The Mouse Who Lived at Myrtle Street

Myrtle Mouse lived on the top floor of a long tall house on Myrtle Street.  Was she called Myrtle because of the street she lived on, or was the street she lived on named after her? Nobody knew the answer to that question but Myrtle and she wasn’t telling, she just got on with her business and left people guessing.

Myrtle Mouse was a little mouse.  She was neat as a pin and liked to keep everything tidy. In the daytime when the humans were moving about she was tucked up in her bed, but at night when the humans were sleeping, Mrtyle Mouse went about the house humming quietly and doing her work.  ‘This goes here‘ she would sing to herself and ‘that goes there‘ and quick as a flash all the little pieces of bread and the tiny bits of cheese which were dropped by the grown ups and the children in the day, were tidied away.  Some were nibbled up daintily and some put away in the cupboards for later. Myrtle kept a clean and tidy house and a well stocked cupboard and her friends and her family all knew that visiting Myrtle was always a pleasure.

One night as Myrtle Mouse tied up her apron and picked up her broom, she heard a snuffling noise from upstairs.  ‘Mmmm’ thought Myrtle Mouse, the little ones must be here.  The little ones, was her name for the children who lived in the house for part of the time.  Myrtle knew that when the little ones were here, the routines were slightly different and her work was always a little bit harder.  This was because for part of the time the humans in the house were just the grown ups and they didn’t drop so much food.  When the little ones were here at Myrtle Street however, there was always so much to do.  Myrtle Mouse knew that her cupboards would never groan with so much food,, as when the little ones were here.

The snuffling noise got louder and Myrtle Mouse heard a little whimper coming down the stairs.  The rest of the house was quiet and so Myrtle Mouse decided to check on the little one to make sure he or she, (she didn’t know which it would be), was ok.  Up the stairs she went in her little red checked apron and under the door frame and into the room.

The little whimpering one was Betty, the little girl who lived at Myrtle Street for some of the time.  ‘Hello Betty‘, said Myrtle Mouse, ‘I heard you whimpering and came to see if you are ok.’  Betty the little one looked at Myrtle but not in surprise because she knew that Myrtle Mouse lived in the house all of the time and sometimes, when the grown ups were not looking, Myrtle and Betty would wave to each other.  ‘Oh Myrtle Mouse‘ said Betty,  ‘I am sorry if I disturbed you.’   ‘You didn’t disturb me Betty‘ said Myrtle Mouse, ‘now tell me, what is the problem?’

Betty gazed at Myrtle Mouse.  ‘Don’t tell daddy will you‘, she sobbed in her bed.  ‘Of course I won’t, if you don’t want me to ‘ said Myrtle Mouse, ‘but what can it be that you can’t tell your daddy?’

I miss my mommy‘ said Betty and howled a little louder.  ‘Sometimes in the night I just miss her.  I know that my daddy loves me and I don’t want to make him sad by telling him that I miss mommy, but I do, sometimes I do just miss her.’

Myrtle Mouse hopped up onto the bed and patted Betty’s arm. ‘Of course you miss your mommy’ she said, ‘all children miss their mommy sometimes.’  Betty stopped crying and looked at Myrtle Mouse who smiled at her kindly.  ‘And you don’t need to worry that your daddy will be upset if you miss your mommy you know’, daddy knows that you miss mommy and mommy knows that you will miss your daddy sometimes too.

Betty looked at Myrtle Mouse, ‘do you really think he knows‘ she said.  ‘And do you think he really doesn’t mind if I miss mommy?

Of course he doesn’t mind’ said Myrtle Mouse, ‘he is your daddy and the job of being a mommy or a daddy is to know how little children feel and to not mind at all but to help you to feel better.’  Myrtle Mouse patted Betty’s arm again and hopped onto the floor, ‘wait there,’ she said, ‘I’ve got something that will make you feel better.’

Myrtle Mouse came back with a big chunk of chocolate which she had been saving for a special occasion.  Although the chunk of chocolate was nearly as big as Myrtle, she managed to heave it onto the bed for Betty.  ‘There‘ said Myrtle Mouse, ‘chocolate always cheers up little ones’.  

Betty giggled, because although it was naughty to eat chocolate in the middle of the night, somehow Myrtle Mouse made it seem alright.  ‘Thank you Myrtle Mouse‘ said Betty, ‘I feel better now.’   ‘I’m glad’ said Myrtle Mouse, ‘there is no need to be sad.  In the morning you must tell daddy that you sometimes miss mommy and everything will be alright.  Little ones need to be looked after by the grown ups and not the other way around.  And sometimes when grown ups are not there to listen, Myrtle Mouse will be able to hear you.  Snuggle down now and sleep little one, morning will come soon and all will be well.’

Betty wriggled down into her bed and closed her eyes and Myrtle Mouse tidied up the duvet and turned off the light.  ‘Goodnight little one‘ she whispered and tied her apron a little bit tighter, slipped under the door and went off to tidy the house.

 

Following on from the Dandlebear Stories which will shortly be available to buy for children (see below for a sample of the books, which are illustrated by my daughter,  Myrtle Mouse is another series of stories inspired by our stay on Myrtle Street in Boston MA, this week, where a tiny little mouse kept us company during our stay!  All children who live in two homes need their parents to understand their emotional and psychological experiences, telling children stories which name their feelings, helps to deepen children’s sense of safety and enables them to express the whole range of feelings which come with the experience of moving back and forth between parents. One of my enduring interests is helping children to make transitions safely between their parents. Myrtle Mouse will be another series to help parents to help their children.

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Back to Basics

We are with our US training group today, taking the first step in a year long journey to understanding and working with alienated children and their families.  As I get ready to cross Boston Common (where the trees are in their full glory of autumnal colour), I am sifting through the basic building blocks of understanding parental alienation.  As I do so, I find myself curating the top ten things a practitioner must know before they work with an alienated child.

1.Attachment to a loved parent never dies, withers or disappears.  It becomes buried underneath the regulatory feelings of guilt and shame.  Which means that when the child is liberated from the alienation reaction, those feelings of love and belonging are still there.

2. The underlying condition which causes the child to reject a parent, is the infantile state of psychological splitting.  This can be measured objectively and there is a tool to do so.

3. The route into the alienation reaction describes the possible routes out of it and clinicians should always be able to describe how this child came to this rejecting stance.

4. A formulation of how this happened leads to the preparation of any treatment route.

5. Hybrid does not mean that both parents caused the problem, however, parental alienation is always caused by the actions of one parent, the responses of the other which impact positively or negatively and the vulnerability or resilience of the child.

6.Not all cases of parental alienation are pure cases and treating a hybrid case as if it were pure will simply transfer the problem with the child.

7. The ability to tell the difference between a case of justified and unjustified rejection is the first step in learning. Refining the case formulation and getting the treatment route right is the measure of the skill of the clinician.

8. All pure cases of parental alienation should be treated using a 90 day separation protocol.

9. All reunification programmes around the world are based upon three things – a) the separation of the child from the alienating parent, b) the confrontation for the child with the split off and denied parent, c) the resolution of the psychologically split state of mind which typically takes place in direct relationship with the parent over a period of 12 weeks or 90 days.

10. It is entirely possible and in fact desirable to confront the child with the split off and denied parent immediately in any programme.  Waiting until the child is ready is futile, the child will never be ready.  Which leads to the last core principle of this work.  Alienated children cannot say ‘yes I want to see my parent‘, they have to be firmly and supportively made to see that parent.  When adults take responsibility so that children do not have to, then dynamic change is created.

All of which combines to create a requirement of those who do this work to be skilled, knowledgeable, confident, calm, courageous and endlessly patient with children and their families.  Those who are not easy with the idea of overriding children’s resistances need not apply, those who want to water down the principles to fit their own comfort zone should not come into this arena.

We have five practitioners in this field waiting across the common to begin their journey in this field. With the backdrop now of us being able to curate and codify not only European but internationally recognised standards, these people are the first in the USA to use the Family Separation Clinic model to assist families.

Here comes the next phase.

 

 

 

 

PASG Conference 2017

Something special happened in the world of parental alienation work this weekend as a large group of academics and practitioners in the field, gathered to discuss how to bring together a unified approach to raising consciousness, changing practice and ensuring that alienated children and their families are effectively and consistently supported.  Being there to hear different people speaking and to share our work from the UK with our peers, allowed us to showcase what we know works and learn more from others about how to enhance our practice.

Our small but dedicated English contingent gained a great deal from the experience, not least that our practice is on par with the best in the world in terms of our reunification work, although it is configured somewhat differently.  Hearing Brian Ludmer speak about the mental health and legal interlock which creates the framework for lasting change for families affected by PA, was particularly satisfying.  Outlining everything we know about the role of the Judge as ‘super parent’ helping to reset the family hierarchy, Brian gave us a lucid and detailed description of the orders which are necessary to support this approach.

