My work as a Psychotherapist in the Family Courts, is about enabling children, who are imprisoned in the dynamics seen when internal parental conflicts become uncontained, to integrate the split state of mind and move back into a relationship with a loved parent they have been forced to reject. Finding out how that child has come to suffer from psychological splitting, seen when a child hyper aligns and rejects with contempt and disdain, is the first task we undertake when we are brought into a family court case. Building a treatment route which is based upon child protection principles is the way we intervene.
Assessment and Differentiation
When I am instructed in a case, it is after evaluation by a Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist. The Clinic does not accept cases for interventions where assessments have been undertaken by any other type of psychologist, including Counselling Psychologists or Educational Psychologists. This is because in the cases of serious harm we are involved in, children’s alignment and rejection behaviour, is most often, the result of harm arising from psychopathology. As Counselling Psychologists use a sociological framework for analysis and work with adjustment problems and Educational Psychologists use an educational framework for analysis and work with children and young people in learning situations, neither of these psychologists have the experience to identify, isolate and diagnose, the historical impact of patterns of pathological behaviour seen in influence of children . In my experience, in cases where children align and reject a parent, the analysis has to be within a framework of understanding and identifying psychopathology within the family system, and as such only a Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist has the special expertise required to do this.
The FSC intervention, which is currently under evaluation, is used in serious cases of psychological and emotional harm of children in the High Court in England & Wales, Republic of Ireland and Hong Kong. In the current climate of arguments about who should do this work, it is worth making it clear that our interventions do not rely upon Parental Alienation Theory or Domestic Abuse/ Feminist Theory, both of which are framed around the rights of parents. Instead our work as psychotherapists, rests upon the psychoanalytical approach called Object Relations Theory. In doing so, we place the lived experience of the child at the heart of everything we do, whilst working within an understanding of how parental psychopathology, impacts upon the child’s adjustment and maladaptations in divorce and separation.
Theoretical Theories in the Field of Children’s Alignment and Rejection Behaviours
Domestic Abuse/Feminist Theory, argues that the notion that a child can be influenced to reject a parent is abusive in itself unless it is a father influencing the child to reject a parent, in which case that is called coercive control. In DA/Feminist Theory, no mother can be considered to have influenced a child to reject a parent and all such claims are made by abusive fathers as a defence against domestic abuse.
Parental Alienation Theory says that this is a mental disorder in the child, which is said to be caused by high conflict divorce and uses eight signs, five factors and seventeen alienating strategies to evidence the presence parental alienation.
Resist/Refuse Dynamics is the term used by the the AFCC which considers the problem to be systemic, arguing that to polarise the issue by identifying psychopathology in a parent is to undermine the route to resolution.
ABPA is an attachment based grounding of the problem developed by Dr Childress who considers that this is triggered by psychopathology in a parent.
The FSC model, considers that alignment and rejection behaviours are onset of primitive defences in the child who is overwhelmed by the dynamics in the family. The child’s resolution of the trauma caused by their experience of these dynamics, (which are impossible for the child to resolve due to their lack of power in the family system), is caused by the onset of the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, which causes the child to display symptoms of hyper alignment with one parent and rejection fo the other. This however, is NOT the true problem for the child because this is a projection. The true problem for the child is that the resolution of the problem rests upon a splitting of the ego or sense of self. We argue, that this is the reason why a child who aligns and rejects in this way suffers harm. Splitting of the ego or sense of self, is not easily or quickly resolved, leading to a lasting relational trauma which impacts over the lifetime.
Theoretical Background to the FSC Model
Using Object Relations Theory (ORT) to understand the experience of the child in divorce and separation, it is possible to recognise the harm that is done to children when they experience the crisis of family separation. The eruption of uncontained dynamics between parents or from one parent directing these at the other, is seen in ORT within the context of the principle that external relationships build internalised representations of those relationships. It follows in this model, that any disturbance in the external relational world, will disrupt the internal sense of relational safety and dependability, causing a child to adapt and maladapt their behaviours due to defence mechanisms.
