The PA is DA Debate: an unecessary distraction

karen and Nick Woodall

I tried to stay out of the PA is DA debate, largely because I am not a campaigner and have no interest in advocating for one side or the other. Despite accusations from some, I have never advocated for fathers or mothers in this arena, because a) I come to this work via my experience in gender analysis and mainstreaming and b) I have always only really been interested in the rights of children to live an unconscious experience of childhood which is free from abuse.

Gender analysis and mainstreaming means to understand the different experiences of men and women and to adjust services to support them so that their different needs are met. It means to understand at the deepest level, those barriers which men and women face in society and to adjust and adapt services to enable them to overcome them.

Working from the perspective of helping children to live an unconscious experience of childhood, means delivering services to families which assists them to overcome barriers to parenting after family separation, in order to provide their children with the healthiest route through to adulthood.

I work to achieve that by working directly with families, training others to work in the same way, writing about the work that I do, developing low cost services through the Lighthouse Project and research. I think I have enough experience therefore, to say my piece in this unfolding debate.

My view of the PA is DA debate is that those who come to family separation through an ideological lens, wish to mischaracterise alienation of children (notice I do not say PA), as being only about coercive control of fathers over mothers using children as a weapon. This, they say, is domestic violence by proxy. In the same ideological framework, all men who claim they are being alienated, are actually abusive men whose children are rejecting them for justifiable reasons.

The idealogues go to town on the label Parental Alienation, using it to ”prove’ that anyone who claims it or works with it must be dodgy. The liberal use of commas around the word expert, in reference to anyone who works in this field, being a clear sign of their righteousness in the debate.

Whilst I do not get directly involved in this kind of campaigning, because it is just a pointless game of opinion tennis, I do have thoughts and views on the matter and I am curious about how ideological campaigners adjust their arguments to keep the binary split of good mothers/bad fathers fixed firmly in place.

The ideological argument is (as far as I can work it out), mothers whose children refuse to see them are suffering domestic violence by proxy, the father of their children is using the children to continue to harm them. Mothers whose children refuse to see their fathers are simply protecting them from abusive fathers.

For this to be true however, the experience of the child has to be completely erased from all analysis and understanding. My view is that if we take the child who is refusing to see their mother and the child who is refusing to see their father, we will know whether or not the child is alienated or rejecting a parent because of abuse, by the presence or absence of psychological splitting in the child.

This is, for me, where the PA is DA argument falls completely apart because if there is no such thing as PA (I will come back to the label shortly), and PA is just DA by proxy, then the child would not show those signs of induced psychological splitting.

Children who have abusive parents, show a much more ambivalent response to that parent, they do not outright reject, they want their parent to change and they long for better times. Only when children are triangulated into the adult distress, do they reject outright and it is that part of the trauma story which for me, is what is missing in the PA is DA perspective.

In our work with families, where DA is present, we do not call it alienation. We differentiate cases where a child has been exposed to domestic abuse between adults and we recognise that we need to protect the abused parent’s safety and wellbeing. In reality, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by either parent upon an ex partner and/or child, rules out any kind of reunification work, because the courts want children to have healthy childhoods and I do too.

Since the Harman and Lorandos report demolished the Meier et al study, the cracks have become more obvious in the PA is DA debate, illuminating the way in which research can be filtered through a biased lens to lodge what are called woozles into public consciousness.

Ideological campaigners are really good at woozling, I watch some of them doing it about me. The idea is that is you link A to C without including B and say it often enough, others will believe it. Add to that a healthy dose of negative projection (watch how the ideological campaigners use shame and blame to bully people with opinions they do not like, into silence) and you have a perfect way of splitting off the parts of the debate you don’t want to be heard by the outside world.

The part of the PA is DA debate that the ideological campaigners don’t want you to hear is the experience of children. Notice how PA is DA focuses ONLY on women. Mothers are suffering domestic violence by proxy, mothers are being abused, mothers are only protecting their children, mothers are under attack from abusive men. Rarely do we hear about children in this debate, and when we do, is to usually to paint people who do this work with children as being cruel and inhuman.

For me, the cruelty and inhumanity comes from people who want to hide the abuse of children, the experience children have of being alienated from their own sovereign self, children who are losing their rights to an unconcious experience of childhood at the hands of their parents. That is what the PA is DA debate is really about, disguising psychological and emotional abuse of children by splitting it off, calling that ‘protective’ and projecting the blame for abuse onto fathers and anyone who is trying to help alienated children.

