Sunday Seminar: self help for alienated parents

I am putting together a series of seminars at the moment, for professionals working with intractable cases where children are fully rejecting of a parent. As I do so I thought it might be useful to hold a regular Sunday seminar on self help for alienated parents, let us know what you think and we will add this to our new service as an additional self help tool.

Self help is a way of working with families that enables and empowers the individuals within to find their own way to healing. This week, a family I have been working with for over a year now, have moved into a phase in which they have taken over the therapeutic work of healing their children from alienation by working together.  This might seem astonishing to some who read this and of course, it is not for everybody, but the truth of the matter is, that if the child is to heal, the best people to support that are the parents themselves.  This family have turned an astonishing corner of late and the alienating parent (with whom I have worked intensively to educate and inform and support), has taken the lead in repair and change.  I watch this with absolute fascination because it goes against the grain of everything I have seen in alienating parents previously. However, the tension is tight, the protective layers of legal control are in place and so it is imperative to let this unfold because if the desired outcome is reached and the child reconnects healthily and is able to have an independent relationship with the once rejected parent, the healing is complete and there is nothing more that needs to be done.  Self help, in these circumstances, is about tailoring what we offer to be responsive to the needs of the family, it is not about imposing it.

Self help is a way of working with families which ironically stems from the women’s movement, in which the idea of lofty expert and dysfunctional patient was hugely challenged as being unnecessary.  Whilst I have renounced the feminist faith, the self help ethos remains a fundamental part of who I am and what I do. For me, working with families and helping to create dynamic change, is much less about being an expert and much more about being human.  Parental alienation is a problem with a human face and it requires the ability to connect to people, understand them at the deepest level and to fundamentally care.  Caring about alienated children and their families, for me, is about all of the toxic layers that bind the family into the place of stasis in which alienation can arise. Caring is about knowing that this can happen to any family where the dynamics are configured in particular ways and caring is about knowing that the systems that families struggle to cope in, are part of the problem that they face in crossing the space to healthy separated parenting.  In this respect self help is not just about activating the ability of individuals in the family to create change, it is also to accept the responsibility incumbent upon all practitioners in this field, which is to work to change the systems which create the potential for alienation in the first place.  Accepting this responsibility takes the power dynamic out of the expert/patient relationship and prevents alienated parents being subjected to the remote and disinterested attentions of the ‘expert’ who is healthy, treating the patient who is not.  In truth alienated parents and their children are not unhealthy, they are trapped in a toxic system and the practitioner who enters this world must work to establish a powerful alliance which harnesses the family’s inherent ability to heal itself.  It is this which forms the foundation for dynamic change, alongside the determination by the practitioner to fight for the right conditions that liberate the child.

Self help for alienated parents starts with informing and educating and moves on to strengthening and clarifying the ability of the parent to create change. Beyond that are all manner of possibilities because the principle that changing oneself compels others to change, applies here.  What I notice from this way of working is that the journey of change in alienated children, mirrors that of their parents and the journey of change in alienated and alienating parents, mirrors that of the relationship with a pracitioner.  These mirroring behaviours are called parallel processing, in which the change in one person is mirrored and runs parallel to the change in another person. Noticing this, when working with all of the members of a family where children are rejecting (which is what we are mostly engaged in at the Family Separation Clinic), means that leading the change requires being able to keep out of the attempts by the alienating parent to control the mirroring patterns.  These attempts, which can often feel like going into the woods with Hansel and Gretel, are born of many different things. Learned behaviour in which generational dysfunction is passed on and normalised, personality disorder, in which the parent is unaware that what they are doing is wrong and conscious and deliberate attempts at manipulation are all at play when working with alienating parents.  Working respectfully but determindedly to free the child, requires an ability to know what the mirrors are and where they are and when they are being deployed. In doing so one is able to enter the woods safely and exit when necessary, mirroring healthy behaviours and expectations and creating the conditions in which the parent who can make the choice to change is given the opportunity to do so. For those who cannot change, the use of court processes to bring about the liberation of the child is necessary. But at every stage this is about offering the chance for self help and being willing to stand aside should the parents be able to take it. Where they cannot, for example where a parent simply cannot understand that it is their own anxiety and expectation which creates the double bind for the child, action must be taken to change that dynamic. At all stages this work is about activating the ability of the family to help itself and intervening only when it is apparent that it can’t.

