Down in the Darkest Places: A Year at The Family Separation Clinic

Time for the end of year review at the Family Separation Clinic, time to look back at those things we did well and those things we learned from and those things we know we need to do more of. This year we have been down in the darkest places with families, right down in the deepest depths of despair and the horrors of the worst that people can do to each other and their children. Right there with you, hacking away at the coal face, finding the routes through to freedom.

There is absolutely no possible way to do this work without being in those dark places with you. Being there and being with you is what helps and what heals you. It is also what takes out of us as practitioners, the energies and the time that we know is needed for other projects. Our book and our new website for example which everyone is patiently waiting for and which we have had to shift back again and again in order to fulfil our work with families. This holiday period we have designated time to complete our lift off so that in 2016 those two projects will be live and ready to help you.

We have worked with almost two hundred parents this year through our in court services and our coaching and counselling service. In addition we have helped eighteen children to begin seeing a parent that they had previously rejected. We have continued our policy of using whatever works to make that happen and we have learned more about different legal process by working in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as with families in Australia, Canada, the United States, Sweden, Germany and France.

The Family Separation Clinic has delivered training to Social Workers, CAFCASS officers, Guardians and Family Mediators in England and Wales and the Republic of Ireland and will continue this theme with CPD training to Solicitors and Barristers with No5 Chambers in January 2016. Gradually the concept of alienation and methods of working with it are being introduced to people who may well have been resistant to it once. Step by Step we are bringing alienation into the mainstream consciousness by building best practice and by delivering outcomes for children which are healthy and which support their long term best interests.

There have been difficult personal spots in the year. A thinly veiled attack against me by those who think they are experts in the field of alienation in July was a deeply unpleasant experience which taught me exactly who my friends are. Those who joined in the public attack are clearly in my view, more interested in their own sense of self than in the interests of children. The best thing about this episode was that it taught me who to avoid in the future. It also taught me that the dynamics in this field can be as nasty as those experienced by targeted parents, I put a thicker teflon coat on in response and soldiered on.

It was a good job I did put a thicker coat on because it wasn’t long before I found myself in the thick of a debate with Dr Childress over efforts to overthrow what he called the ‘Gardenarians’ in the field of parental alienation. The cut and thrust of the debate with Dr Childress was far less unpleasant than the back stabbing behaviour of the UK based ‘experts’ efforts to topple my reputation. At least with Dr Childress I was battling with someone I respect and admire about things that really matter and which further the debate. Though his blog has gone dark on the subject of parental alienation, I sincerely hope this is a pause and not a full stop. I would dearly like to further our debate together, I feel we have so much in common, not least our fighting spirit.

Behind the scenes we have continued our research programmes and made some strong connections with other professionals in the field both here and abroad. I have been delighted to work with Robert Samery from PAAO and with Brian Ludmer this year and have also been conversing with Stan Korosi who I see is beginning his own doctoral study in the field. I am very excited at the prospect of furthering our own studies in conjunction with the colleagues at UCL in London.  Equalities based services to separated parents is a long held dream of ours and one which we have worked to achieve for many many years. Evidencing the difference that such work can bring to families and particularly to children is part of our ongoing efforts to achieve this.

In 2016 I will be working to convert my qualifications into that of a child/adolescent psychotherapist. I have come to the realisation that what I really want to do is work directly with alienated children to find ways of unlocking their resistances. I find alienated children to be both frustrating and fascinating, I understand their mindset and I know what the world looks and feels like to them. In 2016 I will be studying a transpersonal approach to assisting children to change to combine that with my existing skillset in order to get closer to the world of the alienated child. In doing this I am consciously combining my knowledge that outside services are increasingly relying upon children’s wishes and feelings and that these are reported without analysis. I want to provide children with the safety of my understanding and ability to analyse their feelings as well as provide for them a bridge over, through and round troubled waters. In combination with our multi stranded team interventions, framed by strong court management, I am setting out to discover new ways of working with children in these circumstances that work within the constraints of what our UK Courts will tolerate. This is me heading down into the darkest places with alienated children. On the surface those who battle for the changes argued for by Dr Childress must continue their work. As you dig down, I will dig up and somewhere we will meet in the middle. There are many paths to a new future. I am heading off on a new one of my own and I am very excited by the prospect.

This year has been phenomenal for this blog which has rocketed in terms of readership. We now receive well over a thousand page views per day and over two thousand visitors per week and are being read in well over 30 countries around the world. The comments and discussions are lively and it has been wonderful to see how the self help approach I have long advocated in parental alienation has begun to emerge between our regular commentators. People help people and it is through self help that much healing can take place. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed this year to making this place such a positive, lively and inspiring place to visit. I would like to especially thank Woodman, a regular commentator who made the effort to come and see me speak at UCL last week, it was a joy to meet you in the flesh.

My year was made special this year by an invitation to blog for the Huffington Post which allows me to write for a wider audience and bring their attention to the terrible scar that is alienation in the lives of families across the world. I love to write, it keeps me safe and it keeps me sane. That so many people bother to read what I write is still an amazing feeling as well as a big responsibility. Thanks to all of you who read what I write, it replenishes me to write and it is gratifying to know that it is helpful.

Finally a review of the year would not be complete without my thanking Nick Woodall with whom I live and work. His work with families goes unnoticed much of the time but is just as powerful and more so at times than mine. I learn so much from him, from his patience, his masculinity, his thoroughness and his skill in analysis. He writes less than I do, (he channels his energies through his feet with weekly games of football) but he is no less significant in the work we do at the Family Separation Clinic. He is made of the same stuff as I am and of the same stuff of all parents who have gone through the darkest places in their lives as parents. I am lucky to have such a colleague and a husband and I am grateful always for his ongoing grit and determination to challenge with me those things which stand in the way of a better world for all of our children.