Defence Mechanisms are defined as being unconscious strategies which people use to cope with feelings which are overwhelming for them. People use defence mechanisms to separate themselves from difficult and painful feelings.
The concept of defence mechanisms comes from psychoanalytic theory, a psychological perspective of personality first proposed by Sigmund Freud, this theory has evolved over time and supposes that defences are not under our conscious control. According to psychoanalytic theory, defence mechanisms are a natural part of psychological development and many people will experience them over a lifetime
Defences and Childhood Relational Trauma
There are several defence mechanisms, some of which are infantile in nature and called primitive defences and some of which are more sophisticated. The major defences seen in childhood are infantile in nature, this is because as children, it is common to regress to earlier stages of development when under psychological or emotional pressure from trauma.
Primitive (infantile) Defences
The primitive defences are Denial, Splitting and Projection, these are the mechanisms by which we are able to defend against intolerable feelings. Denying those feelings and splitting them off or separating them out from our conscious thoughts, means that we do not have to feel the internal conflicts which arise when we are psychologically overwhelmed. Splitting feelings off from conscious awareness means that the sense of self or ego, becomes split and the internal integrity of our map of relationships becomes fractured. When we are no longer conscious of our split off conflicted feelings, we will begin to see them in other people, as we project them onto other people. Projection is a defence mechanism which causes us to see in others what we cannot tolerate in ourselves. The projection is a throwing out of our difficult feelings onto others, in which we see in other people, what we cannot see in ourselves.
In situations where children display primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, our first task is to identify how this occurred, which means examining whether and where psychopathology exists in the family system. FSC considers that it is the presence of patterns of behaviours which are seen in people with psychological profiles of concern, which pressure the child or induce the onset of psychological splitting as a defence. In all of the serious cases of emotional and psychological abuse of a child which the Clinic has been involved in, a parent has been seen to have a pathological profile which has triggered the onset of the defence of splitting in the child. These cases, which are currently being evaluated, have involved removal of the child from the harm which is caused by a parent AFTER many months/years of evaluation by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
When the onset of the defence of psychological splitting has been mapped, structural interventions to relieve the psychological pressure upon the child (which is many cases mirrors the psychological control which is seen in adult to adult coercive control situations), is undertaken. When the psychological pressure upon the child to use the defence of splitting is relieved, the underlying attachment focused therapeutic work can take place. FSC recognises that it is not possible to use any form of generic therapy to resolve the child’s rejection and to attempt to do so is to risk further harm to the child. This is because therapy in circumstances where a child is held captive to the power a parent holds over them, is to simply replicate the dynamic which causes harm in the first place.
In the current climate around the world, in which one theory is pitched against the other and many hours are being spent defending theories or trying to prove them, we consider that it is vital that we do not lose sight of the fact that this is a child mental health problem which is being hidden by wht we consider to be manufactured adult battles for ‘truth’.
We therefore, continue to do this work, both to resolve the problem for children and to build evidence based treatment routes which work for children. Despite the lurid headlines and the constant claims and counter claims, FSC work continues, because what lies beneath this manufactured fight, is the wellbeing of another generation of children. And that, beyond all else, is what matters most of all.
Family Separation Clinic News
Clinical Handbook This is in revision in preparation for publication and offers a detailed treatment map for all practitioners who are working with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting.
The Handbook of Therapeutic Parenting for Children of Divorce and Separation is nearing completion and I will make the publishing date and links to purchase available here in 2023.
Course and Resources The Clinic is now focused upon the development of courses and resources for parents and practitioners which will be available for download in 2023. The popular course called Holding up a Healthy Mirror, which is an introduction to Therapeutic Parenting for children suffering from psychological splitting and attachment disorder, will be available for download early in 2023. Further courses for parents, entitled Higher Level Understanding and Reconnections, will be available both live and for download and information about these will be posted here and on the Clinic’s website http://www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk
Downloadable resources will be available on a rolling basis at the Clinic’s website.
