I read this week that a transfer of residence is the ‘nuclear option’ for treatment of parental alienation in the UK . The discussion arises from a public judgement in which the child concerned was sent to live with her father. Whilst there is a significant wrangling about the decision, based on the argument that the child had been too damaged already to be helped by a change of residence, (the judge finding that a particularly unattractive argument put forward by the mother), the words at the end of the Judgement are clear, the child will go to live with her father today.
That reality, which could just as easily read, the child will go to live with her mother today, given that fathers alienate mothers too, is one which causes too many people to become uneasy when they contemplate it. Which is why I guess, it is called by some, the ‘nuclear option.’ But is it a nuclear option? When it is considered from the perspective of the alienated child’s expressed wishes and feelings, it is possible to think of it in that way yes. But when it is considered from the perspective of what parental alienation is and the damage it does to a child, no it is not. It is not nuclear at all. It is in fact, the only healthy decision to make on behalf of a child who is trapped in an impossible dilemma. Once that decision is made and enacted, those who considered it a nuclear option are often extremely surprised by the child’s volte-face on arrival at the home of the once ‘hated’ parent. If people knew more about parental alienation and the damage it does to a child, perhaps they would feel less uncomfortable about making and carrying out such a decision. Perhaps then it would not be considered a nuclear option at all, but in fact the only response to the recognised fact that the child concerned cannot cope with the dynamics caused by one parent acting against the other, or in some circumstances, two parents engaged in a high conflict situation.
I have written this before but it is worth writing it again. A child who is alienated by one parent acting against the other is a child whose emotional and psychological self has been damaged. We cannot see this damage because it is not physical, but if it were physical it would be akin to broken arms and legs. Some of the children I have worked with in transfer of residence cases have demonstrated both the ability to instantly reconnect with a former rejected parent and the long term damage that being alienated has done to them. Whilst children find reconnection relatively easy in the right circumstances, the longer term impact upon them of what a parent has done in breaking their perspective and their trust in adults, is clear. There is nothing ‘nuclear’ about taking a severely harmed child and placing them with their healthy and loving other parent as happens in direct transfer of residence. What people forget, when they speak of the dangers of attachment disruption in removing a child from a parent who has caused harm, is that the child has already suffered one attachment disruption in being forced to choose to lose a parent in the first place. That attachment disruption which is seen in parental alienation, causes the child to bury the love that they felt for a parent in a process of entering into psychological splitting. It is a cruel thing for a child to have to undergo this process because somewhere, they are aware of what they have had to do in order to survive the pressures placed upon them. It is an additionally cruel thing for a child to have to give answers to questions about whether they like, love or loathe a parent and in my work, when I see a child in such a place, I do everything I can to avoid heaping more of this pressure upon them.
Alienated children desperately need the adults around them to take charge of the psychological and emotional space and for decisions to be made for and about them which are responsive to their underlying reality and not their surface voices. In doing so, adults must take the greatest care to ensure that the dynamics in the family are properly differentiated so that the right intervention is matched to the presenting problem. Get it right and the child is liberated from the double bind swiftly. Get it wrong and the child is plunged further into the abyss with little hope of being able to get out during their childhood years.
Perhaps what people forget most of all, is that beyond the rhetoric which is heard from the alienated parent, the reality is that the rejected parent is loved by the child but the child is unable to show it. Trusting that this love is present in the unconscious mind of the child and working alongside good enough rejected parents who are willing and able to do the work necessary to build the platform for recovery for their children, practitioners can be bold in their interventions and they should be. If this was serious physical harm the child’s arms and legs would be broken, just because the harm is psychological, emotional and mental, doesn’t mean that the harm is not serious and sustained.
When I meet alienated children what I see is more or less the same every time. I see a small frightened being who has been used to managing the world through over anxious and empowered behaviour. A child who has learned to control the world through their refusals and a child who is locked into a delusion that the parent they have rejected is unsafe. Alienated children dream of being locked in cupboards, being chased by wolves with fangs and being attacked by knives. These repeating themes seem to me to be the inculcated nightmares of the parent they enmeshed with. The locked doors and cupboards are the nightly manifestations of the way in which the unconscious mind is managing the repression of the rejected parent.
When I work with children in residence transfer, which can be as complex as stepping stone care or as simple as collecting them from school and taking them home to a parent they tell me they hate, I know that what I am doing is not carrying out the ‘nuclear option’ but the right intervention to assist the child to recover a normal healthy childhood. This is why I do what I do, because children deserve to be unconsciously content in the world and safe in the care of a healthy parent. Alienated children are not those things but they need to be, which is why transfer of residence is, in a properly differentiated case which calls for it, the only option, not the nuclear one.
The Family Separation Clinic provides residence transfer care in a twelve week package which includes support through the transfer to the point where the child has recovered normal range responding to a once rejected parent and then in an intensive delivery to ensure that the children progresses effectively through the recovery process. Beyond twelve weeks the child is re-introduced to the previously alienating parent and is supported in supervised contact (in most cases) to enter into as balanced a relationship as is possible in the circumstances. For residence transfer care please email email@example.com
A note about engaging FSC in your case. It is not possible to go into court and ask for the Family Separation Clinic to be engaged in your case without following protocol. If you wish to engage the Clinic in your family case you must inform us and request the documents from us which are necessary to apply to the court. The Clinic works with parental alienation cases, suspected or already judged upon and is rarely brought into the early part of any family case in the UK. When your solicitor, or you as a LIP, wish to apply for a part 25 expert (applies in UK only), you must contact the Clinic and inform us that you are doing this. When you make your application, you or your solicitor must submit the correct documents and information to support your application which we will supply. Instructions and enquiries about instructions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org