The Principles and Protocols of Reunification Work

I am currently engaged in a lot of study on the standards of practice in reunification work, both for the Parental Alienation Study Group and with Simply Parent who are developing a training for professionals in this field.   Alongside our own training delivery, this year we will therefore produce a set of internationally recognised standards of practice in the field of reunification with children and families affected by parental alienation.

There are some clearly recognised principles in reunification work with alienated children and families, none of which involve generic therapy in any form.  Generic therapy is in fact, contraindicated in alienation cases and should be avoided at all costs.

Interventions which work are those which employ the mental health and legal interlock.  This is the way in which the Court arrests the power over the child which is being used by the alienating parent, for a period of time long enough for the mental health intervention which properly matches the category of alienation to be deployed.

At the heart of all alienation cases is the improper use of power by a parent over a child.  Sometimes this is caused by a parent’s mental health problems, sometimes by a parent’s capacity to utilise coercive control strategies.  At all times the role of the mental health practitioner is to identify the route the child took into the alienation reaction, because it is this which helps to identify the proper intervention to use.

Regardless of what is said elsewhere on the internet, not all parental alienation cases are caused by the same thing.   Some cases are caused by narcissistic or borderline personality issues in a parent, whilst others are caused by an entirely different route, which arises as the child struggles to cope with the transitions back and forth between parents.  In all types of cases however, the end result is the same as the child withdraws, utilises the infantile defence of splitting in order to justify the withdrawal and then, supported by the aligned parent, begins to show the signs of alienation which are readily recognisable to those who know.

In reunification work, the task of the practitioner is to differentiate the case, understand the route taken into alienation by the child and then to match the intervention to the case.  The Court’s role is to hold the power dynamic by ensuring that the parent who is influencing is compliant with the necessary requirements in behavioural terms, something which is impossible to achieve without the external authority of the court.

The principles of reunification work are therefore –

  • Differentiation
  • Identification of the route into alienation
  • Formulation
  • Design of treatment route
  • Intervention
  • Follow up and after care

Learning to use these principles is one thing, carrying out reunification work is something else entirely and anyone who says that they do reunification work should be asked to give references from other families they have successfully assisted.  Without references, do not go there because there is absolutely no guarantee that what someone is doing IS actually reunification work.

The protocols of reunification work are as follows –

  • Rolling assessment and intervention – nothing is static in a case of alienation and assessing as well as intervening is the gold standard of practice.
  • Separation from the source of alienation in pure cases is a necessary part of protecting the child from the ramifications of the child’s recovery from alienation and restoration of the relationship with the rejected parent.
  • Testing the previously aligned parent’s capacity to understand and change behaviours post reunification is a core part of the after care work in reunification.
  • Working with the covert rather than overt therapeutic alliance is a key element of reunification work. The child has to be able to say no without that being the driver of outcomes.
  • Working counter intuitively is an essential aspect of all reunification work.  Alienated children will surprise you when they move from outright vehement rejection to warm engaged acceptance when the differentiation of the case is right.
  • Some alienated children will require intervention which is based upon therapeutic parenting principles which have been curated by people like Dan Hughes.  These children are those who have been made to feel afraid of a parent or who have experienced shame based parenting whilst in the care of the influencing parent.

As with all of our work in this field, our aim is to expand the understanding and skills base of what works with alienated children and their families and make these available all around the world.  There is so much rich content to draw upon as we do so, from those already working in this field and from others whose work with children with difficult histories can inform the development of new routes to care and resolution.

This week we launch our reunification training in Belgium where we will be delivering to a small training group in Ghent at the end of April/May.  If you are qualified in the helping therapies and wish to be part of an active reunification team which is trained and supervised by the Family Separation Clinic, see below for details of this training group.  Places are limited.  Training, development and supervision are offered over a twelve month period.

(press the image to go through to details).

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Next week we launch our California trainings for parents and practitioners and our Australian trainings are currently being finalised.

Where you can work with FSC in 2018

Parent Workshops and retreats

Alienated mothers retreat – Somerset UK – June 2018

Costa Mesa – California – June 2018 – bookings open shortly.

London  UK – July 14 2018 book here

Sydney, Tasmania and Brisbane Australia – October 2018 – bookings open shortly

Practitioner trainings

Antwerp Belgium – 2 day training – April 28/29 2018

Ghent  Belgium – 3 day reunification training – April/May 2018

Costa Mesa  California – 1 and 2 day training and 3 day reunification training – June 2018 bookings open shortly

Sydney Australia – 1,2,3 day trainings – October 2018 – bookings open shortly

Brisbane – 3 day reunification training – October 2018 – bookings open shortly

France – 2 day practitioner training – November 2018 – bookings open in May

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Parental Alienation: London Workshop for Parents 2018

London – Saturday July 14th 2018   A one day intensive – Managing your own case of parental alienation, understanding the legal and mental health interlock and  self representation.

£90 per person inclusive VAT

This is our only workshop for parents this year, it is for you if you want to –

  • Understand parental alienation
  • Recognise the signs of alienation in a child
  • Manage your own case in court
  • Learn about treatment routes available in the UK
  • Learn how to manage children’s behaviours
  • Build a strategy for recovering your children

As part of our workshops for parents we always offer the opportunity to hear directly from parents we have helped to reunite with their children. We don’t just say we do reunification work, we show you how we do it and the opportunity to talk to parents we have reunited with their children.