Earlier in the conference programme, Nick presented on the educational needs of practitioners working in reunification programmes. Throughout he visited the protocols necessary to meet internationally recognised standards of intervention with alienated children and their families. Protocols which are curated and set down by the  research, which is abundant and robust in this field. During the day, as we discussed the interventions which really work for children and it became clearer to me that conveying this information to the wider world is both urgent and necessary on an ongoing basis.

There was a clear and overwhelming consensus for example, that therapy in any of its traditional forms, does not work in cases of parental alienation and in many cases it serves to make it much worse.  Discussing examples of reunification programmes from the USA, Family Bridges and Turning Points for Families, Deirdre Rand and Linda Gottlieb shared the reality that such programmes are based upon supporting the dynamic shift in a child’s mind through structured and compelled intervention.  Although we do not use a formal programme in the same way, I shared with the conference, examples of how the Family Separation Clinic convenes a bridging programme to accompany transfers of residence and the success we have had in reuniting 33 severely alienated children with a parent over recent years.  All of the panel agreed that in doing this work, clear protocols such as a cessation of contact between the child and the formerly aligned parent for a period of up to ninety days is necessary, to allow the child’s psychologically split sense of the world to heal.

The conference also discussed the multi layered assessment process which must be undertaken before intervention can take place and Nick discussed the Clinic’s continuous assessment and intervention process which has been demonstrated to be successful in severe cases.  This work very much echoes the structured intervention discussed by Brian Ludmer and in my view it is this which hold out strong hope for a more widely available intervention which can be easily replicated and implemented around the world.  Starting with the agreement that the eight signs of alienation are the child’s way of signalling to the outside world that something is wrong, the conference unpacked the multiple issues which are present in alienation cases, including attachment disruption, psychiatric disorders, parenting strengths and deficits and explored a range of ways in which to assess and report on these.  In addition, the essential ingredient which is the mental health and legal interlock, was explored in depth.

I will leave PASG to announce the agreements made to take forward a strategic approach to raising consciousness, developing standardised practice and certification and other key tasks which will move the work of this international group of dedicated academics and practitioner experts to the next level of influence and dynamic change.  Being involved in taking this work forward is a privilege and I left the conference feeling that something important happened this weekend which will trigger lasting change.  As we move forward with plans for the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, we are now considering not only European standards of practice but the internationally recognised approaches which make a difference to children and families.

Most of all this conference felt to me that collectively there is now the necessary move to shift this horrible problem into the sphere where it properly belongs, that of mental emotional and psychological health of children in families.   Whilst I absolutely welcome all of the work done by rejected parents in this arena, the location of this problem in the parental rights field has, for example,  allowed too many people with power to assume that this is simply a post separation fall out between two parents, when it is nothing of the sort.

Parental alienation is not about contact, it is not a problem about high conflict, it is a  issue in which our first act has to be to ensure the child’s safety and our second act has to be to protect and rebuild the child’s relationship with their healthy parent.

As practitioners who work with alienated children we have a duty to say it like it is and call upon others to do so to. We need to get the message to the outside world that children’s lives now and in the future, are being damaged, not by conflict between parents but by the failures within our society and legal systems which allow a child to make a life changing choice to lose a parent with whom they have shared a loving bond.

PASG 2017 was not just a talking shop but a vibrant and dedicated place of learning and sharing and I leave today feeling that we have achieved a great deal.

We are now moving towards a world in which competence in knowledge and practice will be properly and fully certified in this field and this is a strong and powerful step. This will bring more practitioners to do this work around the world, giving families a greater protection and right to a properly trained workforce.

Practitioners who are properly trained and certified via international standards of recognised practice, will no longer need to remain risk averse to suit the guidelines of their existing governing body, but will be liberated to do what we know works for children. Protecting families from having to make do with services which shoe horn the issue of parental alienation into the comfort zone of current accepted practice, will bring healing and positive change to generations of children to come.

People change systems and when systems change the world in which families live changes.  The people who attended this weekend are a richly determined and committed group of people whose attendance during the weekend, all at their own personal cost, was heart warming.

There is much work to do now but what happened this weekend will change many lives in the weeks, months and years to come.

I was delighted to be part of it.

 

 

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference 2018

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The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners was launched in Prague in June 2017.  With a bold vision to establish recognised and regulated practice with alienated children and their families, the association will hold a landmark conference for legal and mental health professionals at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in 2018.  With leading speakers from around the world in the field of parental alienation, children’s mental health, the neuroscience of conflict management, research on divorce and children and the impact of international standards of practice in the lives of alienated children, this conference will set the standard in Europe for the future of work with children who resist and reject a relationship with a parent after family separation.

