The principles and Protocols of working with alienated children and families are not difficult to learn, they are not difficult to teach either to people already trained, qualified and experienced in psychology or psychotherapy. Even social workers, in fact especially social workers, can learn and apply the principles of reunification work because they hold the statutory power which allows them to safeguard children.
The problem we face in getting people to understand this, is that as yet, we have not fully made the case which demonstrates that a child’s induced psychological splitting, which is also known as parental alienation, is a real form of child abuse. This is where the work of EAPAP is heading, to make that case and evidence it. Then and only then will we see the tide turning in terms of safeguarding alienated children.
The current state of play in the UK in terms of recognising the harm that alienated children are suffering is pretty grim. It reminds me of the seventies, a decade I grew up in, where sexually abused children were ignored and silenced or worse, they were blamed for being provocative. We did not understand then, that children who are sexually abused, who are at times precocious or sexualised in their behaviours because of the abuse they suffered, were displaying, in the only way they possessed, the harm that had befallen them.
Back then, just like now, the adults who could and should be responsible for listening with an interpretive ear, failed to recognise what was happening. Only when the perpetrators were either dead or made powerless by age, did those children have the confidence to speak up. In my view, there is little difference between what happened to them and what has happened to generations of children who have been forced to use psychological splitting to survive in divorce and separation. Alienated children are waving red flags and the people who can help them are ignoring them, or worse, they are intervening to help the alienating (abusing) parent maintain control.
How we fully change turn this tide is going to be down to the way that we explain what is happening to these children because so far it seems we haven’t done this well enough. I would say in fact that we have failed, especially with social workers and Guardians who in my experience either struggle to understand or if they do, are prevented from doing what is right by the systems they work within, systems which are largely concentrated on giving children a voice in proceedings.
When the voice of the child that these people listen to is the maladapted voice, it is easy to see how so many alienated children are desperately failed by statutory services. Just like in the seventies with sexually abused children, interpreting the behaviours of children instead of taking them at their maladapted word, is what is required.
It is our job now to make sure that the key to understanding these children is put in the hands of as many as possible, so that these generations do not have to wait until the people who harmed them are old and dying to get the help that they need. In order to do that we are going to have to change the message making about parental alienation somewhat to help people to properly understand the problem.
So far we have been using the following messages, all of which have allowed the continued abuse of children in divorce and separation –
- Parental alienation is about high conflict
- Parental alienation is about brainwashing children leading to the belief that
- Parental alienation can only be resolved by using de-brainwashing techniques
- Resolving alienation requires that alienation is proved in court
All of these messages have led to the lack of understanding of the issues facing families and through that the lack of help available to them because –
- Leading people to believe that PA is about high conflict means that both parents can be blamed
- Leading people to believe that parental alienation is about brainwashing children means that people believe that only de-brainwashing programmes will resolve the problem
- If parental alienation has to be proved in court before anything can change then the harm being done to children continues whilst a long drawn out court battle is played out
- Believing that emotional and psychological abuse is less damaging than physical or sexual abuse allows for lack of engagement with the reality of harm being done
None of this is actually true when the problem we call parental alienation is properly understood and I would argue that it has not been properly understood – yet.
With clinicians around the world who are working with alienated children and their families, we are able to understand brainwashing as a defence mechanism which is induced and that this defence mechanism can be understood and worked with therapeutically if we extract the principles and protocols of this work and combine them with psychoanalytical analysis and adapted therapies to build structured interventions.
When we work with this defence mechanism by removing the necessity for it to be in play, children resolve the split state of mind and return to the unconscious work and play of childhood. This means clearing the forces around the child which are configured to pressure the induction of the defence.
We know that when we intervene in this way we are successful because we see it working, we see it working both inside and outside of the court process and with children of all ages.
As we move with EAPAP into curation of standards of practice, we are also busy developing and delivering the training and supervision protocols which can be taught to other therapists and psychologists. When we have our judicial training programme ready the final piece of the jigsaw is in place. Combining the Judge as Super Parent with the mental health intervention which is tailored to the individual family dynamic leads to resolution. With an accompanying education programme, the days of arguing about the label parental alienation can be put in the past and a new approach to message making, research, treatment and evaluation can begin.
Key messages for a new decade of education about the problem of alienation of a child after divorce and separation.
- Induced psychological splitting in a child of divorce and separation is a defence mechanism caused by asymmetrical power imbalance in the family, in which one person holds power over the child and is using that to control outcomes.
- The child’s pathological alignment with a parent is a core sign of that power imbalance and requires investigation.
- Rejection of a parent is a by-product of the pathological alignment and not the cause of the problem seen.
- Induced Psychological Splitting causes life long harm, interfering with normal brain development and interrupting healthy development.
- Principles and protocols of successful work with induced psychological splitting can be combined with adapted therapies to create a stepwise approach to treatment of this problem.
- Trained therapists can learn how to deliver this work.
- Social workers and Guardians can assist in holding the framework for corrective therapeutic intervention stable enabling rapid intervention.
Sexually abused children tried to tell us and we didn’t listen until their abusers were no longer holding the power over them because they were dead or dying.
Imagine a world where children who are trying to tell the world about the abuse they are suffering through their behavioural signals are helped in childhood so that they do not have to live with the consequences of not being listened to throughout the whole of their lives.
We learned that sexually abused children tell us that their bodies are being abused through their behavioural signals. We need to learn that alienated children are trying to tell us their minds are being abused in exactly the same way.
Watching behaviour not listening to words is how we will do that.