Book now to secure your place – limited to 30 people only.

WHY TRAIN WITH KAREN AND NICK WOODALL

Training with Karen and Nick provides you with expertise which is second to none in the field of parental alienation. Drawing upon their joint expertise and proven experience in reunification of alienated children and their families, Karen and Nick enable you to understand, at depth, the reality of the problem of parental alienation and the solutions you can use to resolve these very difficult cases.

Using knowledge from their research work and successful outcomes in court in the United Kingdom, as well as their extensive work with key experts around the world, Karen and Nick offer a training which is unlike any other in this arena. Bringing to life the issues facing children through the use of case histories as well as providing detailed information about the model of work which they have developed with families, each training day is packed with experiential learning and evidence based skill sets.

In addition, Karen and Nick Woodall are the co-founders of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners which launches in August 2018 in London and are currently curating standards of practice in this field for the Parental Alienation Studies Group. They are also the co-authors of the widely respected book on parental alienation, Understanding parental alienation: Learning to cope, helping to heal, published in the United States by Charles C Thomas.

WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT WORKSHOPS WITH KAREN AND NICK

There is no-one with more experience in doing this work than Karen and Nick Woodall, they don’t just talk about it, they actually do it and teach what they do in this course!

Alexa – UK

I learned more in a day than in a whole three years of fighting parental alienation in court and I put it into practice quickly.  My investment paid off.

Taylor – USA

One of the first things I felt was relief, amazement and then I felt safe because I could learn what I needed to learn knowing I was in safe hands.  When Karen put me in touch with parents she had helped, I knew I could really trust that this workshop would help me, and it did.

Sarah – UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Shadows: Learning to Care for Rejected Parents

Living with shadows can feel like the lot of the alienated parent, if you let it.  The shadow side of the black/white split in the mind, creates one parent who is felt to be wholly good and another who is felt to be wholly bad by the child, who acts as if this split is the whole truth of their experience.  When unknowing professionals encounter this, they act to reinforce the splitting, seeking evidence to uphold the child’s presentation, scrutinising the alienated parent and aligning, often unconsciously, with the parent who is the root cause of the split state of mind in the child.

The split state of mind in the child is the clue that something is very wrong in the post separation landscape.  Children whose parents have made the transition from living together to living apart with a continued commitment to be parents to their children, do not have children who display the rejecting stance of the alienated child.  Children whose parents have not made the transition because of problems which have arisen in the steps they have taken to post separation life, do.  The key questions for all professionals who encounter the split state of mind in the child are –

  • when (did the child enter the split state of mind)
  • how (did this child enter this frame of mind)
  • who (is the root cause of the entry into splitting

These three simple questions are all that it takes to begin the process of investigation and all that it requires to bring the rejected parent out of the shadow and into the light of their rightful place as the parent of their child.

Being seen in the light as the rightful parent of a child is a far too uncommon experience for rejected parents, who are often regarded with suspicion and assumption that they must have caused the child to reject them.  What most professionals who meet alienated children do not understand, is that their next steps will contribute to the split state of mind in the child for better or for worse.  Which is why people without training, who hold disproportionate amounts of power, (CAFCASS, Court Officers and Social Workers) should not be free to engage with alienated children.

Alienation is a defence mechanism which is activated in the child when pressure is placed upon them in the post separation landscape.  It is an act of self protection in the child and is triggered when the pressure reaches the tipping point beyond which the child utilises the division of their feelings into all good and all bad as a coping mechanism.

When the coping mechanism is activated, the child cannot voluntarily drop the defence of splitting the world into good and bad and efforts to make the child do so, will only make things much worse.  In the world in which most court professionals work, the voice, (rather than the well being) of the child is paramount and in the environment in which women and children must always be believed (which pervades the family court system in the UK at least), what the child says is almost always regarded as the truth.

Which is why un-knowing professionals who encounter the child who is using the split state of mind as a defence mechanism, are drawn into an unconscious alignment with the parent who is causing the split state of mind.  If the child is telling the truth then it follows that the parent they profess to adore must be too.  Which leaves only the rejected parent to be investigated for the ‘hidden’ reasons why a child is rejecting them.

This is why uniform training in understanding the way in which alienated children present is so important.  And it is why anyone who does not have the capacity (and evidence of that capacity) to work counter intuitively with the alienated child, should not be allowed to do so.

The alienation reaction is infectious. It is very easily escalated into wild allegations if the child is not worked with in the recognised counter intuitive manner which is set down in research evidence by key people in the field.  Unaware professionals who encounter alienated children and assume that the child’s voice is authentic, risk pushing the family into deeper crisis.  For too many years this has been the standard procedure in the UK and it has left generations of children without a loved parent as well as the burden of having made the ‘choice’ to evict that parent from their lives.  Living in the shadows has been the lot of those parents who have been rejected from the lives of their children, upheld by the alienating parent and sanctified by the state.  It is, in my mind, a hidden scandal which will one day reach the light of our conscious awareness.  Far too late for some but not too late for the next generations.

Caring for rejected parents requires that we shine a light upon their parenthood and breathe life back into it.  It requires us to acknowledge and solidify our support for the love and care that they bring to the lives of the children who have become lost to a coping mechanism that they should never have been made to use in the first place.

