Back in the country and the Family Separation Clinic will re-open from September 10th. As children all over the UK return to school today, the autumnal air bring memories of new terms and new beginnings. September always seemed to me to be the month for new resolutions, the time when we reap the crops we have sown and prepare the ground for new seeds. This year is no exception, even though it has been an exceptional year all over the world.
Covid 19 brought the reality of being cut off from loved ones to everyone around the world. It allowed us all to experience a glimpse of what being cut out of the life of a loved child might feel like. With some way to go before we are free of the restrictions the pandemic brought to our lives, there are many ways now that we can continue to raise the profile of the problem of alienation and how it has affected and continues to affect, generations of children.
One of our major projects this year has been in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Protection Centre in Zagreb, which is hosting the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference next week online. This conference brings together some of the most experienced clinicians in this field to discuss and highlight the issues which underpin the problem which is popularly called parental alienation.
As always, our work with families is a constant source of information about the problems which underpin this issue. As we continue to work successfully both inside and outside of the court system, we reunite children with the parent they have rejected through understanding and addressing the hyper alignment and rejection dynamic which is seen.
This year has given us new and deeper insights into the problem of psychological splitting and how it affects children in divorce and separation. Because of that we have moved even further away from the model of parental alienation which supports court battles about which parent is being alienated and which parent is causing it, towards a way of working which enables all members of the families to receive the help that they need to resolve the problem.
As we have always worked from the perspective of dynamics, (we are psychotherapists not psychiatrists), the notion of the child suffering a psychiatric disorder has never held any real validity for us. What is happening to a child who becomes alienated, is that they are being forced into maladaptive defences which create what Winnicott called a false self. The splitting of the ego, which takes place prior to the rejection of the parent, renders the child alienated from their own sovereign self first and then causes a projection onto the parents of idealisation and denigration.
When we understand the child’s experience, it is crystal clear that moving the child from one parent to the other is not the simple answer we have been led to believe it might be. The healing for the child requires far more than winning a court battle, it requires that the dynamics around the family are shifted until the child no longer has to use the defence of splitting. Using our own selves as objects to absorb the multiplicity of projections which emanate from the child first and then from the adults around the child, therapists can resolve the split state of mind in the child and the parents.
We still recognise that there are a number of families which will be affected by someone’s personality problems and we still recognise that moving a child in those circumstances is likely to be necessary. What we are no longer willing to support or be part of however, is the idea that reducing the issue of a child’s rejection of a parent simply requires identifying signs, symptoms and strategies in order to diagnose parental alienation. The problem of a child’s rejection of a parent is rooted in relational trauma. All of our experience over many years shows this to be the case. Healing relational trauma requires an approach which matches depth theoretical analysis with an assessment and differentiation process which sets out the therapeutic route to treatment of the whole family system.
This is the project we are working on in the coming months, the setting out of a theoretical framework which incorporates depth assessment and differentiation to lead to therapeutic treatment of the whole family. Held within the Court framework, such interventions are successful, we will show how and share this knowledge with other clinicians who wish to do this work successfully too.
Success in working in this field, appears to me to be a moving feast. Some would say success is working over a period of two years to have a child be able to tolerate two hours of contact with a rejected parent. Others would say that success is about proving alienation in court and moving the child. I would say that success is the healing of the original split in the mind of the child and returning the child to an unconscious experience of childhood, in which all of the relationships which are important to them are available to them and the incoming care from parents is not blocked by the anxious enmeshment with one parent’s unresolved issues. When that outcome is seen in the child, the transgenerational trauma pattern which is being passed down the line is transmogrified into health for the next generations. That for me, is what success looks like. That is what is possible using the model of intervention we have been working with for some time now.
In order to fully understand the problem we have grown used to calling parental alienation, clinicians must have a depth knowledge of the family they seek to help and must become embedded in the trauma landscape that the family is living in. To do that one needs health, strength and a teflon coat. A teflon coat is that metaphorical protection put on by practitioners when they enter into this space. It is necessary because of the high levels of negative projection which abound in this field. At the EAPAP conference next week, I will be discussing practitioner protection with some highly skilled colleagues around the world, all of whom, have suffered stalking, harassment and malicious allegations against them in their work. This highly litigious field contains some of the most difficult dynamics in human relationships it is possible to work with. It also contains campaigners, commentators and arm chair psychologists who mirror the very same dynamics seen in the families we work with. This place is not for the faint hearted and for those of us who become the focus of the opposite swing of the pendulum to understanding, health and wellbeing rely upon mutual support from colleagues.
