The Good/Bad Burden in Parental Alienation

There is a plethora of burdens for alienated parents to carry and many ways that these burdens are borne by those who are suffering.  One of the heaviest burdens is the good/bad burden, which is forced upon the alienated parent by the actions of the alienating parent and the system and its ancillary staff.

The good/bad burden is carried by many alienated parents unknowingly and constitutes a clear defensive reaction to the injustice which is happening to them.  The good/bad burden manifests itself as a definitive split in the belief of the alienated parent and ensures that their mindset is firmly rooted in the soil cultivated by the alienator.

The alienating parent wants the rejected parent to carry the good/bad burden.  They actively seek to give this burden to the parent and many enjoy watching the rejected parent carry it.  This burden makes the alienated parent divide everyone and everything into either wholly good or wholly bad.  Anyone not with them is automatically against them, anyone not able to completely join them in blaming the alienating parent is working against them.  This split mirrors the alienating parent’s covert projection of all things bad onto the rejected parent and the child’s following suit of this into division of their parents into wholly good and wholly bad.  When the alienated parent accepts the projection whilst at the same time fighting it, the end game is near.  The alienated parent who shouts that the other parent is to blame and who cannot see how that appears to other people, is lost in the trap set by the alienator.  It is folly to go there but too many do.

Too many do because they are forced into doing so.  Forced into doing so by the circumstances, forced into doing so by the people who work in the family courts and forced into doing so even by the people who are supposed to be helping them. I observe this good/bad splitting dynamic in my own work, where I am loved and hated in equal measure by people who do not even know me.  This negative transference, which is caused when by projection of unresolved issues onto others, is something I have grown used to carrying in this field.

To see the world in terms of good people and bad people, people who are for you and people who are against you, is to return to the infantile defence mechanism which causes the psychologically split mind.  This defence has no place in life of anyone over the age of 3 or 4 and it prevents perspective and causes people to see the world only in terms of what keeps them safe.  If we examine this more closely we can see that the defence of splitting in alienated parents, is raised by the harm which is caused by –

  • The alienating parent’s projections.
  • The horror of the child’s projections of hatred.
  • The way in which the family court divides the parents into good and bad.
  • The assumptions by ancillary staff that the rejected parent has caused the problem. and the other is the wholly innocent and healthy parent.
  • The suspicions from others that the rejected parent must have caused the problem.

When we first meet parents in this defensive stance we work with them to help them to feel heard and supported and to acknowledge and validate their experience.  We offer unconditional positive regard so that the parent can drop the defences and recognise that the world is not divided into wholly good and wholly bad.  We do this so that the parent can be ready to understand how to use the tools that we give them for recovering their child.  It is very difficult to work with a parent who is carrying the good/bad burden  and so helping them to put that burden down and lower that defence is what we do first.

The good/bad defence is also carried by parents whose very sense of self is wounded by the harm which is done to them in the family courts. This is a traumatic wounding in which the lack of understanding of how the court system works and how the self in the good/bad trap appears to the outside world, leads the rejected parent into a place where they must defend against the harm that has been done. This is institutionalised harm which is caused by a system which itself is split into wholly good and wholly bad.  Protecting parents from this harm by preparing them for court is what our coaching services do.

When we assess a case of parental alienation we assess both parents and children for psychological splitting. It is often the case that at the outset the rejected parent will show similar signs of dividing the world into good and bad.  During our assessment process, which constitutes around 30 hours of working with the family, we test each parent to see how they respond to our input.  We do this in order to refine our differentiation of how the split state of mind arose in the child and how each parent can (or cannot) change. This leads us to being able to curate the right treatment route for the family.

And then we have to take that treatment route into the family court and have that tested in the good/bad arena which is the system.  In the UK it is simply not the case that parental alienation can be dealt with in easy steps, would that it was that easy but it is not. At each stage of the court process the examination and cross examination process ensures that ABC formulas just will not work.  For those who read who believe that AB-PA for example is simply a matter of going into court with a diagnosis, one should study the law and how it is applied in the UK.  AB-PA or any other formulaic approach will not work in the current UK system and further than that there are many people in the UK who want to ensure that any kind of formulaic approach – including the Family Separation Reunification Model, never see the light of day.  Whilst parents carrying the good/bad burden project their belief that I am the sole barrier to the magical solution being implemented, we struggle to protect parents against those in the UK who want to deliver generic therapy which has no backing from international research.  The good/bad split in the international field would be ridiculous to the point of being funny, if it were not so tragic.