Life in the shadows is no place for healthy parents, whose care for their children does not disappear or wither on the vine.  Love remains constant as does the concern and worry which is generated by the experience of watching a living child be suffocated in the clutches of an alienation reaction.  Whilst all alienated parents go through a recognisable pattern of reaction from shock and the need to shout for help, to acceptance and the capacity to wait, no healthy parent should have to live in the shadows as too many rejected parents do.

For those of us who understand, there is a need to do this work and speak about it, to act where we can and train others to do so too. This work is not just about one family but about many and about the movement towards a worldwide recognition that children do not choose to lose a healthy loving parent after family separation, they are forced to do so. And in being forced to do so, they are being condemned to a life with all of the devastating consequences that growing up believing in one parent good/other parent bad brings.

Learning to care about alienated children means learning to dispel  the shadows to bring rejected parents into the light.

Which is what we are doing worldwide in 2018.

One movement, many hands.

Out of the shadows together.

 

Finding The Way Home: The Importance of Perspective for Alienated Children

Perspective
noun
  1. the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.
    “the theory and practice of perspective”
  2. a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.
    “most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective”

One of the fundamental losses for a child who is captured in the maladaptive landscape after family separation is their perspective.

Perspective is that which allows us to understand the world around us through the eyes of others and in doing so, reach our own views and our own perspectives on what is happening to us.

Children who are captured in the mirror of parental personality disorder or who are caught in the maladaptive responses of the parent who takes care of them most, are at risk of loss of perspective in favour of seeing the world only through the hurting eyes of that parent.  When this occurs, a child will enter into the process of becoming alienated from the other parent as their ability to empathise with others is reduced and the onset of a fused dyadic self righteous rage emerges.

With the emergence of this coalition of self righteous rage comes the various signs of alienation which were curated by Richard Gardner.  It doesn’t really matter whether you believe that Gardner is a false prophet or whether there is a new guru on the block, in reality, all children who enter into the split state of mind which is denoted by profound love and allegiance to one parent and absolute rejection and demonisation of the other, have lost their sense of perspective and can be said to be alienated.

The reality test for this is the split state of mind of the child which is  seen in situations where children are alienated.  In their review of a measure of this splitting in children, Dr Bernet and colleagues determined that –

Both clinicians and forensic practitioners should distinguish parental alienation (rejection of a parent without legitimate justification) from parental estrangement (rejection of a parent for a good reason). Alienated children, who were not abused, engage in splitting and lack ambivalence with respect to the rejected parent; estranged children, who were maltreated, usually perceive the abusive parent in an ambivalent manner.’

Where a child is seen to be using psychological splitting as a way of coping with the post family separation landscape, it can be said that they are not estranged from the parent they are rejected but alienated.  And in being alienated therefore, further investigation is necessary to understand how they became so, which is the differentiation and categorisation work which is undertaken by practitioners in this field in order to prepare and deliver an intervention.

Back to loss of perspective.  When the child can only see the past, present and future through the eyes of the aligned parent they have lost all perspective and sense of themselves as a separate and sovereign individual.  This state of mind is precarious for a child who can then be manipulated to believe that all of their feelings are actually their own felt sense of the world.

This is often the condition in which children present to family court officers, who in the UK are steeped in the idea that the voice of the child must always be listened to.

The problem of course with the voice of the alienated child is that in reality this is the voice of influencing parent, which is amplified by the child with ever increasing urgency as practitioners try to intervene.

Without an understanding of how vulnerable children are after divorce and separation and without recognition of the symptoms of the psychologically split state of mind, too many family court officers rely solely upon the expressed wishes and feelings of the child without ever realising that what they are doing is condemning the child to a life in which their only perspective is that of the unwell parent who controls them.

In every respect it should be possible to see from this unpacking of the underlying dynamics, that this is a situation in which children are being emotionally and psychologically harmed and that it does not matter whether this is intentionally done by the aligned parent or not, the outcome in terms of the loss of healthy perspective and capacity for normal relationships has been stolen from the child.  In such circumstances, the long term impact upon the child is not simply the loss of a relationship with one side of their family, it is the loss of relational perspective, the removal of the capacity to rely upon the evidence of their own experience and the challenges that arise throughout life because of those things.

Parental alienation is abusive to the child however it arises.  There is no gradation of suffering for the child.  However the split state of mind arose, whether it be conscious and deliberate or unconscious, whether it be the transmission of trans-generational trauma, whether it be pure or hybrid or some other configuration not yet curated, the alienation of a child causes significant harm.  And it is that harm to the child, which removes their right to a healthy and unconscious experience of childhood and beyond, which we must be most concerned about.

Without perspective an alienated child will not find their way home to the parent they have been forced to reject.

Without perspective an alienated child will grow up to believe that people are either all good or all bad and they will struggle in their relationships with others because of it.

Without perspective an alienated child will always believe that there is only one side to the story of their lives and that their felt sense of outrage and indignation about one parent and profound devotion and admiration of the other is the truth of how the world works.

It is not.

To see the world through only one set of eyes is to condemn the self to being partially blind and to restrict the experience of life to a narrow set of beliefs and experiences which feel safe but which in reality frustrate and bind the self to bigotry of the self and soul.

Bringing alienated children back to perspective is not an easy task in a landscape where there is such reliance on their voices and such little understanding of how those voices are the uttering and amplification of the pain and suffering of their parent.

