Our work takes us around the world in terms of training and awareness raising of the issue of parental alienation and the harm it does to children and their families. In a couple of weeks we will be off again, this time to Iceland to assist in consciousness raising and then in March on to Ireland and where we will embed the principles and protocols of best practice within the therapeutic community there.
We are however, always observing what is happening in our home country, particularly in terms of how parental alienation is being presented to families and therefore in this post I want to set down our position on what appears to be a growing attempt to convince people that PA can either be prevented or somehow dealt with outside of the Family Courts.
Parental Alienation is a problem with a human face and whilst it can, in a small handful of cases, be prevented from escalating, it cannot be eradicated or prevented on a widespread basis because it is a complex dynamic with many variables, none of which can be prevented either by eradicating the family court or by educating parents. Anyone who tells you this is possible simply does not understand parental alienation, has never worked with it and is living in a parallel universe of wishful thinking.
You may dislike the family courts, you may distrust the family courts and you may believe that the family courts need reform, but the truth is, without the family courts, parental alienation cannot be managed properly and here is why.
Resolving cases of parental alienation requires the interlocking interventions of the family court and mental health. Those of us who do this work know that this is a given and that anyone suggesting that they can resolve severe parental alienation without that interacting relationship either does not understand alienation or is misleading you.
Whilst mild resistance in a child may respond to the interventions of therapists and psychologists without the court’s intervention , moderate to severe alienation, that which is denoted by Steve Miller’s reduction of the eight signs of alienation to two simple diagnostic criteria will not. The following, which was first published by me in early 2019, explains why not and why the legal and mental health interlock is essential to resolve moderate to severe cases of alienation.
Diagnostic Criteria for Parental Alienation
Dr Steve Miller explained the diagnostic criteria for parental alienation succinctly at the EAPAP conference in London last year.
Dr Miller’s diagnostic criteria separates out estrangement which will resolve over time from parental alienation proper which is denoted by lack of empathy and psychological splitting in the child.
The next step in differentiation of a case of parental alienation, is to determine how the child came to enter into the use of maladaptive coping through the use of psychological splitting, that is the division of belief and feelings about parents into two distinct parts – good and bad – and then how fused that child is with the beliefs of the parent to whom they are aligned.
That is the story of the route into alienation. The reasons why the child is using the defence are the next part of the story to unpack.
Power and Control in Parental Alienation
The next part of the story can only be unpacked when the clinician has some measure of control over the family system. Those who tell you that they can resolve parental alienation outside of the family court system and those who tell you to adjourn the court case whilst they undertake mediation or some other intervention are leading you a merry dance.
Clinicians can only get close enough to a family affected by parental alienation to properly treat it by one of two means.
a) the family agree to the clinician taking charge of the system
b) the family are made to co-operate by some other means
Those other means are, in most countries, the Family Courts, the only method by which the grasp of the controlling parent can be loosened enough for intervention to occur.
Lack of Interest in Family Separation in Social Services
In the UK there is a distinct lack of interest in family separation in social services, those with statutory responsibility for the wellbeing of children. This lack of interest in family separation stems largely from the feminist project to promote the rights of women and the manner in which the needs of children in society are seen as indivisible from the rights and wellbeing of their mother.
Additionally, the promotion of single parenthood and the belief that families come in all shapes and sizes, means that the experiences of children through divorce and separation are seen as somewhat insignificant. Children are expected to ‘get over it’ and so long as their physical needs are met, there is not much concern about their emotional and psychological wellbeing. Children and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) do not specialise in family separation and there are no other statutory services to help children who struggle to cope and therefore the most commonly used resource to deal with the difficulties around children’s relationships with parents after separation, are solicitors.
The Legal and Mental Health Interlock
Which is why families affected by parental alienation end up in the family courts. There are literally no other avenues to use when one parent refuses to get help and the other parent is left desperate and not knowing what else to do. Anyone who has ever been close to a case of parental alienation knows that when the dynamic is locked and active, the aligned parent is utterly fused with the child who in turn dances like a puppet on a string to their ever changing moods. The idea that a family in those circumstances would voluntarily enter a psychologists office is somewhat nonsensical when the usual case scenario is that the alienating parent is very happy with the status quo and effectively wards off any efforts to create dynamic change.