I recently offered to test the Childress (AB-PA, Minuchin/Beck/Bowlby) model in the UK Family Courts under clinical conditions. I have not had any response to that offer.  In the absence of response I thought I would set out the steps that parents have to take in the UK family courts to get to the point where intervention is possible.  That way advocates for the AB-PA model can see for themselves how the model would fit.  That at least may offer some assistance in understanding that far from anyone preventing this model from being implemented, the system in the UK simply will not accept it as it currently stands.

Here then is the process which parents must go through in the UK family courts.

  1. Currently all cases go into court at magistrates level.  Magistrates are lay people who perform this duty in court.
  2. One goes into the magistrates court on the basis of a contact dispute using a C100 form.  On the C100 form, if one sets out that the other parent is alienating the children, one is highly likely to be regarded as being the cause of the problem.  Hence legal people advocate that parents go into court presenting their case on a platform which is non accusatory.
  3. The first hearing is called an FDR (first directions hearing) and at this hearing parents are encouraged and expected to make arrangements for themselves.  One can only go into this process if one has completed a mandatory mediation session or if one has a report from a mediator saying why mediation is not suitable.;
  4. At the FDR issues may or may not be resolved, a further hearing may be set, a CAFCASS officer will be appointed to write a report.
  5. At the next hearing, which is likely to be at least 12 weeks away, the CAFCASS report will be presented.  CAFCASS have no standardised training in parental alienation and there is no requirement for any CAFCASS officer to have expertise in such difficult cases.  Most CAFCASS officers are basic social worker trained.  If one goes to the CAFCASS interview talking about mental health problems in the other parent, one is likely to be regarded as being a perpetrator of coercive control, particularly if one is a man.  This is why legal advocates advise not projecting blame onto the other parent and avoiding the efforts the alienating parent is making to wind you up and make you appear to be what they say you are.
  6. The CAFCASS report is pivotal, especially in the lower courts.  There is no recourse to challenge this report formally and so one must deliver a covert strategy to help the CAFCASS officer see the reality.  This person has significant power in your case.
  7. The next stage can be a fact finding hearing if allegations have been made.  If you have been accused of harming your child or of violence, one may find that you are ordered to have no contact with your child until the fact finding hearing is finished.  Alternatively you may have to see your child in a contact centre.
  8. At some point during this phase, you may wish to seek to have an expert appointed in your case. This is called Practice Direction 25 and your expert cannot be imposed upon the other side but must be agreed.  If your expert is known to be an expert in parental alienation or AB-PA, it is highly likely the alienating parent will not agree to this appointment.  Even if they do, the expert’s opinion will be cross examined in court before it is accepted and any proposals made by the expert will be subjected to intense scrutiny.  Any proposal which does not have an evidence base (has been tested and reviewed) is likely to be dismissed.
  9. When an expert says this is parental alienation and their evidence survives cross examination the court is faced with several decisions.  A) should the case remain in private law b) has the case crossed the welfare threshold for significant harm and if it has c) should the case go into public law?
  10. If the case remains in private law a proposal can be put forward for the input of a mental health expert in the field of parental alienation, the alienating parent can oppose the appointment of this person, in which case a contested hearing will be held and a judgment will be made.  This judgment may be that the child is alienated and an order for intervention will be made.  Or it may not.  If it is made and the Family Separation Clinic is involved, a direct residence transfer will be supported by the Clinic and a 90 day cessation of contact with the alienating parent will take place before reintroduction of the child to the alienating parent under clinical conditions.  During the 90 day cessation of contact, the child will undergo the twelve week support programme delivered by the Family Separation Clinic.
  11. The case may go into public law in which case the Local Authority social workers will be involved.  Even in cases of significant harm however, social workers can and do refuse to move the child, preferring to leave the child in situ and apply generic therapy.  This is provided by many people in the UK who believe that parental alienation is the fault of both parents. In such cases it can take two years or more for the child to even enter a room with the rejected parent.

This is the reality of family law in the UK and this is a simplified version.  The truth is that an ABC formula does not fit easily into this system and where it might , it would still have to be fought for over many months and sometimes years.  If the truth were anything but this then I would be the first one saying it but it is not and to say that it is would be to cause parents a further good/bad burden of belief which is not based in any kind of reality.

I am not going to burden parents who are hurting any further than is necessary by encouraging false belief.  I am not going to cause parents to potentially lose their children by engendering belief that there is a magical solution when I know that there isn’t.  And if that means that I have to keep on drawing negative transference from parents with the good/bad burden on their backs then that is how it will have to be.  At least for those parents I provide the peg for their ongoing defence and if that is the only purpose I serve in their lives that it enough for me.

