have been removed from, in a way that is safe.

A good example of a shared persecutory delusion is where a parent believes that a child has been abused, during a period of time when the person being accused of abuse, could not have been responsible. A belief that abuse is taking place when a parent is not in the country, for example, which leads to the construction of an explanation of how the supposed abuser returned to the country without others knowing, to abuse the child and then left, again without anyone being aware of it, other than the parent suffering the delusion. When a child echoes the beliefs of the parent, in a situation where there is clear evidence to the contrary, especially when this leads to the parent wanting to have the child medically examined, action has to be taken to protect the child.,

The current climate in the UK, in which there is an almost mantra like repetition, that all allegations of parental alienation are used by abusive men to control protective mothers, is ignorant of the reality of the serious underlying psychological and mental health conditions which cause alienation reactions in children. The idea that a parent can go into Court and claim that a child is being alienated and that this automatically overrides existing evidence of domestic abuse, is simply not upheld by the reality of how cases of alienation in children are managed.

Cases of alienation of children are serious and taken very seriously. A finding of fact of domestic abuse would preclude a case being considered as alienation at the Clinic, as this is considered to be a contributory factor to the child’s rejection. In the absence of any such finding, psychological and psychiatric assessments are sought, in order to determine the presence or absence of mental health problems, ruling in or out serious conditions such as shared encapsulated persecutory delusions, is part of the differentiation process. Only when there has been a long process of observation, clinical assessment and differentiation, where a parent is demonstrating an incapacity to recognise harmful behaviours, does removal of the child on the basis of safeguarding occur and when it does, it is always the Court which makes that decision. The current popular narrative about alienation, which is promulgated by ideological researchers and a group of parents supporters, who are themselves, likely to be on the spectrum of fixed and unshakeable thinking, is a huge distortion of what really happens in Court.

Which is why it is so important to pull apart what we mean by alienation of children in divorce and separation and to recognise and acknowledge that, however unpalatable it may seem, removal of children to protect them from harm, is sometimes necessary. As in all child protection work, careful differentiation takes place before intervention. Believing that someone can simply say a child is being alienated and that overrides everything else, including proven domestic abuse, is, so far from the truth as to represent a shared delusion in itself.

Alienated children are in need of protection because they are being abused. Protecting them is our primary responsibility because of the seriousness of the harm that they are suffering. The Court is the place in which those matters are recognised and addressed. Of course, some will claim alienation when it is nothing of the sort, however, the stringent court processes, ensure that those cases are identified. Alienation is not something which is taken lightly and what lies beneath genuine cases, should be of serious concern to anyone who cares about the wellbeing of children.

Working with the language of parts in helping alienated children to heal

Inner Child Work

We are all still children inside our adult selves and some of our behaviours in the here and now come from our experiences of being children in relationship to adults. One of the important things you must remember when your child returns to you is that they need you to remain in your adult self.

The idea of all of us having different parts of the self comes from various schools of psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis for example teaches that we have three ego states of Parent/Adult/Child from which we interact with others. Humanistic psychotherapists consider we have parts of self which are known and unknown to us. In our work we recognise that the child we were continues to live within us and that any unresolved conflicts which remain from our childhood are often projected onto others.

This is a psychoanalytical way of thinking about ourselves in relationship to the past, present and future. In working with alienation, we are also aware that we need to take into account the transpersonal perspective.

Transpersonal means the relationships beyond our conscious mind and the influences of past generations upon our present selves. Thus arises the concept that we can be in relationship to people who were important to us in our childhood via our internalised ‘objects’, which are people from the past to whom we continue to relate in our imagination and inner world. In cases of alienation, the relationships we have with others are often overshadowed by other people who are not present as well as those who are. Which means that a child may become alienated not because of something a parent is doing in the here and now but because of the influence of people who are not even alive and the way that this shapes the behaviours of the parent to whom the child is aligned. Here is an example of what we mean by this.

When we fall in love, we fall in love with our own self as much as the other person. What we love about the other person first, is their reflection back to us of our own self. This is called the ‘honeymoon period’ and it is full of wonderful feelings and emotions. Unfortunately the honeymoon period is an illusion, which means that wonderful though it is, it will pass and reality will break through. That reality is the fact that the person we have fallen in love with is not perfect, they have flaws and they are different and separate from us.