Parental alienation is a label that I don’t use it anymore because it really isn’t necessary to do so. The patterns of psychological harm in alienation cases are well recognised in research, in literature and in the family courts. Whether that alienation is caused primarily by a mother or primarily by a father or a mixture of both, what the child experiences in suffering psychological splitting, is an alienation of the self from the self first. This is a ghastly defence, it causes deep psychological harm and it removes from children their right to an unconscious experience of childhood. It is child abuse.

In the PA is DA debate, who speaks for those children who are psychologically abused in divorce and separation and whose independent needs are being bound back into the rights of their mothers?

No-one speaks for those children, because they are collatoral damage in the effort to uphold the ideology, an ideology which is founded upon good women/bad men and which omits the rights of children completely.

PA is not DA. Alienation of children includes patterns of coercive control behaviours, it also includes patterns of enmeshment, triangulation and other psychological issues which cause harm, it is far more complex than this popular discourse wants you to believe.

Listen for the voices of abused children in divorce and separation, whilst the campaigners seek to drown them out, they are getting louder.

18 thoughts on “The PA is DA Debate: an unecessary distraction

  1. Dear Karen, I’m confused. Are you saying that an alienated mother (or father) is NOT experiencing domestic violence by proxy? As the mother of severely alienated daughter, I’ve been subjected to a campaign of slanderous and terrifying accusations including sexual abuse etc. and investigated multiple times by child protective services as a result of these false allegations. I relate to the concept of domestic violence by proxy. My daughter has been abused and so have I in the process. I feel destroyed by these tactics. I also see this sort of abuse happening to targeted parents of both genders.
    Thanks 🙏


    1. Hi Jennifer, some call it dv by proxy but I am saying that what is happening to the child is distinct and different to that and that part of it is being covered up by the efforts to make it just about DA. Hope that helps clarify? x


      1. Thanks for clarifying. There’s too much focus on the parent’s rights and too little recognition of the devastating effects on the child. How can we recognize and validate the trauma occurring to both ?


  2. I agree that the important point here is to recognize that forced psychological splitting is child abuse. To me, the question about PA by proxy is super confusing and completely obscures the real issues. What Jennifer is experiencing by being falsely accused of such serious crimes is psychological abuse. Period. There is nothing “proxy” about it. I experienced years of verbal and psychological abuse and 3 instances of physical abuse, all of which my son who is now severely alienated from me heard and witnessed. I wonder how many cases of forced psychological splitting involve verbal, psychological, or physical abuse toward the alienated parent before the actual splitting has taken effect? I would guess a very high percentage. Again, this makes the PA by proxy question entirely unnecessary and is in fact working against the mental health and legal systems being able to effectively deal with this issue. It is a confusing and false question.


    1. psychological abuse being witnessed by the child who eventually, horribly and tragically, raises the identification with the aggressor defence and splits off the experience of the abuse as being harmful and joins with the aggressor in a coalition of harm and rejection of the other parent. When mothers alienate their children, they usually covertly threaten the child, when fathers alienate they usually overtly threaten the child. The child splits because they cannot hold two realities in mind. I see so many children terrorised emotionally and psychologically by an uncontained parent who is leaking their feelings about the other parent all over the child, it doesn’t take long in those circumstances to cause a child to reject. I am sorry to hear what happened to you and your child, I grieve for those who suffer this and their children. Stay strong, stay well, we keep on working to raise awareness and bring change. K x


      1. Thank you so much, Karen. I work to stay strong and well everyday, some days with more success than others.

        I am very interested in organizing a virtual support group for parents. Not moderated by a professional, just for parents who are affected by this. If I create an online sign-up form/questionnaire would you be willing to post the link to this group? If not, I understand – there may be liability or ethical reasons that you can’t do this, but I have been wanting this for quite awhile and haven’t found one.

        Thanks again,

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am very happy to support this in any way I can Erica, online support groups run by healthy people are important, there are too few around. Yes, do send the questionaire and I will publish the link. Perhaps you could write a short piece to go with it? x

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So, according to Karen, saying that PA is DA is understating the severity of what PA is. Sure, PA inevitably includes DA of the ex, but saying so risks understating the enormity of what is being induced in the child – psychological splitting.
    I think she is spot on with this; the consequences for the developmental progression of the child are more far reaching than all DA, manslaughter or murder excepted. Murder isn’t DA anyway; it’s murder.
    What I would add is that the alienated parent who comes to an understanding of the enormity of the ravage that psychological splitting entails, is burdened with the most terrible sorrow on behalf of their child.
    It’s not merely the sorrow of being no longer involved in your child’s daily living. It’s not limited to the painful absence of any communication from your child, save the declarations of hate. Nor is it the palpably evident fear you see in your child, on almost-near encounter. It’s the sorrow of you knowing the depth of wanton emotional destruction being done to your beloved child, while your every effort to stop it is filibustered by false DA, and your wrenching concerns fobbed off with the “wait-till-the dust-has-settled” fallacy. In my opinion, all these sorrows amalgamated also make alienation of the parent a more heinous act than the conventional horrors of DA.


