Working in a field where mothers and fathers are dealing with the fall out of the end of their relationship is not easy. It is made even less easy by the lesser spotted alienation aware professional who also inhabits the field. As I said in my last but one post, I have no idea why professionals who work with separated families do not understand the concept of parental alienation, but many don’t. And when they don’t, they add another layer of difficulty into an already tangled up mess of assumption and presumption about who is doing what to who and who said what to who and when and why.
The lesser spotted alienation aware professional is someone who falls into two distinct camps.
1. The alienation deniers
2. The alienation reformulators
Camp one is actually easier to deal with than camp two although encountering either one of them can be exhausting, especially in the family court arena where the layer upon layer of individual experience and assumption becomes mixed up with the emotional fall out that surrounds children after family separation.
So I thought it might be useful to write today about the two distinct behavioural attitudes and profiles of the alienation unaware professional. It is useful to do this because when you encounter an alienation unaware professional it is very important that you do not react or become drawn into their world view. The alienation unaware professional is someone who usually has a lot of power over you in the court process, a Social Worker or Family Court Practitioner maybe. The alienation unaware professional is therefore someone with whom your interactions have to be ‘clean’ which means that you must not give them anything to hang their pre-determined ideas upon, which could prejudice their judgement of you.
I say judgement on purpose because the lesser spotted alienation unaware professional is often very judgemental, both overtly and covertly. They are often certain of their judgement and determined that the world fits neatly into their pre-determined boxes, which they confidently label. Avoiding being labelled by an alienation unaware professional is very important in the court process, because these people hold a lot of power over your ability to manage the process of liberating your children. So take care around these people, especially if they show you that they fall into either of the two distinct camps outlined above.
The alienation denier is a professional who tells you that there is no such thing as parental alienation. This is usually followed up a pronouncement that it is a ‘crackpot’ science or that it has been discredited. Further down the line such professionals may tell you that alienation is not recognised by the family courts in the UK and may encourage you to feel that you are somehow deficient for having mentioned it in the first place. These people are not so difficult to educate because the factual part of their hypothesis is so fundamentally flawed. For a start it is not the case that parental alienation is not recognised by the family courts in the UK, it is and there is significant case law to demonstrate that it is, starting with –
(Re S a child – transfer of residence) 2010 in which HHJ Bellamy stated
“1 The concept of alienation as a feature of some high conflict parental disputes may today be regarded as mainstream.
2 There is no professional or expert consensus as to the approach the court should take with an alienated child. The solutions tried in this case had failed. The case demonstrated that there could be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
3 Alienation will only be a feature in a small number of cases and may be outwith the experience of the care professionals. In cases involving an alienated child it is “essential that the court has be benefit of professional evidence from an expert who has personal experience of working with alienated children. ”
Once confronted with this judgement and others like it the alienation denier will often then go on to tell you all about the way in which alienation as a concept has been discredited, starting with a challenge to Gardener’s original concept and moving into current day controversies which largely originate between the parental rights movements. Finally, the alienation denier will then tell you that anyone who works with parental alienation must be somehow less than impartial, especially if they write about the issue (as I do). I have lost count of the number of times I have been accused of being less than impartial because in my work I talk about children being protected from unhealthy parents. It is as if, in the world of the less spotted alienation unaware professional, anyone who acts to protect a child’s relationship with a father, (because he happens to be the healthy parent), is somehow pro fathers and anti mothers. Or that anyone who seeks to raise the issue of the child’s need for healthy relationships with both parents, is somehow a critic of single parenting, as if S11. of the 2014 Children and Families Act doesn’t exist and as if articles 6 & 8 of the Human Rights act do not really apply to children at all.
Given that in parental alienation work the gender of the rejected parent is not the issue but the healthy and unhealthy parenting received by the child is, the allegation of bias towards fathers which is often levelled at people working with parental alienation, is without any foundation whatsoever. But not in the world of the alienation unaware professional. In this world, where assumption is the basis of analysis and judgement is made by gut feeling rather than formulation, healthy and unhealthy parenting are less important than gender and gender is less important than the personal belief of what makes a good mother and a good father. Pity the targeted parent who tries to educate the alienation denier for they too shall be judged and found wanting.
