The Heart of the Matter: Learning from the Experts in Parental Alienation

Having spent five days in the company of the world leading authorities in parental alienation, I am reminded again of the depth of the scientific field and both the passion and commitment of those who do this work.  Having been fortunate to spend time with Linda Gottlieb and Steve Miller in London and having been witness to their presentations in both Stockholm and London, I feel privileged to have learned from the key experts in the field.  Having also listened to all of the other leading thinkers and practitioners, I am reminded how rich and deep this field is.

I am not the only one to feel this way.  From around the world I have received messages thanking us for having brought this conference together.  From practitioners who travelled from as far away as Hong Kong to those who are right on our doorstep in London, comes  expressions of gratitude for the learning opportunity.  As Sir Paul Coleridge said in his closing speech, the quality of the presentations were gold standard.  I learned a huge amount from my colleagues and I know that what we did in London on August 30/31st was both a good thing and a turning point in how we take this work forward.

An exciting part of the conference for me was Linda Gottlieb’s presentation, in which she took us through the principles of structural family therapy and how these are adapted in her work with alienated children and families.  Listening to Linda made me realise that the principles of practice which we are launching with the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, are drawn from those strands of work which are already present and successful in this world. Just as I acknowledge the work of Wilfred von Boch-Galhau and his colleagues, I feel that Linda’s distinguished contribution to the field of parental alienation must be highlighted.

Linda was trained and mentored by Salvador Minuchin and when she speaks about him she brings alive the manner in which we who do this work must think about the family affected by parental alienation.  Her work is seminal in this field and in terms of therapeutic standards, these are the highest quality of achievement in successful treatment of parental alienation.  When I compare what we do at the Family Separation Clinic with Linda’s work, there is both similarity and some difference.  In the differences we can learn from each other and bring forward something new and I learned much to enhance my own practice from listening to Linda.

What I enjoyed most of all about the two conferences in August was the wonderful warmth, enthusiasm and determination to share and keep sharing our skills and knowledge.  This was no talking shop. What emerged from these two intensive conferences is a deep commitment between colleagues to bring forth new routes to intervention.  In addition, with our legal colleagues, the focus  was upon getting different countries to adapt their legislative structures to manage cases of parental alienation.  The overwhelming agreements at both conferences were that inducing the split state of  mind in a child and enabling and maintaining that, is abusive.  With rich seams of scientific evidence already curated, the project to educate and bring together the people with power who can make a difference to alienated children and families now really begins.

There is much work to do going forward.  In Europe we will be meeting in November in Strasbourg to  manage the development of EAPAP and we will be staying in close contact with the PASG as we unfold this focus on practice development in this field.  Our links to PASG are important, this is a two way conversation in which we will feed our work into the overarching world study group and we will draw from that group the best research and feed that into practice.

What struck me most of all in Stockholm and London is the manner in which the work of Richard Gardner, whilst always present in the historical landscape, is only part of the rich tapestry of skills and knowledge that this field possesses.  To learn from Linda Gottlieb, who told us that Salvador Minuchin would never have allowed a child to be disrespectful to a parent,  brought alive those things which we can read about in books but feel more deeply when we are in touch with someone who has actually done this work.  I loved listening to Linda’s presentations and I loved her live case study in Stockholm in which she demonstrated how, by using her own self as a guide, she restores the family hierarchy in a simple interaction, right at the start of her work with families affected by parental alienation.

Having been aware for all of the time that I have done this work that the manner in which we do it is informed by a long history which stretches all the way back in the historical psychiatric, psychotherapeutic and psychological literature, this conference enriched again my knowledge, brought me closer to colleagues with whom I share the same interests and proved to me that there are many different routes to treatment of PA.

And yet all the routes to treatment share exactly the same principles;  restoration of the family hierarchy as swiftly as possible, bringing the rejected parent into a co-therapy role and using the existing relational bonds as the trigger for dynamic change.

Learning from Linda who was trained and mentored by Salvador Minuchin brings that reality closer than ever before.  And it provides more evidence for the commitment of EAPAP practitioners which we set out at the conference.

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In the winds of change which are blowing across the UK in PA terms right now, these constants are our guide.

 

 

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