Why systemic family therapy can’t help in cases of parental alienation

This is an occasional blog from Nick Woodall, his thoughts and mine will continue to be posted here and on his blog – nickwoodall.wordpress.com Very soon we will be launching a new site where all of the work we are doing on parental alienation will be brought together in one place. The new site will have discussion and help forums and is being hosted by the Family Separation Clinic. Watch this space for our launch date and links through to sign up to updates, news and more commentary and self help on understanding, coping and healing the problem of parental alienation.

Nick Woodall

Whilst the family courts and the professionals who advise them often recommend family therapy in high conflict cases where children are rejecting one of their parents, systemic family therapy faces the charge that it is not only an ineffective response to parental alienation but is, in many cases, likely to make things worse.

Of course, therapeutic interventions form a key element in working with families in distress and may offer effective treatment routes in some cases where a child is rejecting one of their parents. Certainly, where the rejecting behaviour in a child is mild to moderate, and in cases where the rejecting behaviour is a result of either a rational response to the rejected parent’s behaviours or is a response to the combined behaviours of both parents that is rooted in the still fluid and unresolved post separation conflict, systemic family therapy may be able to play a part…

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7 Comments

  1. Love the super-tough stance!

    I can see that the family therapy that I was pushing for – would likely to have been very disappointing…even if it had been accepted.

    I’m sure that a lot of the time it is the hardest thing to get the alienating parent (or the alienated child) to admit that alienation is going on.

    I still feel that we won’t get very far until we have a radical incentive in place NOT to alienate…i.e. the suggestion that residency of the children ought to be with whichever parent can demonstrate the maximum capacity to include the separated parent – in the children’s lives.

    Not such a difficult idea – IF the children’s best interests are ever to be given the highest priority.

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    1. Really interesting vote being currently sought in North Dakota to put into legislation 50/50 shared parenting as the default standard – info here http://bismarcktribune.com/news/opinion/editorial/yes-on-measures-and-no-on/article_f75b2c70-563d-11e4-8368-07807a72a78e.html including revealation that the lobby opposing it is covertly funded by the State Bar Association and run by divorce lawyers, who of course have a vested interest in long expensive custody battles continuing.
      I think that should be the norm here – I don’t think any parent should have to ‘demonstrate’ that they are putting their children’s inherent human rights to have both parents in their life before their own needs. It should be mandated 50/50 time with punative measures for deviation, unless there is a co-operatively agreed, shared and signed alternative agreement in place.
      In our lives we have one parent who the court believes is doing ‘as much as should be expected from any resident parent’ ( a statement laden with irony) to ensure contact is supported and promoted. The reality (and I suspect this is the norm across the country) is that no-one has gone beyond asking that parent if that is what they are doing, believing the lies they are easily given, and not seeking to verify that in any way, even in the face of virtually no contact with the non-resident parent for years, other than requests for money.
      And regarding ‘best interests’ – this is a statement heavily thrown around without, it seems, there being any agreement as to what constitutes ‘best interest’. It’s the standard but with no frame of reference. It’s like saying ‘it’s the law’ without there being any consensus as to what that law refers to, and conditions its includes, or how it should be upheld.
      To live in a PA world is to live in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ landscape, where everything is through a contorted mirror. Wrong is right and right is bad, and horrendous actions are lightly taken and deep harm is caused, justified by the most inconsequential of reasons. And in this landscape we also live with the Emporer’s new clothes, where everyone pretends that all is well, and all is happy and healthy, other than those who have the courage to speak the truth and (try to) uncover the sham.
      I agree about it being a good thing that the court directed therapy (we also) sought was not forthcoming. Those who did have a hand, so far, have done an appalling job, and I agree we could have had much more damage inflicted by yet more incompetent untrained ‘professionals’.
      So we put our trust in the genes that are in the child we miss. The genes that the child shares with the parent who is strong and fair and good and decent and honest. Hopefully those genes are strong.

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      1. I appreciate that ‘children’s best interests’ is a phrase which been largely comandeered and distorted by the women’s lobby to mean ‘whatever suits the mother’.

        Is there really any alternative, though, to working on reclaiming the term to its more commonsense meaning of ‘children needing the fullest relationship with both biological parents’ – existing as the norm?

        For fathers with ample resorces in terms of a second family home, time and money to look after the children to an equivalent level as their mothers – a mandated 50/50 situation may be attractive.

        However, for how many of us will this situation apply? Even in the rare cases when it does, it is clearly less than ideal to be constantly moving between two homes – this is not something we would put as a first choice for our children.

        What could possibly be mandatory would be measures, associated with essential pre and post-natal services, which reinforce the sense of moral responsibility which is needed when bringing children into the world. Why the overwhelming emphasis on the physical health of infants – and the almost complete neglect of their emotional environment?

        It may not be at all comfortable to our overwhelmingly individualistic mindset, but surely we ALL need to hear that commiting lives into the world – then consequently starts to restrict our individual rights somewhat – now that we now have the well-being of others to profoundly consider…apart from that of our own.

        This kind of sensibility can be provided by religions…but as such influence weakens don’t we need a secular alternative to be brought into place where relationship issues can be explored – right from the start?

        In regard to alienation, as in all other forms of abuse…surely prevention is better than cure?

        I am absolutely convinced that if this had been in place for our family, none of the whole sorry story would have developed in the way it has.

        My suggestion aims to highlight the importance of internal motivation, in preference to external mandate, wherever possible – and at the earliest possible stage.

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  2. Another Excellent Article!

    I have recent experience of the following (even though it was probably written in the early day of work on Alienation)

    [QUOTE]
    As Richard Gardner (1999) suggested, ‘the “Mr. (Mrs.) good-guy” approach, so important in traditional individual and family therapy, has no place in the treatment of PAS families. Only therapists who are comfortable with stringent and authoritarian treatment procedures should be involved in conducting therapy with PAS families.’
    [UNQUOTE]

    Of course that “therapist” (or so-called-expert!) left things even worst – and what was even sadder is that he deliberately prevented Karen from dealing with the matter because he couldn’t digest the fact that her record of reunification was superior to his. Therefore, his own narcissism was the barrier!
    { these are my thoughts and interpretation}

    Within this blog itself, there is SOOOO much for cafcass and other so-called-experts to learn – but they won’t because of their own narcissistic tendencies!

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  3. Karen it rings true and thanks for recognising what we experience. Thought I’d just have a gripe about the system- The removal of one of two fundamental, loving relationships from a child is abusive. My own experience within the Family Courts is to use this abuse by default. Is it a phycological abuse? Would the British phycological society Child Protection guidelines recognise this too?

    http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/child_protection_position_paper.pdf

    After reading the guidelines I think it undoubtedly does!

    Yet these two organisations (Courts and BPS) seem to quietly and peacefully co exist? How is this vacuum maintained? How does a Judge and Court Physiologist who sees and touches the elephant in the room (parental alienation) everyday, professionally reconcile the denial of the elephant and then the abusive act against a child? Everything in plain view-The Family Courts record, Fathers for Justice, etc. The ‘Best welfare’ of the child required above any other consideration by each organisation and the Law.

    A ‘Child’s Best welfare’ is not met by a transfer of power to one person (defined only by a physical attribute) without causing abuse to the child with the removal of a loving relationship. What a superficial, dishonest and damaging a solution carried out in the name of children!

    Isn’t the ‘Best Welfare’ for a child the recognition of the elephant in the room and then supportive help to either or both parents to make changes?

    Why hasn’t this approach been explored or has it? Would you agree it potentially frees children and parents without the need to tackle Power Feminist agendas or votes for politicians or misguided Courts?

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