The internalised ego state of parent/adult/child are always at play when you are parenting an alienated child, who is likely to attempt to become the adult or parent in relationship to you. If your own adult/parent ego state is fragile, then you are potentially going to move into a relational situation where your child is being your parent or attempting to act as if they are your parent.

This is a real problem for parents whose children return to them, because the defence of induced psychological splitting in a child produces an omnipotent false self which appears as part of the defence. This omnipotent false self is a little like that which appears in teenagers as they move through the developmental stages of separation and individuation on the road to adulthood.

In our experience, one of the most common scenarios which occurs in alienation is the onset of the induced psychological splitting which is caused by the alienating parent and the way in which this triggers responses from the rejected parent. In our view, the actions of the alienating parent can be both conscious and unconscious, that means that some alienating parents do this deliberately and others do it as a pattern of ongoing behaviour learned in childhood. Whether the alienating parent is doing this consciously or not however, the end result is the same, the child begins to use the defence of psychological splitting and projecting blame towards the rejected parent.

The Role of Projection

When the child begins to use the defence of psychological splitting, it causes a reaction in both the alienating and rejected parent. This is because the splitting response in the child is accompanied by projections onto the parents, one projection is wholly good and the other is wholly bad. These projections have a particular quality, they are projections of the child’s splitting of their own ego, dividing the self into good and bad first, is the precusor to the projection. The projection onto the rejected parent, contains the child’s split off identity with the rejected parent, which the child now fervently denies and it also contains the self hatred that the child experiences in the splitting reaction. Finally, the projection contains the inter-psychic material which has been passed to the child by the influencing parent. This projection can be so powerful and so painful that the rejected parent has to use the defence of splitting in response in order to avoid psychological disintegration.



Adult Self
Possesses ability to problem solve Is aware of self as adult in relationship to others Maintains a stable sense of self Has the capacity to understand the difference between subjective and objective experiences Searches for win/win outcomes Sees the bigger picture


Parent Self
Has the capacity to put the child’s needs ahead of own Does not compete with child Invests time and focus into child Capable of sustaining patience Nurtures Understands child’s needs for support Provides safety Is consistent in responses



Healthy Child Self
Playful Freely laughs and enjoys life Creative and spontaneous Friendly, open and warm Curious Affectionate Innocent Open


Conflicted Child Self
Angry Ashamed Vindictive Uncertain Anxious Embarrassed Vengeful Secretive Self centred
The Inner Child States in Rejected Parents

Remember that induced psychological splitting happens because the child can no longer compartmentalise their experience of living between two parents who are split apart in the outside world. Because of this, their behaviours begin to switch, denoting that they are adapting to fit the pressured situation they are living in. At the end of their capacity to switch behaviours to meet the needs of two parents, one of whom is causing pressure to align and reject because of their own maladapted and distorted beliefs, children will utilise splitting to relieve themselves of the intolerable burden of trying to maintain a relationship with someone they are aware is disliked, not trusted or hated by the other parent.

In doing so the child splits their own sense of self into at least four parts. The healthy part of the self is now in need of protection and what appears is a false self with omnipotent features. This self believes that they are in charge and that it is their role to defend the parent that they are now aligned with. The good part of the child is the part which is idealised, it is the part which identifies with the aligned parent and it creates a sense of omnipotence. The bad part of the child is that which contains all of the regulatory feelings of guilt and shame which would normally prevent a child from rejecting a loved parent. The defensive part of the child is the angry, rejecting, refusing and sometimes violent part of the child which now says no, I will not see that parent.

In the good part and bad part of the child reside the identifications with the parents and all of the heritage which goes along with that. In the good part of the child which is conscious for the child is the perfection of the preferred parent. In the bad part of the child resides the bad things that the preferred parent does which is now completely out of the child’s conscious mind. In the bad part of the child resides everything to do with the rejected parent both good and bad as well as the bad things that the preferred parent has done. Along with those split off experiences are the regulating feelings of guilt and shame.