    1. Thank you Richard and EJ for your thoughtful responses. Question: Have either of you found a resource to help move beyond relentless grieving (etc) to reestablishing a constructive life beyond the trauma ?


      1. The only way to survive is to learn everything you can about this subject. I’m starting a counselling course purely to educate myself. I focus on peace, love and trying to forgive. If I allowed myself to hate or be angry I would probably kill my ex husband or myself. Nothing makes the pain go away. It’s no different to losing a child through death except you’d get kindness and sympathy for that. Walk, take up yoga and if you can’t help your children try and help somebody else. We all have to hang on in there incase our children need us in the future. You never know what is round the corner. x


  4. Hi Karen,

    Hope you’re well. I see a bit of a problem, where you say “where DA is present, we do not call it alienation. We differentiate cases where a child has been exposed to domestic abuse…”.

    The problem in my experience is where your Judge is bias. Where a parent alleges DA by way of false allegations and the Judge can only be identified by his/her shoes hanging out the back end of said parent, regardless of the evidence the Courts findings will always be detrimental. The court then orders a Part 25 Expert to have look who then makes a report for the court saying the ‘found abusive parent’ can’t accept the courts decision and has no capacity to change along with recommendations amounting to no contact etc. Said report and findings are then passed on to the LA, police, schools and so on.

    Whilst I realise the correct and only route is via the court, it is so easy for an Appeal application to be struck out as totally without merit based on the presumption the ‘found abusive parent’ simply doesn’t like the findings – let’s not forget appeal applications are generally a paper exercise, litigants are often unrepresented without the means to afford representation further may have learning difficulties eg Autism. There is little – or rather – no hope for children of these circumstances.

    To add some context – in my case the Judge has gone as far as to fabricate a piece of evidence – misinterpreted to be PC – a further allegation has three versions, the judge simply went with the latest and ignored the facts previously given under the caveat of witnesses can be mistaken. Context – how on earth during making an allegation – if true – does one mix up the names of country’s stating the allegation took place in Germany and was reported to the military police. In evidence say ‘oh i though thought I reported it to the RMP perhaps I didn’t after all, I couldn’t have done as it happened at my dads house in Devon’. My dad would tell if he was alive…’.

    Where I refer to country’s there’s a difference between Germany and England (Devon), the two don’t even sound the same, Germany being where the RMP was apparently involved but no records. England being the location of the latest version of the same allegation and the one found to be fact.

    When bias findings are made and relied upon by practitioners without question there is always the risk of upholding a false allegation. I guess this is why hospitals are constantly checking a patient’s ID in the run up to going under the knife – no good having you leg cut off when when you’re appendix is playing up.

    I guess my question is, regardless of the decision/findings of the court, should Practitioners/experts not be questioning how the court arrived at its decision? Further, if it becomes obvious the court has erred, what should the be the actions of the expert? No good reporting to a bias judge with their own ‘possible’ agenda.

    These may seem obvious questions but my experience is not what one might expect. Meanwhile, untold damage to the child is being done.


  5. I’m in a very similar position to Jennifer. I have suffered years of domestic abuse and the loss of my children is without doubt just an extension of it. It’s funny how every alienating parent always stand tall as the protector of their children. Although they never really say what they are protecting them from? However I do hear what you are saying Karen. If the focus remained on the rights of the children and not on the rights of mothers or fathers we would all be a lot better off. I’m at a loss to understand how anybody could criticise your work or you.


    1. I get plenty of critisicm Donna, largely from people who have an agenda one way or another. It is a difficult field to work in but it is necessary. When the critics start, I remember the words of Winston Churchill, if you stop and fight every dog that barks, you will never reach your destination. I suffer what you suffer, negative projection, blame, shame, lies and manipulation and more, the difference is, I haven’t lost a child to this horrible defence (although I know the horrible defence well). Only when you know it, do you understand the abuse the child is suffering, which means the criticisms roll away like water off a ducks back. Youa re doing all the right things to keep yourself well and safe and healthy, keep doing that, you ARE your child’s healthy parent, you always were and you always will be. x


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