As an emerging field of interest in the helping therapies, parental alienation is a much debated topic and one which has, over the years, attracted much controversy.  This landmark conference locates the issue of a child’s resistance and refusal of a relationship with a parent after separation in the field in which it belongs – children’s mental health and explores the interlocking relationship with the legal system which is necessary to bring about the right outcomes for children in this predicament.  Moving away from the parental rights focus enables the issue to be clearly seen for what it is, a serious mental health risk to children and one which deserves the focus and attention which this conference and the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners affords.

The conference is open to all mental health and legal professionals who work with children experiencing family separation and will be of particular interest to social workers and health professionals who work with separated families.  The conference attracts CPD points and will showcase the most up to date research and practice from around the world in this field.

The conference will launch the opening of membership of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, which will, from August 2018, provide membership, accreditation, regulation of practice, governance, training and supervision for all practitioners in this emerging field of work.  Alongside the membership body, a quality mark will be available to practitioners who will be able to offer the families they work with, the reassurance that their work meets internationally recognised standards in this field.

No more generic family therapy for alienated children and their families, is one of the aims of the European Association, which brings together senior practitioners who are powerful in their own countries, to draw upon best practice with children and families.  For the family courts, the association will provide a proven standard of intervention which can be relied upon to relieve the pressures upon children who are experiencing the underlying psychological pressures seen in parental alienation cases.

Early bird bookings for the conference open shortly with a total of 300 places per day available to practitioners right across Europe.  As we open for bookings, information about arrangements with local hotel providers will be available for overseas travellers.

A full schedule of speakers will be announced shortly with Amy J.L.Baker, the most prolific researcher in the field, already confirmed.

With a powerful strategy to bring change for alienated children across Europe within the next five years, this conference promises to set the scene for the dynamic shifts we are seeking in policy and practice in this field.  Bringing the issue into the mainstream and applying the most up to date available solutions is our core vision.

More details here shortly along with a Europe wide marketing campaign to bring alienation awareness onto centre stage from now on.

The Family Separation Clinic is a founder member of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners along with fourteen other EU country members.

This conference is part of a series of events which the Family Separation Clinic is either hosting or involved in between now and 2019 and forms our commitment to ensuring that practice with alienated children and their families meets internationally recognised standards.

Between now and 2019 we will be presenting as follows – 

Washington DC. October 2017 – Parental Alienation Study Group – First International Conference

Boston October 2017 US Practitioner training group

Belgium November 2017 – Missing Children Europe Conference

Holland November 2017 – Training to Professionals

Stockholm August  2018 – Parental Alienation Study Group – Second International Conference

London August 2018 – European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference

Australia October 2018 – International Conference Parental Alienation

In addition we are discussing training delivery in France, Israel and Italy in 2018 as part of our commitment to driving awareness of the needs of alienated children and their families around the world.

 

 

 

The Captured Mind: Stockholm Syndrome in cases of Parental Alienation

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One of the behaviours we see in our work with families affected by parental alienation is Stockholm Syndrome in which not only the child becomes bound into the reactive behaviour of psychological splitting of everything into good and bad, the rejected parent does too.  In severe cases of parental alienation, professionals are also drawn into the behaviours seen in the family system, which means that the concentric circles around the family become infected with trauma based defensive responses in those who are trying to help the child.

Stockholm Syndrome is caused by a trauma based defensive response to events which are beyond one’s control.  In rejected parents, the experience of having your children removed from you, (often right from under your nose) and the experience of knowing that this has been caused by the dysfunctional behaviours of the other parent, is a sufficient trigger to cause the psychologically split state of mind.  In some parents the split state of mind causes rage towards the alienating parent, in others it causes passivity and a desire to placate.  Being trauma bonded to the person who is abusing their child becomes a very strong defensive mechanism for some parents, who will continue, even in the face of consistent evidence to the contrary, to believe that an abusive parent might change.

In our work we see many parents who continue to believe, long after those with a healthy mindset would be able to, that the other parent might change. This is a particular group of rejected parents who are almost always men.  On interview and further investigation, these fathers are those whose children have been systematically removed from them by the mother of their children, often before the family separation occurred.  Common themes in the landscape of the lives of these men are physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their ex partner and an inability to speak to others about what has happened to them. Coupled with their internalised belief about what being a man looks and feels like, these fathers often reach us in a state of shocked passivity.  What they seek is help to reconnect to their children but in doing so they are keen not to upset their ex partner for fear of upsetting her or re-triggering the behaviours they have escaped from. What they often end up asking for is an intervention which will allow them to reconnect to their child without changing the dynamic at all, they seek therapy which placates their children’s mother or persuasion of her to come to the table and talk. It can take many sessions of work with fathers in this position until they come to recognise that their mind has been captured in exactly the same way as their children’s have been.