The role of the defensive part of the child is to keep the bad part as unconscious as possible for as long as possible. This is why rejecting children do not want to see you, do not want to talk about you and do not want to think about you. This splitting off must be defended in order that the child remains capable of holding a sense of self in the world. It is a normal defence in a very abnormal situation.

The healthy part of the child, that which you remember with great love and which you wonder whether will ever return, lies buried beneath these three parts which arise as part of the child’s false persona. What you see in alienated children is the omnipotent self which is supported by the defensive self. What you don’t see is the bad part of the self which is repressed into the unconscious and the healthy part of the self which lies beneath the bad part.

When these parts begin to emerge in an alienation reaction, if what you do is respond in return from your own split child states, a perfect storm arises.

When you receive your child back into your life, it is essential that you both understand and are aware of how the alienated child will trigger your own split self and that you recognise that the defensive part of the child wants to trigger that part of you in order to gain control over you.

Just like teenagers will fish around in the inter-psychic1 relationship with a parent for the weak spot they can exploit, alienated children will deliberately push your buttons to find the point at which the internal conflicts you have to cope with from your own childhood, will make you vulnerable.

Many rejected parents who are re-parenting their alienated child, will say that they feel as if their child is trying to be an adult or parent in the relationship with them and it is true, they are. This is the outcome of induced psychological splitting, the child has adopted behaviours which are maladapted and which attempt to manipulate adults and especially parents. In this respect they are acting from a place which they do not have the capacity to understand or cope with. They are trying to behave like parents and adults in a family hierarchy which is broken.

Your role is to rebuild that hierarchy by preventing them from triggering your internalised inner child splits by working on your own issues away from your child. Knowing your trigger points as well as possible, knowing where you need re-parenting and finding a therapist who can offer that to you is how you will protect yourself and your child from re-entering the emotional and psychological entanglements created by induced psychological splitting.

Your aim is to remain in adult/parent state for almost 100% of the time at first. This means that your child cannot trigger your split child part. Playfulness with an alienated child comes later, when the risks of the child attempting to manipulate you into the split child self are reduced by the healing of the splitting in the child. Remember when play fighting used to ‘end in tears’ when you were little? Trying to ‘play fight’ with your alienated child will definitely end in tears if you attempt it too soon. Your child does not possess the capacity to play fight when they are in the split state of mind. They have little perspective and can only perceive you in a one dimensional way. Do not tease, argue with or use any other kind of childlike behaviours around your child in the early stages of reunification, instead concentrate on staying in adult/parent state of mind as much as you possibly can.

Over the years that I have done this work, I have come to recognise that alienation of children in divorce and separation is a readily understood defence mechanism which causes splitting, denial and projecting behaviours. What you see is not what is really going on in alienation precisely because it is a projection. When a child is showing the signs of psychological splitting, it is essential to remember that projection is a defence which is caused when the child is living with an intolerable secret. That secret is that the parent who is causing the rejection is the one who looks as if they are loving the child. The child cannot express that reality because they are captured by their utter dependency upon their parent, meaning that their vulnerability to coercive control, emotional and psychological manipulation is total.

Much damage is done to children in these circumstances and to rejected parents too. Understanding the dynamic means that as a rejected parent, you can begin to understand how to help your child recover.

1Inter-Psychic, meaning between two minds

Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children – What it is, why it matters, how it helps – 24th March 2021

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

Therapeutic parenting is a high nurture, attuned style of parenting which assists children who have suffered early developmental trauma, to build healthy attachments.

Why does it matter for alienated children?

Alienated children are more likely to have suffered early attachment trauma and, even in circumstances where this is not the case, they are likely to be suffering from attachment disruption caused by the experience of being alienated from a parent.

Anyone who is parenting an alienated child, must be aware of the ways in which this impacts upon the child’s behaviours, responses to adult relationships and different living arrangements.

How does it help?

Alienated children require that their experience and behavioural patterns are deeply understood and responded to in ways that help them to heal. Adapting parenting styles when your children are demonstrating signs of alienation, is a crucial strategy to support their resilience and recovery.

Who is this seminar for?

Parents and carers of children who demonstrate the alignment and rejection behaviours which are typically seen when a child becomes alienated.

This seminar will also help practitioners who wish to understand how to respond to the needs of alienated children, using techniques which are based upon internal family systems therapy and therapeutic parenting.