Practitioners courses are currently in development, these will be delivered from a new platform and I will introduce this here early next year.
Social Work Training Pathways We are currently delivering two social work training pathways, where the FSC model is being embedded into management of public law cases. The outcomes of these cases are being evaluated to provide an evidence based treatment pathway for social workers dealing with serious cases of induced psychological splitting in children who are removed from a parent due to psychological and emotional harm.
Other resources are also in development with the support of private investment for which we are very grateful as it allows us to both develop the FSC model of work and make it available around the world for others to use.
Learning and Listening Circles
29th November – Writing to Your Alienated Child – 19:00-21:00 GMT – Cost £40 per person (family members can join for the cost of one place).
For several generations around the world, children’s relationships in divorce and separation have been reduced to what is called ‘letter box contact’ a restriction which is based upon limited letter writing from parent to child. This limited connection to a parent can cause you to feel as if you are writing into a black hole as month after month, you search for something to say.
What do you say in the face of such disconnection, when you cannot know what your child is feeling, when you cannot share how you are feeling for fear of causing your child to disconnect further or for longer.
During this Listening Circle we will look at ways of writing to your child which enable the deepest connection between you to be held in mind and conveyed to your child, we will consider language and its power and different ways of presenting meaningful words which will connect with the healthy child who is hidden behind the false self.
Listening and Learning Circles are about sharing what works as well as discussing and finding answers to questions, if you have a letter writing style that works, bring it along to share. Together, the pain of letterbox contact can be reduced and managed and I will show you the evidence of how and why you should keep writing, with words from children, now recovered, whose only life line for a time, was the letters they received from a parent they had rejected.
13th December – Holding the Child in Mind – 19:00-21:00 GMT – Cost £40 per person, (family members can attend for the cost of one place).
Holding the child in mind is the way in which rejected parents can build therapeutic parenting skills. Understanding how we all need to mentalise the needs of people not present to build empathy and understanding, is the focus of this Listening and Learning Circle. Mentalising skills will be shared in this circle along with examples of the power of holding space for children who are not present and signalling to them that it is safe to reconnect.
This circle is for all parents who wish to understand and/or deepen their therapeutic parenting skills. Working with Structural Therapeutic understanding, we will look at the way in which counter intuitive communication with children who suffer from induced psychological splitting, offers opportunities for reconnection. Using a live case study with a reconnected parent, this listening circle will give you the opportunity to ask questions and find out how it feels when a child comes home and why holding the child in mind is such an important skill for all parents in the rejected postion.
20th December – 19:00-21:00 – Encircling with love – a Special Christmas Circle focused on the needs of rejected parents – Cost £20 per person (family members can join for the cost of one place).
This circle is reduced in cost to £20 to enable as many parents to join as possible and if any parent cannot afford the £20 cost but would like to join, they can email request a free place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This circle is focused upon the health and wellbeing of rejected parents and offers support and care to every member of a family where a child is currently rejecting.
The needs of rejected parents are many but the first need is to be recognised and understood. This circle provides a safe space for those who are grieving, those who are surviving, those who are coping and those who are reconnecting.
Facilitated by Karen Woodall, this is a place to pull up a chair, light a candle and be together to share stories, be hopeful and know that you are not alone.
I love her determination, because
The posts are getting better and better!
The defense mechanism are in levels.
LVL . 7 Mature Defense
LVL . 6 Obsessive Defense
LVL . 5 Neurotic Defense
LVL . 4 Minor reality Distortions
LVL . 3 Disavowal Defense
LVL . 2 Major Reality Distortions
LVL . 1 Action Defense
LVL . 0 Extreme Reality Distortions
LVL . 0 is also known as psychotic defense.
Psychotic denial, projection, withdraw, fragmentation, distortions, concretization!
