In recent months my work with families affected by a child’s outright rejection of a parent after family separation has demonstrated that the splitting behaviours seen in the child are the core trigger for everything else that occurs in the family afterwards. What went before, what lead to the splitting, is how we determine where to begin our intervention.
Understanding how the child came to be forced to use the defence of splitting is part of the forensic analysis which enables us to recognise where the pressure to split as a defence comes from. When we understand this, we can build the therapeutic treatment route which will release the child from using the defence.
Having done this work for many years, I have long thought that the only route to treatment is to remove the child from the influencing parent and indeed, I have done that work many times over. In cases where there is evidence of shared delusional disorder, (also called folie a deux by psychiatrists in the UK ), removal is of course, still likely to be necessary. But in cases where a child is using the defence of splitting and there is no evidence of such disorder or any other personality disorder, it is evident that removal of the child is not always necessary in order to repair the damage being done to the child and restore the family to health.
Psychological splitting is a defence mechanism which can be described by using Object Relations Theory as the inability to hold two realities together. We can go further than that though in terms of understanding how the defence of psychological splitting is the core problem in parental alienation by explaining it simply as follows –
Our sense of self and our sense of our relationship with others is felt internally in the mind as well as experienced externally.
In our internal world our external relationships are experienced as ‘objects’, which means that those we love can be brought to mind even though we are not with them. Go on, try it now, think of the people who loved you when you were little, you will find they live inside your mind with you even if they are no longer living in real life. These are not memories in a one dimensional way, they are felt as relationships within you. These are your internal objects.
When splitting is forced upon a child, they are forced to divide their sense of self AND their internalised object relationships with mum and dad into two parts. The part of the self which is split off and made unconscious is that part which is being derided or denigrated by an alienating parent in order to force the child into alignment with their world view.
Now the child feels, only that part of the self which remains conscious in their mind, that part of the self which is identified with the parent who has forced the alignment.
At the same time, the child denies all conscious awareness of that part which has been split off and made unconscious and over identifies with the parent who has caused the alignment. A denial and projection dynamic now occurs.
In denial there is an accompanying projection. In the case of splitting in parental alienation, the projection of the ‘bad’ parts which are in the child’s unconscious, is upon the ‘object’ (internalised relationship) which is now split in two – one parent is the good parent and the other parent is the bad parent. The child can no longer recognise that mum and dad are both good and bad and has divided them into two upon which they project the split off identifications of the self.
The reason children become cold, cruel and vicious in the projection onto the bad parent is because they are defending against the ashamed and guilty parts of their own self which are now unconscious.
In short the splitting of the self and object causes lack of empathy and cruelty because of what has happened to the child. The denial and projection is part of the defence of splitting and the eight signs noticed by Gardner are all the result of one thing – the induced psychological splitting defence in the child.
This is a readily recognisable defence mechanism which has lain hidden in plain sight for fifty years. It has been referenced in some areas, particularly in work which is focused upon the alienated child and it is referenced in the research work of Rohner, Bernet and Reay but in terms of treatment and understanding the problem of parental alienation as a defence mechanism in a child, we are moving into new understanding and new approaches to resolution of the problem.
Working from the perspective of the child who is suffering this, it becomes possible to understand and intervene in ways that properly enable the child to drop the defence.
In our structured programmes, which utilise the court to manage power and control dynamics, therapeutic work becomes possible as well as successful. How we describe success however is essential to define because it is not that we are looking at helping the child to simply tolerate the split off object of the parent who has been rejected, we are seeking to help the child to resolve the split state of mind and return to an unconscious experience of childhood.
In our therapeutic programmes, we are going further than trying to remove a child from one parent and hold them separate from the influencing parent for long enough for the split to integrate, we are working with a reorganisation of the original causal dynamics to enable the defence in the child to drop and the unblocking of the incoming parental care which returns the child to the correct place in the family hierarchy.
I have long been interested in how to treat the problem which up until recently we have accepted as parental alienation. I have also been interested in how many interventions simply fail in treatment, which means that child remains rejecting of a parent, leaving only removal from the control of a parent as the treatment which is most effective.
