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.
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.