Fortunately, within the group of practitioners gathered in EAPAP, we have that. From the UK to the USA, from Australia to Israel, across Europe, South Africa and beyond, those of us working with relational trauma in divorce and separation have grown strong and resolved this year. This new phase of work is producing tangible results all over the world. Practitioner knowledge and skill is growing and agreed standards of practice in the field for those who wish to heal these family dynamics are already in place.
Another phase of work opens this month with new services coming through the Lighthouse Project. Support to rejected parents for healing and wellbeing, knowledge sharing via seminars and our therapeutic parenting for alienated parents course which is almost complete. More news on all of that soon.
For now, here is a glimpse of what you can expect when you join more than 400 participants online next week for the EAPAP conference. To join us, book here.
Parental separation, alienation and splitting: Healing beyond reunification
Separacija roditelja, otuđenje i oporavak djeteta: Razvoj standarda dobre prakse
16-18 September 2020
The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners’ 2020 conference was due be held in the beautiful city of Zagreb, capital of Croatia in June of this year. However, after careful evaluation of the Coronavirus epidemic and maximum gathering guidelines that are currently in place, together with the wish to enable all registered participants to be able to participate at the conference, we have decided to hold the conference in a virtual form as a LIVE WEBINAR.
The conference will focus on trauma and the harm that induced psychological splitting causes to children. It will bring together practitioners and specialists in the field of child abuse, trauma and attachment to explore the ways in which existing therapies and models of understanding of abuse and trauma can be translated into work with abused children of divorce and separation.
DAY 1 / SEPTEMBER 16, 2020
Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice
Gordana Buljan Flander
Where we have come from: Historical perspectives of parental alienation in research
Wilfred von Boch-Galau
Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model
Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall
Power and control
Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence
‘I learned more in this single session than from all the help I was given over the past two years’ – The impact of coercive control on post-divorce relationships between mothers and their children as seen through the lens of a case study on restoring reciprocal mother-child contact
Alienation and attachment issues
Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19
Gordana Buljan Flander
Toxic stress in children
Vanja Slijepčević Saftić
Early alienation screening and risk assessment
Marina Ajduković and Tatjana Katkić Stanić
Live round table discussion
Moderator: Mia Roje Đapić
Panellists: Inbal Kivenson Bar-On, Karen Woodall and Joan Long
DAY 2 / SEPTEMBER 17, 2020
Perspectives from Israel
Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey
Splitting: A psychiatric perspective
Milica Pejović Milovančević
Psychiatric consequences of alienation
Vlatka Boričević Maršanić
Psychopathology of parents in alienation
Diagnoses associated with parental alienation in child custody dispute forensic investigations
Live round table discussion
Healing relational trauma in children of divorce and separation
Moderator: Karen Woodall
Panellists: Benjamin Bailey, Bruna Profaca, Claire Francica, Joan Long
The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures
Live Q&A session with Jill Salberg
Working with children’s responses to transgenerational trauma
DAY 3 / SEPTEMBER 18, 2020 / LECTURES ARE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Legal management of cases
Family law and parental alienation in Portugal
Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when alienation is criminalised
Legal management: Parental alienation as a child protection issue
June Venters QC
False allegations of abuse in families
Addressing false allegations in court
Legal and mental health strategies in the region
Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić
Panellists: Danica Ergovac, Eleonora Katić, Ana Hrabar, Teodora Minčić, Sara Jerebić, Kolinda Kolar
Legal and mental health strategies in Europe
Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić
Panellists: June Venters QC, Simona Vladica, Nick Woodall and Inbal Kivenson Bar-On
Duties and challenges of judges in family disputes
Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals
Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker
Conclusions, learning, towards a new integrated model of practice informed research
Gordana Buljan Flander, Karen Woodall, Simona Vladica, Sietska Dijkstra, Wilfred von Boch-Galau and Nick Woodall
PARALEL SESSION FOR PARENTS
Parallel Session for Parents
Karen and Nick Woodall