Anyone who has worked with alienated children is acutely aware that they cannot be told they are alienated.
Neither can a parent who is influencing a child, be told that they are alienating them.
Nor can a parent who is being rejected tell the outside world that they have not caused the alienation.
Alienation is a supremely clever double bind which traps the person who is the target into a no win situation. If they struggle and shout to draw attention to what they know is being done, they are seen by the others as the cause of the problem, if they remain silent and show no reaction, they are portrayed as cold and heartless. Whichever way the rejected parent moves when the alienation reaction in the child is underway they are destined to lose.
As Steve Miller tells us, the alienators amongst us are cool, charming and they are also calculating. They have an agenda which is either covert (hidden to the outside world and sometimes to themselves) or overt (which is known to the self and discernible to the outside world). When a child is suffering from induced psychological splitting, someone, somewhere is dropping poison into the system. Which is why intuitive thinking is of no value at all in working with these cases. It is also of no value in parenting children who are suffering alienation.
Intuitive thinking means acting logically. A logical sequence of thought looks like this
this child is telling me that the parent they are rejecting is mean and angry with them and does horrible things. When I meet this parent they seem mean and angry, they are agitated and obsessed with the idea that they are being alienated. Logically, this must mean that the child is telling the truth, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, so the parent must be lying and I must act on my intuition and expose this truth.
Many a naive practitioner has followed this route to persecution of the rejected parent, hunting down and confronting the parent with their failings and being triumphant when the parent will not accept the practitioner’s judgment of them. As this pantomime progresses and the rejected parent finds the bind tightening around them, further harm is being done to the child as well as the parent because the healthy part of the child stands by and watches the parent being persecuted by the lies told.
I work with alienated children of all ages, I know and understand the way that this defence mechanism causes the splitting of the self and then the projection of that split out towards the parents. I also know that there are often permeable walls between those splits, in which the healthy child is aware of what the defensive child is doing and at times feels the regulating feelings of guilt and shame, which are suppressed by the defence. This witnessing by the healthy part of the child, of the impact of what the defensive splits are doing to the parent who is being rejected is a horror story all of its own. As one child told me two years after reunification with the parent they had rejected,
‘I knew what I was doing (telling lies) and I knew what was happening to my parent, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so ashamed of what I had done but I had no way of getting out of it, I had told so many lies I didn’t know how I could stop it.’
Recovering from induced splitting, feeling the suppressed guilt and shame, living with the consequences of being forced into a trauma story that does not belong to them is the fate of too many alienated children. Which is why learning to work with these children and their families using the counter intuitive principles and protocols which are necessary to heal the split is essential for all practitioners.
What does counter intuitive mean?
I see a lot written here and there about counter intuitive practice but I don’t see a lot of explanation about what it means. Just as there are many around the world who can tell you what parental alienation is and how to spot it, there are not many who can tell you how to treat it. I hear people say at times that treating it is all just ‘common sense’ which makes me wonder why, if it is common sense, so many parents still suffer from it. I read about the importance of credentials and regulation and evidence based practice or prevention, but I see almost nothing about how to actually assist and alienated child to resolve the split state of mind.
Assisting the child to resolve the split state of mind is what I do and have done for well over a decade. I have assisted children of all ages to resolve the split state of mind and I have assisted families inside and outside of the court system. I know that resolving the split state of mind is the only indicator of success in working with alienated children and their families.
When the split state of mind is resolved the child shifts from defensive splitting to integrated relational health and returns to the unconscious world of childhood. When the split state of mind is resolved in an adult who was alienated as a child, the adult shifts from the regressive anxious position, to an integrated adult self which is capable of functioning effectively in the world. Counter intuitive therapeutic practice is how this is achieved.
In order to deliver that one has to turn the whole of what one knows to be true about the relational world, upside down and back to front. Counter intuitive means just that, being able to act against your intuition rather than with it. So that when a child tells you that a parent has harmed them and that is why they do not wish to see them and there is no evidence of that harm but there is evidence of induced psychological splitting in the child’s omnipotent presentation with attendant lack of empathy, your gaze shifts to the parent the child is aligned to.
There is the problem, even when it looks like love. There is where you will put your focus and attention as you begin to build the structured intervention which removes the power that parent has over the child. When the power is removed you will confront the child with the split off object of the rejected parent and hold that space for long enough for the child to resolve the split state of mind. That is counter intuitive therapeutic work and that is what provides successful integration of the child’s mind. It isn’t common sense unless you are familiar with upside down thinking and it isn’t easy work either, especially in an environment where professionals do not understand this dynamic and so act to sabotage it. Alienation turns a child into an over empowered monster at times and it is far too easy for the unaware professional with too much power to crash into this work and ruin it. But increasingly, with the curation of the principles and protocols, a structured therapeutic intervention which can be learned and delivered successfully by therapists is being brought into being.
Alienation cannot be shoe horned into a generic approach to therapy. There is no existing therapeutic model which can be applied in an unadapted manner which will heal this problem. Despite this however, many practitioners try to force the problem into their own model of working and when it fails they blame the parent rather than recognising their own failure to adapt the model to suit the problem. As Steve Miller tells us, in these circumstances, the child, already injured, suffers further injury at the hands of clinicians who give it a go to see for themselves.
There is a reason why those of us who do this work successfully are launching practice standards this summer at the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners conference, it is because we are concerned about the risk of harm to parents and children who are captured in a double bind of alienation. We are concerned that any therapeutic practice with such families should heal rather than harm and that with the existing knowledge about how to heal, there is no excuse for continued experimentation on such families.
If this were cancer we would not allow this to happen, which is why those of us who do this work successfully are working together to ensure that others can do the same. Practitioners who wilfully refuse to use the research evidence and who continue to practice intuitively will one day be seen to have contributed to the harming of these families. Whilst this may be acceptable now, it will not be acceptable in the coming years, especially as the principles and protocols of successful intervention are increasingly available throughout the world.
Being able to work with alienated children and families means so much more than being able to tell people what alienation is and describe signs and strategies. It means being able to assist children of all ages to resolve the induced psychologically split state of mind and assist the family to recover, repair and rebuild a healthy relational world.
We know that parental alienation exists, we know what it looks like, the focus now must be on getting successful help to as many families as we possibly can.
Nothing more is necessary, nothing less will do.
Family Separation Clinic – Training Diary – January to June 2020
(In addition to the international trainings below, FSC is delivering training in the UK to the Family Mediation Association throughout the year, is booked for training to Relate and is in discussion with practitioners in Northern Ireland about in-house training.
Additional practitioner trainings will be added for the UK shortly.
The UK Therapeutic Parenting Workshop in London on March 14th now has only two places left. Book here.
Parent workshops will also be added around the world throughout the year.
January Iceland -Félag um foreldrajafnrétt – Professionals training
March 5/6/7 Ireland -Caidreamh, Cork. Professionals training – booking details
April Poland – Children’s Rights Committee Conference, Warsaw. Keynote speech
May FSC development training for USA practitioners
(email – office@familyseparation clinic.co.uk for details of USA training)