The International Academy grew out of a group of clinicians in Europe concerned with working with alienated children and their families. Now established as a small international group of practitioners who use structural therapeutic approaches to treatment which is rooted in psychoanalytic understanding, the Conference of the Academy will consider the issue of children’s rejection alongside children’s rights to be heard, the need for holistic models of work with families and the risks to children of leaving induced psychological splitting untreated.
The conference will also examine the patterns of behaviour which are seen in parents who induce a child to use the defence of psychological splitting, patterns of behaviour which are well recognised in psychoanalytic literature as causing the onset of such a defence. The primary pattern which is seen in such situations is Ferenzi’s ‘Identification with the Aggressor‘ a defence which is readily understood in situations where adults are held in thrall to a powerful and dominant other but which is less understood when it comes to children being in thrall to a dominant parent.
APA definition – Identification with the aggressor
identification with the aggressor an unconscious mechanism in which an individual identifies with someone who poses a threat or with an opponent who cannot be mastered. The identification may involve adopting the aggression or emulating other characteristics of the aggressor. This has been observed in cases of hostage taking and in other extreme situations such as concentration camps. In psychoanalytic theory, it occurs on a developmental level when the child identifies with a rival, the father or mother, toward the end of the oedipal phase.
Ferenzi’s Concept of Identification With the Aggressor
Ferenczi found evidence that children who are terrified by adults who are out of control will “subordinate themselves like automata to the will of the aggressor to divine each one of his desires and to gratify these; completely oblivious of themselves they identify themselves with the aggressor…. The weak and undeveloped personality reacts to sudden unpleasure not by defence, but by anxiety-ridden identification and by introjection of the menacing person or aggressor”
Frankel, J. (2002). Exploring Ferenczi’s Concept of Identification with the Aggressor: Its Role in Trauma, Everyday Life, and the Therapeutic Relationship. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12:101-139
The Role of Identification with the Aggressor in Alienation of Children of Divorce and Separation
Some children of divorce and separation witness physical violence between parents, some are threatened with abandonment either overtly or covertly. Either scenario is a risk factor for a child with latent vulnerabilities to ego fragmentation due to early developmental trauma ( Davies, 1995; Johnston & Roseby, 1997). A child who is threatened in this way, will transmogrify their anxiety into an identification with the person who is aggressive, (Baker, 2010), aligning with the aggressor or parent who is threatening their security. In this scenario, the rejection by the child, of a parent who is suffering from the aggressive acts of the other, is a by-product of the defence of identification with the in the child.
The Drama of the Alienated Child
When examined through a psychoanalytic lens, the drama of the alienated child is not so simple as parental alienation theory (Bernet, 2021) would suggest, which is why it has been vital for clinicians in the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children, to utilise the psychoanaltyic literature to form a greater understanding of what is happening to children and how they can be helped. Whilst psychoanalytic understanding is helpful however, it is not the case that this family dynamic can be treated using psychoanalysis, far from it. The treatment route which is combined with psychoanalytic understanding is a form of structural therapy which is adapted for this particular group of children and their parents. This is because, at the heart of this drama, is a broken family hierarchy which is harbouring displaced traumas in the form of losses and ungrieved boundary violations. In short, the drama of the alienated child tells us that someone in the family has been harmed at some point in time, it is just not necessarily this point in time or this child who has been harmed. In this respect, an alienation reaction in a child, which in reality is the onset of the use of the defence of psychological splitting, describes a trauma story. It is the job of the clinician who treats the family, to understand whose trauma story are we listening to and how can we protect the child in the here and now from the unresolved trauma which is being projected onto them.
There is much work to be done to build a coherent narrative around the drama of the alienated child because the efforts to distract attention from the harm which is caused to these children are immense. The current game of psychological tennis which is being played out in the research around parental alienation theory, diminishes all efforts to bring focus to the suffering of alienated children and creates an urgent need to refocus and reformulate public awareness of what is really happening when children reject a parent and align with the other after divorce and separation. The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children is very much about focusing and sharpening the narrative and the conference in Israel on June 14/15, brings together powerful advocates for alienated children to do this work. Beyond the conference, the launch of a peer reviewed journal of clinical practice, will provide a central point of knowledge and evidence based outcomes to support the work of clinicians all over the world.
