More news from the Family Separation Clinic – Book sample and updates

Recognising alienation in a child

When you are in a room with a severely alienated child it is impossible not to know it. That is because the behaviours of the child are so out of keeping with what is really going on that it is clear that their reality has been distorted. Severely alienated children tell fantastic stories about the parent that they are refusing to see, from how that parent conspired to kill them when they were a baby, (which somehow they manage to remember), to how a parent is planning to kidnap or somehow remove them from the parent that they live with. Severely alienated children can only see absolute badness in the parent that they are rejecting, whilst their other parent, is the very embodiment of goodness.

Before a child reaches this stage however there are signs along the way that alert you as a parent that something is wrong. One fo the first signs is that your child, who was usually happy to come to your house or come out with you on trips, begins to find it difficult to do so. This may be accompanied by the other parent telling you that the child is unhappy and does not want to see you or it may arise during a period of conflict between the two of you. If your child begins to show any of the following behaviours, you may well be facing the onset of alienation.

  • Your child acts oddly on arrival from the other parent’s home.
  • Your child refuses to go back to the other parent’s home.
  • Your child becomes angry, anxious, tearful or upset on going to or returning from the other parent’s home.
  • Your child begins to criticise, their words sound like the other parent’s way of speaking.
  • Your child makes excuses and does not come to your home on regular occasions.
  • Your child is rude to you, angry and refused to accept your authority.
  • Your child begins to act as if they are in charge not you.
  • You felt afraid of your child and their temper tantrums, your home was no longer peaceful.
  • Your child is disregarding the other people in your family.
  • Your child begins to say things about you that are untrue.
  • Your child told their other parent lies about you which cause trouble in your parenting relationship.
  • Your child’s other parent regularly over empowers them and allows them to make decisions about whether to see you or not.

When the signs of alienation are present and a child is clearly demonstrating that their ‘choice’ is not their own and when there are other signs in the relationship with the parent that they live with that this may be the result of influence or anxiety from that parent, it is not a good idea to leave the child and hope that they will come around eventually. In these circumstances children should be reintroduced to a parent, gently and supportively and should be helped to see that parent regularly again. This is a far better approach than doing nothing and hoping everything will suddenly change for the better.

This re-starting of the relationship can be remarkably straightforward when the child understands that there is an adult in the system who will carry the burden of coping with loyalty conflict for them. Even the most terrified children, those who have acted as if they have a phobia of their rejected parent will, given the right kind of support, find that those terrors melt away and that the parent that they once loved is still there, still waiting for them. Getting to that point of reunification however can be quite difficult, particularly if there serious issues to deal with such as personality disorders in a parent. That is when it takes a court managed process to bring about change.

Whilst much work has gone on in the world to understand and deal with the problem of parental alienation, treatment routes can still be hard to find. In fact it is difficult to find any therapists across the UK who are actively working in the field although there are many psychologists and psychiatrists who understand and recognise the problem.

The most effective family ‘therapists’ however, are parents themselves. This is particularly true in hybrid cases, where the inability of the parents to adapt well to the changing family dance, has caused the problem in the first place. Working with education, parenting co-ordination, therapy and facilitation of time spent between child and parent, in these cases it is possible to restore a functioning separated family system that frees the child to love both sides of their identity.

In cases where deliberate and malicious efforts on the part of one parent to eradicate the other have caused the rejection, strong and determined court intervention is the only way to liberate the child.

In our work at the Family Separation Clinic in London, we depend upon psychologists and psychiatrists to undertake an assessment in cases where we suspect that an aligned parent cannot work with us because of psychological barriers. This formal assessment allows us to determine whether the aligned parent is capable of change with my help or whether they are in need of more long term therapeutic input. In cases where personality disorders are present, it is unlikely that the child will be released from their predicament without being released from the care of that parent. This is when a change of residence can be most beneficial for a child.

In hybrid cases, those in which the behaviours of both parents have contributed to the frozen stance, a change of residence is not the first choice of treatment. In these cases, it is necessary to enable both parents to change their behaviour and to move the family dance into a more functional adaptation from where it is possible to support the restarting of relationships. In these cases, parenting co-ordination can often support a longer term, sustainable behavioural change that frees the child from the grasp of conflicted loyalties.

