At the Family Separation Clinic, we are working with a combination of trans-generational psychotherapy and trauma treatments which work with ego states, to help alienated children to resolve the split state of mind.
Using the model of protected space for the child and rejected parent, in which the recovery of the attachment relationship is supported therapeutically, this work is held in place by the family court whilst the work is undertaken.
Utilising a model of supporting the parent to whom the child is aligned, to build understanding and insight of the behaviours which caused the problem of pathological alignment and rejection, recovery from induced psychological splitting is shown to be possible without having to remove the child completely from the aligned parent. This is a step forward in terms of developing a model which does not require that a child loses a parent in order to regain one in cases of alienation.
Of course not all cases can be treated this way and those which are not suitable, are those which have been differentiated and psychologically evaluated and where a judge has made the decision that the child should be removed from a parent who is causing harm. Those are the cases which in the UK are referred to as residence transfer, which in reality is the child being removed from a parent who is causing harm to a parent who is healthy.
What we are working with in this field, are families affected by relational trauma and it is this which we are seeking to resolve when we structure therapeutic interventions or support residence transfers. Relational trauma, which is inter-generational in nature and which causes children to become triangulated into the emotional responses of one parent at the end of a relationship, is differentiated from other trauma, (such as that which occurs when children witness domestic abuse), by the presence of psychological splitting in children.
Children who suffer from psychological splitting show a hyper alignment to a parent and an enmeshment with that parent’s anxieties. This split state of mind causes the child to display disdain and contempt for the parent they are rejecting. This is very different to children who have been witness to violence in the home, who will show anticipatory dread and anxiety based behaviours but who will not show disdain and contempt for one parent and hyper alignment with the narrative of the other,
Children who show hyper alignment to one parent and disdain and contempt towards the other, may at times be in the care of a psychiatrically or psychologically unwell parent. This parent may themselves have a level of trauma which is unresolved and which is ‘leaking’ out to influence their child. The type of trauma seen in such cases is differentiated by the levels of behaviours seen in the parent. Mothers who alienate their children are often enmeshed with poor boundary differentiation, which means that the child and parent are experienced by the parent as being a part of their own psychological self. Fathers who alienate their children are often more clearly differentiated in terms of boundaries but are terrorising their children into hyper alignment with threatening behaviours towards the other parent. In both circumstances, the child’s fear of abandonment by the terrorising or enmeshed parent, is the underlying cause of the hyper alignment.
If we look at relational trauma as a trans-generational transmission of displaced trauma, (meaning that trauma has been suffered somewhere in the family system), it becomes more possible to see how this problem is an unresolved crisis within the family which is controlling the present.
Using structured interventions, held in place by the family court, the outcomes for children in terms of resolving the split state of mind are increasingly evidenced. This work is being developed in conjunction with practitioners all around the world and shows a strong and positive potential for a replicable model of understanding and intervention in families where children reject a parent without any justification after divorce or separation.
This and many other elements of alienation in children and families will be explored at the online conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, which will be held on September 16/17/18, hosted by the Child and Adolescent Protection Centre in Zagreb.
Special guest speaker
Jill Salberg, PhD
‘When trauma revisits a person transgenerationally 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.’
Salberg, J, (2015). The texture of traumatic attachment: Presence and ghostly absence in transgenerational transmission. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 84(1), 21-46.
Parental alienation is typically described as a child’s rejection of a parent. However, whilst the problem appears to be the child’s rejection of one of their parents, in reality, the rejection is not the cause of the problem but is, rather, a symptom of the child’s pathological alignment to the other parent. Similarly, many papers on the subject refer to the alienating ‘strategies’ of aligned parents.
Whilst it is true that some cases are driven by the deliberate and conscious actions of a one parent seeking to remove the other, many more feature dysfunction in the inter-psychic relationship between the aligned parent and the child. Such cases feature high levels of psychopathology and maladaptive defences which are often rooted in the transgenerational transmission of unresolved trauma of the aligned parent.
We are, therefore, delighted to able to welcome Jill Salberg, PhD, as our special guest speaker at the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioner’s 2020 online conference hosted by the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb (Poliklinika za zaštitu djece i mladih Grada Zagreba). Dr Salberg is a world leading expert in transgenerational trauma and the effect that it has on children’s relational self.
Dr Salberg argues that children of parents who have unresolved trauma inherit altered biochemistry that can leave them more vulnerable to registering fearful and anxious situations and to being more fearful and anxious themselves. She writes that the legacy of transgenerational transmission of traumatic forms of attachment is an alteration in both the biology and the attachment systems and suggests that, whilst some of these parents will be able to transmit safety and provide for consistent attachment, others will transmit a confusing mix of messages of fearfulness and safety.
For clinicians working with post divorce splitting in children, the patterns and disruptions of attachment are of vital importance as what often appears, on the surface, to be warm and attentive parenting can be charged with the projection of unresolved trauma, enmeshment and the child’s unconscious, existential terror of abandonment. This area of research is one that is opening up new ways of understanding children’s experiences and new approaches to treatment. The work of Dr Salberg is, therefore, something that will be of great interest to anyone working in this field.
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Jill Salberg, PhD, ABPP is a clinical adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology, faculty member and clinical consultant/supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, faculty and a supervisor at the Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She has written on reformulating concepts of termination, trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, gender, Freud, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and Jewish studies.
Her papers have been published in Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Studies in Gender and Sexuality and American Imago and she has chapters in Relational Traditions, Vol. 5; The Jewish World of Sigmund Freud; and Answering a Question with a Question. She is a contributor to and the editor of the book Good Enough Endings: Breaks, Interruptions and Terminations from Contemporary Relational Perspectives (Routledge, 2010). She has co-edited two books with Sue Grand, The Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Trans-generational Transmission of Trauma and Trans-generational Trauma and Dialogues Across History and Difference (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group 2017). She has conceived of and co-edits a new book series Psyche and Soul: Psychoanalysis, Spirituality and Religion in Dialogue (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group). She has co-edited two books with Sue Grand, The Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma and Haunted Dialogues: Conversing Across History and Difference (Routledge, 2016). She is in private practice in Manhattan.
The Programme for the Conference is now available, press the image below to go through for details.
This is an online conference, all practitioners working with children and families are welcome to attend. We welcome those who work in the field as well as those with an interest in the subjects covered. Whilst this is a practitioner conference, those with an interest in the subject are also welcome. Booking details here