I heard this week via the Parental Alienation Studies Group of Dr Ludwig Lowenstein’s passing. This news saddened me as Dr Lowenstein wrote extensively about parental alienation and was a figure who faced much challenge and attack whilst standing firm in his views about the problem.  Dr Lowenstein was one of a cohort of Psychologists and Psychiatrists in the UK from whom I learned much of what I know today. A group of people who have long worked with issues such as parental alienation and school phobia but for whom the issues remained isolated as individual cases rather than the widespread phenomenon seen now. Partly that was because of the lower divorce rates back in their days of early practice. Partly it is because of the changing nature of mothering and fathering after separation.  I think it is also to do with the reality that PA is becoming a much more known about phenomenon across the globe, which is drawing more people into working with the problem.

When I first began my work in this field I was mentored by Dr Hamish Cameron, a well known Child Adolescent Psychiatrist who has been long known for his own dedication to supporting families. With Dr Cameron I was able to work on very complex cases and undertake some of the most robust interventions. We were discussing this recently and how in those days the intervention was not called a ‘change of residence’ but simply ‘going to live with your father (or mother)’ depending on who the alienating parent was in a case.  Using the same approach that we still use now at the Clinic, severely alienated children were assisted to reconnect with their ‘hated’ parent and the dynamic was repaired. Navigating the way in which the legal process connects with the mental health intervention is a critical part of that work. Dr Cameron, like Dr Lowenstein, had no problem at all with doing the right thing for severely alienated children.  As described this week in a conversation, liberating the child from the double whammy of alienation – a parent using a child to fulfil their own needs AND preventing the child from having accesss to the parent who could fulfil the child’s needs – was a necessary step to creating a healthy future for the child. These men were and are visionaries in my view.

Both of these men suffered attacks on their reputations throughout their respective careers and both continued to do the work regardless, providing a new generation of practitioners with much needed role models for surviving in this very difficult field. Controversies rage around parental alienation and those of us who work with it, have to be teflon coated in the extreme to survive it.  Working with Dr Cameron in the early days, allowed me to develop an understanding of what is really needed to bring about change for children as well as develop the thick skin required to survive in the field. I am always grateful to him for his wisdom and wise counsel which continues to this day in a strong working relationship.  He and I will, for example, be training the Scottish Judiciary on May 26th in understanding parental alienation.  His continued committment to helping children is remarkable.

Doing this work requires much strength of mind as well as skill in working with families in conflict and crisis. It demands of practitioners clear heads and clear clinical decisions. Fence sitting and fudging, through recommendations for family therapy are not useful to children in these circumstances and can push them into an even more entrenched position. Anyone working with children using family therapy in its traditional form is, in my view, causing more harm to children than good. I agree with Dr Childress on this point. Mental health professionals working with alienated children should not be recommending standard forms of therapy. Thankfully in the UK we are finally waking up to this reality and will, as a result I hope, be seeing much more of what is really needed in the near future as key legal people back the right approaches to resolving these very difficult cases.

I said in my previous post that I would be taking part in an important debate on Parental Alienation on May 24th with Withers Worldwide. This seminar is being convened to raise consciousness about the issue and to debate what needs to change to allow the UK to do the right thing for children. One of the key issues in my view is that we recognise that these cases are not he said/she said cases but those where high functioning people are in crisis, often mental health related and often unresolvable via ordinary therapeutic means. This requires anyone assessing such families to be alive to the dynamics which create alienation in a child and to identify and make clear clinical decisions about how to intervene. In the past, removing a child from a parent with a mental health problem, often left the child without a relationship with that parent. Knowing what we know about psychological splitting and the need for children to be able to resolve that, all such removals should, where it is possible, result in the child maintaining a strong relationship with the parent they have been moved from as well as the parent they have been moved to. This requires post reunification intervention of a delicate nature. The kind of intervention which responds to the lifting of the alienation reaction and at the same time protects the child from the risk of its return. Discussing this with legal people means that the way in which the court framework protects the child as the reunification work is done, truly places the best interests of the child at its heart.  I am very excited about the discussions taking place around alienation in the UK right now and the way in which this is bringing together so many people who have hitherto been working independently but who are now able to reach out and form clear networks of support. This is much needed and will protect those of us doing this work from the loneliness and the draining of our energy which I know plagued those like Dr Lowenstein in the past.

My feeling is that this year is going to be pivotal in the way in which parental alienation moves into mainstream consciousness in the UK. From presenting to legal people in England and Scotland to training the Judiciary to some key judgements and successes which will be available soon, parental alienation it seems is no longer in the shadows but about to take centre stage in the UK. For my part I am happy to be a part of that process but I will never forget the debt of gratitude I owe to those who went before me who worked tirelessly for children, from whom I learned much of what I know and for whom recognition for their work was never the goal but in my view was always long overdue and necessary.

Dr Ludwig Lowenstein who died recently aged 87, was a pioneer in his research and writing about parental alienation in the UK. Much of his work can be found here 

Along with Dr Cameron I will be delivering training to the Scottish Judiciary on May 26th in Edinburgh on Parental Alienation.

Withers Worldwide Seminar on Parental Alienation on May 24th is for invited guests only but news coverage will be available and I will report back with links after the event.