As we come up for air across the winter break we will be lighting candles for your lost loved ones as well as mine. I will write more about that next week but for now thank you, all of you, for being here, I know that my work is all the stronger for being able to share the journey with you.

13 thoughts on “Down in the Darkest Places: A Year at The Family Separation Clinic”

  1. If I did not know cloning was forbidden, I would think there were several of Karens and Nicks Woodall, in order to do what you have been doing. The amount of work sounds incredible. Thank you for that, for your energy and love.


  2. Like so many on here, I’ve been to hell and back over the years (may well return there some day!) and consider myself one of the more fortunate victims of PA but in all that time I never encountered someone who lifted my spirit and made sense of this nightmare the way you do – my fortune includes stumbling upon this blog earlier this year. You possess a gift that has enabled you to support and change so many lives in such a positive way and coupled with your enthusiasm this sets you (and Nick) apart from others I’ve read, met and heard elsewhere. Most importantly, your dynamic style has provided targeted parents with the opportunity to “contribute” and “grow” in ways that, but for your leading by example, would not have been conceivable or possible. Thank you, Karen, and all the very best of luck with the challenges you face in 2016


  3. Karen, what can I say about you, Nick and the Family Seperation Staff that I have not said before.

    Your summary of your years achievements is nothing other than remarkable. Businesses who are successful receive the Queens award for industry. Tha Family Seperation Clinic should be awarded the Queens award for Humanity.

    I wish all at the Centre a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.


    1. So many people helped and encouraged, so many given hope when there was none. Saying thank you cannot express how much gratitude I feel for all you do for all of us.

      I too wish you a Happy Christmas and everything of the best for 2016.



  4. Thank you Karen, and Nick.

    Totally agree with all the comments above, especially about the Queens award one. Actually, I think you should be awarded a Dame or Baroness or whatever the best one is or that you like (eg, I personally would prefer a knighthood as opposed to being a lord – just saying)

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you both and all at your organisation.
    Onwards and upwards!


  5. You are both simply wonderful ‘insighted’ people, who simply keep many of us alienated people afloat. How often have we all read and re-read your words whien we have desperately needed them as a lifeline. I do not use those terms as some throw away phrases but I mean them literally.
    Thank you so much and may 2016 provide you with even greater understanding and energies to continue with your incredibly important and valued work.
    Happy Christmas and a great New Year


  6. Thank you for making your blogg accessible on an emotional level to all people. I know my opinions are not shared by everyone nor would I expect them to be. I do try to be constructive and when I don’t feel able to comment or add to the discussion I try to leave well alone.

    It’s been a refuge for my most controversial thoughts in an all too rare but kind and forgiving place where I can gain comfort from my troubled condition. Somehow I feel able to unburden this yoke of parenting turmoil and gain from the companionship of those who have had similar experiences.

    It has also been a platform where I have shared the success of my methodology. It has been a learning experience for me, the most profound influence being the awakening of the realisation that it is our children who need our love and understanding. “When I place upon my feet the shoes of my child I see a world where my need is for a steady reliable parent who is at peace with the other parent; who has cast away the need to blame, accuse and condemn and use me as a passenger for their retribution”.

    I too have enjoyed Woodman with his clinical, analytical appraisals; dare I say it Woodman you are starting to mellow. There have been contributions from all over the western world from parents experiencing identical emotions in response to an all too painful sense of loss and injustice.

    If you aren’t seeing the child you love this Xmas, as I said to my friend recently, “you can be sure your child has a place in their heart for you and one day you will help your child to fly their love freely back to you”

    Kind regards


  7. I can’t thank you enough, Karen for this wonderful, important ideaspace and your energy and patience in allowing us to consider these difficult issues together. Thank you Anonymous, for your kind comment.

    The “Community Sound” concept, as well as simply being a great participatory music experience, is even more profoundly the hope to create a new type of social space to facilitate personal growth, including all kinds of conflict resolution – with resolving Parental Alienation as obviously the absolute top priority!

    I’m delighted to have Karen’s invitation to share more about the initiative in the New Year. This certainly would be a place where we could meet in person (for those who can make it to South East London) and our long-term aim will be to stimulate similar opportunities nationwide.


  8. karen.
    Going down into the darkest places with this job is unfortunately one of the side effects of embracing the worse of humanity that is possible. As much as try to emotionally detach yourself , you can’t help but be human.

    I’m sure there are days when all of us here question how is it possible for the human race to behave in such an appalling way, not just the perpetrators of such behaviour but their enablers such as their families and friends ( as well as those in authority).

    as for the thinly veiled attack, not pleasant, but maybe take heart that you must be doing something right for someone to react in this way?

    I hope that your interaction with the lawyers, barristers, social workers etc will filter through enough for the system to realise the cancer that is PAS, at least enough for me when I eventually have to go for my second round divorce( first religous, second civil) ( hard enough to explain to solictors and barristers( will you be able to the consequences that are inflicted by DV, let alone explain why PAS on top is just rubbing salt into the wounds). hopefully if your book will cover the effects that PAS has, then maybe i could get a copy and highlight the points to the solictors to pick up in their battle. If anyone think UK courts are bad in family matters then try a shariah court in the gulf- brutal is only mildest form to explain it.

    As much as anyone may have already said it. thank you, its probably not said enough, but at least it is thought of all those who fight to give all children their basic rights in their relationships.

    if you haven’t done so, an article on strategies for estranged parents to adjust to living life without their child would be appreciated

    anway off to write another father- daugther xmas letter to nowwhere( 5 years and counting) and a candle to hold back the darkness.

    merry xmas to everyone and to your estranged loved ones.


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