Following one of my reader’s requests for case studies of work that I have done with children who have reunited with a parent after alienation, this is a short collection of stories from my case book. Publishing case stories is not straight forward when one is working with families affected by alienation, as their privacy is vital and I am bound by confidentiality in both my work in the court process and my role as a therapist. Following good practice therefore, I must heavily disguise the identity of the families and their children with whom I have worked. I cannot identify anything within the case stories that could lead to anyone recognising themselves or others and I cannot give details of any cases within the court process that could lead to the same. What I can do is occasionally publish stories which are written by parents themselves and I can publish disguised case histories. I have done the former over the years, here, by popular demand, are a few short case histories of those cases I have worked in which have lead to successful reunification both inside and outside of the court.
Pure and severe alienation – two children aged ten and thirteen, alienated from their mother for five years. Intervention ordered by the court.
These children were in a severely alienated position when I met them. They were angry, phobic and resistant to all intervention. On several occasions when trying to collect them from school for contact with their mother they called the police and said they were being abducted. Therapeutic intervention was impossible, the court reversed residence and the children went into short term foster care until their alienation lifted. This took a period of 2 days for the younger child and 14 days for the older child who hung onto alignment with the father. When alienation lifted both children returned to a normal relationship with their mother and behaved normally throughout subsequent months until contact with their father began. Issues with alienation reactions returned until contact was stopped again when both children returned to normal behaviours within 24 hours. Contact was eventually stopped in its entirety to protect the children. They live normally with their mother now and no further problems have arisen.
Pure and severe alienation – three older children aged 16,17,18, alienated from their father for ten years. Intervention outside of the court.
These children were alienated from their father over a period of ten years and had no contact with him at all for nine years. Restoration of the relationship was undertaken outside of the court process after the father utilised legal services to write to the mother to ask her to take part in out of court support programme. The intervention was continuous for a period of nine months with joint therapy being undertaken by the parents and work with the children being undertaken alongside this. After seven months supported contact took place for the first time in almost ten years. The children remained resistant however and acted as if the father was dangerous and all said they were afraid of him. Therapy continued with mother and father and mother reached a point where she accepted the inevitability of the children’s reunification. At this point faciliated and supported contact increased to twice weekly and was lengthened on a weekly basis. Within two months the children spent overnights with father and began to show normal behaviours in his company. The eldest child however continued with severe phobic like reactions towards his father and this continued through a year of supported therapy between father and child. Eventually, after a four week holiday abroad, all three children settled into normal behaviours and were able to make transitions to and from their mother and father’s home. All three children are now at University.
Hybrid alienation – one child aged 8 alienated from father for three years. Intervention ordered by court.
This child had been living in foster care for two of the three years he had been alienated from his father. The child had been removed from mother because of emotional harm. Work with the child took place over 12 months and consisted of exposure therapy and eventual reunification. Reunification took place at a point where the child was still expressing fear. The fear reaction dropped within five minutes of encountering father and the child began a process of rebuilding the relationship with father. The child left foster care two months later and lives with father and his new partner and two half siblings. No contact with mother as diagnosed with severe personality disorder.
Pure and severe alienation – four children under the age of eight, alienated from mother for a year. Intervention ordered by the court.
These children were in a severely rejecting state and had been in the care of their father for a year after rejecting their mother after transitional problems and behavioural changes resulting from them had taken place. All children said that their mother had hurt them and that she was mean to them. All of the children said that they were just pretending when shown pictures of them looking happy with their mother. The oldest child said that mother had made them smile but that they hadn’t wanted to. Assessment showed that all of the children had entered into severe alienation after a significant event which had been distorted by the children’s father. Investigation showed that the extended family were party to the distortion of the event and the children’s beliefs about it. Court reversed residence and third party foster care was used to allow the alienation to lift. The children were reunited with their mother three days after being taken into foster care and all behaved normally on reunification. All children remain with their mother and their relationship with their father is how supervised at all times after he was observed to be attempting to influence them against their mother during visits.
These case stories are truncated and may appear to be shorter in intervention duration than they were in reality. Working with cases of alienation is not an easy process and there are many weeks and months in which we have to progress very slowly with parents and children, patiently building up a case history, carefully understanding the dynamics at play and recording them. In all cases we assess the situation first using our own assessment framework and others which have been created by experts in the international field. Currently we are developing and evaluating our own assessment framework which we aim to establish as a gold standard within this country for triaging alienation cases and matching them to the correct treatment routes. This is long term work which will eventually provide a way of enabling the courts to understand how to deal with alienation, especially those cases of alienation which clog up the courts and cause suffering to parents and children alike.
In every case of alienation it is vital that the court acts swiftly in order to prevent the problem from becoming entrenched and the children severely affected. When children are severely affected the only remedy in our experience is to remove them from the parent who is causing the problem. When this removal takes place, especially in pure or severe cases, relief for the child is invariably swift and the frozen, cold and rejecting stance thaws swiftly and the normal child underneath emerges.
Treating alienation is undoubtedly one of the most difficult areas of therapeutic work to be involved in. Gardner’s view was that such therapists require determination and nerves of steel to do this work and I would agree with that. Litigious parents often turn their litigatious focus to the therapist and the testing of evidence in court is a gruelling part of the process of liberating children from the problem. This work is not for the faint hearted, nor is it for anyone who likes to please people because inevitably the outcome will involve seriously displeasing someone, especially in a severe case. Why do we do it? Because Parental Alienation is nothing less than child abuse, it is the breaking of the child’s mind and the distortion of their natural trust of both parents. It is often carried out by parents who appear well on the outside but who on the inside are damaged and often suffering from personality disorder. We do it because when the child emerges after reunification, there is a chance to break transgenerational trauma patterns and assist in the handing on of healthy relationships and parenting of the next generation. We do it because, if this were physical abuse we would be confronted by broken arms, legs and backs and we know that whilst those breaks can heal, a broken mind may never get well again.
We do it because alienated children deserve better than what they are getting right now.