Finally, in cases where children are justified in their rejection of a parent, either through poor parenting or determined actions on the part of that parent, education, instruction and then a programme of supervised parenting time can enable a parent to change the behaviours that have caused the rejection in the first place.

This is a sample from our forthcoming book Understanding Parental Alienation – Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal.  We continue to work hard to get it ready for publication although the workload at the Family Separation Clinic prevents us from being able to do that as fast as we would like to but we can promise it will be published in the first half of this year as we are now in the editing process.

Our book will be launched alongside our new site which is dedicated to parental alienation and the parents who experience it.

Readers may be interested to know that I will be presenting a paper on our project called Living Losses at the Missing Children Europe Conference in July 2015 in Brussels.


  1. I saw those signs with my much younger sister. She is an adult now and in her early 30s and she still acts this way toward our mom. Similarly and tragically, my daughter was lured away and treated like a princess — until she became completely alienated. Her symptoms became severe, but she was medicated. Her dad was convincing. It’s what he does. Thank you for your work that sheds light on truth and brings understanding.


  2. From my experience, the alienation may work according to the need of the child to BELIEVE that the alienating parent (the more powerful one) is a good person. So it may often be that the WORSE the person is – the greater the childs NEED to believe is, that the person IS good…

    Which child wants to have (or to admit they have) a destructive parent?

    It must be INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT for the child to come to terms with this reality.

    In our case, my daughter DID recognize the reality very well at 11 – but simply could not sustain this under the overwhelming pressure from her mother – in the years that followed.

    It seems to me very important to tackle this…because liviing in a ‘fantasy world’ in regards to such a crucial aspect of life – is inevitably going to spill over to other important areas of life, too.

    Now, at nearly 18…my daughter and I are slowly starting to build up a rappor again – but I have no idea of how long it will take for her to recover the same sense of reality she once had about us each as parents – that she once had.

    Of course…we have to allow for the capacity of individuals concerned to develop and mature over time – but there, again – sometimes they never do, either.


  3. I recognise every one of the signs mentioned. They are all too familiar. Sadly, despite having raised my concerns with the Court, and with CAFCASS, I found that instead of investigating the validity of my concerns, I faced increased criticism and a massively prejudiced CAFCASS officer who was more intent on preserving the existing residency than in determining what might be in the best interest of the kids and they chose instead to carry out a witch hunt. I have been damned by opinion. The Court has acted on the basis of that opinion and the outcome is that the children, the most affected parties in this, have been placed in a situation where the alienator is able to carry on their evil work having already been cleared of any wrongdoing. My kids have been let down by their mother. But they have also been let down by a Court and Court experts who have failed to protect them. The Court are complicit in my children being alienated from the one parent who would truly put their interests first. The Court are as big a part of the problem as the alienating parent. The Court have given her power and put her beyond criticism. I would urge anybody considering raising concerns of coaching, manipulation, alienation, to think very carefully about speaking openly about those concerns. Having started the process with fortnightly contact from Fri to Sun with additional holiday contact I now find that I have been damned by a prejudiced Court system that has left me just a few hours every other weekend to show the children how much I love them. I also find that where there was once rigid contact arrangements, I now find that the alienating parent has the power, officially, to cancel contact for a number of reasons – parties, etc and have seemingly feel no pressure to rearrange when contact might be cancelled. Their work continues and the alienation is progressing at speed. To tackle it now I have no option but to tackle the system. A battle I am unlikely to win and a battle that is likely to impact on both my new relationship, new family and my continued employment. Perhaps it is time to walk away? All faith in the Court is lost.


