This week I am writing up the final chapters of my case notes in three cases where we have successfully treated parental alienation. I thought it would be useful to share these (heavily disguised of course), so that what happens after our intervention is made visible. So much of our work takes place behind closed doors and it can be difficult for people to understand the interventions and outcomes of what we do because of this. By making such vignettes available we aim to show what we do and how we do it. We will share more of this information at our forthcoming clinical seminars, news of which will be posted here shortly.
Case 1: This is a case of two children who we removed from their mother in a direct transfer of residence ordered by the court.
The children had not seen their father for almost four years and were ferociously rejecting him, their behaviours included writing letters to the Judge and threatening to self harm.
The children were removed from their mother on the basis of serious emotional harm, on arrival to collect, both children laid down on the floor and refused to get up, the collection process took us over three hours.
During the ride to their father’s home, the children shifted in their behaviours and showed the first signs of emergence from what had been strongly refusing behaviours. Both children asked whether their father would be angry with them and were relieved on hearing that he was not angry and was looking forward to seeing them. On arrival at their father’s home both children climbed out of the car and walked voluntarily into the house, whilst they were somewhat cold towards their father during that first hour, they subsequently demonstrated the behaviours we expect in such cases, unwinding the refusing behaviours and emerging from the alienated stance. During the first six hours both children ate well, talked with their father and showed all the signs we expect to see in alienated children in recovery. By the following morning both children had slept well and were showing increasing warmth and interest towards their father and his wife.
Six months after their removal from their mother, the children have recanted all of the allegations made about their father and have completed their therapeutic treatment with the Clinic. This treatment route included testing of the children’s ability to tolerate exposure to their mother who had chosen not to undergo psychotherapy to help her to change her alienating behaviours. The children’s resilience improved strongly throughout the six months of treatment and they were assisted by a programme of cognitive behavioural work in which their distorted beliefs and confusion arising after reunification with their father were brought into a healthy range. Both children see their mother on a weekly unsupervised basis, both cope well with the transitions to and from their father.
Reports from the children’s school show improved concentration, a relaxation of the tension and anxiety previously seen and better relationships with peers.
Case 2: This is a case of two children who were being subjected to alienating and undermining strategies in which their father was influencing them to believe that their mother has a mental health problem. The children, when they came to the Clinic, were both on the verge of completely rejecting their mother. A programme of observed and supported therapeutic time with mother was put in place and the children’s father was ordered to make the children available for this to be undertaken. Work took place in situ at the children’s GP surgery and then at the children’s mother’s home. A sixteen week programme of twice weekly time with mum took place, this was lengthened week on week until the children were spending the whole weekend with their mother by order of the court.
The children were eventually placed in a shared parenting situation in which they spent one week with their mother and one week with their father. The alienation reaction was still present however and the children’s father remained focused on undermining the relationship between the children and their mother. A parenting co-ordination programme ran on from the therapeutic treatment however which meant that the Clinic continued to monitor the children’s resilience to what their father was doing.
Six months later the court has ordered that the children live mainly with their mother in order to reduce the time that father spends with the children and thus limit his ability to influence. This decision was taken because of the way in which father was unable to make use of the assistance available and continued his behaviours. The parenting co-ordination plan offered the Clinic the opportunity to monitor and manage the arrangements between parents and gave ongoing access to the children in order to monitor their resilience. When the parenting co-ordinator recognised that the children were sliding into alienation again she requested a return to the court and asked for a change in pattern of time to protect the children. This worked, the children now manage the movement between parents and are able to recognise that their father is using subtle messages in an attempt to influence them. The children are now in the age group where their conscious understanding of how parents act is strong and their natural sense of fairness and justice at this age has been used to establish strong resilience to their father’s behaviours. The alienation risk is lowered now and the children are monitored on an arm’s length basis by the parenting co-ordinator provided by the Clinic.
Case 3: A case of three children who were 13 and 14 (twins) when they were removed from their mother’s care on the basis of serious emotional harm. The children are now young adults and have lived with their father for the past six years. During the removal, the children were strongly resistant and the police were used to assist. On arrival at their father’s home, all three children used a strategy of refusing food to continue their efforts to resist and refuse a relationship with their father. I stayed with these children for almost a week as they went through the first recovery stage from the alienation reaction, after 24 hours they began to eat and after two days the alienation reaction began to lift as each of the children began to acknowledge their father. By the end of the first week the children had begun to discuss why they had been so strongly refusing of a relationship with their father, the basis of which was that they had been told by their mother that their father only wanted to see them to hurt her.