Baker, A.J.L. (2010) Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind. New York. Norton.
Bernet w. (2021) Recurrent Misinformation Regarding Parental Alienation Theory, The American Journal of Family Therapy
Davies, Michele L. (1995). Childhood sexual abuse and the construction of identity : healing Sylvia. London ; Bristol, PA : Taylor & Francis
Johnston, J. &Roseby, V. (1997). In The Name Of The Child. New York: Free Press.
The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children – Conference June 14/15 2022 – Streaming Online and Recorded from Israel
Additional Seminar on Therapeutic Parenting for Rejected Parents
The most valuable asset a clinician has in working with children in recovery from psychological splitting, is a rejected parent who is skilled in understanding how splitting distorts a child’s experience of their own intra-psychic world and their relationship with others.Karen Woodall – Holding up a Healthy Mirror 2021/22
The conference will feature additional workshops on topics such as Therapeutic Parenting, which is used by the Family Separation Clinic in London as part of recovery and reunfication work. The Clinic’s model of work is recognised as effective by the High Court in England and Wales* and is currently under evaluation.
This two hour seminar is based upon the course Holding up a Healthy Mirror which is delivered by Karen Woodall over four weeks. This is a training for parents to prepare them to understand how attachment disruption and induced psychological splitting, impacts upon a child and how to assist the child in recovery.
The seminar introduces concepts which are necessary for all practitioners to consider when working with this vulnerable group of families.
Barbara Jo Fidler, Ph.D., C.Psych., Acc.FM.
Dr Fidler is a clinical developmental psychologist. She has worked with high conflict separating/divorcing families conducting assessments, professional consultations, expert testimony, mediation, arbitration, therapy and parenting coordination for over 30 years. Dr. Fidler provides training to judges, lawyers and mental health professionals and has presented at numerous conferences. She is co-author of four books: Child Custody Assessments (2008), Challenging Issues in Child Custody Disputes (2008), Best Practice Guide: Responding to Emotional Harm & Parent-Child Contact Problems in High Conflict Separation (2013), and Children Who Resist Post-Separation Parental Contact: A Differential Approach for Legal and Mental Health Professionals (2012).
Benjamin D. Garber, Ph.D.
Dr. Garber is a New Hampshire licensed psychologist, parenting coordinator, expert consultant to family law matters across North America, speaker and author. He is also a former Guardian ad litem. Dr. Garber has advanced degrees in psycholinguistics, developmental and clinical child psychology from the University of Michigan and The Pennsylvania State University. He completed an internship in clinical child and family psychology at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. He is co-founder of the Parenting Coordination Association of New Hampshire, winner of the March of Dimes “Distinction in Media Excellence” award, and an acclaimed educator and author in numerous areas of child and family development and family law
Inbal Baron-Kivenson (Israel), Nick Woodall (UK), Gordana Bjulan Flander (Croatia), Claire Francica (Malta), Tirtza Joels (Israel), Mia Roje Đapić (Croatia), Teodora Minčić (Serbia), Karen Woodall (UK), Benny Bailey (Israel), Sietska Dijkstra (Netherlands), Alice Berkowitz (USA), Leilani Sinclair (USA), Judith M. Pilla (USA), Joan Long, Republic of Ireland and more…
Seminars (final programme tbc shortly)
Working with alienation in families in Israel, Republic of Ireland, Malta, Croatia and the UK and USA
Psychological abuse of children and its resolution
Understanding alienation using psychoanalytic literature
A Structural therapeutic model of intervention
Multi model, attachment focused interventions
Primitive defences in divorce and separation
Personality disorder and its impact on children
Practitioner safety and the legal/mental health relationship
Projective Identification and its role in alienation of children
Shame and its resolution
The co-coaching and co-therapy model and the importance of rejected parents in children’s recovery