We’ve been travelling these past three weeks and home has been a distant experience as we did so. Rolling across Europe with our pack on wheels and the clothes we stood up in, we wandered through the Swiss Alps, into Italy and across to Croatia where we took in the heat, the cultural differences, the sparkling blue seas and the warmth of the people we met. Arriving in Zagreb to work with a group of 34 Psychologists, Psychiatrists, representatives from the Police and a Family Court Judge with an exceptional grasp of psychology, we found ourselves amongst like minded people, all of whom worked incredibly hard across the three days we were with them and who shared their skills as well as opening their minds and hearts to the ways in which alienation deeply affects children.
To say we have been nurtured as well as exposed to the wider world both geographically and psychologically is an understatement. I feel as if my very soul has been fed and fed well. The sights we have seen, the challenges we have faced (not least the earthquake in Italy which woke us as 3am and kept us awake as the second one struck just as we were falling back to sleep) and the care and love we have received has been amazing. In Zagreb, with Psychologists and Psychiatrists we were treated with great respect and willingness to debate, share and develop ideas from the combination of our ways of working with alienated children and their way of working with families through separation. I was excited to feel, throughout this training, that here are a group of dedicated people who are not only academically interested in the issue of alienation, they are practitioners who are willing to do the work with families affected by it, something which is very much lacking in the UK but something which we are addressing with our new partnerships.
I will write more about our work with the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb shortly, including an outline of a most interesting and unique approach they have adopted to hearing cases of child abuse. We are now planning to bring to London the Director and Judge involved in this work for a Family Law Seminar in London next year, more news on that and their work soon. If you click on the link above you can read more about th Centre and see photos of us with this great group of highly skilled people.
But I wanted to write today about homecoming and my experience of travel and my experience on the many transition bridges we have crossed during this summer trip. From leaving Switzerland and entering Italy, to arriving in Split in Croatia and then on to Dubrovnik, to Zagreb and finally home to London, I have experienced and re-experienced myself on that bridge, packing up my physical things and then my psychological self as I gather the strength to go on to the next experience. As I did so I thought about the children I work with and their experience of transitions, I thought about the ones for whom it got too much and the ones who couldn’t do it in the first place because their parent was so resistant to letting them go. Moving is hard for adults, moving often even harder. For children, without help to make those regular transitions, resistance, exhaustion and an overwhelming need to stay put can become the barriers that set in place an alienation reaction it is hard to recover from.
I have, for so long, argued that children of divorcing and separating couples desperately need a national family breakdown strategy with the resources to support it. People, psychologists perhaps, like those we have been working with, psychotherapists, youth workers, social workers, people with a care for children who could, properly trained, offer the support that children in transition need to avoid alienation. For a time I argued within government for that but recognised eventually that government isn’t the mechanism by which we can provide this for children. The mechanism we can provide it for children is via their parents and by sharing our skills across a wider group of people who really care for children. We met some of those people in Zagreb, I know there are many more out there. This is the basis of our European practitioner network for those who work with families affected by parental alienation and we will begin this work in 2017 with links already in place and strong connections already formed.
What I have noticed recently in my work is that isolating those cases of pure and severe alienation through our differentiation route enables us to concentrate our energies in practical ways to ensure that we meet the increasing demand for services. Ensuring that each case we are working on achieves a positive outcome for children is time intensive and consumes a great deal of attention. Outside of that, the number of hybrid cases we see are significant and triaging these cases also allows us to properly match intervention with assessment. This again allows us to differentiate the children affected by transitional issues from those being influenced by an unwell parent, allowing again a matching of input to need which helps children quickly. Building a practitioner network using the differentiation route we work with, will enable us to replicate those outcomes rapidly, ensuring that we bring the evidence based work which has been successful in cases in the UK to Europe alongside sharing best practice from other countries which we can use to highlight the need in the UK for better services and better support to families affected by alienation. This is a conversation we will continue to have with European colleagues who are aware that therapeutic work with families affected by alienation is far from the office based, academic approaches favoured by some. The warmth of self aware practitioners for whom the issue is always the children rather than their own ego driven beliefs in themselves as experts, is refreshing and welcome, it nurtures the soul and I look forward to developing conversations on this topic and others in the near future.
And so I am home after a long trip with many transitions and many challenges overcome. As I have travelled I have pondered deeply upon the work I have done, the work I will do and the help that the Clinic has offered to families since we began work. Now with a growing group of associate staff, a large and growing list of successful outcomes in cases inside and outside the family court system, a proven record of successful interventions, a developing practitioner network and our book which is being published by Charles Thomas Publishers, we enter this next phase having established a baseline of evidenced work with families which we can share with others. Practice with families affected by alienation cannot ever be bettered by academic study, nor can it be matched by words written in support of families though both of those things are important and both are things I undertake as well. Neither of them however, can replace my practice with families which demands of those of us who do it, the deepest levels of patience, the greatest self awareness, the willingness to challenge others and something I have been introduced to this week which is attributed to Richard Warshak which is the word humbition, a combination of humble and ambition. I feel humbition in my work. Humbled by the opportunity to do it and ambition for better, always for better, chances and choices for the families I work with. I hope that makes me a worthy practitioner to share with European colleagues all that we know and have learned, I think it does when we come to this sharing with an open mind and a willingness to listen as well as to speak and a willingness to receive knowledge as well as give it.
Coming across the transitional space back home feels sad as well as hopeful. I am sad to leave the freedom of our trip behind but hopeful that this coming year will bring even greater strides forward in our work. As I look in both directions at once I am reminded of the work that I do with children in this space, work which is about helping them cope with feelings and psychological changes they are not always able to manage themselves. As I do this I am working on thoughts about my next book which is called Homecoming and which is based on interviews with children I have reunited over the past decade. Homecoming, coming into that space in which we are truly ourselves, known and loved and connected. As I pour myself my first cup of tea back home, the journey I have just completed is starting to have an impact. The words and ideas are already starting to flow.
The Family Separation Clinic reopens on Monday 12th September when you can book coaching sessions via firstname.lastname@example.org Instructions should be sent to email@example.com please ask us first for availability for instruction, I am not available to undertake assessments until December as I am fully booked with post reunification support to families.
Readers not in the UK may be interested to know that our international coaching service is well used in the US, Canada and Australia and we are able to provide appointments to suit your timezone.