Objects in the Rear View Mirror

Screen Shot 2019-02-24 at 11.25.46

As I continue with my research alongside my therapeutic work with families, I am building a new approach to working with families affected by parental alienation which combines trans-generational psychotherapy with psycho-genealogy to provide a framework for understanding and working with the mind of the alienated child.

In doing this work what we aim for is to separate out the layers of generational influence and the artefacts which lied buried in the psyche of the family.

And then we examine the location of the family in space and time to understand further what influences drive the outcomes seen.

In doing so we widen our lens and stand back as far as we can to gain perspective.

Thus objects view through the rear view mirror, appear differently at different times.

It is worth using this approach to exhume some of the influences which affect us as we do this work.

The Collective Past – Brainwashing, Psychological Splitting, Child Abuse

The concept of brain-washing, which has long been used to conceptualise the alienation of a child, is actually the manner in which the dynamics in families so affected, combine to create particular phenomenon which are readily recognised in the psychiatric literature.  Whilst the use of parental alienation as an umbrella term for the presentation seen in children and parents has been used for many decades now, the underlying dynamics which all experts use in their forensic and clinical work in court, are tied back to this literature.  When I first began work in this field, the only people who were doing this work were psychiatrists.  Their work demonstrates very clearly the lineage of knowledge which has been used and built upon over the intervening decades.

That in itself however has not previously prevented the endless round of debates about whether or not parental alienation is a valid concept.  In the past, even where the problem is described in depth in court reports and the interventions necessary are clearly laid out, the tendency for the issue to be fought over in terms of its validity remained.

That has not stopped the UK from recognising parental alienation in case law however.   Case law in the UK is the manner in which precedents are set.  From as far back as 2010 in the UK, in a case in which I worked, parental alienation has been recognised, meaning that it is an accepted concept within the family court arena in this country.

The Collective Present – acceptance of PA in court, continued efforts to discredit in family services, plus stabilising factors.

What is interesting to me however, is that even where such judgments are in place, there is that witch hunt tendency to continue the argument about whether or not the child’s rejection of a parent is justified.  This extreme instability in terms of individual understanding of what is happening to the child stems from

a) a lack of family services understanding of what parental alienation is and the harm it causes to a child


b) the personal histories of people who do this work which become entangled in the narrative of the parental alienation dynamics.

This has caused the scenario of the endless game of legal table tennis focused upon whether or not parental alienation is a valid concept. This is not helped by the research produced in the UK  in 2018 by CAFCASS which at best is a mish mash of cherry picked evidence and at worst is a deliberate attempt to discredit the validity of parental alienation.

Thus, whilst the concept of PA is accepted in the Family Court, the lack of acceptance in family services pitches one against the other, allowing legal routes to continued argument about how to intervene (which are really efforts to continue the argument about whether PA is a valid concept or not).

However, now that parental alienation is included as an index term in the newly published ICD-11*, when I am working with a case which has been judged as being parental alienation, I am able to locate this within the World Health Organisation Classification of Diseases.  This means that in therapeutic terms, we are now able to work within a concrete diagnostic framework.

Thus, the arguments about parental alienation, which were previously clouded in a sort of murky mix of personal and professional opinions, reactions and biases, can increasingly be clarified and diagnostics and interventions laid out for the Family Court.

The Collective Future – labels, training, clarity and interventions underpinned by evidence.

It is not the label parental alienation which is the problem we need to resolve and it is not the manner in which experts work with it, because it has always been worked with in ways which are tied back to the psychiatric and psychological literature.  What we need to bring clarity to, (like blowing away the fog that lay over London this morning), is the manner in which this dynamic is stitched into the landscape of our collective and individual past, to produce a multi layered issue like no other in terms of its capacity to warp time, space and capacity to maintain clarity of thought.

Working with children and families in this environment means that anyone who is doing it needs both a safety harness of training and knowledge as well as the capacity to understand how this dynamic telescopes time and space to create unusual behavioural patterns in the people who are affected by it.

The Practitioner Past – 

Parental alienation is the story of how children in families woven together, located in the present time but affected by the near and far past, impacted by societal norms and expectations and influenced by personal recollections which may or may not be accurate, are pressured by power dynamics which create schisms in their perspective which interrupt their childhood.

The question in my mind is not why this happens to some children but why it doesn’t happen to more of them.

The answer to that lies in the unravelling of the story of the individual families we work with and the manner in which our own personal narratives, as people who do this work, are healed and the dirty laundry in our own internal landscape is washed and folded and put away.

The Practitioner Present

Right now in the UK we have an increasing number of people who have set themselves up as parental alienation experts without training, without self awareness and without any capacity to understand the risks that this work brings.

Which means that the work which is being done with families risks tangling up the personal with the professional.  It also brings a significant lack of perspective, in that individual practitioners, without any reference to the historical literature, are creating what they believe to be contemporary responses.

My question is how can individual families, affected by a multi layered issue like parental alienation, be helped by practitioners who believe that they can shoe horn the issue into their own personal belief system or preferred model of therapy?

The answer is they can’t.  Which means that when they try, the fog thickens, those who believe that parental alienation isn’t real can deepen the conflict, confusion and anxiety and the alienating parents themselves can continue on their merry way.

