The third conference of the European Association of Parental Aliention Practitioners ended today after another information packed itinery focused upon the internal dynamics of the problem which has hitherto been referred to as parental alienation. More than four hundred clinicians from around the world attended this online conference, making it a landmark event in the development of this field and placing Zagreb 2020 as the gateway to a new road ahead in practice and practice informed research.

On closing the conference, Professor. Dr. Gordana Bujlan Flander, Director of the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb said that the conference marked a point at which the emotional abuse of a child, which is seen in alienation, is now visible to the outside world. Speaking about the road ahead, the EAPAP Board set out a new understanding of the problem called parental alienation using the term relational trauma to describe the dynamics seen in cases of a child’s pathological alignment and rejection of their parents.

This conference was a rich tapestry of content, in which the internal workings of families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation, were unpacked and examined closely. Using a psychoanalytical approach, the meaning of splitting was brought to the surface and the defence was explained in careful detail by Psychiatrist Milica Pejović Milovančević. Headline speaker Jill Salberg, spoke about transgenerational trauma transmission in her depth exploration entitled ‘The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures’. Exploring how this manifests in families as parental alienation, I later shared my experience in working with families affected by relational trauma and the structural requirements necessary to provide safe spaces for interventions where such dynamics are in play.

From Israel we heard about the successes and challenges of working with relational trauma in a country where there are helpful court structures in place and from Romania and Portugal we heard about court management of cases. From the Republic of Ireland, Joan Long spoke about her work in a country which is just coming to understand the problem and from Malta we heard about the particular problems of a country which is still struggling through the early days of awareness of the issues surrounding divorce and separation.

The conference dealt with topics affecting practitioners, the difficulties we face, the successes we achieve and the power of collaborative practice across borders. Panel discussions, which powerfully showcased the kind of collegiate relationships which are growing best practice in this emerging field of work, demonstrated that across borders, practitioners face similar kinds of attacks on their integrity which are designed to frighten, threaten and exhaust their capacity to continue in their work.

As Professor. Dr. Flander said, on the opening morning of the conference, despite it all, here we are, together. And at the close, quoting Dr Benny Bailey from Israel, ‘this is a marathon, we are in it for the long term.’

And we are in it for the long term. We are in it because we care about abused children of divorce and separation, children who, in suffering alienation of the self from the self, are forced to develop a false persona in order to survive in an intolerable landscape. We are in it because we know that inducing psychological splitting in a child is abusive and we know that when it happens it needs intervention to heal it.

Unpacking the component parts of assessment and differentiation, Nick Woodall from the Family Separation Clinic in London spoke about a psychoanalytical model of work which combined with trauma informed therapies can be delivered in a structural family therapy approach to resolve the splitting in the whole family. Trauma and the alienated child was explored by Professor Bruna Profaca from the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb. Power and control dynamics were examined by Professor Jennifer Jill Harman and Dr Sietska Djistra and attachment trauma was unpacked by Mirela Badurina and others.

From Switzerland, Marina Walter and Thomas Demessence examined forensic analysis of alienation cases and from Croatia Domagoj Štimac examined false allegations. Colleagues from the USA (Kelley Baker Ph.D) and from Canada (Attorney Brian Ludmer) gave their perspectives on working in this field and on legal management strategies.

Closing the conference, Dr. Wilfred von Boch Galhau said that his takeaway would be the clinical content and approaches to treatment which had been showcased by the conference. As he said in his presentation, it is not an option to simply leave a child without treatment. This conference demonstrated how this problem can be treated successfully and what areas of best practice can be combined to create a recognised path forward for standardised treatment routes.

This conference, which was hosted by the team at the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb supported by the Family Separation Clinic in London brings the values and principles of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, to a wider audience. Delivered by the production team at Moment Events, headed by Veronika Juric, the scientific and organising committees devoted many voluntary hours to the co-ordination of this content rich, ground breaking conference.

Underpinning it all, is that which was evident throughout the whole of the three days of the conference, a deep and abiding care for children. As Kelley Baker said in our discussion about surviving attacks on our integrity, which are many, remaining clear that before all else, doing the right thing for the child is what gets us up in the morning to keep us doing what we do.

Working with relational trauma in divorce and separation, responding to what Dr Claire Francica from Malta termed the ‘ignition of trauma’ in the child forced to use defensive splitting and resolving the reactive splitting in the whole family around the child is our path ahead.

Until next year. My grateful thanks to all who join with us in our project to reframe our understanding of parental alienation as relational trauma in divorce and separation. Children of the future will live better lives because of you.