Self help is the theme for the coming months and getting information into the hands of parents themselves is our goal.  It is surprising how many aligned parents contact us as well as those who are alienated. Something which tells us that the need for understanding and coping skills is high in this group of families. All of which means that healing, which is activated and managed by the family itself, is possible. After all, in parental alienation, the best therapists of all are parents themselves. Those people whose unconditional positive regard for their children is inherent in their love for them.

Which leaves us, as people working with families who suffer so badly, with the task of creating core conditions for change and providing the tools to use that make the difference.

Which is the next step in our work for alienated children and their families everywhere.


    1. We will certainly schedule some online seminars into the new service Kathi, tell us what you would like to hear more about and we will prepare a range of seminars looking at different topics. K


  1. A very interesting article Karen. A different type of article too.

    I, for one, am certainly interested in all this Self Help stuff. If I can change and that will bring the other’s to change, then I think that’s the only and best hope I have.

    I am also absolutely fascinated to read that an alienating parent has made a 180 degree turn (if I’ve understood that correctly). If anyone other than Karen Woodall had said this I wouldn’t have believed it. Furthermore, to also read that aligned parents are contacting you is nothing short of amazing – long may your organisation’s good reputation flourish is all I can say and hope for.


    1. Hi PMK lovely to hear from you, hope you are well. Yes we do have increasing numbers of aligned parents contacting us, this gives us a different entry point to the problem and allows a different approach to working with families. Differentiation is the key here, we talk about aligned parents to describe the unconscious alienator and alienating parent to describe the conscious and deliberate alienator. That said, we also have the conscious and deliberate alienators working with us which I know is hard for some to understand but using the court processes we do and we do achieve outcomes. The case I am talking about is exactly a 180 degree turn and determined at that. The key in that is trying to ensure that the rejected/targeted parents is able to cope with that as it is a tough ask when one has been pushed out of your children’s lives, to come back in at the behest and with the help of the person who has done that. But that is healing when it happens and it is happening here and so the key thing is to get behind it and help it happen as much as possible.

      You know what I think? I think every separated family should be assigned a sherpa to get them through the tough stuff. That sherpa system doesn’t have to be state funded or have anything to do with the state, that sherpa could a network of volunteers formed of people who have been through it, that is self help at its best, it is what the UK is good at, self help and mutual endeavour.

      Befriending for separating families, we have befriending for bereavement, why not for separating families?

      That’s what will make a real difference, befrienders who can triage to detect the tough cases, sherpas to get the difficult cases managed effectively.



    2. Thanks Daddy Hard up, let us know what topics would be helpful and we will put them together so that they are downloadable for you to listen to. K


      1. Some time ago I inadvertently (?) subscribed to another wordpress blog and then a few weeks ago when I unsubscribed from that, I somehow unsubscribed from this blog too! Although when I post, I ask to be notified, it didn’t do so. Hopefully I have rectified that today. For that reason though, I was unaware of your reply to me here Karen and it was just fortunate I was looking through all this.

        To become a befriender/sherpa is something I would passionately like to do for those going through all this. I actually already try to do this when and where I can but not as much as I’d like to.

        Karen, you know me very well now. Please feel free to put my details down for any such voluntary service that I can take part in. I understand that this could well be self-help at it’s best. And I am absolutely sure there are many many parents that would benefit from all this. After all, alienation get’s worst because of CAFCASS, the courts, the lawyers and other proxy or institutional alienators, all which could be avoided or the blow-lessened with befrienders/sherpas on board.

        An absolutely A1 idea I think! Getting excited just thinking about it!


  2. Hi karen really interested in the idea of sunday seminars. Id like help on how to reconnect with my 2 daughters ( now 14 and 12 yrs) i write and text often but get no replies at all. Almost 2 years now since I’ve seen them. I stopped the legal process as the judge whilst supportive had no idea what else to do and i could not afford a contested hearing. Alienation won the day.


