I write from sunny Brussels where I have been presenting to the Missing Children Europe Conference alongside Reunite from the UK and Child Focus in Belgium and Syntagma from the Netherlands. It was interesting to note from the presentation from Reunite that 70% of all child abductions are carried out by mothers, a fact which was confirmed by Syntagma in their mediation work across European borders. What is even more interesting and which fits with the gender analysis of family separation, is that most of the cross border abductions by mothers are not recognised by those mothers as being abduction. Thus the notion that mothers care for their children and all of their actions in doing so are right for the child, is illuminated in these statistics. It was heartening to hear of the work of Reunite in educating mothers on the impact on children of their actions.
This has been a surreal 48 hours for me, as running parallel to my work in Brussels, I have been subject to an unfolding drama in which the publication of a two year old complaint against me by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy has been seized upon, not by the opponents of work with parental alienation, but by people in the UK who purport to work for families. Re-published in a somewhat sensational manner (in my view) by The Custody Minefield, complete with the judgement that I was found to have contravened the voluntary code of ethics laid down by BACP and thus lacked personal moral values of sincerity and honesty, this news was tweeted with what appeared to me to be salacious like glee. Joining the mob enjoying the spectacle were some one would expect to be there and some who one would not. The truth of the matter being that you only know who your real friends are when the going gets really tough. Watching this unfold from Belgium and observing the behaviour of the proprietor of the Custody Minefield in his justification for publication, I found myself once again understanding the reality of life for those parents with whom I work and the parallel learning process for me was expedited once again. The underlying theme for this man is that he is acting in the public interest and that the law, as it is encompassed, for him, by BACP has been contravened. This is not for him (he says) a matter of enjoying what he is doing, it is a matter of helping parents to choose the right counsellor and for him, the law of the land in counselling and psychotherapy is set and monitored by BACP.
So it seems important to me, given that my practice is being so publicly picked over, to examine the law of the land and the role of BACP in monitoring and setting standards in counselling and psychotherapy. (This is not because I do not accept the sanction set against me by BACP, I do and have done and will continue to comply with the requirements of that sanction which are to write a reflection of the judgement set against me and to attend a training day and to write a reflection of my learning from that training day (on close contracting). I will comply even though I have not been a member of BACP since 2013, because for the period of time which is governed by this complaint, I was a member and therefore chose to subject myself to the voluntary code laid down by this organisation and so compliance, as part of my personal moral code, is necessary).
BACP’s code of ethics for counsellors and psychotherapists is a voluntary code, it has no legal standing but invites members to adhere to the guidelines it sets out for practice. Whilst it is the largest such body it is by no means the only body and there are many discussions and arguments about it within the field. My experience of traversing the complaints procedure as the therapist complained about was extraordinary and at times utterly bewildering and I could not help but experience the parallels with the parents with whom I work. In 2013, some eight months after I was first notified of the complaint in June 2012, my membership of BACP was due for renewal and I decided that I could no longer justify spending over £100 to continue being a member when my experience was so poor. Nonetheless, regardless of being a member or not, I resolved to continue to deal with the complaint and to go through the whole process to the end. This I did. Two years after the complaint was first made against me, a delay which was not my responsibility but that of BACP and after two days of hearing and the submission of my comprehensive responses, including my appeal the complaint was partially upheld and the judgement was published.
There is much within the process which is not in the public domain however. In responding publicly I am not challenging the sanction set against me but the extraordinary consequences of that judgement which are that the work that I undertake with families could be widely damaged by the use of the judgement against me. (Ironically not by those expected opponents but by those who purport to support alienated children and their families).
It has been stated that I was tried by a group of my peers in the process. BACP set down in their own ethical guidelines, the promise that any counsellor or therapist complained about will be heard by a panel of peers, one of whom will have experience of working in the same field as the person complained about. None of the panel hearing this complaint had any experience of working with parental alienation, I made submissions on this fact, they were dismissed. I was told that I would have to accept that. I did so.
It has been stated by some that this was an in court case, it was not. This was a privately contracted case between myself and two parents, one of whom was happy with the outcome of my work, one of whom was not.
I was sanctioned on the basis that my contract with the complainant was implicit and that I carried out an assessment of a family dynamic without seeing the child. In my in court work with families I carry out such assessments regularly, the issue of implacable hostility residing in the dynamics around the child and not in the child per se is accepted by the family court. It is not accepted by BACP. Thus the dissonance between the work that I do in the court process and the view of that by BACP, renders any therapist undergoing the same work vulnerable.
The sanction has however, helped me to understand that implicit contracts from the perspective of BACP are not the same as those from a legal perspective and to recognise what BACP require in contracting in therapeutic relationships. Whilst I am no longer a member of BACP, I have learned from the process of undertaking the sanction and will continue to do so as I complete it.
The experience of this complaint, the duration of time it took to complete it and then the publication of this by the Custody Minefield has brought me closer, much much closer, to the clients with whom I work. My concerns, which are always for the children with whom I am working and their right to a balanced and healthy relationship with both of their parents, are that the lack of public understanding of the reality of the BACP sanction plus the use of it by those opposed to the work in the field of parental alienation, may leave these children and their families without the support that they need. This has certainly felt like a blow against the work that I do, not by BACP but by those who have so enjoyed the spectacle of what is, for them, a public humiliation.
What would Freud say about all of this? I think he would say that my unconscious drivers have created for me the perfect mirror experience of the clients I work with. That is not to lose empathic understanding for the complainant in this process, for there too lies another concentric circle of parallel process. All parents matter to me, be they parents I agree with or parents that I do not agree with. I learned much about the complainant from the complaint that was not readily visible to me, this aids my empathic understanding further.
What would Freud say about the publication of the sanction by the Custody Minefield? I think he would say that the intention of that lies in the words not said. I think he would say that someone who slavishly works within a system is bound to judge others who fall short of or challenge that system. I think he would also say that change for children will never come by working within systems, it will come through the courage to challenge the system and face the consequences of that. This is what I try to do every day of my working life.
I care about alienated children. I know that working for them requires me to take risks and to push boundaries. I know that this is disliked by many people but I do it regardless because my personal moral code requires me to do so. Only this, will, in my view, create the change we need in the UK and the conditions in which the children who need help will get it.
I would like to make it very clear that in writing this blog today I am not seeking to challenge or change the BACP sanctions against me. I have accepted them, I understand them and I will learn from them. Even though I am no longer a member of BACP by choice. I am writing the blog so that the outcomes of the intended consequences, conscious or otherwise, of the publication by the Custody Minefield are addressed. I have the right to do that. I am not transgressing any ethical or moral code by doing so.
I am grateful for all of the support that has been shown to me as a result of what has happened. It has given me the strength to keep going and keep fighting for alienated children and their families everywhere.
From sunny Brussels, with love.