‘the “Mr. (Mrs.) good-guy” approach, so important in traditional individual and family therapy, has no place in the treatment of PAS families. Only therapists who are comfortable with stringent and authoritarian treatment procedures should be involved in conducting therapy with PAS families.’
Gardner, R.A. (1999). Family therapy of the moderate type of parental alienation syndrome. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 27, 195-212
Arriving in New York from one of the most difficult phases of work at the Family Separation Clinic, I have time to review the past few months of work in the UK and Europe from a place of greater perspective.
Distance from my home country, coupled with proximity to the USA, where the issue of parental alienation has long been recognised as the emotional and psychological abuse of a child, provides me with the time and space to consider those difficulties which we face in attempting to bring to the consciousness of others, the harm that alienated children are suffering right before our very eyes.
During these last weeks, I have been undertaking some of the most complex work with children that I have ever been asked to do. And in doing so I have witnessed the way in which the UK’s response to parental alienation is both confused and distorted by the lack of knowledge and skill in the ancillary services working in the field of divorce and separation, creating barriers to delivery of services which lead to the right outcomes for children.
And those barriers are not just external barriers. They are internalised and concretised resistances to the absolute truth of what doing this work requires. Again and again I hear people talking about therapy and psychology and child contact problems and high conflict. It’s all just talk, wrapped up with the desire for expert status. It’s a nonsense which if allowed to, will cause the UK to end up stuffing the problem of parental alienation into the cul-de-sac of existing therapeutic practice.
Risk averse practitioners, who have never undertaken a transfer of residence, who have never overridden a child who says I don’t want to and who assess without intervention are an irritant in this field and there will be more of them in the years to come. From New York this morning I am clear that the commitment to ensuring that the UK and Europe will not be taken down that route and parents and children will not have to suffer more endless misery as a result, is the right one. The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, which is building the internal systems of its new governing body, will provide an alternative route for the future for all families who suffer this problem.
What we need at the coal face, are practitioners who understand that the work that we do is in a completely different paradigm to generic therapy. People with the guts and courage to do it instead of just talking about it and people who understand that one must be indefatigable in order to survive in this field. People like Liz Archer from the UK, with whom I have worked recently both in France and side by side in delivery in the UK. Liz’s new practice is based in the Midlands and it will provide more services for parents and children in the Family Separation Clinic model. I will write more about Liz’s work shortly with links to her website and contact details and she will give us a guest blog soon, talking about her learning and our development work for EAPAP. Liz does this work, she has a proven record of practice and can be relied upon for her quiet assurance and skill. The UK’s development of parental alienation practice is safe in her hands and both Nick and I welcome her being at the centre of what we are doing in Europe.
Our team in the UK is strong now and we are working on many different fronts. The view from here is that we have achieved a great deal but that there is so much more to do. The risks ahead, which lie largely in the way that statutory services do not understand the reality of parental alienation and continue to see it as a child contact matter, are heightened in my view by the manner in which the parental rights groups continue to distort the truth about the issue. Parental alienation is not a child contact matter. It is first seen in the post separation landscape and the first indication that a child is at risk of harm is denoted by the interruption of the relationship between parent and child, but it is not about contact. Parental alienation is about the psychological harm a child suffers when the attachment relationship is interrupted through the decompensation of one parent, which effectively binds the child to them. Parental alienation is the doorway through which we as practitioners must step in order to find out more about what is happening to the child. Only when we do this do we understand the myriad ways a child is at risk. Only when we are sufficiently cognisant of the truth of parental alienation, which is that child are, without a shadow of a doubt, influenced by a parent in the post separation landscape, will we stop insulting and damaging children by allowing them to remain in a deeply precarious place.
The view from America has never been clearer to me. The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will codify, accredit, protect and regulate practice in this field, preventing the chattering classes from distorting the truth and the money makers from capitalising on the serious suffering of alienated children.
We can call it whatever we want to call it but parental alienation is child abuse and from where I am standing today, that view drives us forward to the next phase.
Watch this space.
Tomorrow Nick will be presenting at the first international Parental Alienation Study Group Conference in Washington D.C. Nick will be discussing the educational needs of practitioners in reunification work. Nick will draw upon anonymised case examples from over 30 successful reunifications of severely alienated children with a parent, which have been completed by the Family Separation Clinic over the past five years.
On Sunday I will be on the panel with, amongst others, Linda Gottlieb and Deirdre Rand, speaking about reunification work with severely alienated children and adolescents. Drawing upon our successful work in this arena, we will discuss the protocols and practice which leads to success, including the four day rule – more on that later.
Next week in Boston we convene a practitioner training group. A group of people we will mentor and closely supervise to work in the model developed by the Family Separation Clinic.
Note: None of this will involve talking about therapy, high conflict or contact.