Working in the field of parental alienation is not easy, particularly when one is working with families where the crisis of alienation has fully taken hold. This is because being human is to be fallible and being involved with people whose lives are in crisis can cause secondary or vicarious trauma. Taking care of the self, by ensuring that boundaries are tight and there is a space between what is work and what is not, is part of how we manage the process of being involved in so much pain and anguish. Refusing to accept and absorb projections from other people, which risk us being set up on pedastals or being torn down and rubbished is a core part of holding onto our own health. As a therapist working with families where alienation strikes, there is a clear difference in my view between what we do and what other therapists do. Being willing to accept that we are, all at the same time, listener, guide, instructor, protector, enforcer and enlightened witness is a responsibility we cannot shirk if we are to make any real difference to the families we work with.
Enlightened witness work with families where alienation is present is an essential part of the multi model approach we use at the Clinic to bring families to a place where children can begin to heal. Witnessing first what led the family into the place of crisis and then witnessing the deep fissures and fractures which this has caused is the early part of our work. It can take us some time to know a family, especially when we are working with the whole family as we most often are. When we know them and understand those things which have created the situation that the child is captured in, we can begin the work of guiding them across the landscape littered with the fallout of the war they have been fighting to a better place. In doing so we use everything at our disposal to make them cross this landscape, education, enforcement, instruction, persuasion and pressure. As we do so we never let the enlightened witnessing part of our work drop and we never stop providing the net that gives them encouragement and hope that they can do this work. It is a particular way of working which is not by any means a standard a therapy intervention. As I have said before, it is therapy, but not as most people know it.
As someone who writes about the work I do and who is known in the field of PA by parents and other professionals, projections of unhappiness, anger, disappointment, fury, revenge and more are part of the landscape and I understand them and where they come from. As part of my self care I wear a rather splendid teflon coat which I visualise each time I go in to work with families, particularly where I know that blame projection is high. I also wear this coat to deflect the projections of me as saviour, fixer or super woman. I know that where those projections are present, I am also in danger because I am human, I am fallible and the problems facing the people I work with have a human face. I know that if I have to deliver an unpalatable truth to someone who has projected their beliefs upon that I will save them, that I risk receiving their changing projections, those which turn negative and which seek to wrap me up with the other parent as being to blame for what has happened. Being alienated and being an alienating parent are not normal conditions for human beings, working on both sides can be risky unless the responsibility for what we are doing, which is helping to heal in the relational world, is shared firmly and clearly with the people we are working with. Keeping the responsibility for change and healing in the hands of parents is part of being an enlightened witness. Refusing to receive and absorb blame projections from where-ever they come from, is another.
If we could visualise the psychological world we work in as parental alienation practitioners it would look like war torn former Yugoslavia, with people who once lived quietly beside each other involved in attacking and defending their own tribal histories. The eruption of war, in a once peaceful place, can be sudden or it can be a slow deterioration. The children in these families are those who run from one home to the other dodging bombs and bullets from each side. Other children are kept in one home which is defended with heavy armoury, the children themselves armed to the teeth with the alienating parent’s belief system and control over them. Into the midst of this we launch ourselves as alienation practitioners, teflon coated and with our peacekeeping vests on. Little wonder we are feted or lambasted depending upon whose side we are seen to be on.
The truth of the matter is however that the only side we are on is that of the children in this war zone and we will do anything and everything to assist those children where we can do so. Where we can’t, we will do everything we can to limit the damage that is being done to them. Where even that is impossible we will do what we can to help parents to understand what they can and cannot do in order to leave the children in the safest place possible. Part of this is about understanding what tools can be used to stop the war long enough to save the children, another part is knowing when those tools are useless and it is too late. Telling parents unpalatable truths is the most difficult part of what we do, but we do it because we work for children first and our enlightened witnessing for children is about helping them be the safest they can be in the circumstances they are trapped in.
We are doing some key work in the UK at the moment with some ground breaking results. Using our multi model intervention which combines education, therapy, protective separation (as per Craig Childress) and parenting co-ordination. We are evaluating this work for publication to demonstrate that enlightened witnessing as part of the overall input we offer is a valuable part of the process of change. Working in London with people who really understand the issues, views from the inside of the war zone will be available as public judgements and evaluated interventions. Enlightened witnessing in the UK which brings us right into line with international work on PA and which lays out the path for the right way to treat the problem for decades to come.
Peacekeeping vests are available for anyone willing to work with us in this way. Bring your own teflon coat!