There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. (William Shakespeare).
I am in an odd position in relationship to the field I work in. I am both loved and loathed in equal measure and find myself being avidly listened to or dismissed as a crackpot fanatic by professionals working alongside me. For those who have seen the success of our interventions I am welcomed with open arms, for those who have been unable to see how we work and allow that to happen, I am the scapegoat for their inability to support the steps that lead a child out of the woods. In some areas of the country I am lauded, in others I am lambasted. What is clear to me is that this is the nature of the dynamic of parental alienation, which splits everything into all good and all bad, and that professionals, just like parents, fall victim to this dynamic, like dominoes lined up for a fall. Staying sane in the middle of all of this is not easy but I somehow manage to do so. What keeps me absolutely on track is the knowledge, pure and simple, that what we are doing now, will one day be the accepted way of working with families and that everyone who is first in such a field faces exactly the same as I do on a daily basis.
It isn’t easy though to do the right thing in a system which supports, encourages and rewards doing the wrong thing. This work is like a great big game of 3D chess played in outer space and knowing the players and where they are going to move is an absolute necessity in order to release the child. I often imagine myself in the CBBC tv show called ‘Incredible Games‘ when I am in the early stages of a reunification. Darth Vader as my enemy is the combined forces of all of the prejudices and lack of awareness which is held by the professionals around a family. Fed by the alienating parent, this force is one to be reckoned with and it can take me some time to clean up the board before I am ready to rescue the child.
I find it frustrating and sometimes extremely lonely to be in this position because knowing how to help the child but having to wade through a whole load of attitude before I get chance to actually do that, causes me a lot of cognitive dissonance. It should not be this way and actually would not be if the concept of parental alienation were accepted and worked with as it should be in the UK. Unfortunately, as with many institutionalised problems, there are people busy rescuing the state from its responsibility to do the right thing not the easy thing. In the case of parental alienation, this comes down to people promoting therapy as the answer, rather than that which is truly needed, which is reunification work.
Reunification work literally means what it says. The purpose of the work is to restore the relationship of the child and parent as quickly as possible. This work can be called therapy, it can be called horse riding, it can be called washing the dishes in the holiday home together, it can be called anything you like so long as its core focus is the restoration of the relationship between child and parent. Unfortunately, the idea that fixing the problems caused by the rejected parent, which are flagged and held onto by the alienating parent and echoed by the child, is the focus for too many who work in this field. What these people do not understand is the real life of the alienated child. This is because they have been trained to believe the following things – a) separating parents are somehow both deficient and in need of improvement, b) children do not lie and should always be believed and c) they are the experts who fix other people. People who are so bound up in their own self importance that it leads them to believe that they have the right to assess and make decisions about other people’s lives, rarely have the capacity to recognise the reality of what is happening to the alienated child, which is that they are using the only coping mechanism available to them in distorted and dysfunctional circumstances. They are also usually victim to the idea that there is no smoke without fire and that both parents are always involved in the circumstances where a child becomes alienated. Working with such people is a nightmare because they are often supremely rigid in their thinking, fixed in their belief that their way is superior and hung up about their credentials. These are the people who apply therapy in circumstances where a child simply needs to go for a walk with a parent. They are a nuisance but they have to be reckoned with because their way of working suits institutions perfectly and it is to these people that institutions will turn for the easy answers.
For what easier an answer could one possibly hope for than the child is alienated because the parent they don’t want to see anymore is deficient and has caused his own alienation from the child? When one arrives at that conclusion, which is actually the mirror image of reality, fixing the rejected parent, which allows one to feel utterly child focused (after all the child appears to love you for doing it), is incredibly easy. And doing it from the position of ‘trust me, I’m a doctor’ ( and therefore qualified to tell you what to do), is even easier. Having the courage to go against the grain and do the right thing despite the protestations of the child and the alienating parent, requires that one recognises one’s own sense of self importance in this field, whilst at the same time being willing to look under the surface of the presenting issue. Doing this takes guts. It also takes vision and determination and a massive dose of what Richard Warshak called humbition, there’s not enough of it about, but I can see it coming over the horizon.
I am always fascinated by parallel processes, which means those things which happen to me which are mirroring the client’s progress and those things which happen around the world all at the same time. Multiple discoveries, in which the same thing is invented or discovered by several scientists working independently of each other, are, to my mind, those things which arise in the collective unconscious, which is accessed by those working in the same field. This idea that there is a way of several people finding answers independently of each other, has been stunningly demonstrated (in my view) in recent weeks, with events occurring simultaneously across different continents. reading Dr Childress’s recent blog called The Structure of the Pathology, I sat down with my mouth open, because in this blog is the description of exactly that which I discussed at the first meeting of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners in Prague. The structural challenge of working with parental alienation and the need for the practitioner to be able to deal with all of these dynamics all at the same time. The structure of which appears to me to be a game of 3D chess played in outer space. A structure which looks remarkably like the art work of Eduard Bakalář, C.Sc., a psychologist (sadly now deceased), who studied parental alienation in the Czech Republic. This photograph of his art work was shown by Bill Bernet in his presentation to the group in Prague and I was again utterly astounded by the similarity of the structures to those dynamics which we are confronted with when working with families affected by parental alienation. Perhaps the work done by Eduard was subtly influenced by his understanding, who knows. What I do know is that I am not the only person who experiences the work that I do in this way and that the work we are doing now around the world, however much it appears to be going on separately, is very much linked together in the collective unconscious of parental alienation practice.
Which takes me back to the beginning of this post, which is all about there being a time and tide for everything, something which, the older I get, the more I know is true. There are cycles in life in which ideas rise and changes are brought through to the conscious world and this is one of them. Everywhere we look now, the idea that children should live with the loss of one of their parents because of the coping mechanism called psychological splitting, is beginning to look ridiculous. We know what the problem is, we know how it is caused, we know how to remedy it, why should children keep living with this distortion in their lives now that we have the knowledge to change things. The answer is they shouldn’t and they won’t and they don’t. Whilst we are still only able to change small numbers of children’s lives because the knowledge is new and the hands are too few, we are working on taking advantage of this tide so that taken at the flood it WILL lead on to fortune. Across continents there are calls for change, work underway to flag up the right way of working and challenge the naysayers. Many have come and more are on their way.
In years to come no child will be forced to choose to lose a parent because of the incompetence, ignorance and incredible arrogance shown by too many for too long in this field of work.
And as that day comes we should thank all of the pioneers who for so long have worked in the dark. All of whom survived in the psychologically split world of the alienated child, long enough to do their best and hand on their knowledge for those of us coming behind them to take forward.
Those people, from Wilhelm Reich through to Richard Gardner, through to the current day experts all over the world, stand with us now as we push this knowledge forward.
One day soon what we know and do now will be the accepted way of working and the rights of children to normal healthy relationships after separation will be protected in policy and practice. There’s still a fight ahead but I can see collective change coming, it is not far away now.