Coming Out of the Fog in Europe

Today Nick is in Bucharest in Romania speaking at  the interdisciplinary approach of litigation with minor in cases of Parental Alienation Conference with leading Romanian Judiciary. This conference is held in a country where the issue of parental alienation has become well recognised and where approaches to deal with it are enshrined in legislation.

The child’s right to have a personal relationship with the parent with whom the child does not live is undeniable and cannot be limited but in exceptional circumstances, provided by law, circumstances that are likely to endanger the physical or psychological integrity of the child. Pursuant to Article 19 par. (2) of Law No. 272/2004 the court may restrict the parent’s relationship with thechild in the case when this is in the best interests of the child. Moreover, with a view to continuing or maintaining the child’s relationship with the parent and achieving the visit program, the court may establish, when necessary, a series of ensuring measures or warranties (fine in the situation when bringing the child is delayed – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No. 272/2004, lodging a real or personal guarantee by the parent who is to take the child – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No. 272/2004 or leaving the passport or identity document – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No.272/2004).

From all these legal provisions can be concluded that the personal connection of a parent with his/her child may be restricted only if, objectively, that parent’s behavior or actions are a danger to the emotional balance or physical safety of the child. Hence it follows that denigrating the parent who does not live with the child by the other parent is abusive. The simple fact that the parent living with the child has an antipathy (more or less justified personally) to the other parent and does not want the minor’s relationship with the alienated parent to be close, not only that this is not a reason for restricting the relationship, but it is even an emotional abuse. A proper emotional development of a child requires affective bond with both parents, and placing the child in a position to refuse to meet with a parent for the sake of the other parent causes most often, inner conflicts and damaging effects in the child’s soul, leading to depression, suicidal ideas, low self-esteem, behavioral disturbances, etc.

Assistant professor Andreea Elena MATIC1Assistant professor Ştefania Cristina MIRICĂ2


All across Europe right now there is a movement towards greater understanding of parental alienation and how to treat it. With the World Health Organisation’s inclusion of parental alienation as an index term for parent-child relationship problems in the ICD-11, the fog around of the issue of a child suffering induced psychological splitting as a defence in the post separation landscape is clearing.

When we are able to discuss the reality of what parental alienation does to a child, the need to intervene becomes clear.  For many years, the emphasis in parental alienation has been upon whether one parent is deliberately causing a child to reject the other parent or whether the other parent has contributed in some way. This continuation of the he said/she said battle which occurs naturally in family separation, has been inflamed by the continued politically motivated arguments about Gardner which have at their heart a determined campaign of denigration designed to destroy anyone who gets close to the truth of what parental alienation actually is.

Parental alienation is the induced psychological splitting defence in a child which causes them to align with one parent in a pathological fusion which renders them captive to that parent’s intra-psychic conflicts. The by-product of this fusion is the rejection of the other parent. (Karen and Nick Woodall 2019)

Stripping away the political arguments which fog our understanding, the reality of what we are dealing with when we are working with alienated children is the induced psychologically split state of mind in the child. Finding out how that was induced is part of the differentiation journey, treating the split state of mind is about intervention.

In this model of understanding, the rejection of a parent is a by-product of the problem the child faces, it is the signal that tells us that something is wrong in the family system.  When we understand parental alienation from this perspective, not only does the problem become clear, the need to intervene is also clarified. A child who is in a fused pathological alignment with a parent is a child who is not being given the parental care they have a right to expect.  Not only is the child pathologically fused and thereby susceptible to all of the intra-psychic conflicts of that parent (intra-psychic meaning internalised and conflicts meaning unresolved psychological issues), they are forced into a position where they must refuse the healthy parenting available to them from the rejected parent.

In all of the work that I have done over the years to dig up the reality of how parental alienation happens to children I have been aware that psychological splitting (the division of experiences into good/bad with no shades of ambivalence in between), is a driving force.  I had not realised until recently just how much of a driving force it actually is and how the cause of the splitting in the child is amplified by the cultural and situational environment in which the family lives.  As we have come ever closer to the lived experience of children with induced psychological splitting and we develop understanding of how one split leads to other splits, it becomes ever clearer that the fogging of the issue as a contact dispute and the loud fighting from the anti-pa campaigners hides the truth.  