Date: March 24th 2021 @ 4pm GMT

Duration: 2 hours with 30 minutes Q&A with Karen Woodall

Cost £40 for 1 month’s unlimited access

Book Here

What do we mean by alienation of children in divorce and separation?

What do we mean by alienation?

Much discussion about alienationof children in divorce and separation, is around what one parent is doing to the other. Alienation means many things, we consider that it means that a child’s right to an unfolding sense of self which is sovereign and unique to them, has been colonised by the influencing parent so that their needs are met at the expense of the childs. Which means that a child who has been alienated has particular needs because their own needs have not been properly met and because they have become used to meeting other people’s needs before their own.

We also recognise that the child who has been induced to use the defence of psychological splitting is a child who has become alienated from their own sense of a whole self.

The Onset of an Alienation Reaction

In order to understand a child in recovery from induced psychological splitting (alienation) , it is important to recognise the path that a child takes into using the defence. In our assessment and differentiation work, we are always seeking to understand how the child became

A child who uses the defence of psychological splitting will usually be seen to have used the following behaviours prior to the defence of psychological splitting.

Compartmentalisation

This is a common behaviour seen in children of divorce and separation and is one which is sometimes useful to them. Compartmentalisation means being able to keep part of your world separate. We all use it as a psychological tool, it helps us to concentrate on our work when we are worried about things at home and it assists us in being able to juggle tasks which would otherwise become overwhelming to us.

Children of divorce and separation use compartmentalisation when their worlds become distinctly different after family separation. What was once a whole internalised experience of mum and dad, now becomes two very separate parts. In mums world life will have a particular feeling and quality, in dads world it may be entirely different. How children cope with this difference depends upon their capacity to hold the two realities in mind at once, compartmentalising the two parts is how this is achieved.

Compartmentalisation is healthy if the child is not holding the two realities too firmly apart. So for example, if the child can talk about dad whilst with mom and can talk about mom whilst with dad, if the child can bring things from mom’s world into dad’s world and vice versa, compartmentalising is healthy. When that breaks down however and there is a complete separation of the two realities, for example when one parent decides that they do not want to talk about or hear about the other parent, compartmentalisation becomes a problem.

In order to prevent a child from raising the defence of psychological splitting, compartmentalisation is necessary. This is why we always encourage parents to enable the child to bring something of their other world into their life in the here and now. Of course where parents are alienating, that is not possible and so compartmentalisation gives way to switching behaviours.

Switching

Switching behaviours are where the child changes their whole personality to suit the parent they are currently with. When a child is switching they have divided the self into two parts, one part which is acceptable in their eyes to the parent they are with, the other part which is acceptable to the other parent, is hidden from view. Alienating parents drive children into switching behaviours when they do not allow the child to bring things from the other parents home back into their home or when they insist on changing children’s clothes on arrival or return or where they ignore the child if the child does something which is reminiscent of the other parent. Switching is a pathological behaviour in a child, which means that it is a forced adaptive response to a parent’s refusal to accept the whole of who the child is. Switching behaviours cause a child to be entirely different in one home to the way they are in the other.

Children who use switching behaviours are also likely to use lies as a way of hiding the parts of their lives that they feel are unacceptable to a parent. Switching behaviours are often seen just ahead of the onset of the defence of psychological splitting.

Induced Psychological Splitting

Psychological splitting means that a child has utilised a defence of splitting their feelings about themselves into all good and all bad. The bad part of the child, is disposed of into the unconscious, which means that the child is only conscious of the good part of themselves. Whilst the child considers this part to be good, their behaviours appear as anything but. Children who have utilised splitting to cope in the past separation landscape are arrogant, entitled, self righteous and fixed in their belief that they are good and the parent they are aligned to is good and anyone who tries to persuade them otherwise is bad.

The blocking of your incoming care occurs because the child is using a defence mechanism. A defence mechanism is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. Put simply what this means is that the child is, or has been, living in a situation in which their natural feelings of love and attachment to both parents have been interrupted. The way that these feelings have been interrupted is a particular feature of this defence mechanism.

