Working with other clinicians allows me to formulate new way of educating others about how to approach cases of a child being induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation. Lately we have been discussing how to help social workers, people we often work with in teams, to understand the concept of alienation using the idea of non accidental injury to the mind of a child.
I have also been discussing how to use the treatment approach to helping abused women and men to break free from the harm they are experiencing and how this relates to alienation in children.
Constrain, protect and treat is an easy way to think about the formula we are using in alienation. It is the same formula as that used in non accidental injury cases by social workers and by people working with survivors of domestic abuse.
This formula translates well for those who are working in this field therapeutically, it helps to clarify how such interventions should be made and why they should be made in this order. Let’s begin with the formula and its use in non accidental injury and domestic abuse.
In times of crisis we do not offer therapy. Crisis prevents people from being able to reflect upon their experience and is ineffective and at times harmful to them as it expects them to have the capacity to do something they are incapable of (no-one can reflect upon their world when they are dysregulated).
When a child has suffered non accidental injury, our first action is to constrain the person who has caused this. When someone is suffering domestic abuse, our first action is to find ways to constrain the perpetrator (whilst supporting the person to find practical ways out of the situation). In alienation of a child, we do not expect a child to enter into therapy without constraining the person who is causing the problem.
Step 1 – Constrain – Ensure that the influencing parent is prevented from controlling the child.
When a child has suffered non accidental injury, we build a protective space for the child to live in. When someone has experienced domestic abuse we build a route to a protected space for them to feel safe in. When a child has been alienated, we focus upon ensuring that a protected space is made for them which is away from the parent who has caused the problem.
Step 2 – Protect – Ensure that the child is enabled to spend time in protected space, away from the parent who is causing the problem.
When a child has suffered non accidental injury, we utilise the protected space to apply therapeutic work. When a domestic abuse survivor is in protected space, we offer therapeutic support to review and rebuild life. When a child is in protected space, we offer proximity to the parent they have rejected and utilise that proximity to apply therapeutic input.
Step 3 – Apply therapy – Ensure that the child is enabled to be in close proximity to the parent they have rejected and apply therapeutic input alongside this.
A child’s rejecting behaviour in divorce and separation is differentiated by the use of psychological splitting.
If a child is not utilising psychological splitting, is able to see the good and bad in their parents, is able to move between them, they are not alienated. They may be suffering from switching behaviours, compartmentalisation behaviours, maladaptive behaviours, but they are not alienated.
If the child divides parents into idealised and demonised and if the child’s demonisation of a parent echoes the influencing parent’s beliefs and if the rejected parent is evidenced as not having done anything which could cause such strong division of feeling, then alienation is possible.
The Court is the place where alienation of a child is decided upon after hearing the evidence. Recent UK High Court Court judgments have made it clear that the issue of alienation is a child protection issue, regardless of whether that is done consciously or unconsciously.
The mental health intervention is held in place by the court system.
Delivering therapeutic work outside of that is contraindicated by the research evidence and potentially causes further harm.
Importance of correct formula in treatment
Why must we treat alienation as we would non accidental injury and domestic abuse when we are working as therapists? Because the child is in the same position as all abused children/people, they are identifying with the aggressor. To place the child into that double bind, is, as Dr Steve Miller* explains, to re-injure the child.
- In non accidental injury the child will forgive the parent and seek to blame the self for the harm done to them.
- In domestic abuse, the person will try to find ways to internalise their responsibility for what is happening to them in order to justify staying.
- In alienation the child will split off and deny their experience in order to avoid the threat of abandonment.
Abandonment threat is wrapped up in what looks like love in many cases of alienation but in some cases it is starkly present and easy to detect. Being able to differentiate this identification with the aggressor dynamic in children’s rejection of a parent, is critical in helping the outside world to understand the threat to the child.
As we continue in our work to educate other practitioners, being able to clearly articulate the problem of induced psychological splitting in children and how to treat it, is an essential task.
This is our project, the EAPAP Conference will roll this out around the world.
*Miller (2013, p. 16) who notes that, ‘therapists who insist on a trial of conventional therapy (e.g., to ‘see for myself’) are exceedingly unlikely to succeed (…) such an approach is worse than worthless because while the therapist provides futile treatment, the child, already injured, is deprived of effective intervention–including protection’
To Register for the Online EAPAP Conference click here