The really dangerous lesser spotted alienation aware professionals however are the alienation reformulators. These are really alienation deniers who have moved on a stage into re-working what is happening in the family in the image of their own assumption and belief system. These professionals do not even stop for breath long enough to denigrate the concept of alienation, so busy are they working out their own formula for why the children do not want to see a parent. In working with these professionals I have witnessed the most appalling emotional abuse of targeted parents, who have been told that they are dangerous, damaging and deficient because their children do not want to see them. I have heard parents being told that there is no such thing as alienation and that they must have caused the rejection and I have seen professionals collude in the gas lighting of parents until they come to accept that it must be them, so often have they been told it is. These lesser spotted unaware professionals are often in key positions and as such they hold immense power over a targeted parent. I have seen children told that they are traumatised because of what it is assumed a parent has done and I have seen children damaged by the collusion with the alienating parent.
And then I have been told that I am the person with a belief system that is underpinned by assumptions, not they.
When I work with families I do not look to uphold the rights of mothers or fathers and I do not start by assuming that I know what is happening in a family. My work is not concerned with the rights of either parent but their capacity to provide consistent, collaborative and constructive parenting which is beneficial to the child over the longer term. To achieve that balance in a family I look at the power dynamics – the way in which power and control is held by each parent and how that power and control is enacted over children. Alienation is about power and control, who has it, who wants it and why. Alienation is also about unhealthy parenting patterns which are harmful for children. It is also about how children’s needs are overlooked or subsumed into the unmanaged needs of parents. Every single one of those themes are not about parental rights but about children’s needs for healthy parenting. The reformulators however, would have it that being concerned about a mother’s unhealthy parenting is anti mother, failing completely to understand that should the unhealthy parent be the father, he is the person I will be naming as such. The only focus in my practice is equalities based work to ensure healthy parenting for children. In order to ensure that I may think about gendered elements of power and control and I may act in ways that are not in line with received wisdom about what makes a good mother or good father. People who have not worked at this depth of gender analysis may not understand it but in order to treat parents equally, I may at times have to treat them differently, understanding the blocks and barriers to their parenting after separation and adjusting my practice to ensure equality of outcome. Because when I work from an equalities based outcome what I see most of all is the health or lack of it in the parenting a child receives. And acting on that, regardless of the gender of the unhealthy parent, is the way in which a child is liberated.
Alienation deniers and reformulators appear to forget or overlook or never even notice that high conflict family separation is rarely a he said/she said situation but a child protection issue. And child protection issues do not require impartial observers with personal belief systems but highly aware professionals who are both skilled and willing to risk one parent’s opprobrium in order to ensure that children are safe and well and protected by the care of the other, healthy parent.
I don’t know why professionals who work with family separation in this country and others are not routinely trained to understand the concept of alienation and how it presents in families and how to change the dynamic when it does occur. I don’t know why so many are so hostile to the concept and why so many spend so much energy trying to convince themselves and others that alienation is something else. I only know that those lesser spotted alienation aware professionals are so often a key part of the problem in alienation cases and not the solution, condemning children to the ongoing impossibility of life in the care of unhealthy parents, simply because their own belief system does not allow them to expand their consciousness beyond the narrow remits of their own personal lived experience.
Similarly, I do not know why, when encountering alienation aware practice they are so challenged by it. But they are.
The difference that alienation aware practice makes, when professionals who really ‘get it’ work together, is astonishing. In teams of alienation aware professionals this year we have brought about amazing change for children within six months. In others, where the alienation denier or reformulator has been in action, the change is often disrupted by the personal assumptions of the professionals who cannot ‘get it’ or who feel challenged by it. In these cases, children are left to suffer, struggling with transitions, forced into impossible loyalty conflict and parented in unhealthy parenting patterns which are deeply damaging over time.
The lesser spotted alienation aware professional has immense power and a great deal to answer for in my view.
Learning how to spot them and treat them is a key skill for all targeted parents everywhere.