This week I have been reading research undertaken at Brunel University which purports to highlight the risk that abusive men are using parental alienation in the UK to gain access to their children.
There have been great strides in the UK in recent years in terms of understanding parental alienation as a reality affecting families, to the degree where even CAFCASS have accepted that it exists. Work to understand and intervene in cases where children are completely rejecting a parent has been significant and partnership work between legal and mental health professionals has demonstrated the reality of what happens when the court does not give up on these children.
Whilst the research from Adrienne Barnett attempts to persuade the reader that it is a comprehensive review of parental alienation in the UK family courts, in reality it is a simple deconstruction of forty published judgements, all of which are analysed through a feminist lens. In that respect does it tell us much about parental alienation in the UK family courts? Not really. What it does tell us is that the drive to return the issue of a child’s induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation back into the land of gender wars, is once again increasing.
Make no mistake, the feminist agenda in relation to parental alienation is to discredit, deny and dismiss its reality and place it firmly in the centre of a gender war.
No matter that mothers are being alienated at a significant rate, no matter that children are suffering, the project here is to discredit the concept of parental alienation and ensure that it is only ever seen as a he said/she said issue through a lens where fathers are always suspect and mothers are always at risk.
And to achieve that aim, research like this will demonise anyone who works in this field in order to ensure that the work being done is slowed down, damaged or arrested.
We know that this research is undertaken through a feminist lens because of the language which is used and the assumptions which are promoted throughout, one of which is quite simply eye watering in the conclusion drawn which is –
It is no coincidence, it is suggested, that PA, in its initial form of parental alienation syndrome (PAS), emerged when the courts recognised domestic violence as a factor militating against contact.
This bald claim is the very core of the feminist resistance to parental alienation. The belief that it only exists because the family courts became aware of domestic violence and stopped fathers from having contact with their children because of it. Following this logic, this in simple terms means that everyone who is rejected by their children has caused that to happen themselves. If parental alienation is a response to contact being stopped then everyone who claims parental alienation is abusive and is using the claim to get access to their children.
This ideological view of parental alientation however, simply does not stand up to scrutiny because the more that children who are alienated are understood and helped, the less validity can be attached to this claim.
To understand the feminist strategy of dragging the issue of PA back into the gender war, let’s go back in time to see where parental alienation first emerged as a concept – right back into the early seventies where in the western world, women were taking advantage of the changes in divorce laws and leaving their spouses in droves taking their children with them.
Parental alienation was first noticed in the days when divorce was becoming more common, during a time when the emergence of second wave feminism create the idea of a gender war.
The gender war, which is located in the notion that women are always disadvantaged in a patriarchal society, means that in this paradigm, mothers are always at risk, fathers are always risky unless proved otherwise and children are simply part of the mother/child dyad.
The gender war is a false war, created to make women believe that their needs are always going to be put second to men in a world in which everyone is born into a structure which always advantages men.
Within the field of social policy governing family separation, in the UK at least, this gender war, set against the backdrop of feminist control of social policy, meant that fathers were pushed out of the family and seen as being the primary provider for a mother and her children who were hence forth to be supported by the state and by a punitive child support system. As Patricia Hewitt stated in a 1992 report some twenty years after the reform of the divorce laws –
‘It cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social cohesion’.
There is an alternative view to that promoted by Brunel School of Law in this short piece of attention grabbing research. A view in which is not based in gendered ideology and which is about how families adjust to change and how the dynamics within families, which exist within the individuals and which become apparent in the crisis of family separation, create the conditions for alienation of a child.
Far from the issue of parental alienation coming into consciousness because of the family courts becoming aware of domestic violence, in the concentric circles of social policy, ideology and blame, one could say that the phenomenon of induced psychological splitting in children is seen because of the lack of support for families in making the crossing from together to apart.
I wrote about this extensively for OXFAM and produced a guide which assisted service providers to enable separated fathers to be supported. Having always believed that feminism stood for equality, I could not understand when I was confronted with the outcome of my research, how social policy could be so weighted against men. So much so in fact that not only were men driven out of the family by social policy, they were then blamed for disappearing!
You can read about my work as a feminist in the foreign land of working for equality in separated family services here
Whilst I took off the feminist blinkers a long time ago and found myself living and working with a 360 degree vision because of it, I remain aware of how dangerous it is to anyone who stands up against it and speaks of a different way to live and work.
Regardless of the fact that I assist as many alienated mothers as fathers and regardless of the fact that I face stalking and harassment from abusive fathers who make claims of alienation and who turn their attentions to me when I will not support those claims, it is feminists who have threatened, stalked and harassed me the most. To the degree now where the Metropolitan Police are involved in protecting me.
This refusal to accept other views and determination to discredit anyone who will not share theirs, is a pattern of behaviour in feminist activists, which is turned upon everyone who refuses to accept the line that all fathers are a risk to their children and all mothers are angels.
Adrienne Barnett clearly believes in feminist ideology and clearly wishes to ensure that mothers are always prioritised over men. Hence the cherry picked quotes and naming of people who work in this field to support her conclusions. As such this research is nothing other than a determined drive to discredit the concept of parental alienation and reset the landscape in favour of the belief that all fathers are abusive until proved otherwise
I found the unnecessary denigration of my fellow therapists and psychologists in this research disturbing. Where does research stop being objective and the covert intention of the researcher become palpable? In this case, it is in the language used to diminish the work of even the most established institutions who work in this field.
I am not going to flag the paragraphs that show the intent of this researcher to damage the work of my fellow psychologists and psychotherapists. I know what it is like to have people pick out my name and put it on the internet with deliberate intent to do harm to the work that I do. What I found most shameful about this research is the absolute intent to do just that in order to do damage. And all in the furtherance of a feminist agenda.