When we hear those voices, it is not the child in the here and now who is speaking but the harmed voice of the child in the parent who is influencing the child. It is that parent we must pay attention to and that parent who is in need of assistance.  But it is the child in the here and now we must protect first because their fate should not be to suffer the same lifetime loss of perspective which is experienced by that parent.  Parenting is about passing on a healthy legacy not a toxic package of unresolved issues. Enabling perspective to return to the child’s life is most often about protecting the children from the efforts of the influencing parent to force that toxic burden to be carried by the next generation.

Asking an alienated child about their wishes and feelings is like breaking their legs and asking them which shoes they would like to wear.  In fact breaking a child’s perspective is like breaking their legs, it is both cruel and harmful to their life chances.  If parents who break a child’s capacity for perspective were breaking their children’s legs, we would not find it difficult to act to protect the child, but because we cannot see the impact of a broken perspective on a child’s long term life chances, it is all too easy to turn away.

But just like a child with broken legs cannot walk home, a child without perspective cannot find their way home because their belief is that home is somehow dangerous to their wellbeing.  For alienated children, home is where the abuse happens, abuse which is stealthily removing their right to a healthy future, abuse which is distorted 180 degrees and called love.

As practitioners we urgently need to let the world know about the importance of a child’s right to a healthy perspective of life.

It is the only way that alienated children will be helped to find their way home.

Conferences and Training 2018

This year there are six major conferences worldwide, in the emerging scientific field of children’s resistance to relationships with parents after divorce and separation (also known as parental alienation).

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These conferences, which begin in Portugal in June, focus upon the existing research evidence, the emerging practice and the future developments needed to bring the problem to the global consciousness.

 

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On June 30th in Fort Collins in Colorado, the Simply Parent Conference will launch an ambitious agenda to eradicate parental alienation in three years. This agenda, which draws together all of the major voices in the field of parental alienation, is as sophisticated in campaigning terms as it gets. Managed by people who have made real change in other areas of social justice, this conference will begin the process of bulldozing the way for change in how the issue of a child’s resistance is conceptualised and worked with, leading the way to recognition of the problem and resolution.

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In August the Parental Alienation Study Group will hold its second major conference in Stockholm. The PASG is the senior group of experts in the field of parental alienation and is led by Professor William Bernet, a prolific researcher in this field and a Distinguished Life Long Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. This gathering of the leading voices in research and practice with alienated children and their families will look closely at the issue of parental alienation and the interventions which assist change.

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At the end of August the first conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will be held in London. This landmark conference for the UK, brings together legal and mental health experts from across Europe, together with the leading voices in the field such as Amy J. L. Baker Ph.D, Steve Miller and Linda Gottlieb. This conference focuses upon the legal and mental health interlock which is the way in which mental health interventions with alienated children are managed in the legal arena.

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In October, Parental Alienation Australia is hosting a major conference entitled Lost in the Fog in Hobart Tasmania. This conference examines the latest research, best practice and the delivery of services to support families affected by parental alienation. This conference is being held in Tasmania where the Australian Research Centre for Parental Alienation is based.

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In November the International Council on Shared Parenting will hold its fourth conference in Strasbourg. ‘The fourth International Conference on Shared Parenting will be held in Strasbourg on November 22 and 23, 2018. Being under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, and supported by the City of Strasbourg, this conference represents a landmark in the implementation of children’s rights in situations of parental separation and divorce.’

The Family Separation Clinic will be at each of these conferences and will be presenting our work in reunification as well as in supporting children in transition between parents in shared care situations to help prevent alienation. We are ready to share our success and our knowledge as well as come together with others who are key in this field to achieve change for children affected by divorce and separation.

As well as attending these conferences we will be delivering training in California, in various places around Australia and are working together with the Parental Alienation Study Group, the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners and the Australian Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners as well as Simply Parent, to develop worldwide standards of practice in this field.

This is a big year in which this emerging field of scientific work, in the care and protection of children affected by divorce and family separation, will be raised to public awareness all around the world.

We want everyone who does this work with families to share and help us to develop the learning, the development and the thinking which is pushing this agenda forward.

Share the knowledge, learn the skills and pass it on is our motto.

One movement, many hands.

Time for change.

EAPAP Conference – London 2018

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London Conference Bookings Now Open

This is promising to be a game changing conference with the interest of key legal people in the UK and contributions from around Europe.

We want to make this a powerful marker of change in the consciousness of everyone who works with children who resist or refuse a relationship with a once loved parent.

Our key message for the conference is that causing a child to use the infantile defence mechanism of psychological splitting, (also known as parental alienation) is a pernicious form of child abuse.

This conference will focus upon this reality and will shift the focus of this problem to right where it should be – child protection and mental health.   We will also focus upon the ‘legal and mental health interlock’ which is mandatory in resolving these difficult family cases.

On day one we will hear from leading legal people about how to manage such cases in court and will learn from experts in Croatia and Romania as well as the UK on best practice in legal management.  We will hear about ground breaking work being done in Croatia in interpretation of the wishes and feelings of the alienated child and about how cases are managed in Romania where parental alienation has been made illegal.  From the UK we will hear from expert legal practitioners on management of complex cases which feature false allegations and from Canada we will hear about legal precedents in successful legal cases.