The defence mechanism of psychological splitting (Alienation)

To have a whole sense of self a child draws upon relationships from each side of its family, experiencing those as internalised ‘objects’ which they relate to in their imaginary world as well as in the outside world. We might call this our internal world and the figures which populate it are the important people from our childhood.

As the child grows into a teenager, the external and internal family relationships are replaced by external role models which offer the growing adolescent a guide to whom they may become. Sports figures and pop-stars are perfect examples of role models which replace parents in the transition to adulthood.

In ordinary circumstances, the child’s internalised sense of their mother and father is that they are one whole experience and that there is no separate mom and dad but more a joined up mom/dad experience which is, in the felt sense1 the combination of the two external relational experiences internalised as one.

A child whose parents separate, has particular challenges to overcome, not least the fact that the internalised sense of mom/dad are now entirely separate in the outside world. Add into that mix new adults in the lives of each parent and things become more complex. Now the child has to work out how to relate psychologically and emotionally to these two very different external experiences whilst on the inside they have to cope with the way that the world feels fragmented and split. Add to that one parent demanding attention and allegiance or being upset and distressed and requiring the child’s care and the capacity to maintain an integrated sense of self begins to disappear.

The defence mechanism of psychological splitting appears in a child who is pressured in the internal and outside world and who can no longer hold different realities in mind. When mom and dad are two separate external experiences and the internal world is fractured, the child is vulnerable. If either mom or dad then begins a process of pressurising the child into alignment, by subtle means or otherwise, the child’s capacity to maintain an integrated sense of self is diminished.

A defence arises to protect the child from overwhelming sensations in the internal world. Think of it as a dam which is placed in the way of emotions which overcome the child’s capacity to sort out their own feelings. The defence of splitting, is an infantile defence which causes the child to regress in their emotional and psychological capacity, this is why it is harmful to the child to cause it.

Splitting is caused by overwhelming pressure which leads to the child creating a defence from which a false persona or self arises. This false self is the alienated self, the outcome of the pressure put upon the child. It is why the child who is alienated appears to be so radically different to the real child that you know. The alienated child has a false persona which has arisen via the onset of the defence of splitting. This false self is wholly aligned to the parent who has caused the splitting to occur. The child’s real or healthy self, the part of the child which loves all of their family members unconsciously, is hidden away in the unconscious world of the child, out of their sight and mind.

Your child may have utilised the defence of psychological splitting because of a convergence of dynamics or, they may have been subjected to simple but powerful messages designed to alienate. However the defence arose, the reality for your child is that the life they lived as an alienated child felt authentic to them even though it wasn’t. Therefore, if your child is being moved to live with you after residence transfer, or is being re-connected to you via structured therapeutic work. Understanding how the world felt and feels to your child is vital.

Understanding Splitting and Parts

When we talk about parts of the self we mean that the child has used a defence mechanism which has divided the child’s own internalised sense of self into distinct parts. Sometimes the child will be aware of those different parts of the self, sometimes not. At times a child may sense that there are other feelings that they might have about the self or other people, which are being held out of their conscious mind, at other times there is no access to that awareness.

The form of splitting and parts of the child we are talking about in alienation, is a defence which is utilised by children and it is one which is recognisable by the way that the child presents.

To help you understand what we mean by this here is a diagram of the four key parts of the self that induced psychological splitting causes in an alienated child.

Behaviours seen in different parts



Good Part (omnipotent part)
Perfect sense of self Arrogant Believes self to be in charge Dismissive Lacks empathy


Defensive Part (maladapted part)
Angry Vindictive Challenging Threatening Abusive Refuses to comply with instructions Says no Runs away




Bad Part (guilty and ashamed part)
Highly anxious Hides this part of self from others When this part emerges the child becomes overly solicitous of your attention Manipulative part


Healthy Part (authentic part)
Playful Creative Childlike Innocent Unconscious Accepting Peaceful

1An inner knowing which Gendlin called the “felt sense”, “a special kind of internal bodily awareness … a body-sense of meaning” (Gendlin, 1981: 10)

Working With the Language of Parts

We will shortly be introducing our 2021 schedule of training for practitioners. Based upon our work with children suffering from induced psychological splitting over ten years, this year our training will focus upon skilling practitioners to understand how to work with alienated children using internal family systems and structural family therapy. These trainings are basic introductions to the Clinic’s approach to working with alienation of children in divorce and separation. If you are interested in training with us, check back for details. All training is online this year. Next year we hope to return to providing some training face to face.

