Digging up the Feminist Past to Develop a Family Focused Future

This week I am continuing work on the formation of therapeutic approaches to working with families affected by parental alienation, an ongoing project of mine which examines three things –

a) The differentiation process by which the route into the child’s split state of mind is examined, understood and responded to

b) The impact upon children of what is called in the UK a change of residence in which a child is moved to live with the parent they are rejecting as an intervention to treat the split state of mind

c) The therapeutic needs of the family as it goes through significant change on intervention.

Having carried out many transfers of residence in the UK, what I am always concerned about is that the split state of mind is not transferred with the child because if that happens, then the intervention has failed.  The split state of mind is the child’s use of defensive splitting of feelings into wholly good and wholly bad in order to resolve the impossible dilemma they face.  When a child is in this position they are defending themselves and the family as a whole from the ongoing dysfunctional dynamic which is at the heart of the problem. This dynamic may be caused by one unwell parent acting against the other, it may be caused by action, reaction and counter reaction between parents or it may even be triggered by the child who is incapable of holding two realities in mind.  However it happens, finding the route that the child took into the split state of mind is the first part of the assessment process, interviewing and assessing all of the family members and meeting them all together including seeing the child with the parent they are rejecting is an essential first step to full understanding.

What I have discovered in my years of doing this work is that without an intervention which reconfigures the dynamics which caused the split state of mind in the first place, a residence transfer is not enough to treat the child’s split state of mind. I have worked with children who have been transferred without corrective intervention and children who have not and it is clear to me that those who have not remain split in their thinking. In these scenarios, whilst the child’s body is with the parent they have been rejecting, the child’s mind remains captured by the pathologically aligned parent. Distance from that parent is not enough.  Ninety day separations, whilst becoming the norm in the UK in residence transfer situations, mean nothing unless the intervention to correct the distorted dynamic is undertaken during that time.

My research work is focused upon this and the work of excavating what we are doing and why in this space is the job I am doing right now.

In doing this job I am working with psycho-genealogy, a form of trans-generational psychotherapy which examines the individuals in a family in the context of the family as a whole and then the family as a whole in the context of its history across time and space.  In doing this work with families over the past decade, I have come to understand that parental alienation is the story of how the branches of families become entwined and how unresolved issues from somewhere in those branch lines, erupt in the present in the crisis of divorce and separation.  As I do this work I also set the families I am working with in the context of the psycho-social background they are situated in.  In doing so I understand the ways in which behaviours of individuals are affected by the wider backdrop of social policy.  In the UK at least, the past forty years of feminism has had a profound influence on all families affected by divorce and separation and we cannot ignore it.

The Diversionary Role of Feminism

Families affected by parental alienation are a particular group of families within the overall group affected by divorce and separation, there is something separate and different about them.  Whilst families affected by parental alienation are also affected by divorce and separation, not all families affected by divorce and separation are affected by parental alienation.  This reality leads to questions in my mind about why, when divorce and separation have been normalised for decades, are we only really caring about parental alienation as an issue affecting children now?    Could it be that the following things, buried in the landscape of divorce and separation are true?

  • For four decades since the change in divorce laws our social policy has only focused upon the physical needs of children, seeing fathers as providers and mothers as carers?
  • For four decades since the change in divorce laws, the needs of women in the family have usurped the needs of children, placing focus on mothers as the rightful carers of children and those whose children reject them as doubly deficient because of this blinkered approach?
  • Has feminism forced us away from understanding and using those forms of psychotherapy which see the nuclear family as the bedrock of a child’s developing psychological health?
  • Has the idea of hierarchical care of children in a family system been sidelined in favour of seeing the post separation family as a coalition between women and children with men placed at distance, useful only when they are being made to pay and provide and included only at the behest of women?
  • Leading mothers who are alienated to fall foul of a winner takes all system in which the alienating father has achieved a win in a stereotyped and biased system?