On day two we have a powerful programme which is focused on mental health management of parental alienation.  We will hear from child protection expert Prof. Dr. Sc. Gordana Buljan Flander, Director of Child Protection Centre Zagreb and from Dr Amy Baker Ph.D who is the leading researcher in the world in the field of parental alienation. From the UK we will hear from Dr Hamish Cameron,  retired Consultant Child Psychiatrist who has been hugely significant in this area of work in the UK for many years.  Current work from Psychologist Darren Spooner and the Family Separation Clinic will also feature in day two.

Not only do we have a packed agenda for the two conference, on the evening of day one we will have a private showing of the film ‘Resilience’ which features ground breaking research on Adverse Childhood Experiences.  A panel of distinguished people in this field will discuss the link between the ACE study and the impact of parental alienation afterwards.

Much work has been done around the world on raising this issue to public consciousness and 2018 is the year that we begin to set a new agenda in this field.  The head of the worldwide Parental Alienation Study Group is Professor Emeritus William Bernet M.D. who is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He is board certified in general psychiatry, child psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry. As an expert in forensic psychiatry, Dr. Bernet has testified in 15 states. Amongst other publications, Dr. Bernet has authored or co-authored Children of divorce: A practical guide for parents, therapists, attorneys, and judges (Krieger, 2007), Parental alienation: The handbook for mental health and legal professionals (Charles C Thomas, 2013), Parental alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11 (Charles C Thomas, 2010). He recently co-authored An objective measure of splitting in parental alienation: The parental acceptance–rejection questionnaire (Journal of Forensic Science, 2017) which found that severely alienated children engaged in a high level of splitting, by perceiving the preferred parent in extremely positive terms and the rejected parent in extremely negative terms, whereas splitting was not manifested by the children in other family groups.  Bill Bernet will set the scene for this new era of work in this field by introducing the conference to the significant scientific evidence which supports the need to intervene.

We want everyone who comes to this conference to learn as much as possible about parental alienation from the people who are at the forefront of research, education, intervention and information in this field.  We want people to leave with a deep knowledge of the problem and how it manifests in children and families as well as the best practice in working to assist recovery.

The conference is open to anyone who works with children and families affected by divorce and separation either inside or outside of the family court system in every country in Europe and beyond.

CPD has been applied for in both legal and mental health and more details will be posted as soon as this is confirmed.

We have an early bird offer of 10% off full ticket prices to launch the conference which runs to April 15 2018.

Tickets are limited each day and early purchase is therefore recommended.

If you have pre-registered for the conference you will receive your booking link immediately as your tickets are reserved.

To PURCHASE TWO DAY TICKETS CLICK BELOW

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TO PURCHASE ONE DAY TICKETS PRESS BELOW

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Tickets for Parents

Please note that this is predominantly a conference for professionals working with families.  We are aware however, that many parents will want to attend the conference and we will be making a limited number of tickets available for you to do so.

If you are a parent who would like to attend, please register your interest HERE

 

Please note that if you have previously registered your interest in our streaming events, you will also need to register your interest again by clicking the picture above.

 

Love Lives in Empty Spaces

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK, that day when we celebrate our mothers.  No matter who we are or where we are, no matter whether we love our mothers or hate them, no matter whether our mothers are healthy people or not healthy people, our mothers play a hugely significant role in our lives, for all of our lives. And acknowledging that and facing and living that reality, is one of the hallmarks of our health and wellbeing throughout our lives.

All children have mothers, that is the simple truth of our lives. Even the complexities of how we get born these days (IVF, Surrogacy, etc) does not change the fact that the person who carries us into this world, is our mother.  And in that regard, that person, whether in our lives or not, plays a hugely significant role in who we are and what we do throughout the whole of our lives.

In writing this I am not dishonouring the mothers who are surrogates, the egg donors and those who selflessly give their love through adoption of children. Those women too are enormously important and today I honour them too.  Whoever, or however, mothering plays a role in our lives, it is a relationship which is important and worth honouring – even if the mother in our lives is toxic or somehow less than what we think she should be – to hide from this fact or to dismiss her, is to build up a whole barrel load of trouble for the self as the unresolved issues in that relationship drive the choices we make in our lives, throughout the whole of our lives.

As mothers, we hold the heart of the world in our hands.  In honouring our own mothers, we give and we receive, the blessing of that loving bond.  When children who are captured cannot give that to their mothers, there is an empty space.  And in that empty space where love could be, so many fears and sorrows can reside.

The heart of a mother whose child has been captured in parental alienation could be an empty heart.  But what I know of the hearts of these mothers is that they are filled with the loving warmth that belongs to their children.  I also know that the hearts of those mothers do not hold that love in vain.  That love is channelled into so many things, so much loving care for others, so much desire to heal and help those who suffer in the same way.  The heart of a mother forced to live apart from her children is not an empty space, it is filled with the love and the hope and the health of that belongs to her children but, as she waits, that love does not curdle and spoil, it is given freely away to those who might need it now.  So much in the world has been done by mothers who live apart from their children due to parental alienation and today is a day to honour that and say thank you for that selfless giving and the love that it puts out into the world.

If you are a mother who is forced to live apart from her children because of the alienation caused by your children’s father or significant other relative, know that you are not alone, you are understood and appreciated here and in so many places around the world.

As we thank mothers all around the UK, we thank you too.  For your grace, for your humanity and for the love that you hold in your hearts for your children until the day that they come home.

Let that day be soon.

Until then, Happy Mothers Day, With Love.


