It is a decade since I worked with Thomas Moore to assist in reuniting him with his son after many years apart. You can read about his journey and our work together in his book ‘Please Let Me See My Son’. This week Thomas called me to say hello and let me know that his son is well and living a normal and healthy life. I knew then and I know now, that when we help children to recover from the induced psychological splitting which causes parental alienation, their life chances are good and the future looks bright. Having a healthy parent to return to is key to recovery and being able to hear from parents around the UK, whose children I have reunited with them, lets me know that in each and every case of severe parental alienation, the decision to intervene robustly is the right one.
I have now completed residence transfer work with 45 severely alienated children over the past decade and have worked with so many more in structured interventions which have brought about significant change. In all of the work that we do at the Family Separation Clinic our aim is to find the swiftest route to assist the child to recover from the maladaptive coping mechanism of psychological splitting. It isn’t easy to unpack this route and it must ALWAYS be done in conjunction with legal teams who understand parental alienation but when everyone is lined up with the understanding that an alienated child is a child at risk of serious emotional harm, the route is swift and the recovery is swifter.
The quickest recovery from the psychologically split state of mind that I have witnessed is a nano second. I am telling you the truth when I write that. The reality of the psychological splitting which causes the child to align and reject is not a mental health issue in the child but a phenomenon which is configured in the child but caused by the way in which the child is being controlled by the parent they have become pathologically aligned to. Remove the power and control over the child, hold the line and transfer the power to the receiving (rejected) parent and bingo, the alienation disappears like a puff of smoke.
I should know, I have seen it happen with 45 severely alienated children. Children who have made horrible allegations against a parent, children who have howled, screamed, run away, threatened me, hit me, spat at me, called the police, barricaded themselves into rooms and more. When the line is held and the message in the inter-psychic is given to the child that they and the parent they have been pathologically aligned to are no longer in control, the integration of the split state of mind occurs and the child experiences the recovery of the positive feelings they have split off about the rejected parent. From there the work to be done is the restoration of balance in the child’s mind through therapeutic parenting support and testing of the capacity of the influencing parent to understand what they need to do to provide safe contact for their child.
This work isn’t easy but it is definitely getting easier as more and more social workers and Guardians understand the dynamic and what is necessary to change it for the child. Even in these circumstances however there is still a kind of terror at taking the step of making a child do what they are vehemently saying they will not do. Keeping the knowledge of all of the children I have ever worked with in the forefront of my mind allows me to keep on doing it and train others to do it too, even in the face of people (and some of these people are supposedly parental alienation experts) telling me that it is wrong. It is not wrong. It is not harmful and it is supported by forty years or more of research evidence.
Making an alienated child see the parent they have rejected is not wrong, it is the only route the child can take to integration of the split state of mind. Those who proclaim that the child needs desensitisation therapy are deluded (the child is not phobic) and those who tell you that their once a week therapy in an office will help you to reunite with your child are simply trying to convince themselves that their way is the right way, it is not.
An alienated child speaks not from their authentic self but from their adapted self and they KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING when they use the adapted self to control adults around them. I know this because I ask each child I reunite with a parent whether they were aware of what they were doing when they were telling lies about a parent. Each one tells me yes, they do know what they are doing and they do know that managing (manipulating) adults including professionals to believe their story is a key part of keeping them away from the truth.
And the truth is this. An alienated child uses the infantile defence of psychological splitting because they cannot hold two realities in mind. The landscape they live in becomes too difficult and too painful to do so – not because of high conflict as many would have you believe and not because two parents are always making negative contributions but because around the child someone is dropping poison into the family system to destabilise the child’s experience and force alignment with their world view. The child is a victim of this coercive control and though many resist, some will collapse into pathological alignment due to the impossibility of resisting what is being done.
This is not a case of two parents in high conflict or both contributing to the problem, this is a child protection issue in which the child’s very sense of self is being stripped bare in order to ensure that they are in line with the distorted view of one parent. This is coercive control at its very worst and it is happening to children all over this country and indeed the world.
And when we see it we have to stop it. And when we stop it we see the infantile defence of splitting integrate and the flood of positive feelings return and the child’s capacity to receive the love of the parent they have been forced to reject returns.
That is when therapy should begin, when the child’s capacity to receive the love of both parents has returned. Therapy in these circumstances is not about persuading, exposing or using baby steps to produce minuscule changes. The alienated child is a child in danger and they need protection and the very best protection we can give them is to act fast and recover their capacity to receive love from the parent they have rejected.
I have done this work for over a decade now and I am about to prepare case histories of the 45 seriously alienated children I have worked with in order that we have these evaluated. Nick and I are writing another book, this time for practitioners in which we will explore all of the different case scenarios seen in a decade of reunification work and we are about to train 12 practitioners from around Europe to do this work in the same way. As we continue to develop EAPAP we are preparing a training seminar for Judges and legal practitioners which will be delivered widely to educate and inform about the kind of practice which works.
We are moving the scientific field of parental alienation on apace now, away from the environment in which any old thing goes in terms of intervention and into the space where the international research is clearly demonstrated to be translated into practice via successful case work over the past ten years.
There is no going back now. In ten years time I fully expect that parental alienation will not only be recognised early in this country it will be addressed and dealt with swiftly. And if we can cut that down to create widespread change in one, two or five years time we will do so.
There are no excuses anymore, 45 severely alienated children all reunited with a parent, all doing well over the years since reunification, most in relationship with both parents in the years after our intervention. Well over a hundred more children all living well in restored relationships with both parents via our structured interventions.
Therapy for aged out children is in development and being tested now, social worker collaboration is high and Guardians in CAFCASS are increasingly partnering with us to get this work done swiftly.
The detractors and the moaners, the people who tell you there are lots of different ways to do this work, the conspiracy theorists and the ones who are all out to discredit this work can stand aside. The proof as they say, is in the pudding. And the parents of 45 children are not wrong when they say that their children, once fiercely rejecting, are now doing incredibly well.
The road is built, the signposts are in place, the training is being delivered the pace is picking up, in the next five to ten years I fully expect us to have made ourselves obsolete in this world and then we can rest.
Until then, we go again. (thank you Nuno).