At the EAPAP Conference in London last year I introduced the standards of practice which we are establishing for practitioners in this field in Europe (and beyond as the template becomes laid down).  In doing so I spoke about the fact that these standards have  already been available already for twenty years and referenced the first parental alienation congress in Europe which was held in Frankfurt in 2002.  As I did so the question in my mind was why, when these standards have been laid down for so many years and why, when parental alienation as a family story has been known about for generations, have so few people cared so little about the group of families affected by it?

In my research work I am examining the way in which trans-generational family therapy can enable families which have become rusted and stuck in the process of changing from together to apart, to understand those things which have caused that stasis.  In doing so it is very clear to me that the feminist take on psychotherapy and the social policy in the UK which is absolutely framed around the notion of mothers as the natural carers of children and fathers as the provider has contributed to this problem.  At the EAPAP conference in London, when I spoke about the damaging impact on children of a women’s rights based therapeutic approach to resolving parental alienation there was a sharp intake of breath from those therapists in attendance who are using this approach.  The inference was clear, women’s rights take precedence over children’s needs and if the use of feminist therapies are challenged then it will make some people extremely uncomfortable.

In my excavation work,  I have found that the drift away in family therapy from family work to focus on viewing the family through a feminist lens has been strong and sustained.  In re-reading Salvador Minuchin’s book ‘Families and Family Therapy’ in its reprinted version, I note that the introduction makes reference to the way in which Minuchin was criticised by feminists for his lack of analysis of power structures and how he adapted his therapy because of this.  These themes. of adaptation of therapies and psychological theory, arises throughout my reading in this sphere, reminding me that through a feminist lens, children’s needs are seen as indivisible from women’s rights in theory and practice,  and this is a tightly sown seam which is clearly visible whenever we do this work.

If parental alienation is a deeply buried story of the branch lines of families which converge as one in the here and now and present to us the symptom of something wrong in the system, then feminism is one of the influences which have lead to the lack of interest and resolution for families so affected.  Far from the lack of interest being down to people who do this work and the lack of a workforce being due to those who do this work wanting to be seen as expert (as fervently espoused in one corner of the internet), I would argue that this lack of interest is down to the diversion of practitioners from assisting the family as it could and should be assisted, to viewing and treating the family as a dysfunctional unit in which power imbalance is invested in men due to a system of thinking called ‘patriarchy’ (itself a constructed analysis of psycho-socio-economic structures).

If you view a child’s rejection through a feminist lens you will always see the child as being the vulnerable powerless victim of the parent with power who in a patriarchal analysis will always be the father.  Thus you will always ask the question ‘what has this man done to cause this child to reject him?’  Which is, of course, the most biased question one can possibly ask in a scenario where a child is using pathological splitting to defend themselves against extremely difficult dynamics.  And in being confronted by a child who is rejecting its mother, if you analyse through a feminist lens the first question will always be ‘how bad must this mother be for their child to reject them?’

In my archeological digging I am finding the layers of resistance to the underlying causes of parental alienation, the influences which cause practitioners to struggle in their understanding and the reasons why, for so long, this issue has lain buried beneath a manufactured belief that divorce and separation do not harm children.

The only world in which divorce and separation does not harm children is a feminist world, in which the rights of women usurp the needs of children and in which the false construction of power dynamics based upon a non existent thing called patriarchy, sustains and maintains that belief system.

In the real world, where men and women share power in different settings in different ways and where the needs of children as they cross the divorce and separation landscape require urgent attention, family focused therapy which draws upon all of those teachings from before feminism took us off down a blind alley into permanent coalitions between one parent and the children, and the cul-de-sac of state sponsored single parenthood, is a very necessary thing.

For more than a decade now I have been working with family focused interventions which rebuild broken hierarchies and which enable parents to take responsibility for post separation dynamics so that their children do not have to.  In doing so I have faced much opposition and a great deal of effort to discredit me.  But I will not stop doing it because I know that the answer to parental alienation is not to view the world through a blinkered lens which tells me that one person is inherently advantaged and the other is not.  The answer is in the branch lines of the story of the family and the manner in which the poison seeping down those branches presents in the child in the here and now.