  3. I think Family Courts simply run out of options, shrug shoulders and give up the ghost. Courts only option to bring change (singular) is one tool (punitive) that it rarely uses. Secondly what is the logic behind using legal expertise to work in resolving family relationship issues? It’s like training up concert pianists and sending them to work flying planes. Inappropriate skills for the job and counter productive.

    Karen, I really like your idea of ‘befrienders’ apart from the direct help to individual people it will ‘network’ the ideas and understanding out into the real world.

    Maybe sometime in the future a mandatory ‘early stage’ intervention to help children/parents before entering Court? The opposite of the pressures of Court, the anxiety and entrenchment it creates. Instead a breathing space bringing help, advice and understanding on the parents issues of separation. Top of the list could be the different actions parents take and the impact these have on children. Any issues can be openly explored in whatever way is appropriate. A window to speak directly to parents on behalf of children.

    My view is by making it a mandatory intervention it would replace or at least reduce the more damaging intervention of Family Courts. Family Courts in effect exchange a child’s burden of feuding intractable parent or parents for the grief of loosing one. Parents enter and leave unchanged. Why not return responsibility back to parents and put support and relevant expertise close alongside them at a time when they need it most to create change..


    1. Hi Nick, i do agree that the family courts are not the best place to help most separated parents, however, there is one small group who absolutely need the courts if change is going to happen and those are the severe alienators. We cannot do what we do without the family courts in those circumstances and so for me, befriender network, triage and differentiation leading into the family court where a rapid response unit should be dealing with these cases on entry to the court system. There is no excuse for the delay and the hopelessness that occurs in the family courts, specialist services could easily deal with many of the small number that need to go into court and Judges would oversee a fraction of those. It is a nonsense to deal with things the way we currently do because the problem becomes much much worse when the court interacts with couples at war, the only way is escalation of the problem not resolution.


    2. Just the same for me. Judge was unable to do anything, I could tell he wanted to, but just had never encountered this sort of problem before (PA) , at least not to the exten it was present here.


  4. Family courts are expensive and the professional training many solicitors and advocates have are not related to the practical experience many of the separated family’s volunteers have


  5. I haven’t been able to contact my teenage daughter in 18 months, all modes of contact been shut down & now I’m being told that even sending a letter once every 2-3 months is harrassing. Not just me alienated, all family on both sides (including mum in law) excluded. I am so worried about my daughter and completely distraught, so I would love to know more about self help, as currently everything seems pretty bleak


    1. David you are not alone; I have the same situation but with two boys (14 and 10 years) since 15/10/2012, where all I now know from the Police since they moved within the last two months to a new location withing 8 miles. The Police would not give the address under orders from SS! They see their elder sisters (of 25 and 27) and me as “foreign aliens”. We send regular letters every month from sisters, and me I am “allowed” to send a letter every three months. We too are very worried; parental alienation is a psychological crime which has been assessed by psychologists by a mother who is a stealth narcissist; sadly the most difficult type for society identify.

      This situation for you and for the millions of family members who suffer unnecessarily have to take this situation to a new level of protection for our children. Together we can make a change.
      If you want to email me personally you are welcome or phone me on 07415 628628, I have nothing to hide. Individually we may be fortunate that God may intervene to resolve this or we have to work together to resolve it communally. “Keeping Mum” will only internalize our feelings and cause massive pain and unnecessary hurt to our children. We need to fight this with all the love we can muster. Karen is correct our children love us. We have not done anything criminally to make them fear us as we would be criminalized if so!

      NO it is pure spite for whatever reason from the alienating parent on their fear and guilt trip. If a woman, it is because they do not realise that the umbilicus has been cut; your child is just that he/she belongs to no one. They belong to all in your loving family.

      Keep the faith.