Alienating parents use the lowest level of defense mechanisms and the most are emotional unavailable (death instinct, psychic deadness, dead mother/father complex) with al lot of repressed irritation, frustration, anger, aggression on long term form early youth.
In my eye’s parental alienation is an
Asymmetric conflict where one parent use the same direct & indirect aggression on the partner & child to accomplish goals for own benefit.
Having worked in the field for 40 years… seeing the manifestation of children who reject, detach or attach in a pathological way and the manifestations in their lives as adults…you really do express and articulate the fundamentals of serious concerns for our future generations. Thank you
Thank you for reading Francois, I hope I am closer than ever to articulating how to help these children in a way which is replicable and evidence based. K
Karen I typically overwhelmingly support and endorse you and your work, however, on the topic of what professionals are suitable to conduct evaluations in this area, I have to disagree. Going by professional labels and identified degrees is somewhat like adding nominal variables, the result is meaningless. I know of and have read research on so called “Board” certified clinical psychologists who in their forensic evaluations make frequent assessment errors that they should know not to make. The criteria for conducting evaluations in these cases should not be the individual’s label but their knowledge, understanding, experience and practice. Courts too often appoint people based on their advertised credentials only to witness abject failure, after failure. The clothes (university degrees) don’t make the person (professional). I still highly respect your work, thank you for what you do.
Here I am speaking specifically about our model of work Bob and how we work only with Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists here who are the only people who can diagnose psychopathology. I am saying that for our therapeutic treatment routes, we need diagnosis ruled in or out. I am very aware that for other models, this is not necessary. K
Very interesting article. I would like to know more about the evaluation of parental psychopathology by the psychiatrist/clinical psychologist- are they specifically seeing Cluster B personality disorders in a parent(s)? If so, is a correlation being made between this and coercive control of adults and children?
In the cases we work in yes they are and yes the correlation between those and CC is being made. In alienation of mothers we see narcissistic PD in fathers and in alienation of fathers we see histrionic, Unstable and narcissistic PD – we also see enmeshment in mothers and parentification, where children are being used as emotional supporters for mothers.
DEFENSIVE COMMUNICATION: JACK R. GIBB, Ph.D (1961)
One way to understand communication is to view it as a people process rather than as a language process. If one is to make fundamental improvement in communication, he must make changes in interpersonal relationships. One possible type of alteration-and the one with which this paper is concerned is that of reducing the degree of defensiveness.
Defensive Communication Categories of Behavior Characteristics of
Supportive Climates and Defensive Climates in Small Groups
Defensive Climates Supportive Climates
1. Evaluation 1. Description
2. Control 2. Problem orientation
3. Strategy 3. Spontaneity
4. Neutrality 4. Empathy
5. Superiority 5. Equality
6. Certainty 6. Provisionalism
Superiority and Equality
When a person communicates to another that he feels superior in position, power, wealth, intellectual ability, physical characteristics, or other ways, he arouses defensiveness. Here, as with the other sources of disturbance, whatever arouses feelings of inadequacy causes the listener to center upon the affect loading of the statement rather than upon the cognitive elements. The receiver then reacts by not hearing the message, by forgetting it, by competing with the sender, or by becoming jealous of him.
The person who is perceived as feeling superior communicates that he is not willing to enter into a shared problem-solving relationship, that he probably does not desire feedback, that he does not require help, and/or that he will be likeIy to try to reduce the power, the status, or the worth of the receiver.
Many ways exist for creating the atmosphere that the sender feels himself equal to the listener. Defenses are reduced when one perceives the sender as being willing to enter into participative planning with mutual trust and respect. Differences in talent, ability, worth, appearance, status, and power often exist, but the low-defense communicator seems to attach little importance to these distinctions.
Journal of Communication, Volume 11, Issue 3, September 1961, Pages 141–148, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1961.tb00344.x Published: 07 February 2006 https://academic.oup.com/joc/article-abstract/11/3/141/4587353
Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation
Mary D. Salter Ainsworth, Mary C. Blehar, Everett Waters, and Sally N. