Giving Children Their Childhood Back: What Really Works With Alienated Children

The term parental alienation is used widely to describe a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after family separation.  Unjustified rejection is described as a child rejecting a parent when the parent has not done anything to warrant that.  Neither of those ways of describing what is happening to a child in the circumstances in which they align with one parent and reject the other, properly does justice to the mental health and relational problems the child is suffering in such circumstances.

In my experience, parental alienation has got nothing whatsoever to do with parental rights and it is absolutely not about a ‘contact’ relationship either. Parental alienation is not about parental rejection although parental rejection occurs and it is not something which is routinely used to further control of women  or a tool used by abusive men to further harm their children.  Those things are other than parental alienation and as such can be recognised and addressed using accepted protocols.

Parental alienation however, requires a protocol to resolve it which is highly counter intuitive and which is configured around the child by people who understand how such an intervention works. In any work with alienated children, the first step is to identify and explain how a child became alienated and the next step is to change the family dynamic in ways that return the child to a relationship with the parent they are rejecting.  It is only this which constitutes successful intervention.

Just as you wouldn’t expect an oncologist to explain parental alienation to you but then say that they cannot treat your cancer because it is not possible to do so, anyone working in this field must be able to demonstrate capacity to bring about change for alienated children. Doing something else but calling it parental alienation intervention is called experimenting.

Whilst I recognise that practitioners exist who are adapting their own skills set to fit the needs of families affected by alienation, I also know that there are some who are trying to shoe horn parental alienation into existing models which have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support their efficacy with this group of families. Choosing your provider wisely means looking beyond claims of being the only people to do this or that and asking for evidence of the efficacy of those claims.

Whilst some claim that the right way is the ‘my way or the high way’ approach, the right way to do this work requires a stepped approach which brings about resolution of the split state of mind in the child.  Experimenting but failing to achieve change for the child in terms of liberation from the fused alignment which induces psychological splitting is not good enough.

Because parental alienation involves, as others told us long before Childress configured his solution to the problem, an attachment disorder. It is also as Jennifer Harman tells us, a problem of intimate partner violence and it is a problem of trans-generational transmission of trauma as I wrote about in 2013. Parental alienation is a phenomenon which configures itself around certain children in certain circumstances. Understanding how those circumstances arose assists in working out how to bring about change for alienated children to release them from the position they are in.

What all of these things have in common is one thing and that is the child’s pathological alignment to a parent which is the singular feature we should be focused upon in recognising that there is a problem in the post separation family.  As Nick has recently spoken about, in presentations in Europe, the reality of parental alienation is not that a child rejects a parent, it is that a child  pathologically aligns and fuses their views of reality with a parent to the exclusion of all other possible realities.

When this fusion is supported by the parent to whom the child is aligned and that parent tells us, amongst other things, that this is the child finding their ‘truth’, alarm bells should be ringing to child protection level because these two signals demonstrate that pathological alignment and fusion of parent/child psychology is in play.

Kerig (2005) summarises the impact on the child of boundary dissolution as follows –

In summary, when parent-child boundaries are violated, the implications for developmental psychopathology are significant. Poor boundaries interfere with the child’s capacity to progress through development which (…) is the defining feature of childhood psychopathology.’

Linda Gottlieb described this problem effectively in her 2012 publication The Parental Alienation Syndrome and went further in exploring the work of Murray Bowen and his work with triangulation and the power that children play in diffusing tension between their parents which can lead to pathological fusion in situations where the child becomes captured by one parent’s psychological power in a coalition against the other.

In all of these multi layered understandings of what is actually happening in a case of parental alienation, it is the relationship that the child has with the aligned parent which should be the focus of our attention because the rejection of the other parent is merely a by product of that problem.

Which leads to the conclusion that parental alienation is not actually, the unjustified rejection by a child of a parent who was once loved dearly, as I have written so many times in the past.

Parental alienation is, in fact, a childhood psychopathology in which a child fuses their views with one person to the exclusion of all others, rendering them captive to that person’s intrapsychic conflicts and induced psychological splitting.  (Karen Woodall  – June 2019)

In other words a childhood mental health problem caused by exposure to situational/relational emotional and psychological coercive control.

In other words, child abuse.

Therefore, keeping the subject out of the political arena to prevent it from being reduced to an argument about parental rights is important, because every time the problem of parental alienation is dragged into that space, the reality of what we are dealing with is fogged.

And of course fogging this issue is essential if the reality of what is happening to alienated children is to remain hidden.  And keeping what is happening to children who are alienated, is essential  if adult rights are to continue to take precedence over children’s needs in divorce and separation.

Hence, each time a step forward is made in work with children affected by this psychopathology, efforts are made to push thinking back ten steps to keep the reality hidden.

Which is why you will hear the words ‘junk/pseudo/controversial’ science thrown around at random whenever progress is made in raising public consciousness.

And why significant energy is expended in attempting to discredit anyone who works in this field with an eye to resolving the problem.

It is because the issue of parental alienation is one which –

a) people do not understand because it has been mischaracterised

and

b) other people do not want it to be understood because that would lead to resolution.

And just as those who seek to treat cancer aim to make the illness treatable each and every time, anyone working in the field of parental alienation should be aiming to treat the problem successfully each and every time.

