Child’s Play: Healing Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

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

LIVE WEBINAR

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

09.00-10.30

Opening addresses

09.00-09.15     

Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice  

Gordana Buljan Flander

09.15-09.45     

Where we have come from: Historical perspectives of parental alienation in research

Wilfred von Boch-Galau

09.45-10.00

About EAPAP 

Karen Woodall

10.00-11.20

Keynote Lecture 

Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model 

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

11.20-11.40

Break

11.40-13.15

Power and control

11.40-12.45

Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence 

Jennifer Harman

12.45-13.15

‘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

Sietska Dijkstra

13.15-13.30

Break

13.30-16.00

Alienation and attachment issues 

13.30-14.00

Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19 

Mirela Badurina

14.00-14.30    

Attachment pitfalls   

Gordana Buljan Flander

14.30-15.00    

Toxic stress in children 

Vanja Slijepčević Saftić

15.00-16.30    

Reformulated practice 

15.00-15.30    

Early alienation screening and risk assessment 

Marina Ajduković and Tatjana Katkić Stanić

15.30-16.30

Live round table discussion 

Moderator: Mia Roje Đapić

Panellists: Inbal Kivenson Bar-On, Karen Woodall and Joan Long

DAY 2 / SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

09.00-11.00

Clinical perspectives 

09.00-10.00

Perspectives from Israel 

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey

10.0-10.30

Splitting: A psychiatric perspective 

Milica Pejović Milovančević

10.30-11.00

Psychiatric consequences of alienation

Vlatka Boričević Maršanić

11.00-11.15

Break

11.15-11.45

Psychopathology of parents in alienation

Danijel Crnković

11.45-12.15

Diagnoses associated with parental alienation in child custody dispute forensic investigations

Marina Walter

12.15-13.15

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

13.15-13.30 

Break

13.30–15.00

Keynote Lecture

The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg 

15.00-15.30

Live Q&A session with Jill Salberg

15.30-15.45

Break

15.45-16.15

Working with children’s responses to transgenerational trauma 

Karen Woodall

DAY 3 / SEPTEMBER 18, 2020 / LECTURES ARE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

09.00-15.15

Legal management of cases 

09.00-09.30

Family law and parental alienation in Portugal   

Sandra Feitor

09.30-10.30

Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when alienation is criminalised

Simona Vladica

10.30-11.30

Keynote Lecture

Legal management: Parental alienation as a child protection issue

June Venters QC

11.30-11.45

Break

11.45-12.15

False allegations of abuse in families 

Domagoj Štimac

12.15-13.00

Addressing false allegations in court 

Brian Ludmer

13.00-13.30

Break

13.30-14.30

Regional panel 

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

14.30-15.15

International panel 

Legal and mental health strategies in Europe 

Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić

Panellists: June Venters QC, Simona Vladica, Nick Woodall and Inbal Kivenson Bar-On  

15.15-15.30

Break

15.30-16.00

Duties and challenges of judges in family disputes

Renata Šantek

16.00-16.30

Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals

Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker

16.30-17.00

Conference close 

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

09.30-11.30

Parallel Session for Parents

Karen and Nick Woodall 

3 comments

  1. Dear Karen,
    With great interest and admiration I follow your written word.
    This post saddens me. So many caregivers have no clue.
    As for me I could not reach the other parent, left me being allianated from the wonderful children for years now, leaves me now to understand that as I cannot reach the other parent, I am in the hand of caretakers who haven’t got a clue. Where is my way out? Other then hold still and keep myself healthy as possible and be present to the minimum. For short, if no wants to deal with you, what is next?
    Second, when a miracle happens, who helps as there is really so little people thinking like you?

    Like

    1. What you do Caroline is reconfigure your thinking so that you are always ready and healthy and well. You learn the language of alienated children and you find others (and there are many) who think like you. You learn how to deal with this with grace and forebearance so that when that miracle happens, you have the inner strength and knowledge to know instinctively what to do. For you and all the parents like you, what comes next is made just for you – we will be announcing our first online healing seminar soon, it will cost you whatever you can afford in a donation, your donation will go to fund delivery of more online healing groups which will be delivered by donation only so that everyone can access help and care and kindness and understanding and healing and support. This is being brought to parents by those who deeply understand and deeply care about relational trauma. We are going to use this space as a conduit through which to bring what we know parents need so that all over the world a new way of living and thinking and sharing and healing is brought into this space. K

      Liked by 1 person

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