Alienated Mothers Retreat – Near Taunton in Somerset UK – June 11-15 2018

(pictures are from the retreat house)

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Our retreat programme for mothers is almost complete.  Working with legal experts we are bringing a full programme of intensive support together to offer mothers who are alienated from their children a four night luxury break to help you to relax, restore your self confidence and reinvigorate your interest in life.

We know that knowledge is power and so we are bringing to you the best advice and guidance on managing your own case it is possible to get in the UK.  Our legal experts are  trusted by the Family Separation Clinic and are highly successful in the cases they have managed.

We know that sharing is caring and so we are bringing to you the best health and wellbeing support we can find, to help you to learn how to take care of your physical and emotional needs during difficult times.

We know that confidence is built through being deeply understood and guided through the emotional complexities of parental alienation and we have planned a four night journey for you which supports you throughout.

Activity Taster: Mapping your journey workshop, Understanding how your child became alienated guidance, legal clinic,  coping with chronic stress lessons, yoga sessions, massage, using essential oils for concentration and calm, pilates sessions, one to one therapy sessions, healing long term sadness, mindful living guidance, nutritional guidance for stressful times and much more.

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We want you to leave our care feeling restored and invigorated, appreciated and nurtured and ready to face the world again.  We want you to feel safe and secure, rested and well when you leave.

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Come to where the heart is held in gentle hands and be with those who truly know and understand.  A place to find peace.

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Places are still available on our alienated mothers retreat which is the first of its kind in the world.  We welcome mothers, step mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters.

Look here for more information and to book.

Please note that we are planning an alienated dads retreat for later this year.  Details will be released shortly.

 

 

Chinese Whispers and Chinese Walls: The Language and Landscape of Parental Alienation

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 09.23.16I am often asked by parents of older children, how come their child has not returned to them when they are clearly old enough to look back and understand what has happened.

Answering this questions is not difficult when one considers the way in which the alienating parent colonises the mind of the child, dividing it repeatedly into good and bad, black and white, right and wrong through repeated whispers of distortion, until the internalised landscape looks like a wall has been built into it.

The issue is that the child, repeatedly exposed to the Chinese whispers of the parent, does not know that the wall is there and believes that their mind is wholly their own and independent of any of the whispering which has been going on in their lives, sometimes for many years.  Add to that the upholding of the whispers of distortion through the trips and traps which are cleverly laid by the alienating parent and what you have is a dynamic which is almost impossible to detect.  And so the child grows, unsuspecting that the wall in their mind through which no positive information about the rejected parent can pass, is even there.

Working with people whose minds are scaffolded by Chinese walls requires the practitioner to tread extraordinarily carefully.  This is not a landscape through which one stampedes crusader like ripping down walls and calling out whispers.  If one tries, the wall solidifies and the whispers intensify.  This world is one in which quiet footsteps lead to dawning realisations and in which walls which are not even known about, are removed by the individual encounter with perspective.

Those who cling to wholly right and wholly wrong narratives are those with walls inside their minds which hold them fast and steady in their self belief.  Such people are often rigid in their thinking, highly defended and protecting themselves against shame and guilt.  Behind the wall in the alienated child’s mind is a reservoir of shame and guilt, which laps against the defences and at times threatens to break through.  Many alienated children grow up to become rejected parents and it is within that group of rejected parents who cling to the right/wrong dynamic the tightest, that the Chinese whispers and Chinese walls are most regularly seen.

Helping rejected parents requires a deftness of hand and a kindness of heart.  It requires an examination of the thinking patterns of the parent and their capacity to hold ambivalent thoughts.  As we do this work we are seeking to understand whether this parent is a now adult alienated child who has been prepared for their fate by the laying down of the wall in their mind in their youth.  There is a high proportion of alienated adult children in the overall group of parents who are rejected and when we look closer at the Chinese whisper and Chinese wall analogy it is not difficult to see why.

I have written many times about the way in which alienated children become alienated parents but not much about the Chinese whispers and Chinese wall analogy which is something that we see repeatedly in the recovering alienated child.  Helping to take that wall in the child’s mind down is one of the ways that we build into our work a trans-generational intervention which prevents the child from becoming one of the the next generation of rejected parents.

Breakdown and Breakthrough

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Breaking down the wall in the child’s mind is about the practitioner being aware of the wall and how to approach it in the child’s mind even though the child does not know it is there.

The wall is made up of those things which the child has been told, not necessarily in words, which have created the division in the mind into all good and all bad.

Understanding what the wall is made up of is the first task for any practitioner working with the alienation dynamic.  And understanding that those things which make up the wall in the alienated child’s mind, may be mirrored in the rejected parent’s mind also, is another key task.

The wall is made up of feelings which have been exploited to form a defence mechanism. The wall IS the defence and like all defence mechanisms, it is there to protect the child.  It is there in the rejected parent’s mind as a defence too.  It is often also in the mind of the parent who has influenced the child to enter into psychological splitting.

Therefore, the first set of tasks a practitioner must undertake in assessing a case where a child rejects, is to understand where the walls exist in the minds of the family members.

Difficult to do if the people we are working with are not aware that the wall even exists? Not for the alienation aware practitioner, who understands the questions to ask and the signals which are given that show that the wall is in place.

The wall is in place in the mind of a child who tells you that one parent is perfect and the other parent is not.

The wall is in place in the mind of a parent who tells you that the other parent is wholly and utterly to blame and they are perfect.

