I sat in Shoreditch at my usual cafe table yesterday and wrote a blog post. Then I ditched it because right now I am going through some changes in my relationship to my work and my thinking is changing about many things. When I went back to my office, I read the post again but couldn’t post it. Not because it wasn’t relevant to what I am working on right now but because sometimes, when there is an upswell coming, it is more useful to keep things under your hat than shout it out loud. So instead of my post from yesterday, here is another post, written from my sickbed today where I languished for several hours bemoaning the horrible virus that struck me down overnight (it’s the tube and the children I work with, I will end up like Niles from Frasier if I am not careful, dusting everything down and washing my hands endlessly in order to beat the germs that come with the work that I do).
I am going to be talking a lot about parental alienation soon, you will be seeing quite a bit of me in unexpected places. You will also be able to read the words that Nick and I have spent two years writing when Charles Thomas Publishers finally deliver our newest baby to the world. When this kind of summer wave approaches I find myself distilling all that I know into small chunks of knowledge. This is a habit of mine which I developed from an early age and one which I find myself still using and still sharing with the families I work with and latterly with the alienated children I assist in recovery. One of the strange things about parental alienation, when it comes down to talking about it, is that there is a song title from that great northern tub thumping band Chumbawamba which exemplifies what I want to say about it. (Who on earth would have thought I would get Chumbawamba into a blog about parental alienation!) As the song goes, when it comes to parental alienation, everything you know is wrong – there’s a word missing out of your song.
That word, which so many people who think they know about parental alienation (but don’t) miss out of their song is not therapy, it is not talking, it is not qualifications, it is understanding. So many people think they know all about alienation when they don’t and they think that being the expert means making recommendations that people talk to each other or do some family therapy or some such (as Kirby from Frasier would say). If your expert cannot put you in touch with someone they have helped and if your expert tells you that family therapy is the way to go you can be sure that this person who thinks they are fit to practice in this field is most definitely not. When it comes to parental alienation forget everything you know and everything you think you know about helping parents and children and focus on this. Parental alienation is nothing to do with parental rights, it has nothing whatsoever to do with fairness or justice for parents, it has got absolutely nothing to do with people not being able to talk to each other, it is not about conflict, it is not about conspiracies, it is about one thing and one thing only. It is about power. It is about power over another human being. Who has it, who wields it and who maintains it.
And in the current system in the United Kingdom, the way power is controlled and managed by parents during and after separation is the major thing you need to understand. All the rest is just the icing on that cake which is deeply layered with political ideology. Having spent two decades working to understand that cake, what I know is that at the centre is only one thing, the power over dynamic. Which is why parental alienation is coercive control in its truest form. If we did but know it and if the political ideologues were not so busy distracting us from that fact.
Parental alienation in its true and pure form is also about trans generational traumatic wounding and the way in which power which is held by the traumatically wounded parent, binds the child into an encapsulated delusional state of mind. When you come across this kind of wounding you can truly forget therapy, unravelling people’s states of mind and sitting in a room hoping talking might change something. This kind of wounding is deep, it is generations deep and it is powerful, it is normalised and when it erupts through the crisis of family separation it takes children hostage in the blink of an eye. Anyone singing the therapy song in this kind of parental alienation presentation should be kicked off the playing field for good in my view – here is where I am alongside Doc C on the matter. Putting a child in a pure alienation situation into a programme of therapy, or worse still asking the parent they are being forced to reject to undertake therapy to change his or her ways is abusive and harmful.
At the Family Separation Clinic we work to internationally recognised standards of best practice in parental alienation interventions. If it is a trans generational trauma pattern then power has to change hands because the parent who is suffering that is going to find it hard to change quickly enough to rescue the childhood years. Change of residence and then post residence change support to both parents is the way to go, something we are increasingly delivering in London and in which we are seeing strong and swift gains for children (and surprisingly too in both of their parents). A change of power dynamic puts a very different light on the matter.
Talking therapy is used only when the power dynamic has been changed because it is only then that the child is freed from the impact and there is enough compulsion for behavioural change in the parent who has been causing the problem.
Do you see how everything that people think they know about parental alienation is wrong? Understanding is the word missing out of the song. Courage to tread the line of doing the right thing for children is the harmony and downright sheer determination to keep on doing it even in the face of those who would like to shut me up about it ( and there are a few of them believe me), is the bass that holds it all together.
It was a tough year for me last year, in the words of that other song by Chumbawamba however, I got knocked down but I got up again. When that summer wave hits its height very soon and our hard work comes to fruition, everything I know is right (and wrong) about this work we do will be available for everyone to know about.
Until then. I will keep much of it under my hat but share this with you.
Understanding and Coping with Parental Alienation will be published by Charles Thomas Publishers shortly.
A short documentary on Parental Alienation for the BBC – more news and links soon.
I will be speaking at the Institute for Child Mental Health Conference on Children and Change in 2017.
Other work on our European Network will be announced shortly including work in the Nederlands, Italy, Ireland and more about our work in Croatia.
We will be holding Seminars for mental health and legal professionals on managing the problem of false allegations in parental alienation cases (with Croatian colleagues) in London and on understanding parental alienation in Edinburgh in early 2017.