An Evidence Based, Certified Training in Understanding and Working with Alienated Children and Families.

The Clinic is in preparation with a UK University, for a full evaluation of our work over the past decade. This evaluation, which will use quantative and qualitative methods to examine processes and outcomes of all of the Clinic’s services, will provide an evidence base for a certified training for professionals seeking to work with alienated children and families. This is a major project for the Family Separation Clinic, which will be accompanied by our new handbook for professionals. Alongside evaluation of services, we are preparing online training materials which have relevance across all legislative borders, to enable mental health professionals around the world to use our theoretical model of understanding, our differentiation route to treatment planning and treatment routes to fit the needs of mild to severe alienation of children in divorce and separation. I will update on progress here regularly, we begin this work in April 2021 and it will be completed and ready for use in April 2022.

Therapeutic Parenting for alienated children: A Zoom seminar with karen woodall

Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children – What it is, why it matters, how it helps – 24th March 2021

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

Therapeutic parenting is a high nurture, attuned style of parenting which assists children who have suffered early developmental trauma, to build healthy attachments.

Why does it matter for alienated children?

Alienated children are more likely to have suffered early attachment trauma and, even in circumstances where this is not the case, they are likely to be suffering from attachment disruption caused by the experience of being alienated from a parent.

Anyone who is parenting an alienated child, must be aware of the ways in which this impacts upon the child’s behaviours, responses to adult relationships and different living arrangements.

How does it help?

Alienated children require that their experience and behavioural patterns are deeply understood and responded to in ways that help them to heal. Adapting parenting styles when your children are demonstrating signs of alienation, is a crucial strategy to support their resilience and recovery.

Who is this seminar for?

Parents and carers of children who demonstrate the alignment and rejection behaviours which are typically seen when a child becomes alienated.

This seminar will also help practitioners who wish to understand how to respond to the needs of alienated children, using techniques which are based upon internal family systems therapy and therapeutic parenting.

Date: March 24th 2021 @ 4pm GMT

Duration: 2 hours with 30 minutes Q&A with Karen Woodall

Cost £40 for 1 month’s unlimited access

Book Here

Constrain, protect and then treat: Child protection in intervention with alienated children and families

Working with other clinicians allows me to formulate new way of educating others about how to approach cases of a child being induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation. Lately we have been discussing how to help social workers, people we often work with in teams, to understand the concept of alienation using the idea of non accidental injury to the mind of a child.

Constrain, protect and treat is an easy way to think about the formula we are using in alienation.  It is the same formula as that used in non accidental injury cases by social workers and by people working with survivors of domestic abuse.

This formula translates well for those who are working in this field therapeutically, it helps to clarify how such interventions should be made and why they should be made in this order.  Let’s begin with the formula and its use in non accidental injury and domestic abuse.

In times of crisis we do not offer therapy.  Crisis prevents people from being able to reflect upon their experience and is ineffective and at times harmful to them as it expects them to have the capacity to do something they are incapable of (no-one can reflect upon their world when they are dysregulated).

Constrain

When a child has suffered non accidental injury, our first action is to constrain the person who has caused this.  When someone is suffering domestic abuse, our first action is to find ways to constrain the perpetrator (whilst supporting the person to find practical ways out of the situation).  In alienation of a child, we do not expect a child to enter into therapy without constraining the person who is causing the problem.

Step 1 – Constrain – Ensure that the influencing parent is prevented from controlling the child.

Protect

When a child has suffered non accidental injury, we build a protective space for the child to live in. When someone has experienced domestic abuse we build a route to a protected space for them to feel safe in. When a child has been alienated, we focus upon ensuring that a protected space is made for them which is away from the parent who has caused the problem.

Step 2 – Protect – Ensure that the child is enabled to spend time in protected space, away from the parent who is causing the problem.

Apply Therapy

When a child has suffered non accidental injury, we utilise the protected space to apply therapeutic work. When a domestic abuse survivor is in protected space, we offer therapeutic support to review and rebuild life.  When a child is in protected space, we offer proximity to the parent they have rejected and utilise that proximity to apply therapeutic input.

