This week I am presenting at the Missing Children Europe Conference In Brussells on the loss of children through alienation and the impact of this upon their wellbeing ten years on. This led me to thinking about the ways in which the impact on children of alienation are largely unrecognised and how little there is in the UK in the way of services to support children in these circumstances. Of course, without structural and legislative change, we will continue to see the problem of alienation rise and rise and there will be many more children in the next generations who will sever their entire relationship with one side of their self as a defensive response to the separation of their family. This causes me to think about the core specifications for any services that purport to support the needs of alienated children. Because with the rise of such children in the next generations, treating alienation is going to become a very big challenge.
Much is written about alienation across the globe, with important developments and forward strides being made in understanding as well as treating the problem. Here in the UK there are few practitioners combining understanding with the ability to treat the problem, particularly as a whole generation of key psychiatrists who were able to recognise and treat it have entered into retirement. Treated from a psychiatric perspective, the issue of alienation in a child is viewed as a combination of pathologies around the child, all of which are well described in the DSM V. Resolution of these issues from that perspective requires a shift in the dynamics which impact upon the child. Thus, in the past, only those cases which reached psychiatrists could be helped and cases usually only reached psychiatrists through the mechanism of either serious mental health breakdown or through the family courts.
These days however, the social and political, as well as psychological and psychiatric imperatives that weigh upon the child’s mind, have powerful influence in both how the child is impacted and how the child is treated. Whereas children who were seen as being alienated in years gone by were unusual, children who are alienated now and in the future will be less so because of a) the rise in awareness of the issue of parental alienation and b) the increasing numbers of children affected. Treatment therefore, cannot be the province of only the highly specialised practitioner, but must be widened to become the responsibility of all practitioners working with children in separated family situations. Working with alienation across the spectrum of its presentation and impact upon the child has to be part of the both the knowledge base AND the experiential skill of such practitioners. Craig Childress has written recently about this in his book Foundations and I absolutely agree that all practitioners who purport to work with alienated children and their families should be able to demonstrate much if not all of the skill and knowledge base which are set out therein.
Which leads me to thinking about the development of services to support alienated children in the UK and the way in which anyone who works in this field must be able to demonstrate minimum standards when it comes to undertaking such work. Such standards, which are currently not codified or monitored in any way, have to be either voluntarily adopted by practitioners or parents themselves must be helped to understand what the minimum qualities of a parental alienation practitioner should look like. This is the only way to ensure that parents and children are helped by people who both understand AND have the skill to deliver the kind of interventions that bring about change in the lives of alienated children.
In presenting to conferences and training other professionals, I use my work to illustrate the outcomes that can be achieved when the right combination of knowledge and experience are combined. The following vignettes are out of my current year case book, all of the children have been successfully treated and are now back in strong relationship with the parent they once rejected. Whilst I can claim my part in the successful treatment of these cases, I cannot and would not claim that it is only my intervention which has achieved this. In two out of three of these cases, it is my work combined with others which has created the necessary dynamic change which has brought the child out of the alienated position. In one of these cases it is my work combined with the changing behaviours of the parents of the children which has brought about the change.
Our work at the Family Separation Clinic, which is dedicated to working with children and their families experiencing alienation and related problems, is built upon the research work undertaken by Professor Bala and colleagues in Canada. A model of work which utilises a multi stranded approach which is most effective in combined teams of practitioners. From this foundation we have developed a range of mapping tools which allow us to differentiate the causes of the alienation and design interventions which create rapid change. As I said in my last post, this is therapy, but not as most people know it. And in my experience, this approach sets a foundation stone for the minimum standards that are required for successful treatment of alienation in children.
Vignettes (by necessity these have to be disguised so that no-one can recognise anyone involved. The dynamics however are those which were configured in the real cases and the treatment route is exactly how each were undertaken).
1. Three children aged 8,9 14 all severely alienated and refusing to see their father. When I began work with them in February 2015 they had all been completely rejecting of their father for a period of two years.
This case has been successfully treated through a combination of therapeutic intervention and parenting co-ordination whilst working with a Guardian who understands alienation and who is able to hold the tension of the court’s expectations that the children will have a relationship with their father very firmly. This enables the therapeutic work to be undertaken swiftly because it limits the risk of triangulation in which the alienating parent utilises the doubts and lack of understanding in professionals to continue the children’s ability to reject. The time taken to resolve the children’s rejection of their father was less than four weeks, the length of time taken to achieve optimum time between children and father for therapeutic challenge and readjustment of the relationship was twelve weeks. Compulsion of the children to attend periods of time with their father was achieved through the use of court directions. Compulsion of behavioural change in the alienating parent was achieved through a suspended transfer of residence.
In this vignette it is clear that it is the combination of court process plus therapeutic work which creates the dynamic change which liberates the children.
2. One child, severe rejection of more than five years, treated in a combination of therapeutic work and supported parenting time. Successful treatment arrived at by therapeutic work with parents plus immediate reconnection of child with rejected parent and movement into a shared care situation. Dynamic change was created by the threat of a change of residence and the removal of all ability by the alienating parent to triangulate the dynamics in treatment (case was handled by one therapist with the Guardian acting as super parent and receiving reports on a regular basis, the Guardian holding the power to return the case to court at the request of the therapist). Treatment time from rejection to reconnection was fourteen days.
In this vignette it is clear that the threat of a transfer of residence is the core element that creates the compulsion for change.
3. Two children who were severely alienated, all aged over 12, all refusing to see a parent, all assessed as being over empowered and in charge of the family system. The rejected parent was the mother, the father was assessed as having a personality disorder, removal of the children was undertaken and the children were placed into foster care. Re-organisation of false memories, inculcated beliefs and targeted distortions of thinking were undertaken in foster care, the children were re-introduced to their mother within 14 days of removal. This work was undertaken in conjunction with Local Authority under a section 37 route.
This case is a child protection case in which false beliefs have seriously harmed the children, this allows correction of the problem to be undertaken using separation of the children from the source of the abuse which causes alienation. Whilst Craig Childress calls for all alienated children to be separated from the alientating parent before treatment (a view with which I agree and which, in a world where alienation is recognised as the harmful problem it is, is something which would routinely happen. In the UK however, separation of the child from the alienating parent is, in my experience, only undertaken when the welfare threshold has been met and the court is satisfied that a child is being seriously harmed by the alienating parent).
Looking at alienation from the perspective of how it is treated, it is easy to see that there are necessary conditions in place for successful outcomes. It is not the case that therapists working alone can bring about successful liberation of children and it is not the case that research and knowledge is enough. For successful outcomes, therapeutic or otherwise, treating alienation requires doing something and that doing is so much more than talking about it. As I talk about alienation in Brussells this week, I will be talking with others who are interested in this work and developing protocols and tools which will bring to the UK the wider use of the kind of interventions that are routinely used in the United States and in Canada, two countries which are far ahead of the UK in their thinking as well as their doing.
Because doing requires more than knowing and knowing requires understanding what kinds of combinations of doing bring about change.
All of which means that if your therapist is not showing you treatment routes that look like these vignettes, what they are showing you is not successful treatment of parental alienation.