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 –
- Identification of the route into alienation
- Design of treatment route
- 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).
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
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
“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.”
Can you explain what is meant here – what is the covert therapeutic alliance and what is it that the child has to be able to say no to?
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It strikes me Karen that as long as social workers hold all the power (UK) to investigate family cases, including cases under the heading of ’emotional abuse’ (which includes PA) cases are going to carry on being mishandled. It seems incredulous that non psychotherapy ‘professionals’ are able to wade in to these cases, for which they do not have the appropriate psychological training, nor have they themselves been subjected to therapy to avoid personal biases/history etc colouring their judgement.
Isn’t it time that social services were forced to hand these cases over to mental health professionals from the get go for assessment and treatment?
The current situation seems to be a blatant over-reaching by a service into areas they are not qualified to assess. Ditto cafcass guardians similarly wading in yet not having the psychological knowledge/experience/ professional qualifications to do so credibly.
It strikes me that once the category of ’emotional abuse’ was introduced as being a threat to children, insufficient thought was given to the question of who was qualified to assess/ intervene in such cases. I’d really like to know how social services and cafcass can see themselves as qualified to deal with cases under the category of ’emotional abuse’.
Any thoughts Karen?
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I’m in the US, and I’m a child and adolescent therapist myself, and most of my professional colleagues mishandle these cases as well. Most people are driven by the child’s reactions and statements and don’t see the big picture. My husband went through 3 therapists for his alienated son – one who totally aligned with the alienating parent, to the point of hugging her after court when she “won”; another who understood and saw the real issues and was summarily fired by the alienating parent; and a third who tried to walk the fence and support both parents, but didn’t really understand alienation and ended up support it unwittingly. Until the dynamic is understood by the courts, and they work with therapists who understand it, and ONLY therapists who understand it, nothing will change.
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Then Cara I can only feel despair and wonder whether intervention, as it most often happens nowadays, is in fact making a dreadful heartbreaking situation even worse.
My husband and I would like to attend the parent workshops in Tasmania in October.
Narelle and Craig Wright
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Reblogged this on Madison Elizabeth Baylis.
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It makes such sense to me know why my reunification efforts failed, at least I understand now. This article is priceless for those going through the reunification process. Thank you Karen!