    1. To ‘Dad’
      It’s a well trodden path on these pages.
      Our story is the same as many others. Honesty and truth ignored. Instead an assumption, reinforced by a poisonous mix of grandiose, but inadequately knowledgable (so in reality untrained) ‘professionals’ with punishing work targets to achieve (policy pushing that practitioners make swift ‘robust’ decisions, and get their cases closed as soon as they can and don’t recommend costly specialists) that the resident parent should retain all the control.
      After 4 years we currently have indirect contact only, with ‘for whatever reason’ being given as the reason why the child says this is what he ‘wants’.
      My advice for anyone at the beginning of going into a court process is to not ever ever mention the words parental alienation, or implacable hostility and to strongly rebuff at each and every opportunity the inference that this is about an inability to reach a consensus between parents about what contact is acceptable. Get away, as far as you can, from any court dealings turning into a he said/she said contest, because that makes it easy for court officials or Cafcass or whoever, to say that it’s up to the child to decide, because the parents can’t. Instead focus only on the emotional behavioural impact that is evident in your children. Read everything Karen writes, and also Craig Childress, so you can explain the psychological effects your child is exhibiting in terms of behaviour that is extremely and obviously at odds with your previous happy, emotionally available relationship (always assuming that’s how it was for you.) Read what Karen writes about the transition bridge, and get into the head space of your children so you can empathise how conflicted they feel. Use that knowledge to show your children however you can that it’s not you against their other parent, and never criticise that parent, although you can find ways to explain to them that just because you and their (mum/dad) don’t get along sometimes it’s not because of anything you child says or does. Remind them they love both of you, and that they don’t have to choose between you. Remind them of good family times together and make sure they have photos to reinforce this memories.
      I wish you luck.
      I wish you better court practitioners than we had.
      I wish for systemic institutional change in the awareness of pathological parenting behaviours; for a national training framework for the assessment and identification of those behaviours; for a robust and courageous body of therapists, with suitable powers within the court process, who are appropriately knowledgable in developing treatment plans for children caught up in custody conflicts; for a process whereby ‘custody’ issues immediately get referred to mediating bodies for a compulsory period before any court intervention is allowed; for a mandated baseline that automatically comes into play at the time of separation, that all ‘contact’ will be framed within an assumed shared parenting framework; and for the rights of the child to be a child to take precedent over giving those children ‘a voice’ when is often anything but their voice that we hear.


      1. I’m part of a small local 38 Degrees (issue – not party based) campaigning group. We are being encouraged to approach local candidates to sound out their views on issues that matter to us from the overall list of issues identified by 38 Degrees members nationally.

        I explained my concerns to our group as the following:

        “What is needed – is a powerful Agency for Fathers and Family. However, what this actually means is ‘Whole Family’ work. Currently – all designated Family Services are based around Mothers (well, officially, it is ‘Resident Parents’ – but effectively, this almost always means mothers) and sadly, are proving highly oppressive and destructive to both fathers and children. The welfare of children is simplistically assumed to be synonymous with that of the mother – but this approach is very outdated – it is simply no longer correct in the vast majority of cases. There is an urgent need for a more balanced approach to be developed”

        I went on to explain in some further detail (not included here) how I felt the issues had developed…

        The local group were sympathetic, but their starting position…was that these issues were too “personal”…i.e. not affecting enough people to register as properly political ones.

        I find it a bit odd – has no-one previously approached such an issue-based campaigning organisation to gather together concern on a wider basis? Obviously, I would like to approach 38 Degrees head office about it…but I just wondered if anyone could guide me as to what other experiences have been?


  4. All 3 of my children have been alienated from me by their mother and her family, after 11 years and 4 prolonged court cases, 3/4 court reports, lost count of how many child welfare hearings, 2 child psychologists reports, umpteen court orders for contact…..the court has finally found her guilty of contempt!!!! Its too little too late it seems as she wont admit she has done anything wrong!!! My relationship with my kids has been destroyed and I face not seeing them again for a long time to come. Nobody seems to give a damn! (Scotland)


  5. More of the same. Oldest child gone for six years. As M was, even by Cafcass standard, going too far with contact resistance and involving younger children in false allegations, I finally got shared residence of younger children three years ago. Arrangements have kind of worked but massive litigation during this time on schooling and finance has involved children to keep family tension going and of course all litigation is always my fault… Now M moved further away and moved school for two of the children making it almost impossible for me to see the youngest despite the order. So I need to focus on the last one. .. Since I have done nothing wrong with my children in all my life, actually was a doting full time dad for three years, I blame judges feminist implementation of a gender neutral family law, amazingly incompetent social workers / experts and a corrupt and greedy judicial/legal complex for all my children’s sufferings. The next parliament must act to take this under control! Otherwise we will have a new set of commissions in 10-20 years chaired by non-establishment or foreign judges to investigate how and why all these officials could allow, even facilitated, institutionalised emotional child abuse.


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