Referring to the development of this field in practice, the author of the research cribs that an ‘industry’ has grown up in response to the use of parental alienation as a false allegation against mothers by abusive fathers. This ‘industry’ of psychologists and psychotherapists, is characterised as being disbelieving of mothers to the advantage of abusive fathers.
To characterise this evolving field as being an ‘industry’ is a deliberate ideological tactic which is used to try to diminish the work being done. Feminists don’t like it when domestic violence services are referred to as an industry but they don’t mind using the same tactic when it comes to discrediting anything which might shift power away from women.
All of that said, there is an essential question arising out of this research which demands attention and that is, do false claims of parental alienation exist?
Working without the feminist lens, next week I am going to unpack that question in full because it is of serious concern that parental alienation is used as a false allegation and that without stringent guidelines for practice in this field, there is a risk that naive practitioners will fall into the trap of assuming that all children’s rejection of a parent is caused by parental alienation.
Anyone who does this work has to be alive to the risk of bias and has to be capable of utilising an assessment and differentiation process that reduces that risk to as close to zero as it is humanly possible to get.
Practitioners also have to be prepared to face the wrath of the angry, vengeful parent who does not like the outcome of such an assessment. Just like there are angry, vengeful alienating mothers who are determined to attack those of us who do this work, there are indeed angry, vengeful abusive fathers who turn their rage upon the assessor when they do not get what they want.
And in this area of risk, there are self identified PA experts popping up like mushrooms in a field across Europe. There is also a rise in parents setting themselves up as coaches and untrained commentators proposing schemes to prevent parental alienation who suggest that the court is no place to assess risk (a claim which makes me feel faint with anxiety). Whilst this approach may be welcomed in some quarters as being evidence of a collegiate field, it is an absolute disaster in the fight to establish this field as being settled science and here is why.
Campaigns which are run without differentiating between real cases of alienation and false claims and which propose, amongst other things, that parental alienation can be treated outside of the court arena, do serious damage to genuinely suffering parents and their children. Such campaigns also risk bringing the roof of the whole project to establish this field as settled science down, when the reality of how these groups are used by abusive men becomes evident.
This is why one of the major tasks which those of us who have been in this field for a long time have identified, is how to set and maintain scientific standards of practice.
We can and do take the greatest care with children’s lives, without having to be driven by ideological research. Children suffering from induced psychological splitting can and are being helped, not by dragging the subject of parental alienation back into the gender war but by maintaining a steady focused course to establish the scientific field.
This is why careful assessment and differentiation is necessary, this is why the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners has been established.
The world is not as black and white as this research would have you believe and mothers as well as fathers are driven out of their children’s lives, sometimes forever, because of the efforts of researchers like this to shut down the work and silence those who do it.
Those of us concerned with moving this scientific field forward in practice must however, grapple with the questions this kind of research raises and we must do so without being dragged back into the gender war.
Children’s unjustified rejection of parents is a mental health issue, it is not about good mothers and bad fathers, it does not belong in the gender war narrative and it is not about conflict between parents.
Parental alienation is about the defence of psychological splitting which is induced in children in the the post separation landscape and it requires assessment, differentiation and treatment to prevent children from suffering from the impact of unresolved splitting in later life.
Parental alienation is also used as a false allegation and we must be brave enough to say it even in the face of black and white thinking which is created by blinkered research like this.
This landscape is not black and white, there are many shades of grey across this spectrum and the court is the right place to assess the risk and hold the interventions properly in place.
The ones who lose the most if we allow this work to be diluted, diminished and dragged back into the gender war are children.
Whilst I work in the field of parental alienation I am not someone who sees parental alienation in every case I work in.
This is because not all claims of parental alienation are real and without careful assessment and differentiation, it is not possible to know the difference.
So whilst I find ideological research such as this deeply problematic, I am not going to shy away from the big question which arises from it, which is, can parental alienation be used as a false allegation?
I have written about this previously and next week I will write a second blog in response to this research in which I will examine further the reality of parental alienation as a false allegation and the need for internationally recognised standards of practice to reduce risk to children and their families.
Preventing abusive people having access to vulnerable families, is in my view one of the most important elements of our differentiation and assessment process in parental alienation. Just as inducing psychological splitting in a child causes serious emotional and psychological harm, so does making a false claim of parental alienation.
In an increasingly unmanaged field, where campaigns are led by untrained people who do not discriminate in terms of who is involved, protecting vulnerable families has to be the most urgent task of any serious clinician in this field.
This is why the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners has been set up, to ensure that anyone who practices in this field is using proper assessment and differentiation routes and that all of this work is properly held by the court.
Whilst I profoundly disagree with research like this from Adrienne Barnett, I do not disagree with the need for protection of these extremely vulnerable families from risk of harm and the work of EAPAP, to set and maintain standards of practice in assessment, differentiation and treatment in cases of parental alienation, will do just that.
Prevention, Integration and Standardised Practice – EAPAP2020 – Zagreb, Croatia
This is a practitioner only conference. We have had a powerful response from professionals already, with early bird registrations demonstrating the level of interest in developing practice in this field.
The conference is open to any practitioner with an interest in this field, including legal professionals and mental health professionals at all levels. It is focused upon standardising practice in cases of parental alienation and building a workforce across Europe which is skilled in meeting the needs of this particular group of families.
Parents may view parts of this conference via a streaming option and a Q&A session with key speakers will be held during the two days.
A workshop for parents will be offered separately, more details on this shortly.
Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification
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