Parental alienation is a terrifying experience and one which can drive you insane as you struggle to cope with the grief of watching beloved children sink further into the rejecting behaviours which herald the psychologically split state of mind. As we press on at the Family Separation Clinic with the job of raising the issue to the wider public consciousness, I am aware that around me there is a mushrooming of people who say they are expert in parental alienation and reunification work.
Whilst we welcome all who have the courage to come and do this work, we also recognise that unless this work is done in the way that produces successful outcomes for children, there is a risk that unaware practitioners can make things worse for children not better. We are also aware that there is increasing evidence that there are some people in the field who say they are experienced, when in fact what they are anything but.
I have been in this field for a long time. I have, as many of you will know, been attacked by other practitioners, complained about by parents, sanctioned by a governing body and denigrated relentlessly by a psychologist in the USA. I have been labelled, blamed, scapegoated and shunned, I have been damned, dismissed and demonised. I have seen it all and then some. And because of that I am not going to waste my time doing the same to others.
But what I am going to do, because I feel it is important at this juncture, is provide a guide to parents who are seeking assistance with their case of parental alienation in the United Kingdom. I am doing this as someone who is leading a working group for the Parental Alienation Study Group, the worldwide group of experts in this field and as a co-founder of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, which will, from later in 2018, provide a new governing body for everyone who comes to do this work. I am doing it not because I want to draw any further work my way, I have more than enough to do, but because I want to help parents to avoid the nightmare scenario of believing that they have found someone who is experienced in parental alienation, when in fact they are not.
And this happens unfortunately. It happens because alienated parents are extremely vulnerable, they are thrust into a world which they do not understand and they are seeking knowledge and support from people they believe can help them. When those people cannot or do not help them, because either they are not the experienced people they say they are OR, they believe they are experienced when in fact they are not, parents are left doubly devastated.
And so, without attacking anyone at all, I am going to set out the steps which will help you to make the right choices at a critical time in your life. In doing so I am going to be very clear about the essential aspects of managing your case. (If you want more information about how to make choices about managing your case you can read our book Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope Helping to Heal which is published by Charles Thomas. We wrote it as a guide to help parents to find their way through the maze. Unfortunately, the maze is full of dead ends and wrong turnings and people shouting abuse through megaphones at each other.)
Ten Steps to Managing Parental Alienation
- Understand that there is no single ‘solution’ to the problem of parental alienation but there are many similar routes to recovery for the child. ( I will set out the basic routes further down this blog post.)
- Parental alienation is a spectrum problem which affects some children but not all children. The alienation reaction is in the child, the dynamics which cause it are around the child.
- All practitioners who work to internationally recognised standards of practice will seek to differentiate the route the child took into the alienation reaction as the first step in their assessment. The route the child takes into alienation gives the practitioner the information needed to determine the treatment route out.
- All aware practitioners who work in this field know that the mental health and legal interlock – that is the way in which the court holds the framework for the mental health intervention in place is essential to the proper treatment of such cases. Aware practitioners recognise that the Judge is the super parent in the case and that restoration of the attachment hierarchy – which is necessary to treat the psychological splitting – depends upon the Judge holding the framework steady.
- A full assessment of a case of alienation is not complete until the child has been observed with the parent they are rejecting. Whilst a paper based assessment (which is commonly given in the first stages of consideration of a case) offers a view on whether alienation is present, a full assessment includes the observation of the child with the parent they are rejecting. There are several routes that can be taken to achieve this but the most common one is for the practitioner to seek the direction of the court for the alienating parent to make the child available for such observation. A practitioner who does not do this routinely, is not delivering an internationally recognised standard of practice.
- Practitioners should give a clear outline of the work they are doing and the path they expect to take.
- Parents should not be asked to adjourn a case or handover decision making power to practitioners. Neither should parents be asked to apologise for anything that they have not done. It is not the role of the practitioner to seek to fix the rejected parent to suit the aligned parent but to assist the rejected parent to understand how their behaviours may contribute to problems seen.