As I continue the work of building a new family focused trans-generational therapy for families affected by that which we call parental alienation I have left the feminist lens far behind me.  In doing so I have achieved a broader, wider, clearer vision of the past, the present and the possible future.

It is there I am headed.


Following the principles of self care that we encourage for all families affected by parental alienation, I have been on retreat for January to rest and recover energy and strength. I return to work on February 4th after which we will announce our trainings for practitioners and parents for the year ahead, including training for practitioners in the USA, Canada, UK and Europe and for Parents in the UK, Europe and USA.

For USA readers:  We are working with clients in the USA  using our online therapeutic parenting coaching and our trans-generational therapy. We also offer guidance and strategy for managing your court case.  Depending on your location we offer morning and afternoon sessions and we can put you in touch with clients we are already working with before you begin, so that you can find out more about how we can help you.

Email appts@familyseparationclinic for more information.  Our costs are comparable to other services of the same nature and we offer time packages so that you can take up our services in the most cost effective way possible.

 

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Excellent reading, If only I could get someone to make my Judge and CAFCASS accept this and do something about my case and allow our child to return to having a normal relationship with both parents.

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  2. Society is gynocentric – as Warren Farrell said “No society has ever thrived without treating its males as disposable and its females as precious” This notion is the platform from which any examination of gendered societal shifts must be viewed.

    Feminism has used (and continues without let up) this platform to push their agenda. They have infiltrated the court system via training courses for judges etc. For example, this, which looks at court gender sentencing – http://empathygap.uk/?p=2561

    As soon as they managed to change the law to “the views of the children must be accorded weight” – any father who could be alienated and the mother wanted him alienated – was fair game. A side effect of this was that a mother could also be alienated, because the reality that children need both parents to prosper was thrown under the bus & with it those mothers who could be alienated along with the fathers.

    Unfortunately, some studies have shown that a large minority of mothers do not wish the father to be in their children’s lives after separation – thus the stage is set for probably the most egregious damage to children’s mental health in the west not to mention the horror for the fathers, many of whom cannot face their lives without their children and so end it.

    History will look back and wonder how no one seemed to notice what was happening and when people like yourself, Karen, pointed out the travesty, why change was so slow.

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  3. It’s obviously an extremely serious subject – but these guys tackled it with humour too… Absolutely brilliant!

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  4. Hi Karen,
    I agree with your sentiments. The feministic wave had/has a positive social impact when applied in the way it was purposed which was to critically consider power, privilege, position and control imbalances between men and women. However, like many sectoral groups, there are those who take it to an extreme, fanatical point and become rigid in their position and this is where the ‘feminist lens’ can do the opposite of its intentions.

    On another note, you have answered my question about how a severely ‘split’ child could suddenly turn up to the alienated Mother’s home and integrate back into a 2 home life without any therapeutic intervention. Your answer…… ‘In these scenarios, whilst the child’s body is with the parent they have been rejecting, the child’s mind remains captured by the pathologically aligned parent’.
    What I am curious to understand more of is your use of ‘family systems theory’ and looking at the family as a whole and as dysfunctional. In my understanding of the feminist critique of family systems theory when applied to domestic violence cases, is the belief that you are giving equal blame to the victim for the family dysfunction. So how does that work when there is an Alienator and an Alienated parent in the circle? meaning, is the alienated parent being held equally dysfunctional? or do you mean that the alienated parent is part of the dysfunction in how they may have remained passive or submissive and how their family pyscho-genalogy has lead them into this alienated position?
    I have to say, from the outside, and as an alienated parent this concept scares the hell out of me in that I would somehow need to show compassion to the alienator because his family history led him there, and even in just stating this I wonder if the fact I feel this way is my contribution to what is happening in our family?