Step 3 – Apply therapy – Ensure that the child is enabled to be in close proximity to the parent they have rejected and apply therapeutic input alongside this.

Differentiating Alienation

A child’s rejecting behaviour in divorce and separation is differentiated by the use of psychological splitting.

If a child is not utilising psychological splitting, is able to see the good and bad in their parents, is able to move between them, they are not alienated.  They may be suffering from switching behaviours, compartmentalisation behaviours, maladaptive behaviours, but they are not alienated.

If the child divides parents into idealised and demonised and if the child’s demonisation of a parent echoes the influencing parent’s beliefs and if the rejected parent is evidenced as not having done anything which could cause such strong division of feeling, then alienation is possible.

The Court is the place where alienation of a child is decided upon after hearing the evidence.  Recent UK High Court Court judgments have made it clear that the issue of alienation is a child protection issue, regardless of whether that is done consciously or unconsciously.

The mental health intervention is held in place by the court system.

Delivering therapeutic work outside of that, is contraindicated by the research evidence and potentially causes further harm.

Importance of correct formula in treatment

Why must we treat alienation as we would non accidental injury and domestic abuse when we are working as therapists?  Because the child is in the same position as all abused children/people, they are identifying with the aggressor.  To place the child into that double bind, is, as Dr Steve Miller* explains, to re-injure the child.

 In non accidental injury the child will forgive the parent and seek to blame the self for the harm done to them.


In alienation the child will split off and deny their experience in order to avoid the threat of abandonment.

Abandonment threat is wrapped up in what looks like love in many cases of alienation but in some cases it is starkly present and easy to detect.  Being able to differentiate this identification with the aggressor dynamic in children’s rejection of a parent, is critical in helping the outside world to understand the threat to the child.

As we continue in our work to educate other practitioners, being able to clearly articulate the problem of induced psychological splitting in children and how to treat it,  is an essential task.

Parent and Practitioner Training with the Family Separation Clinic

Parents

A series of seminars for parents are in preparation which can be watched online. Our first seminar was Reconnections: Recovering Older Alienated Children, this will be available to purchase and watch online shortly. Our next seminar, Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children, will be launched shortly, please check back for details.

Practitioners

The Clinic is preparing for evaluation of its services, in partnership with a UK University, to provide an evidence based and accredited training in its model of assessment, differentiation and treatment of alienated children and their families. This training will be made available online as well as face to face in 2022.

Currently, the Clinic is involved in practitioner training on a bespoke basis, delivering training online to individuals and groups of practitioners, in partnership with Family Mediation Association and other local mediation and psychotherapy groups. for details of training currently available, or to book bespoke training online, please email us at office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

the asymmetrical power balance in families where children reject a parent

The asymmetry of power over the child, in families where children reject a parent outright, is one of the dynamics we pay close attention to in assessment, differentiation and treatment. Asymmetrical power dynamics exist, where one person holds power over another and the subordinate person cannot have access to balancing power.

In separating families, power over the child and the way in which the child relates to each parent, is either balanced by both parents acting in the best interests of their child or is asymmetrical in that one parent takes control and dictates how the other will have a relationship with the child.

In the scenario where one person takes control, this may be because there are genuine reasons for doing so. There may have been violence in the home which has caused the parent to act in this way or there may have been abuse of the child during the period prior to the family break-up. Some parents take control in order to ensure that the child has a consistent relationship with the other parent, seen for example, when the other parent decides to simply come and go as they please in the life of the child. None of these scenarios however, induce psychological splitting in a child, that problem which is seen when a child outright rejects one parent and hyper attaches to the other. Only when the parent with control is leaking feelings, manipulating the child or is otherwise emotionally and psychologically controlling, is the core sign of alienation, which is induced psychological splitting seen.

When a child displays the signs of induced psychological splitting, they become contemptuous, disdainful and dismissive towards a parent. This is not normal behaviour for a child towards a parent. Even when a parent has caused rejection, the child is more ambivalent about the parent, for example, hoping that the parent might change and hoping that someone might help that parent to do so.