The children were assisted by a programme of therapy after removal and after twelve weeks they entered into a supervised contact relationship with their mother which continued until they reached the age of sixteen. After that, the children continued to see their mother weekly on a day time basis only as she continued to try and persuade them that their father did not really want them. By now all three children had reached an age where they were able to understand the reality of the situation and had built a strong resilience to their mother’s beliefs.
Six years later their mother has remarried and has a toddler and a new baby, the older children see their half siblings regularly but not in any recognisable pattern. They have taken charge of their lives as is expected of children of this age and are able to move between parents without needing assistance.
In discussion with these now adult children, their reflections on what happened to them during the period of time when they rejected their father are interesting. One of the twins told me –
I didn’t really believe what my mother was telling me about dad because I knew dad and I knew that he wasn’t like that, but there wasn’t anything that I could do really to change things. If I showed any sign of wanting to see my father or even think or talk about him, mum went off on one or worse still, became completely silent and ignored me. So we just learned really that dad was not ok and that seeing dad was not ok and that even talking about dad was not ok unless we were criticising him. At the same time I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do but if I tried to do what I wanted to do I knew I would be in trouble so I just did what was expected and at that age, when you just want a quiet life anyway, or at least you don’t want to have much to do with your parents, it seemed easier to go with what we knew mum wanted us to do. By the time you came to collect us I think we had lost the plot a bit really and didn’t know what we were doing, we just got more and more stuck in it as mum became more and more determined to prevent dad from having anything to do with us. It feels embarrassing now when I look back, you must have thought we were a real bunch of no goods, I remember telling you to F off and you just carried on telling us what was happening. It wasn’t until I realised that you were not going to back off no matter what we did, that I let it go really. When I did, it was a relief, now it all just seems so pointless and unnecessary.
What happened next in all of these successfully treated cases of parental alienation, demonstrates that the core need for children in these circumstances is resilience building. This work is what we do at the Clinic with children after intervention. Resilience building cannot be undertaken whilst a child is alienated, the necessary work to treat the alienation must be undertaken before resilience building can begin.
The other necessary ingredient in these cases is Parenting Co-ordination which is offered by the Clinic in all treatment plans for parental alienation. Parenting Co-ordination, which offers one practitioner to work with both parents and children to monitor arrangements made, ensures that the reconfigured family system is held steady throughout periods of up to twelve months post intervention. The Clinic has two parenting co-ordinators in place currently who are available to deliver such programmes of support, which can be invaluable in ensuring that the dynamics which cause the alienation reaction in the child, are prevented from re-arising.
For information about Parenting Co-ordination, intervention in parental alienation cases, assessments for court and the other services available at the Clinic please see our website at http://www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be holding a Clinical Seminar in London in May 2017 for legal and mental health professionals in which we will discuss our work with families. More news on this early next week.
Our new self help website – Parental Alienation Direct will launch soon – watch this space for news about how to obtain help to deal with your own situation and to learn much more about what to do and what not to do when parental alienation affects you and your children. This site will include a series of psychological education videos which we are filming now to put as much information into your hands as possible.
The Family Separation Clinic is hosting the first meeting of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners in Prague on
July 11th 2017. This Association brings together practitioners who are working directly with families affected by alienation in different countries in Europe, to share best practice and to inform policy debate and development in each individual country. Invitations have been sent out to those who have expressed interest in joining the Association, if you are interested in doing so and would like to attend the meeting at Charles University in Prague, please email email@example.com
The Clinic has recently expanded capacity and although there is a twelve week waiting list to instruct me in cases, we have additional experts who can be instructed quickly. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
We are currently very busy with training delivery in Europe and from July 2017 will be focused on working in Europe and then in the USA and Canada. We have been approached however by many people in the UK seeking practitioner training, we are therefore considering how we might offer a one day practitioner training in London this year and will post details of this when we have them.