Underlying Statistics

Start of another week at the Family Separation Clinic and I am reviewing questions coming in from the hundred or so parents who signed up for the webinar I recorded this week. Fifty four of these parents were mothers whose children are hyper aligned with their father and who, in rejecting their mothers, demonstrate exactly the same range of behaviours seen when children reject their fathers.

For anyone wondering why I repeatedly flag these statistics, I am emphasising that the underlying harms which cause the alienation of children, are perpetrated by mothers and fathers and the way to expose that reality is to publish disaggregated statistics of service use. I used to work on gender mainstreaming services for the UK government, so I know exactly how we demonstrate the problems which lie beneath the headlines.

When services publish gender disagreggated statistics, myths and stereotypes about an issue facing people are demonstrated to be untrue. In this issue the myth is that parental alienation is a tool used by abusive fathers to maintain coercive control over their children. The stereotype is that all mothers are vengeful and vindictive exes who prevent children from seeing their fathers.

Here are the stats for last week’s webinar

Mothers attending 54 (49%)

Fathers attending 57 (51%)

Induced Psychological Splitting Webinar – Produced by Moment Events June 2021 for KarenWoodall.blog

In the midst of campaigning about who is affected by the problem of a child’s hyper alignment and rejection behaviour, the only real way to illuminate the reality, is to expose what is previously hidden. This is why publication of service use of the Family Separation Clinic is important. As one of the most used services in this field, we have an extensive case load and extensive records of service use, providing a unique glimpse into the reality of this issue and how it is experienced around the world. More of that in the months to come, for now, hold that thought above – 54 mothers and 57 fathers attended our latest webinar. Behind the campaign headlines, this is the reality of what is happening to families who experience a child’s hyper alignment and rejecting behaviour after divorce and separation.

Underlying Harms

One of the problems with parental alienation theory is that it attracts a huge amount of argument about whether or not it is a real thing. In my work with families, I was trained to understand the underlying harms which cause the pattern of hyper alignment and rejection of parents, at a time when parental alienation was not a label used in the family courts. My work with families, is rooted in psychoanalytic understanding of the problem, not in the reductivist approach of factors and signs. The eight signs curated by Gardner, whilst being used to understand whether or not a case requires further intervention, are not helpful in clinical practice. This is largely because there is no guide to practice in parental alienation theory, what there is, is a guide to whether or not the signs of parental alienation are present or not. This is useful in a legal framework but in treatment terms it has little use. The other problem with parental alienation theory, is that it does not expose the underlying harms which impact upon the child and it does not give a clear map of how to intervene.

Over the years, as we have defined and refined the model of work used by the Family Separation Clinic, we have come closer to being able to differentiate cases of a child’s rejection in ways that enable us to build treatment routes which have rapid outcomes. Some of these interventions mirror those seen in countries like the USA, with residence transfers to protect children who are in the care of a personality disordered parent and more nuanced, in situ interventions, with children who are in the care of a parent who cannot contain their emotional and psychological states of mind. As we have developed this work, we have kept records of the underlying harms which have led to the interventions provided, so that we now have a significant amount of information about the diagnoses made by the psychologists and psychiatrists providing assessments and the decisions these led to in court. We also have the information about the interventions provided by the Clinic and the outcomes of those, which adds up to a 360 degree view of this work over the past ten years.

When we began this work in the UK in 2009 (my first experience of working with the problem is recorded in Thomas Moore’s account of residence transfer and healing in his book ‘Please Let Me See My Son), the label parental alienation was not well understood. Today it is well known as a label and is as bitterly fought over by campaigners as the family assets (and children) are by some divorcing parents. Allegations are flung around like confetti, lurid tales are spun and lies and half truths are passed around in ways that mirror the worst behaviours seen in parents who harm their children. This does nothing to further clinical understanding and practice.

Working with the underlying harms which cause children to be removed from parents, demonstrates that whatever we call this problem, it is, at its root, child abuse. When a parent is so enmeshed with a child that they cannot see the difference between their own experience and that of the child, when a child is captured in a situation in which they are forced to fear a parent who loves them and who has never caused them harm, when a child is abducted, terrorised into submission, threatened with abandonment, intruded upon, parentified, made into a replacement spouse, prevented from knowing their own mind or having their own sense of self, when a child is lied to, caused to believe that they have been abused, put through unnecessary medical procedures, rendered helpless by the chaotic emotional world a parent inveigles them into, then intervention is not optional, it is not harmful, it is necessary and it is protective. That is why alienation of children (from their own right to an unconscious experience of childhood) and then from a normal loving relationship with a good enough parent, is a child protection issue. The rejection of the parent is a by product of the underlying harm which is being done to the child by the parent to whom they are aligned.

What we are working with in parental alienation is a denial and projection dynamic where the child is both victim of the abusive parent, who then becomes helplessly bound into the perpetration of harm in conjunction with the abuser. The reality of what is happening is a mirror image of what we see, it is a projection (which is why children will claim that rejected parents are doing something that it is later evident was actually being done, by the parent to whom the child is aligned. Children become hyper aligned to a parent because of something that parent is doing to them, because they are being abused. Children who witness the abuse of a parent, are seen to align with the abuser and not the abused.

abused children, robbed of their senses by trauma, enter a dissociative trance and become transfixed by the desires and behaviors of the aggressor. Rather than purposefully identifying with the aggressor, their personalities fragment, and they automatically mimic their abuser. This process includes a “confusion of tongues” between the abused child and the abusive adult.

Salvador Ferenzi

Coming Home: A Lighthouse Project Podcast

In September, I will be delivering a very special podcast about the recovery journey of the alienated child. Joining me to illuminate this journey, is a parent of a child who is now of age, who was moved in residence transfer in the UK Family Courts. This parent and child are participating in the evaluation which is currently being undertaken of FSC services and have agreed to share their experiences, in order to help others to understand the reality of this process.

Against the backdrop of increasing ideological efforts to mischaracterise what is happening when children reject a parent after divorce and separation, hearing directly from these families provides an essential view of what is really going on when children are seen to be hyper aligned with one parent and contemptous and disdainful towards the other. We will hear from this parent, the realities of the serious emotional and psychological harm done to the child which was the reason for the removal and the long journey of recovery to bring the child back to full health.

This podcast will be accessible free of charge here and I will post details of the date it will be available shortly.