Induced psychological splitting means that the child has been forced to use the defence of splitting their feelings into wholly good and wholly bad for their parents. It means that the child has developed a false persona and that the false self, is the self which is now identified with and wholly aligned to, the parent who has the power over the child and who is willing to use it.

Power over children is bestowed in family separation through several channels. In law, where parents are married, both have parental responsibility and both should, in real terms, have responsibility for the care and support of children after separation. Far from this being a given however, parental behaviours at the point of separation, are driven by cultural and gender assumptions about who is the best person to care and who is the best person to provide. Public policy is framed upon these assumptions, driving fathers into the role of provider and mothers into the role of carer.

Now before anyone starts shouting about fathers who don’t provide and mothers who don’t care, let me be clear. I am talking about gendered assumptions in public policy, not about individual situations. Of course there are exceptions to the rule and some fathers don’t do the right thing and some mothers don’t do the right thing either.

The asymetrical power balance in cases of alienation of children is clearly defined by the way that one parent becomes aligned with the child and willing to uphold that and the other is pushed the margins of the child’s life. When this is coupled with induced psychological splitting in the child, the double bind the child is in is clear. Equally, the powerless position of the rejected parent is clear. The only recourse for most parents in these circumstances, is to ask the family court to intervene.

Because these cases involve such disparity in power, one of the first interventions we ask the court to make is to mediate that power so that the child is no longer being controlled by the parent to whom they are aligned. We do this by asking that the child is made available for clinical observation with the parent they are rejecting – AFTER we have differentiated the different dynamics which have configured themselves inside and outside of the child to cause the rejection.

An alienated child shows the signs of induced psychological splitting and a false self which arises as part of the defence of splitting and projection. If the signs are there, the next step is to investigate how the the splitting came into play. This can be the result of one parent or the other, or in some cases, both. Presence and absence of alienating behaviours, underlying psychopathology and attachment disorders are part of the differentiation process. A child who has been abused by a parent and children who have been witness to domestic abuse, do not show the same signs of induced psychological splitting.

Treatment of alienation in children is undertaken using a staged process of clinical trials. This utilises the power of the Court to mediate the power that the aligned parent is holding over the child in order to release the child from the double bind. Structured programmes of work, address the underlying psychopathology which causes the alienation reaction. Power over the child is removed from the aligned parent in order to enable the child to live free from the control which is being exerted over them, containment of leakage of feeling is provided using behavioural contracts and exposure to the split off and denied ‘object relationship’ in the form of the rejected parent is supported.

Alienated children who have been living in asymmetrical power relationships with parents, are bound to the alignment and rejection dynamic as the only way of coping in an impossible coercive control situation. The parent coercively controlling the child is the aligned parent in most of these cases and the control dynamics are shown to be overt and conversant with intimate psychological terrorism or covert and conversant with threats of abandonment and fear inducing anxiety which is leaked through. However the dynamic shows itself, the child is being harmed and must be protected.

Just as in all forms of child abuse, power over children and the corruption of their right to an unconscious childhood is what lies beneath alienation. Getting the power balance right is an urgent task in treatment.

Family Separation Clinic News

The Family Separation Clinic will be presenting its model of reformulated practice in therapeutic work with families affected by alienation at the AFCC this year. Focusing upon the asymmetrical power dynamics, splitting, denial and projection defences and how therapists can reconfigure their intervention to provide successful structured programmes, this session will be pre-recorded for download throughout the conference.

EAPAP will be discussing the next conference shortly, focusing entirely upon clinical practice with families affected by alienation of children, this conference is likely to be ‘hybrid’ mixing live sessions with online delivery. More news soon.

Reconnections: Recovering Older Children – Online Seminar

Our new platform for delivery of seminars which can be purchased and streamed at times whic are convenient to you, is now ready. I will announce the next seminar shortly and how you can purchase the reconnections seminar which was delivered in December.

The next seminar is Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children in Recovery and is the basic training for anyone wanting to do our online Therapeutic Parenting Course, which will be available soon.

Online training

We are working hard on developing online training and certification for practitioners around the world, who are seeking to deliver a therapeutically based set of interventions for alienated children and families. Based upon our successful work with families over the past decade, this is a theoretical and practical training which enables intervention with alienated children and families.

Therapeutic work with adult children will eventually be added to this online training.

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