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.