To make change happen therefore, power over the child must be arrested and so the first intervention used has to be the legal one.
Managing a case of alienation legally means arresting the power that one parent has to dominate the child and coercively control their behaviours. When this has been achieved, the mental health assessment and intervention can be applied.
Mental Health Intervention
The mental health intervention begins with assessment and the first differentiation in assessment is to determine whether or not this child is alienated. Using Dr Miller’s diagnostic criterion, it is then possible to progress through an evaluation which uses a wide range of attachment evaluation, consideration of personality disorder, assessment of power and control behaviours and responses to therapeutic testing to determine the route the child took into alienation, which in turn determines the treatment route.
Treatment routes involve structured and adapted therapy, transfers of residence, cessation of contact with the alienating parent and reintroduction of contact under clinical conditions. Running alongside that is therapeutic support to the child to enable the reconfiguration of the psychologically split state of mind through a series of distinct changes towards integration.
At all times, to ensure that the power and control dynamic is kept under control, the mental health intervention is held with the legal framework using the Judge in the role of ‘super parent’ to ensure that the broken family hierarchy is rebuilt and kept stable.
The Right Legal and Mental Health Interlock
Whilst this all sounds simple, right now in the UK we have a mushrooming of interventions which are far less than helpful when it comes to treating parental alienation. Far from any old legal and mental health interlock being useful, the right legal and mental health interlock has to be used to be effective.
As Dr Miller wrote in 2013 and told us in London last year –
Parental alienation cannot be solved by checklists and out of court diagnostics, the only route to resolution is the legal and mental health interlock which arrests the power and control, identifies the dynamics and intervenes to change those and then supports the family in its new configuration.
The education and support of parents who suffer parental alienation must be helped to protect them from those who seek to prey on their vulnerabilities. People who refuse to use the extensive existing research evidence which is shown to produce successful outcomes must be quite simply prevented from being able to do further damage to families.
Parental alienation is a power and control issue, it DEMANDS to be managed by the legal system in order to arrest this and only then can the mental health intervention be properly applied.
When it is applied, the first step is to integrate the child’s split state of mind which means using structured clinical observations of the child’s response to being with the parent they have been rejecting. This comes first, not later and certainly not months down the line in a belief that therapy will create the conditions where the child will suddenly agree to see a parent.
Parental alienation is a serious, life changing and deeply damaging dynamic, it is offensive to families to suggest otherwise. It is underpinned by coercive control dynamics and it needs a serious and sustained legal and mental health partnership to manage it, not wishful thinking.
Be educated, be aware and be careful who you listen to.
Prevention, Education and Standardised Practice 2020
Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification
It is our great honor to invite you to the 3rd European Conference with international participation EAPAP (European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners), which will be organized by Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center in Zagreb on June 15-16, 2020 at the Hilton Garden Inn.
“Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification” is the name of the conference, from which the course of action and goal of EAPAP is clear, namely a deep understanding of alienation and other difficulties for children related to parental separation, as well as the development of clear and scientifically based guidelines for the work of all child protection professionals.
The Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center’s Initiative “28 Conclusions of the Profession in Protecting Children from Emotional Abuse in Parental Divorce: Establishing Good Practice in Croatia” from last summer garnered more than 800 signatures from experts of different profiles from Croatia and the region, after Karen and Nick Woodall’s lecture held in Zagreb,
The lecture was viewed in person and via live stream video by more than 3000 interested experts and specialists.
The excellent response from the Croatian expert public has unambiguously shown the interest, need and goodwill for further development in this area, which is not surprising since about one third of parents’ divorces are highly conflictual and the most frequent victims of adult disagreement, poor system coordination. with relentless flow of time – are kids.
EAPAP is opening a new chapter on child protection in this area in Croatia, and more than twenty eminent lecturers from Europe, the USA and the region are expected, with multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral, scientific, but also practical presentations, discussions and solutions.
We look forward to your arrival and taking new steps in child protection.
On behalf of the Organizing Committee,
Professor Gordana Buljan Flander, M.D., PhD.
The Scientific and Organising Committee of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners are delighted to welcome Jill Salberg Ph.D as our key note speaker for the EAPAP2020 Conference. In our view, Jill’s work in the field of traumatic attachment is an important area for exploration by all clinicians working in this field.