Children with induced psychological splitting are defending a psychologically unwell parent, in a maladaptive relational dynamic in which their right to a healthy childhood is being erased.   

This is why parental alienation is child abuse.  This is why the fogging has gone on for so long.  Children’s rights to a healthy childhood have been erased by five decades or more of focus upon the problem of parental alienation as a dispute about ‘contact’, when in fact the problem is that children who reject a parent are using induced psychological splitting as a defence. And that defence causes all of the symptoms curated by Gardner and the symptoms used by Childress in his model and that defence is induced by pressure upon the child from somewhere in the family system.

I used to think that the splitting of parents into good parent/bad parent was the defining feature of parental alienation, as we dig deeper we come to understand that this is merely a projection of the child’s own split self in which the bad part of the child is split off and denied and an omnipotent self is elevated to control of the family system. This narcissistic split, which is infantile in nature, is the cause of all of the child’s symptoms of alienation and is what we must treat if we are going to help the child to integrate the projected splitting onto the parents.  When that split is treated, the projection onto the parents is withdrawn and the child is able to allow the incoming love of the parent they have been rejecting, thereby allowing the protective ameliorating influence which loosens the pathologically fused state of mind in the child.

How much easier would it be if when a child raises the red flag of induced psychological splitting after family separation, we automatically began the process of assessment and differentiation, just as we would if a child had symptoms of being on the autism spectrum?

Instead we find ourselves spending weeks, months, years sometimes trying to establish what has happened and who is the cause of it and as specialists in this field we spend our time having to fight off incoming attacks on our reputation and campaigns of denigration.

Who would do this work when it is so challenging and often detrimental to our wellbeing, our career and reputation?

The answer to that question is that those who understand the fogging which has obscured the reality of the abuse of children of divorce and separation,  cannot and will not stop until the fog is cleared. Because our awareness of the harm done to children who suffer induced psychological splitting, will not let us stop.

In Romania they are far ahead of us in the UK and there is much to learn from our colleagues there.  The work of Simona Vlădică Ph.D who has driven much of the change seen in Romania and who organised the conference this week is powerful and we are extremely proud of her achievements and grateful to work with her in Europe.

In Croatia, where FSC is presenting a public lecture with our colleagues from the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb in the coming weeks, there are continued strong challenges to this knowledge base. The fog is clearing here too but there is still much work to be done with our colleagues led by Prof. Dr. Gordana Buljan Flander a powerful advocate for change in Europe with whom we are delighted to work.

Working together with colleagues who understand, we are stronger and our health and wellbeing is protected by our mutual care and determination to make life different for abused children of divorce and separation throughout Europe.

EAPAP News: The EAPAP Board meets in Switzerland in August to continue the work of developing training and standards of intervention which follow from the Conference in London last year.  Statements on practice standards in this field will be produced as part of this meeting and I will update with news here in due course.

EAPAP Board Members can be found here

The EAPAP statement on use of therapy in cases of parental alienation can be found here




  1. Hanks for encouraging news. Wilfrid just wrote that er shall prepare together for the EAPAP meeting Best/Lena Skickat från min iPhone


  2. Hi Karen,
    Do you have any journal articles or other documents written by Simona Vlădică in English? So encouraging to hear about the advances other countries have made. It is also so interesting that PA is a problem in so many culturally diverse countries and not just a Westernised issue.