The Practitioner Future

This is a multi layered issue which requires anyone who works with it to be  –

a) aware of their past, present and future to the degree where their capacity to hold their own responses and reactions to interpersonal dynamics, enables them to see and work freely the plurality of perspectives which are woven around the child.

b) aware of the historical literature in this field which locates their work within trans-generational development of research evidence and practice outcomes from their peers.

c) trained in a manner which produces replicable outcomes and equipped with a body of knowledge which offers clarity to the Court and to Family Services.

Future Directions

As we widen the lens and step back to see with greater perspective, we understand that our first task is to the children who continue to suffer and the parents whose love they are prevented from receiving.

Education, training and protection of those who do this work is now necessary to develop a build with perspective.

The foundations have been dug out by the researchers who have studied this problem for decades.

The first underpinnings have been done by the practitioners working with families.

We have all the tools we need.

The objects in the rear view mirror will help us build the future with the past in mind.






*Parental Alienation is recognised in the World Health Organisation Classification of Diseases – ICD-11 as QE52.0 Caregiver-child relationship problem with parental alienation as the index term used for this diagnosis.


  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “This has caused the scenario of the endless game of legal table tennis focused upon whether or not parental alienation is a valid concept. This is not helped by the research produced in the UK in 2018 by CAFCASS which at best is a mish mash of cherry picked evidence and at worst is a deliberate attempt to discredit the validity of parental alienation.”


  2. Hi Karen

    ‘This is not helped by the research produced in the UK in 2018 by CAFCASS which at best is a mish mash of cherry picked evidence and at worst is a deliberate attempt to discredit the validity of parental alienation.’

    Fortunately, a year or two beforehand I reviewed the case law and research for my LLB. Therefore the extent of cherry picking and bias in the Cafcass research were immediately obvious. For example, the Cafcass commissioned report lists only one case where residence was changed and in the one they mention (Re S) the change of residence was not successful because by the time the court had got around to ordering an intervention the alienation was too deeply entrenched. In the interests of fairness and balance the report could have mentioned over a dozen reported cases since 2003 where the transfer of residence was successful. Incredibly, it did not. Nor did it mention the work of Dr Kirk Weir concerning changes of residence. This was well reported in its day, there was even talk of collaberation with Dr Claire Sturge on the subject. Dr Weir carried out training for the judicial college and his empirical research was published internationally yet the Cafcass research complains of a paucity of empitical evidence. Clearly, there are vested interests and research bucks beckoning.

    HHJ Clifford Bellamy was the judge in 2010 in Re S. He expressed the view that parental alienation could be regarded as ‘mainstream’. He was also the judge in the recently published case in 2018, Re D. (https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B64.html). He cites the latest Cafcass commisioned report in this judgment as well as covering the new Cafcass CIAF. He mentioned cogent and relevant cases which were ommitted from the Cafcass report. He knew them quite well because he was the judge involved!
    In spite of these ommisions the welsh assembly minister for social services. Huw Iranca Davies, described the Cafcass report as ‘definative’. Mr Davies is also the minister with responsibility for Cafcass Cymru who commissioned the report from Julie Doughty and her team.

    I suppose that whether one regards the Cafcass report as definative or not will depend upon the brief that the academics were given. Unfortunately, the report does not tell us what they were commissioned to report on. We should also note that they were commissioned. In other words, appointed without a tendering, competition or evaluation process. This is easier and potentially less embarassing to do via Cafcass Cymru because Cafcass in England is part of the MOJ ie the same body that runs the courts and pays the judges! It would be a source of red faces if the body that adjudicates contractual relationships in the courts were itself involved in public contracts regarding the lives of our children which are questionable, undergo less scrutiny and are less transparent than the contractual arrangements around agreements which are made with contractors to empty our bins.

    The report is also very light on describing the seriousness of PA, the casual way it is treated in the justice system and the appalling disparity that exists regarding the way that severing a child / parent relationship is evaluated in public law compared with the nonchelant way that a decent parent is excluded from a child’s life in the private law arena. This happens overtly and covertly by making indirect contact orders that really amount to severance under another name. It is fundamentally dishonest.

    Fortunately, the new president is on to this and spoke of precisely these problems in his key note speech to the trade organisation which represents children’s guardians.

    Meanwhile, there have been some public noises about the Cafcass report. Clearly, the discussion now needs to take place in the glare of daylight. I wonder what will happen next?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Padre Stevie…….your knowledge of the legal side of PA seems considerable! I’m wondering if you yourself are a legal professional? The depth of information you’ve provided here is very useful.


  3. “Education, training and protection of those who do this work is now necessary to develop a build with perspective.”

    Yet just ‘who’ is to be considered appropriate to do this work?

    As you and I have discussed before Karen, social workers deem themselves (and are deemed by Parliament) to be appropriate professionals to investigate this in a family, yet how and why? They are NOT psychologists and therefore have not undergone the kind of personal self analysis of their own personal histories which would avoid their own personal histories and perspectives from muddying the waters. As you say, it is important that are ” own personal narratives, as people who do this work, are healed and the dirty laundry in our own internal landscape is washed and folded and put away.”

    When will it be recognised that social workers are NOT qualified to deal with suspected cases of PA?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s