  6. Karen, a seminar on the gatekeeper problem and how to address it would be helpful. My daughter is not severely alienated and I am hopeful for our relationship in the long term, but at age 9 she is unable to stand up to her mother, who is determined to exclude me from her life, except for very brief phone or face-to-face contact with a view to extracting money or other favours from me. I have exhausted legal avenues. Working through mutual friends is excluded, too, as mother ruthlessly cuts off anyone she suspects of dealing with me, using threats of false allegations and blackmail against them if they persist. So, advice for severely alienated parents and advice for those in the legal process both pass me by. I’m sure I’m not the only parent in this situation, though. At bottom, I’m asking for advice on how to deal with a narcissistic alienator. She knows that I am a better parent than she is and this drives her determination to exclude me, I am sure.


  7. The befriender/Sherpa service sounds like an excellent idea. Going into separation, divorce and parental alienation I found very little information that was truly helpful until I encountered this blog (an FNF support group might have helped, but though I live in the West Midlands conurbation there was nothing locally).

    There is a need for a service that operates outside the dominant, feminist, paradigm, and therefore without state funding, but which serves mothers as well as fathers, is child-focused and not cranky or misogynist. One that is practical and realist but not a counsel of despair that seeks to reconcile alienated parents to their fate.

    Where do we start?


    1. Good point daddyhardup. Families need to be reconciled. Even sex offenders and mass murderers are allowed morally and legally to see their children. Why not ordinary mums (and mainly) dads?

      It would be good if we could develop an association which could have a legal section where a monthly subscription would enable a legal team to work on those cases which led to Court if necessary.

      Fundamentally it is political dominance in the last arena of sexual control in UK politics. We need a responsible equality or parity of parenting law. A completely fresh new legislation based on equality. We cannot trust Lab/Con/LibDems – they have had enough time to make changes but they have failed half of society. Perhaps with the influx of SNP MP’s (yes they have their own laws) but they are legitimate MP’s represented at Westminster could help make a change.

      Change has to come; a normal parent who has taught 10,000 children over a 25 year period and has been checked annually for their safeguarding capabilities as well as their professional teaching skills and has had four children, all but two think him Superman, and the other two did until he was forced from their lives because of alienation tactics….Well there you have it!


  8. I also believe that self-help can help in many cases and that in severe cases courts are of utmost importance. However, to get the courts understand what is going on, will take a long time, because here, in Croatia, mental health professionals are rarely aware of parental allienation. They talk about the Convention and children’s rights to express opinion and then if the child refuses one parent, they claim it should be accepted and respected. So the system mostly aligns with the aligned or allienating parent. The more the allienated parent tries to contact the child, the more s/he seeks courts’ help in that, the worse the situation is, the more the child refuses being “harassed”.
    Having worked with the association Child-divorce, after seven years, although we managed to bring the problem to media attention, I do not feel any improvements have been achieved. The problem is on the increase.
    Your blog gives hope – thank you for that.
    I wonder if it were possible to get your permission to publish your texts translated in Croatian on our web page and facebook page?


    1. Yes of cour Asenka, feel free to publish anything you feel is useful, as long as you reference it back to me you are free to use anything on here that helps. K


  9. One aspect of parental alienation which could be clarified is by making the link to parental irresponsibility. This again would link at this time with a legal ruling of the President of the Family Division as declared in April this year!

    There may be a slogan link too.
    “Alienation – the act of Irresponsible Parents”


  10. OMG…. AFTER 2 years of intense heartache, confusion, being depressed, feeling like my daughter
    died…..I stumbled here. I am not the same person, I will never be who I once was. I still can’t believe she hates me. Blocked her cell. And her daddy says “it’s
    not me, it’s your daughters choice. But when the children were younger, I had to encourage, alot, for them to visit their dad and his family. His mom,aunt and brother. All badmouthing me in front of my daughter . Both my parents passed away during the 2 years and I have a bipolar alcoholic sister. So it’s just me on this side. It’s high conflict,without a doubt. Sadly, I’m loosing. My son still visits, yet my daughter won’t speak to me. That time is lost. She was 12. My son will be 18. I need a support group. I need alot of help. 😦


  11. Hang in there Joan! Information is power. You’ll find plenty of information here. People are power too. We’re here to support you support yourself. No child, and no targeted parent, will be left behind.


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