It doesn’t mean that I am going to simply accept the negative transference or the deeply unpleasant comments which are left on here and sent to me regularly and about me to people around the world.  I don’t accept any of those things which are sometimes abusive and sometimes confused and most of the time clinging to the belief that there is one easy way to solve this problem. There is not.

I don’t know whether there ever will be in my lifetime but it won’t stop me working with those others who are also deeply immersed in finding solutions.

And it won’t stop me trying to help parents to put the good/bad burden down so that the splitting in their family stops there, with them and the world becomes integrated once again.  Which makes that parent a strong and healthy platform for the alienated child to return to.

There will be no alienated children and their parents left behind on my watch regardless of the negative transference.

As we say to alienated children in our work with them in our reunification programme –

if this parent is wholly good and that parent is wholly bad, where has the bad in the good parent gone?

The answer to that from alienated children is routinely this –

‘the bad in the good parent has gone into the bad parent.’

To which we say

And how has that happened?’

To which children will eventually reach this point –

‘I put it there’

When the child recognises this the route to integration begins and the need to rely on the good/bad defence diminishes.

No person is wholly good and wholly bad.

No person is the messiah and the other person the devil.

Those who are helped to put the good/bad burden down come to recognise this, the others stay behind the wall.


The Family Separation Clinic Learning and Events Calendar  2018

We are currently scheduling all of our training for 2018 and you will shortly be able to download a calendar.  For now, our programme is taking shape as follows –

March 6th and 13th One Day Practitioner Training in Belfast and London (limited places left book now to guarantee a place)

April 27/28Antwerp Two Day Practitioner Training

May – Amsterdam – by application only – A Three Day Intensive Training in Family Separation Clinic Reunification Programme. Details To be announced shortly.

June  11-15 – UK Alienated Mothers Retreat in Somerset –  book here (limited places left)

*June 29 – New Addition – Simply Parent Conference in Colorado USA*

July – 1-15th California Trainings, to be announced.

August 23-24 Parental Alienation Studies Group Conference 2018 Stockholm

August 30/31 Moving Upstream EAPAP Conference London 

October 10-13  Lost in the Fog  EMMF Conference Australia 

October 15-28 Australian trainings to be announced.









  1. I carry the good/bad burden every day and so do my children this was not determined in the Courts but in the Court of my ex wife and her flying monkeys so thanks Karen for this perception which comes to late for me but I know will help others .It also helps just to know that you know ! Maurice


  2. I can empathise with you moishky. The courts did their best in my son’s case – in fact a shared residence order. But my ex dil waited until the children were older to convince them that they had no need of their father as they had a perfectly good stepfather – in fact far better than their own father had ever been. Despite the court order still being valid, she told the children it was their choice not to see their dad and that she wouldn’t be a good mum if she made them go.


  3. At the end of last year you ran a workshop for alienated parents in London & said you would repeat it in Spring this year outside London. Do you have any dates/locations for that yet?


    1. we will probably run one in the spring Ally, we haven’t set a date as we have all had flu and it’s been a real nightmare keeping up with everything when we have been so unwell. Hopefully we are on the mend now. We would be likely to hold one in either Manchester or Newcastle if we do run one. x


  4. Too right Karen, I have seen too many cases where social services accept significant harm and alienating yet think generic therapy or social services support is the solution, to think that diagnosis is key to solving this problem.


  5. You ask the child, who put the “bad” in the target parent? and they say that they did.

    This must make the child feel a huge burden of guilt, as if they are responsible for the family break up, not their parents.
    This is a difficult situation because the parents are still the same and it is the dynamics created by them that is the problem.
    The child may be back on track, accepting that their parents are simply different rather than Mr. and Mrs. Good, bad and darn right ugly but the child will only survive in each parent’s household if the target parent constructs a transition bridge fit for purpose and the alienator plays ball.
    Children are vulnerable and innocent.
    They may be in a situation where they will need their Dandlebear, being thrown back into the Lion’s den where one parent is rules bound, disapproving and dismissive, a black or white thinker and the other parent is stunned, sensitive and vulnerable, eyes staring into the Headlights of oncoming traffic, paralysed, ignorant, patting back the ping pong balls in a game constructed, devised, and orchestrated by the alienator.
    When you have the backing of the courts and can separate the child from the alienating parent for a lengthy period, what will the alienator do then?
    Will they be true to their word? ………the last words spoken being,” if you go and live with your father you are not welcome back here”…..(black and white thinker) or will they accept the parental power shift with grace. Will they be able to contain their disapproving tongue, at least in so far as the children can smile at Mum and say, “that’s ok I understand how you feel” and move on as water from a duck’s back, no harm done.
    Or maybe not even say it, for that would bring condemnation, just feel it and smile secretly to themselves internally with a nod to the therapist.


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