Recently I have been working on a new approach to helping alienated children, an approach which combines the recognised interventions used in short term dynamic psychotherapy, with my understanding of how the manipulated mind of a child presents itself. I have already had some remarkable results with this combination of understanding and intervention, so much so that I am further pursuing this as part of my Ph.D research work.
Alongside all of the training and development work I have been doing I continue in my clinical practice and this year, more than any so far, I have been working with adult children and older teenagers who are experiencing alienation. This work has been tremendously helpful in enabling me to develop new thinking and practice with the alienation dynamic.
What we know about parental alienation is that the dynamic locks itself into the child’s mind and then begins to spread through the family and into anyone else who comes into contact with the child. This is because the underlying cause of the alienation, which is the psychologically split state of mind, is a defence mechanism which the child is using to prevent themselves from being exposed to impossible demands and pressures upon them. Depending on whether someone upholds the child’s ‘choice’ or not, the reaction rises and falls. Thus you will see a child escalating allegations and insisting a parent is truly wicked towards them when no-one is looking, when they engage with anyone who tries to challenge the defence by making them see the parent they have rejected. Whilst others, who do not challenge but who accept the child’s narrative, are accepted by the child and liked and ‘trusted.’
This alignment and rejection dynamic, which is the outward sign of splitting is one which is poorly understood and therefore one which triggers enormous splitting elsewhere around the family. In some cases I have worked in, the professionals became so affected by the splitting in the case that they were fighting each other inside and outside of the court process. Add the UK adversarial court process, where someone is always right and someone is always wrong to the child’s display of alignment and rejection and a perfect storm awaits for anyone who comes close to a case.
The right/wrong problem in parental alienation spreads throughout professionals and even into the minds of those who work to solve the problem of parental alienation. This everyone is wrong and I am right approach, comes from a place where the psychologically split state of mind runs even into those who seek to resolve it.
I work with alienation and it fascinates me. It fascinates me because it is a problem with a human face and it is as old as time. From the way in which ancient cultures controlled human behaviour through shunning people and placing them outside of the tribe so that they died, to the explicit mind control of cults, alienation as a life experiences is very real. Finding the places and conditions where it flourishes is about noticing how society regards human behaviour. Recognising that the divorce and separation landscape is the perfect condition for alienation is part of what drew me to this work in the first place.
This week I watched a young person heal from the psychologically split state of mind in less than two hours. Just as the conditions are right for an alienation reaction to occur, when the conditions are right for healing, this problem is very easily resolved. The more I do this work the more I know that the formula for healing is – A + B + C = D
A) Understand the route into alienation (Identify the conditions in which the child took up the use of psychological splitting)
B) Change the way the aligned parent holds power over the child
C) Deliver the dynamic intervention which shifts the mindset in the child
D) Integration of the split state of mind of the child
When the alienated child is enabled to integrate the psychologically split state of mind, they are no longer using the defence which denies the positive memories and experiences with the rejected parent. It is the defence in the mind which creates the denial (and the defence which triggers all of the other clear signs of alienation such as lack of ambivalence, entitlement, cruelty, reflexive support of the aligned parent and more). This is how a perfectly normal child comes to be able to say cruel and untrue things about a parent they were once seen to love dearly. This is exactly how a child is brainwashed into behaving as if a parent is a cruel and abusive monster when all of the evidence proves that this is untrue.
Undoing the mind game is therefore about creating the right conditions for the delivery of the dynamic shift which creates integration. And whilst the right conditions for that in younger children, are almost always created by the court process, the right conditions, I have come to realise, can be created without the court for older children.
I wrote once about children whose eyes are wide open but able to see nothing at all. What I have come to know about older alienated children is that even when they are confronted with the evidence, that is even when everything is contrary to what they are saying, they are unable to psychologically see it. They may be able to physically see it but they cannot see it psychologically and will therefore argue with anyone who tries to persuade them.
Thus the route to integration is not about talking but about listening, it is not about teaching, it is about learning what the alienated person needs to experience and about watching and waiting for the opportunity to push the button which creates the dynamic shift in thinking.
In this young person’s mind this week I watched the switch in thinking happen after a process in which we had carefully led the way to the right conditions. As I watched it happen I realised how much of a mind game had been played and how tricky alienation really is. As the switch happened I found myself paddling furiously to prevent the counter switch from being triggered so that the young person didn’t counter reject the parent who had caused the splitting. Working in the mind of a young person to bring this change about, requires the capacity to know the depth and breadth of how the problem impacts.
I will unpack more of this in the workshop with Linda Gottlieb especially for parents at the EAPAP conference. We will also hear much more about how the mind of a child is influenced and how we can work to bring about swift changes in children through the use of the right stepwise approaches.
To book for the EAPAP conference as a professional please use this link
The EAPAP Conference will have an interactive parent panel throughout both days and you can join us to have your say and vote on all of the things being discussed and proposed. To do so please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and register your interest. Tickets for parents cost £150 and you will have free access to the parent workshop with Linda Gottlieb and Karen Woodall as well as being able to take part in the interactive process.