‘When trauma revisits a person trans-generationally through dysregulated and disrupted attachment patterns, it is within the child’s empathic attunement and search for a parental bond that the mode of transmission can be found.‘ Jill Salberg Ph.D
Jill Salberg, Ph.D., ABPP is a clinical associate professor and clinical consultant/supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. Her articles on Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma appear in international psychoanalytic journals and she has co-edited two books with Sue Grand, The Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma, and Transgenerational Trauma and the Other: Dialogues Across History and Difference,(2017). Both books won the Gradiva Award for 2018. She is in private practice in New York, U.S.
The full list of speakers at the EAPAP2020 conference is –
Ass. prof., Primarius Vlatka Boričević Maršanić, MD, PhD, specialist in psychiatry, subspecialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, psychotherapist
Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, permanent court expert
Ass. Prof., Primarius Danijel Crnković, MD, PhD, specialist in psychiatry, subspecialist in biological psychiatry, permanent court expert
Danica Ergovac, Master of Psychology, social worker
Ana Hrabar, mag.iur., lawyer, specialist in children’s rights
Štefica Karačić, President of the Croatian Association of Social Workers
Eleonora Katić, mag.iur., lawyer
Kolinda Kolar, mag.iur., Judge at the Zagreb Municipal Civil Court
Lana Peto Kujundžić, PhD, President of the Zagreb County Court’s Youth Division, President of the Association of Youth Judges, Family Judges and Children and Youth Specialists
Ass. prof. Bruna Profaca, PhD, professor of psychology, clinical psychologist
Renata Šantek, mag.iur., Republic of Croatia Supreme Court Judge
Primarius Domagoj Štimac, MD, PhD, specialist in psychiatry, subspecialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, permanent court expert
Mirela Badurina, PhD, psychotherapist (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Benny Baily phD, Department of Criminology, West Galilee Academic College Research Fellow at the Haruv Institute (Israel)
Dr. Sietske Djistra (The Netherlands)
Dr. Claire Francica (Malta)
Professor Jennifer Harman (USA)
Dr. Inbal Kivenson Bar-On (Israel)
Darja Kuzmanič Korva, mag., Secretary of the Association of Centers for Social Work (Slovenia)
Teodora Minčić, MD, PhD, specialist in medical psychology, court expert (Serbia)
Ass. prof. Milica Pejović Milovančević, MD, PhD, Specialist in Child Psychiatry (Serbia)
Ass. prof. Jill Salberg, PhD (USA)
Simona Vladica, PhD (Romania)
Francesca Wiley QC (United Kingdom)
Karen Woodall Psychotherapist (United Kingdom)
Nick Woodall MA. Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist (United Kingdom)
Presentations and Master Classes will be delivered in the following areas of clinical practice
- The role of trans-generational transmission of trauma in parental alienation
- Reformulating understanding of parental alienation using Object Relations Theory
- Understanding the power and control dynamic and its role in parental alienation
- Attachment trauma and its role in parental alienation
- Understanding induced psychological splitting in a child after divorce and separation
- The role of the legal and mental health interlocking partnership in treatment
- Best practice in working with families in Israel.
- Learning from Romania on prevention and legal management of cases of parental alienation.
- Using principles and protocols of best practice in Malta.
- Interventions adapted from the internationally recognised principles and protocols in Croatia.
- Master class in legal management of parental alienation in the UK
- Towards a new integrative assessment, differentiation and treatment route for parental alienation
- Introducing internationally recognised principles and protocols for assessment, differentiation and treatment of the problem of parental alienation.
The EAPAP2020 conference in Zagreb is for practitioners in mental health and legal management of children’s relationships with parents after family separation including social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, attorneys, solicitors and barristers, Judges etc.
Part of this event will be live streamed for parents and a Q&A session will be held during this section.
We will also be looking at delivering a therapeutic parenting workshop for parents in Croatia and surrounding region during the week of the conference.
Costs for the conference are as follows – we very much look forward to welcoming all interested practitioners to Zagreb in June 2020.
Early registration fee – 122,00 EUR / until January 31, 2020
Standard fee. – 169,00 EUR / February 01 – March 15, 2020
Late registration fee – 203,00 EUR / from March 16, 2020
All prices include VAT.
Registration is now open HERE