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Breaking through or breaking down the wall demands that practitioners understand the emotional make up of the wall.  Shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, blame, worry and false beliefs are the building blocks which put the wall in place.  Understanding how each of these emotions are configured in the people around the alienated child is how we begin to break it down.

Understanding how the emotions which make up the building blocks of the wall were created in the child in the first place is about being able to understand the Chinese whispers of the family, those things which are passed from parent to child and back again which create a language of alienation which only those who are involved in it can understand.

Chinese whispers are the sentences which end with an intimation.  They are the silent exchanges between people which are intercepted by the child, they are the stillness of a room into which the child walks, they are the expectations of the parents, they are the unspoken demands which zing back and forth, they are the things not said more than the things said and they are the coalitions of belief which form in the trenches as the tribes go to war.

So much to understand and yet so little in the end when you get inside and underneath the wall.

When you are able to get in front of the wall and look at it, through reunification work, it comes down to this –

Which of the bricks in the wall is loose enough to take down first.  Is it guilt, is it shame, is it anxiety, is it blame, which one is it which can be removed first.  Because when one brick in the wall is removed, the rest can and often do come tumbling down.

Traversing the alienation landscape requires understanding the language as well as knowing the road map.  It means understanding the contours and hearing the whispers of the dead that haunt the living.

It is not for the faint hearted.

But as more come to do this work (and when I say that I mean do the work, not just talk the language of narcissistic pop psychology which is currently sweeping the UK), the land will be mapped, the walls will be marked and the whispers will be noted and analysed.

And as we do this, the work of reunification, which is the next stage on from understanding parental alienation, will become codified and embedded in our international response to the problem.

And then the Chinese whispers and walls will be known about as a key risk to children who live in separated family situations.  Making prevention of alienation routine and treatment unnecessary.

This is just the beginning of the next phase.

Doing over knowing.

One movement, many hands.

Taking the walls down together.


 

One Movement, Many Hands

There is a lot going on in the world to tackle the problem of child abuse known as parental alienation.

Here is what the international movement is doing this year.

Click on the images  to go through to the websites of these four landmark conferences which are all working hand in hand to bring change for alienated children and their families across the globe in 2018.

PASG2018 – Stockholm – August

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European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners 2018 – London – AugustScreen Shot 2018-02-26 at 17.26.54

Simply Parent Conference – Fort Collins USA – JuneScreen Shot 2018-02-26 at 17.16.54

PAAR Conference Tasmania – October

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Healing the Heart of a Hurting Child

 

Healing the heart of a hurting child is the way that I conceptualise all work in the field of reunification.  How we achieve that healing is different depending upon which intervention we use.  At the Family Separation Clinic, we use therapeutically based interventions in our reunification work. We do this because we understand that what we are doing when we undertake this work, is traversing the criss crossed lines of the hidden dynamics in the family in order to bring about the integration of the split state of mind in the child.  In doing so we recognise and acknowledge that we are working in the intergenerational line, with the trans-generational narratives and that changing the dynamics in one child’s life, leads to changing lives for future generations.

In this respect the work we do at the Family Separation Clinic is most aligned with that which is undertaken by Linda Gottlieb in her programme in the USA which is called Turning Points for Families.  Linda and I met last year at the PASG conference in Washington and I was immediately struck by the similarities in our work.  Linda was mentored by Salvador Minuchin and her book The Parental Alienation Syndrome is an absolute bible in terms of its application of family therapy principles to the understanding and treatment of parental alienation.  Linda recognises that the problem of parental alienation is a systems problem, a family systems and a social systems problem. Those of us who recognise this understand the complexity of the problem and the way in which we need to build a movement with many hands to create change in the lives of future generations of children. Linda is someone from whom I have learned a great deal and I am delighted that she will be with us in London in August this year at the EAPAP 2018 conference.

Healing the heart of a hurting child requires that we as experts and practitioners in this field, hold a vast array of knowledge and skill in relationship to children and families and how they navigate change, especially the devastating change of family breakdown.  Regardless of those who promulgate the false narrative that there is one simply magical solution to parental alienation, there is not and there never will be in my view.

Not that there are no solutions, there are and many of them.  Not there cannot be a vastly improved awareness and response to the problem there can and there will be.  But parental alienation is a problem with a human face and just as when we say that we are going to eradicate human problems like bullying, what we really mean is that we are going to make it less acceptable to bully others, we cannot eradicate parental alienation because it is a human relational issue which arises in a crisis.  Even in Romania, where parental alienation IS illegal, the problem remains, it is simply that the deterrent and punishment is stronger.  Parental alienation is a human problem, it is one which we are increasingly aware of and one which we are increasingly capable of addressing but it will not be eradicated because of one simple reason.   Let me explain.

Parental alienation arises in families even when they live together although in those circumstances it is often seen as normalised behaviours and is called shunning or estrangement.  Parental alienation when it really gets hold however takes place in families which separate and the increase in parental alienation goes hand in hand with the normalisation of divorce and separation.  Parental alienation was first written about in the 1940’s by Wilhelm Reich (although it was not called parental alienation) and back then it was referred to as narcissistic injury and the incidence was rare.  Moving into the 1980’s, when Gardner analysed the issue, the incidence of a child unjustifiably rejecting a parent was more common.  Coming forward into the current day, when divorce and separation are routine and normalised, parental alienation is a common feature of the landscape. The reason why parental alienation will not be eradicated therefore is because –

a) it is a feature of the behaviours of some separating parents and separation is a normalised part of our life journey

and

b) some children who have to navigate the space between separating parents become vulnerable to psychological splitting.