- Mediation and therapeutic work outside of a planned programme which is endorsed by the court and which has set milestones for reporting and permission to return the case to court if there is slippage or disengagement should not be delivered.
- All practitioners should, as a matter of courtesy and transparency, offer references and opportunities for parents to speak to other parents who have been helped.
- Practitioners should not use their position of power over parents but should seek to empower and inform, educate and support as well as scrutinise, observe and report to the court.
The basic route to treatment of parental alienation which conforms to internationally recognised practice looks like this. Links to some of research work which underpins these assessments are shown in the stages.
- First stage assessment identifies Child in Relationship Distress
- Differentiation route identifies that the child is exhibiting psychological splitting.
- Assessment of the history of the case identifies use of alienation behaviours in parent.
- Assessment of the child’s presentation demonstrates the eight signs of alienation.
- Testing of the child’s responses to the rejected parent through observed contact sessions.
- Application of a rolling assessment, therapeutic trial and observation in which the attachment relationship between parents and children is observed and recorded and the child’s response to the rejected parent is observed and detailed. Any signs of Shared Delusional Disorder or Idee Fixe in aligned parent and child are noted.
- Psychological evaluation of the aligned parent if pure alienation is suspected. If personality disorder is determined, separation of child from parent through transfer of residence is recommended.
- Hybrid cases which do not respond to assessment and therapeutic trial – further psychological evaluation and possible transfer of residence.
- Transfer of residence cases are supported by residence transfer intervention to support the child to integrate the split state of mind.
- Post transfer intervention to support the restoration of normal relationships and testing of contact with the previously aligned parent under clinical conditions for a period of up to six months.
In a world in which we are rapidly bringing the issue of parental alienation to worldwide consciousness, it pays to be educated as a parent. Being educated about what to expect in treatment, how to obtain that treatment and what such treatment costs is the minimum standards you should expect from people who say they are expert in this field. To protect yourself as a parent it is vital to be vigilant and discriminating in the information you read and to find out more about the person who is claiming expertise.
At the very least do not believe everything that you read online.
Do not believe that someone is an expert in parental alienation just because they say they are. If they are expert in this field they will be able to give you the names of parents they have helped, the names of legal people who will recommend them and examples of how and why they are recognised as being expert.
(There is nothing wrong with claiming expertise in this field by the way, despite what you are told by some. Those of us who do this work do it in a dedicated manner, we work with others collaboratively and we seek to build the scientific knowledge base together. You would expect expertise from your electrician, your plumber or your surgeon, why would you not expect the same from someone who works with families affected by parental alienation?)
There is however, something wrong with claiming expertise in this field when there is no substantive evidence of successful work and no capacity to offer the references which demonstrate this.
When you are faced with the choice of which door to go through, don’t leave it to chance, to hearsay or to the claims of people who say they are expert. Those who you can trust will listen to your request and provide you with what you ask for. Those who you cannot trust will treat your request as evidence that you are somehow the problem. Leave the latter far behind you, you have enough to deal with in being alienated without your legitimate requests being inveigled into the picture.
Parental alienation is a horrible, life changing experience and it is made more so by the mushrooming of unsubstantiated claims of expertise in the field. Be smart, be aware, these are your children, keep your eyes firmly on the road ahead and pick and choose the people who make up the team which assists you carefully.
The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners is being set up to provide parents and practitioners who work with divorce and separation and parental alienation with a training, supervisory, regulating and membership body which will properly represent the issues facing families across Europe. It is being set up to ensure that practitioners who work in this space are protected from unnecessary sanction by governing bodies which do not recognise the issue of parental alienation and from the harm that can be done to parents by unscrupulous practitioners. This is an emerging field of work which we predict will become increasingly populated by people who say they understand and work with parental alienation when in fact they do not. The Family Separation Clinic is working with the Parental Alienation Study Group to review and codify internationally recognised practice in this field. Everyone who uses the Clinic for court based services, is offered the opportunity to speak to parents and legal professionals with whom we have worked. We have worked with many families over the years, some of whom we have not been able to help, most of whom we have. We continue in our quest to ensure that what are delivered in the UK is the very best services that parents affected by family separation can expect.