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    1. I think the idea that in using family systems we are looking at the family as a whole and seeing it as either dysfunctional as a whole or everyone contributing is what concerns me about generic use of family therapy. I will write more about this shortly but in short, the way that I am developing the use of trans-generational family therapy is not in the traditional sense at all but in an adapted sense, in much the same way that Linda Gottlieb is a family systems therapist using adapted family systems therapy. In using psycho-genealogy I am digging up the foundations of the family and tracing the branch lines back generations to find the story of the trauma which is being transmitted down the lines in the present day child. I began this work in 2012/3 and it has developed into a way of working which is replicable in these cases. Whilst I might look at your resistance in compassionate terms to the alienator, I would not see that as contributory to the child’s rejection is an example of how the use of this approach is different to generic therapy – your reaction is not strong enough for example to cause the child to reject you. So I use the understanding of how a child becomes pathologically bound to a parent to avoid falling into the trap of the no blame game of family therapy. I will write some more on it soon. K

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      1. Thank you for your reply,
        In reflection, my resistance to show compassion is because in doing so and giving the benefit of the doubt etc, I ended up staying in a coercive and controlling marriage for far far too long and watched my eldest daughter slip through my fingers within weeks.
        Even though all of this is noted in all our family court reports his behaviour is still listed as non-malicious? what does this mean when his told please stop showing our daughter texts messages and emails, stop texting her when she is in my care and despite being made aware of what he is doing he keeps doing it. How is that non mallicious? is this some sort of psychological term?

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  5. I think it’s important to make reference to the waves of feminism here over the course of the last half century. Modern Intersectional feminism is about equality and inclusivity across all characteristics and not just women’s rights at the expense of all else. The flaws in the systems you refer to here are all as a result of gender stereotypes, societial expectations/prejudices and the presumption that women are care givers and men are breadwinners. Those derive from a patriarchal history in the UK that harms both men and women in many situations, and of course in these instances also children.

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    1. Hi Intersectional Feminist,

      I’m sure we would all be extremely interested if you could point out for us any current wave feminist authors who demonstrate a balanced and detailed understanding of the suffering of men in comparison to that of women?

      And then are able to lay out a vision for us of how men and women could live fulfilled egalitarian lives – going forward…?

      I’m not aware of any. To my understanding, all that has essentially been endlessly repeated the whole time – is that the ‘solution for everything’ is for all “unreformed” men to be dragged down from any position of authority (right from highest governmental to lowest family positions) to be replaced either by women or else by men who have been successfully indoctrinated into being subservient to women – on the basis that males are socially and psychologically inferior to females?

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      1. I’m saddened that your experience of feminism is “for all unreformed men to be dragged down from any position of authority”. My experience is not that, although I am still on a journey of understanding and am not an academic of specialist like yourself!

        This paper to me captures some of the tensions and challenges in this space well http://www.andreadoucet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Doc-8_Doucet-Lee_jftr.12051.pdf

        I don’t disagree that the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s probably didn’t help in these matters but I think the modern feminist stance is much more about inclusivity, equality and tolerance. That’s certainly my experience.

        I came to your blog as my partner and I are involved in a very complicated situation at the moment with his child. I find this whole area fascinating. And your blogs are very helpful! Thanks.

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      2. Oops, Woodman, Woodall, thought I was replying to a comment from the author. Apologies!

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      3. Hi IF,

        Thank you for your kind response. I’ve had a very brief look at the paper, but obviously that’s better at home with the PC.

        What I can say is that I am one of the generation of guys who has been able to make the transition to childcare. I trained as a Primary teacher and have worked in nurseries, too. In fact, because of a disability element (ME) it was extremely difficult to work long term in a conventional provider environment.

        The problem is that this often seems to occur in situations where the female is actually significantly less capable in some, perhaps many, respects in terms of childcare – than the male. To cut a long story short, the reality is that this can work up to a certain point – i.e. until such time as it becomes obvious that the children are actually more closely bonded with the father than the mother.

        At this stage it is likely that ‘all hell will break loose’, as the woman will likely find this scenario absolutely intolerable.

        As much as women have been accepted into the workplace, meaning that we men have to accept them in positions where they are considered more capable and placed in supervisory capacities – invariably the same cannot be accepted of men in regard to childcare.