  3. Dear Ms. Woodall,
    Almost a decade ago, my daughter was removed from not only my life, but from the lives of her two older sisters and extended family by means of a sudden and drastically manipulative move by her father, my ex-husband and a citizen of Great Britain, whom I met here in the US in 2000. In an act of pure vengeance, after gaining custody through manipulative slander, lies, and narcisstic behaviors during which time she was allowed no contact with any family members whatsoever, he secretly planned and carried out his departure from the US without a word to anyone. My child was gone in the blink of an eye. My world was forever changed. With investigative help of my oldest daughter we discovered rumors that he was in Greece.
    Through extensive online research, I located his parents in Suffolk County, England in 2012 and reached out to his mother, making a passionate plea to assist me in making contact with him and my daughter. It was a shot in the dark; I didn’t expect a response as he had isolated himself from his own parents for most of his adult life and assumed she most likely had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
    My world changed again when I received a call from him a few weeks later. I held no contempt; words cannot describe the joy of having established a link to my precious child! After easing into and working on the repair of mine and my daughter’s relationship via telephone, letters, and eventually Skype, I traveled to England in 2014 for a planned visit of one week. Although D**** (my daughter) was now almost 11 and had verbalized details during phone visits of how “there would be no mushy crying and hugging because I’m too old for that stuff”, when our eyes met in the crowded airport, I immediately sank to my knees and she ran to me, jumped into my arms and we both cried happy tears and refused to let go. We sat right down in the floor and I held her and we rocked one another and finally we were whole again in a space of minutes. We sniffed each other’s hair and laughed and relished the moment neither of us expected to happen as her father watched from the edge of a crowd that had gathered around us, strangers sharing in our pure love and joy with applause and tears and snapping of photos. Again, our worlds changed. We spent the next 7 days in a dreamlike existence I will cherish forever. Things went great, plans were made.
    Almost immediately after I returned to the US, something went wrong. My calls were gradually ignored. Her voice wasn’t right. I found myself begging him, again and again, to allow her to hear my voice, and I hers. Weeks turned into months. On rare occasion, she spoke to me long enough to say she was busy with homework. We lost each other again.
    Communication was rare. He and she were both hostile. Hanging up on me, being downright ugly and affording me no explanation as to what I may have done or not done to be so shut out all over again.
    Tree years later, At my insistence, I again visited in 2017. I spent 10 days in a nightmare where I could watch her interact with him and her best friend, they laughed and seemed comfortable, she was distantly polite. I immediately embraced her at the airport and she went stiff and asked why they had to wait so long after my plane touched down. She stayed as far from me as physically possible. Truly it was as if I were being led around by the Ghost of Marley, being allowed glimpses into a world I was no longer alive in. It took more control than I would have ever imagined in myself to not run away, I desperately wanted to remove myself from the bizarre feeling of
    this detached reality, but I knew to do so would be yet another thing I “did wrong”. I convinced myself that I was lucky to be sleeping in a room across the hall from my sweet D***** every day ended with me stifling gut wrenching sobs into my pillow, nights were long as I stood just inside the door of my room in the darkness straining my ears to hear her breathing while she slept;. I began to believe that I deserved this. I should have tried harder, done more….
    I faded into the background and tried to be genuine with smiles and kind words the few times I was acknowledged. I became compliant to his control, and hers, in order to avoid any negative event during my time there. This October will be two years since I’ve heard her voice.


    1. Dear Jenn, your story has moved me to tears, it is so much the story of so many people and a scene of unbearable pain and sadness. My sadness is not just for you but for your D whose life is blighted although she does not know it. I am stunned into silence by how much suffering goes on in the name of this terrible problem. I know the scenario you describe, the distance, the politeness, the zombification. I know what causes it (psychological splitting) and how to cuts the child off from half of their own experience so that the attachment goes into deep freeze and the child appears as a contained self needing nothing from you. It is a horrendous experience. I am glad that being here helps, that is my intention. I want you and everyone who comes here to know that you are understood, your pain is recognised and that there are people in the world who will not stop working to bring this to light. There is so much work going on to raise this issue to consciousness. My key focus right now is working on getting a new generation of practitioners to the coal face, people who understand the problem and how to help people. I am working with so many families who have suffered this for decades, helping them to recover from the complex PTSD that it causes and helping them to live with the unlivable with. My major aim in the next five years is to bring a workforce forward that can assist people so that there is more than a blog to help you. In the USA we are working on bringing therapeutic support groups together along the lines of AL Anon and we are training therapists to run these – we are working hard in Europe to standardise interventions and train the legal profession to understand what is necessary to help families. We are building an international academy to develop best practice. I want you to know that we will not stop, in the name of your D and in the name of all of the children who are suffering this. Sending you my warmest wishes, you are welcome here and I will hold you in mind as I do my work. K


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