Those are simple realities.  They are not down to someone not doing something right or a magical solution being withheld from parents, they are just reality, just how it is.  Parents will separate, it is a routine part of life now and some children are vulnerable to psychological splitting.  Add into that mix a parent who is unwell or two parents in a cross projection of blame and what you will get is parental alienation.  Add another variable into that which is delay in the family courts and a dose of professionals who are poorly trained or wielding their own biases and what you will get is what we have always got.

And until we pull apart all of those variables and address them, parental alienation isn’t going away anytime soon.

The alienated child, is hostage to adult behaviours and those behaviours are not readily eradicable.  If they were then the problem of parental alienation would be resolved by making it illegal, it would be resolved by educating parents about the harm they are doing to their children and it would be resolved by knowledge which has been curated in the psychological literature and used by psychiatrists and psychologists for decades.  All of these things have been done and none of these things have prevented children from aligning with one parent and rejecting the other.  Parental alienation today, still takes hold of a child at a rate which correlates with the divorce and separation statistics and it will continue to do so even in the world which is fully awakened to the problems it causes the child.

The problem is that the issue of parental alienation is not caused by the child but it is located in the child’s responses to the dynamics around them.  The real problem we have in intergenerational terms, is that the person who is most impacted over their lifetime, is also the child, leading to repeated patterns of family breakdown which repeatedly provides fertile ground for the next generation of children to suffer the same fate.

In this respect the problem of parental alienation is not a simple one.  It is a relational problem which has many variables and one which is additionally underpinned by the social policy of the countries in which it flourishes.

Take the UK for example, which has the highest rate of divorce and separation in Europe and which has suffered five decades of intergenerational family breakdown and corresponding rates of parental alienation.  It is well known that UK social policy has been largely driven by feminist academics for the past five decades and it is no accident either, that parental alienation as an issue has lain buried beneath denial and dismissal that a child’s relationships with each parent is even necessary.

In the UK, generation after generation of children have become dislocated from their relationship with a parent through the widespread belief that children did not need fathers and that the family was not important in children’s lives.  In the early nineties for example,  feminists such as  Harriet Harman simply dismissed men as fathers, when she said in a policy document for the IPPR

“It cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life, or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social harmony and cohesion.”

Healing the heart of a hurting child becomes extraordinarily difficult when one is attempting to raise to consciousness the harm that parental alienation does to a child in this kind of environment and it has taken until now in the UK to even get the problem of parental alienation into the consciousness of many people.  When I first began this work, the concept of parental alienation was almost vilified by some people and as someone who wrote about and worked with alienated children and families, I was routinely dismissed by many.  Today I am less dismissed and much more listened to although I am still pushing the ball up the hill in those spaces where the feminist social policy holds sway (social work/CAFCASS/some therapists).  What I have always known however, is that until the foundational stone of feminist policy and practice  upon which parental alienation rests is rolled away, we are going to have to keep on with the project of education and equipping of practitioners with the necessary tools to do this work in a danger zone.

Healing the heart of a hurting child is about integrating the split state of mind and restoring, where possible, a child to a relationship with both parents.  This is not so simple as ABC and it is not about one size fits all solutions.  Whilst I fully appreciate that parents who have lost their children through divorce and separation want simple answers, the truth is that there are no simple solutions and in my view it is highly unlikely that there ever will be.  That is not to say that parental alienation cannot be treated, it can be.  That is not to say that parental alienation cannot be prevented, it can and it definitely should be.  But it cannot be eradicated because it is a problem with a human face and whilst ever we have humans who are having children and separating, we will always risk parental alienation arising in families.

And the people who are most harmed by parental alienation are children.

And the people whose future is taken away from them before it has even begun are children.

And the people whose future parenthood will be blighted are children.

For five decades or more now we have seen repeated generations of alienated children go on to become parents only to find themselves in the repeating parental alienation nightmare as they become alienated from their own children.

And that is why, in addressing the problem of parental alienation we need now to come together to look at the ways in which we heal the hearts of hurting children.  Because it is only in the healing of hearts and minds which will prepare a new generation for psychological health.  It is in the attention to the variables in the landscape which allow the problem to flourish, that we will raise awareness of the harm that it does.  Which in turn will force us to change those things which make it more likely to happen.

Those things which lie beneath but which fertilise the potential for parental alienation must change.

  • Social policy which is driven by political ideology (women’s rights), must give way to therapeutic and psychological foundations.
  • public services which are driven by the same beliefs must give way to properly informed and educated services which put children’s needs first.
  • Focused support for children who live in separated family situations must be urgently provided to enable them to continue relationships with both of their parents.

Healing the heart of a hurting child is about healing the harm which has been done by societal changes over decades. Societal changes which have benefited women over men other than in the space of parental alienation, where the ‘unintended consequences’ have been disastrous for alienated mothers, and which have not met the needs of vulnerable children whose parents divorce or separate.

When we recognise this we become alive to the relational problems which exist when families separate and we notice the hurting hearts of children in this landscape.  We recognise that parental alienation is a response to the monumental changes which family separation brings and we become ready to respond to those as a society.

And in responding we become human again.