        Like a politician undoing all the years of work of a rival – the mother who might find herself eclipsed in regard to her children will then furiously work to subvert and undermine all the values her children’s father will have be so dedicatedly aiming to develop.

        Parental alienation is definitely ‘top priority’ for such a parent.

        Family Courts do not support the supposedly “progressive” feminism idealism that I just briefly had a chance to see mentioned in the pdf. Rather, traditionalism combines forces with the radical feminist agenda of “women uber alles” to brutally eliminate male influence from the children’s lives as much as possible. As a man (unless you have the resources to replicate everything that would exist in the maternal home) you are relegated to the role of an occasional ‘guest’ or ‘visitor’ in your children’s lives.

        Instead your role disintegrates into a form of torture as you are forced to watch your children deteriorate in just about every respect in front of your eyes.

        Meanwhile the woman will crowingly take credit for any positive aspect of your children’s lives which you will painstakingly have tried to establish.

        Example…as I write (I am now back in the family home briefly on a Sunday these days) my 15 year old daughter has been through an ice cream and is now making her an entire bumper size chocolate bar.

        This is just a small example of her typical daily input. Mum is only facilitating this…

        What can I do but helplessly watch on as my daughter entrenches these bad habits? Before I was ousted she used to be so tiny and healthy…

        Patriarchy…???

        Yes, it has certainly existed in a limited way here and there (an interesting aspect of the widely varying power relations between genders over generations) but as Karen says, on the macro level – a completely fanciful and highly destructive fabrication by feminist theorists.

        Perhaps that gives you a small indication of what’s been happening…?

        Re-write that story a million million times over throughout the Western world to varying degrees.

        In summary, the concept has been that in order for women to rise – man have to be brought down.

        And consequently we are being decimated…suicide rates are through the roof.

        What a mess…

        This was all nonsense – male “strength” was always a “facade of strength” as Warren Farrell discovered. All we needed (and still do) was understanding and support – not destruction.

        A movement of men and women dedicated to assisting each other for our mutual benefit has yet to be born.

        .

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      4. As most readers will know I am a reformed feminist… you can read the story of my removal of the feminist blinkers on this blog from about 2011 onwards. It was quite a journey and I clearly remember the day I took those blinkers off, I felt as if I had 360 degree vision again and I stopped believing in made up analysis based on political standpoints and started being human again and treating families from a human perspective instead of a political one. As a result my practice got better, my heart expanded and the experience of all peoples became important to me. I remember the days when I believed that feminism was about inclusivity, equality and tolerance and the cognitive dissonance I felt each time I was faced with the decimation of the family and the horror I experienced when I realised that fathers were displaced from the family on purpose by feminist academics. I remember it well. These days I don’t shout about it much because my life has moved on to be deeper, richer and a thousand times more purposeful and rewarding living without the labels. I don’t need or want to look through political lenses at the work that I do, my human heart is enough to guide me, my love for people and my recognition that suffering is caused not by patriarchy or any other such made up stuff but by the failings we all have within us which make us angry, sad, vulnerable, harmful to others and more. Being the best I can be doesn’t need a label. One day, I hope many more men and women will realise that the relationship between us is far far far more important than the fight. K

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    2. If you study social policy in the UK IF you will see that the gender stereotypes of caregiver and breadwinner are enshrined in law – a law written by feminist academics…. it isn’t patriarchy that puts women in their places, it is feminists who believe in patriarchy who make those places and put women in them. Patriarchy is a made up thing, it is a political analysis not an objective reality. Feminist academic creation of social policy however IS an objective reality……….there is a reason for 90% of primary carers being women (alongside the fact that most women assume care after family separation) it is that child benefit is paid to women and child benefit denotes primary care giving in social policy. Circular reasoning which drives predictable outcomes – all developed by feminists……..

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  6. Thanks, it’s interesting to hear your journey and experience. I am divorced and have 50/50 care of my children with my ex. I don’t receive child benefit as I earn over the threshold! I work full time and am completely financially self sufficient.

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