In the worst cases seen of this nature, men are so bound to the person who has abused them that they will bind together with that person against the help they have been seeking.  This is a pattern of behaviour which is defensive at the deepest level, in which the unconscious traumatic experiences suffered, cause the abused parent to seek to protect the abuser from challenge.  This behaviour denotes a need to defend the self against the reactive attacks from the abuser who, when challenged by those seeking to help, seeks revenge in attack upon the abused parent.  Thus we see the abused parent colluding with the abusive parent to defend against outside incoming help as an unconscious self protection mechanism.  This echoes the behaviour of alienated children who, when they are in the double bind of being controlled by an abusive parent, will collude with that parent to prevent outside help being effective.

The underlying dynamic seen in this situation is power, who uses it and who is affected by it.  I have seen this dynamic play out in cases of parental alienation at the familial level and at the professional level in teams of people who, when feeling threatened by the abusive parent, have threatened others in order to prevent the abusive parent from being exposed or challenged.  The key dynamic here being that those who are unused to working with personality disordered people or those with severe control issues, become trauma bonded to the abusive parent because of the threats that person makes against them.

Stockholm Syndrome is a fascinating but deeply destructive dynamic and when a rejected parent is bound into these responses it becomes difficult to work with the family as a whole.  This is because the action and response between abusive and abused parent is maintained and the emerging patterns of collusion and sabotage prevent help being given to the child.  Breaking this pattern is the first step in changing the dynamic in these cases, which are often seen at first as hybrid in nature simply because of the dynamic which is seen in which the abused parent colludes with the abuser.

When parental alienation dynamics infect a team of professionals it is equally fascinating to observe and many severe cases of parental alienation will include a team of people who become trauma bonded to the abusive parent.  This causes behaviours which are consistent with Stockholm Syndrome, in which an abusive parent who is clearly judged to be so, is excused for the harm done and the abused parent is instead seen as the one who must change.   What triggers this is usually the power which is wielded by an abusive parent against a weak professional who is unskilled in this area.  I have seen it happen repeatedly in social work teams with social workers who are absolutely unaware that they have become bonded to the abusive parent but who will seek to placate that parent at length whilst attempting to fix the abused parent.  Unaware professionals in this field are all at risk of being used in this way and many cases are hijacked by the  personal subjective responses of professionals, to the underlying dynamics which caused the child to be rejecting in the first place.  Avoiding this dynamic requires a strong Judge with clear oversight but even with the best of judgments a case can descend into the holding hostage of professionals to the will of the abusive parent, if people without skill or awareness and disproportionate power become infected with Stockholm Syndrome.

The clear message we give to all rejected parents is to understand the way in which the child has been captured in the mindset of their other parent and avoid being drawn into that yourself. If you have been damaged to the point of passivity, find someone to help you breathe life back into your own sense of self worth and your right to your own control over your sovereign self.

To practitioners working in this field we advise, know your own subjective self and caution against placating a parent who has been recognised as abusive.  Steer clear of your need to rescue parents and deliver a happy ending. There are few happy endings involving an abusive parent making remarkable changes in cases of parental alienation, protecting the child by supporting the healthy parent is the very best route you can take.

Children, parents and professionals can all be taken hostage by Stockholm Syndrome and the court process is a perfect hatching place for such infectious dynamics to breed. Whilst the legal and mental health interlock is absolutely necessary for resolution of such cases, the combination of unskilled practitioners and psychologically unaware counsel can trigger a take over which grinds a case to a halt in minutes.

As the aware therapist amongst this, the risk of becoming the lightening rod for the pent up psychological distress generated by this lack of awareness is very high indeed.

Staying safe and staying sane where Stockholm Syndrome is present requires resilience, guts and determination. Knowing who is affected and how and when to step forward and when to step back is key as a practitioner in this field.

Loving your hostage taker.  It is a defence which protects you from the harm which is being done to you but also from seeing the truth. It is a coercive controlling behaviour which is used by alienating parents freely. It can affect everyone around the family, including the professionals and it can cause even the clearest of cases of abuse to look like something else.

The captured mind. It can start with the child and ends with the therapist.  Those who venture inside this world beware.