As I have done this work however, I have also seen that in some situations, removal from the influencing parent fails, suggesting that there is something other than the influence of the parent which is causing the child’s fixed rejection to continue.
And that something other is, in my experience of treating these families, the defence mechanism of psychological splitting, which, when induced in the child, can become fixed and unchanging, meaning that even on removal from the parent who has induced it, the child cannot drop the defence and allow the incoming care of the parent to return. In some cases, where unaware professionals collude to uphold the child’s defence by validating the maladaptive beliefs within the family, the defence continues because it is literally held in place by those professionals. In short, unaware professionals can cause serious harm to a child because they act in ways that prolong the defence rather than enabling it to drop.
When professionals understand the harm that they cause in enabling the child to maintain the defence they will learn how to work in teams using the counter intuitive approaches to resolution. Until now however, the focus on the controversy around parental alienation as a subject has caused a misplaced focus in such situations, it is time to correct that by explaining the reality of what parental alienation really is.
Psychological splitting is well explained in the psychoanalytical literature and it gives a whole new route to understanding and treating this problem. For any therapist who is interested in treatment, the combination of principles and protocols of work with this group of families with psychoanalytical thinking and structural family therapy is a powerful route to resolution. When the Court is educated to understand its role as the ‘super parent’ because the capacity to hold that framework is outwith the capacity of the family system, structured interventions are successful. The key to all of this is the legal and mental health interlocking partnership, both are necessary to trigger the dynamic change which invests the practitioner with the power to change the power dynamics.
Parental alienation is a social ill which has had a negative impact on generations of children and we need a worldwide workforce capable of treating this problem. This is not an impossible family dynamic to treat, it is not mysterious (although it has taken us several years to fully understand it in treatment) and it can and is being resolved in our structured programmes.
This is no ordinary therapy but this is no ordinary problem either. Using recognised principles and protocols which allow us to adapt all therapies, practitioners with the determined personality which is comfortable with leadership and guidance, can intervene successfully.
Psychological splitting in the landscape of divorce and separation wreaks havoc in the lives of families and causes professionals around the family to suffer splitting as a response to this extremely powerful dynamic. Being in the midst of this requires tenacity, courage and grace. It requires a practitioner to know when to intervene and how and when to recognise the capacity of the family system to heal itself. And all in the middle of a conflicted space which is surrounded by adversarial dynamics.
Building that worldwide workforce is what we are now focused upon and through our work with EAPAP we see already a growing group of those determined practitioners who can successfully treat this problem. With the EAPAP Conference heading rapidly towards full capacity, the paradigm shift from studying the problem to developing treatments is complete.
With seventeen countries involved in the development of practice via EAPAP, we are achieving our vision of a worldwide workforce, trained to use principles and protocols in combination with adapted therapies, to bring rapid resolution.
Using our skill, knowledge and work with these families we are changing the world for alienated children. Come and join us.
Reformulating Practice With Families Affected by a Child’s Induced Psychological Splitting – EAPAP 2020
Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification
The theme of this conference is the reformulation of practice with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting.
Over two days the conference will unpack and unpick thinking around cases of parental alienation to shift the focus to the core defence seen in the child and how the principles and protocols of practice with families affected by this can be configured in ways that bring rapid resolutions.
Featuring detailed master classes in each of the areas known to contribute to the onset of induced psychological splitting in a child, practitioners will be enabled to understand the stepwise approach required to reformulate their own practice effectively.
Power and Control
Psychiatric impact of induced psychological splitting in childhood
Legal and Mental Health Interlocking Relationship for Case Management
Adapted Therapies for Successful Treatment of Parental Alienation
Please note that due to extremely high demand for places on this practitioner only conference limited tickets are left.
If you plan to attend you must BOOK NOW
Standard fee. – 169,00 EUR / February 01 – March 15, 2020
Late registration fee – 203,00 EUR / from March 16, 2020
All prices include VAT.