And success should mean the resolution of the split state of mind and as a result of that the restoration of the child’s acceptance of incoming love and care from both of their parents.

We may not achieve 100% success in every case but our aim should be to do so.  It is the only way that alienated children will get their stolen childhoods back.


 

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Board meets in Switzerland in July/August to further work on the development of international standards of practice as evaluated and curated by the international research evidence.  EAPAP will be producing a set of ratified international standards of practice with alienated children and families in September 2019.

An EAPAP Statement about therapy in cases of parental alienation can be viewed here.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. “Parental alienation is, in fact, a childhood psychopathology in which a child fuses their views with one person to the exclusion of all others, rendering them captive to that person’s intrapsychic conflicts and induced psychological splitting.”

    I think this is the most succinct description of PA! It takes every other obstacle out of the equation and highlights the abuse

    Like

  2. Until Spineless Judges are removed from office, children will continue to be emotionally and psychologically abused as Ive been dealt the blow.
    Wasted five years, 33 hearings and 30k for nothing.
    Incompetence reigns in family courts and CAFCASS

    Like

  3. Very well said: what it is NOT, as well as what IT IS. It seems your description also removes the target parent’s status as “victim,” which is appropriate, because the primary victim is the child. As a target parent myself I certainly feel like a victim, and in many senses I am; however, the point of resolution is not an attempt to “reunite” the child to the alienated parent (although that is what I want with all my heart). It is to restore healthy relationships with ALL of the child’s parents. The child has a need to love both parents, even with their imperfections. A treatment plan only focused on reuniting with the rejected parent maintains the false assumption he/she did something to warrant that rejection, and does nothing to correct the root of the problem (the pathological alignment). In my experience, such reunification work is doomed to fail.
    I believe your description perfectly positions the issue not only for proper identification, but also for potentially effective treatment. My question is, how do we do that, now that my children are adults.
    Thank you for advancing this important work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree – the reframing of the behaviour of the abuser being the problem, not the child’s reaction to it, is PROFOUND, with the understanding and acknowledgement that the primary victim therefore is the child, not the alienated/rejected parent, although they suffer beyond measure.

      Karen, thank you for this. I always read your blogs and whilst nowadays I don’t always get something from them what I do appreciate, and in this one especially, is to walk with you on your journey of deepening understanding of how to interpret and communicate the landscape of alienation. I feel like I’ve shared this new definition or interpretation with you, standing alongside you as your work in your laboratory of the mind, testing and retesting the evidence your work is producing.

      As someone whose situation is sadly now long beyond the point of any court intervention led by educated practitioners, I can only get on with my life whilst waiting patiently for the child now adult to find their own way to this understanding.

      Like

  4. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “Parental alienation is, in fact, a childhood psychopathology in which a child fuses their views with one person to the exclusion of all others, rendering them captive to that person’s intrapsychic conflicts and induced psychological splitting.

    In other words a childhood mental health problem caused by exposure to situational/relational emotional and psychological coercive control.

    In other words, child abuse.”

    Like

  5. Hi Karen,
    A good read as always and thank you for the links.
    I totally agree, that because parental alienation occurs in the divorce landscape, it’s caught up in the family court arena of child shared care issues and parent rights. This does fog up the landscape of parental alienation being purely and simply ‘psychological child abuse’. If we can help the child we help the alienated parent. But……….. for many of us rejected parents, getting our child to treatment is a huge barrier on its own particularly if you have no contact and are depending on the alienator to take the child who of course won’t as it not in their interest to do so.

    Your work Karen and that of your colleagues will hopefully fast track this issue and alienated children will be given the full support of the specialist family court and specialist mental health services and the rejected parent will no longer be able to run the show behind the shadows of their self proclaimed rejecting child.

    Keep up the good work.!

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  6. Simply outstanding! “A child pathologically aligns and fuses their views of reality with a parent to the exclusion of all other possible realities.”

    This is a clinical health issue and a serious public health issue.

    In Divorce Poison, Richard Warshak titled two chapters “the alienating environment” and “corruption of reality.” That is a good description of how this disease acts.

    The child comes under the influence of the pathology. The alienator sees the target as super bad and wants validation from the child and others manipulated into believing that pathological reality. “A child pathologically aligns and fuses their views of reality with a parent to the exclusion of all other possible realities.” The child parrots the false reality and can be convincing. It is a pathology.

    It is time for non-PA clinicians to understand that parental alienation is a pathology and well-understood by PA expert clinicians. The actions are predictable. The symptoms of alienation in a child are unique and unlike anything else.

    This pathology has nothing or very little to do with gender. About half victims are women. Facebook parental alienation groups into the thousands of members are actually more women than men.

    The legal/political obstructionists need to get out of the way and stop slowing the response to this disease. The disease parental alienation has well-understood symptoms, a known disease action, unfavorable ill effects and outcomes, and can be treated clinically when the clinician understands this disease and how to approach it.

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  7. Karen, I was getting all your blogs sent to my email as I followed you! I’ve got new phone and for some reason they have stopped! Got service provider to check and all ok their end. Can I trouble you to check if anything has gone astray your end! I’ve missed quite a few blogs that I’ve chased up and am in the process of reading!

    Thanks for all the hard work and keeping us alienated parents sane with your wisdom!

    Frankie x

    Like

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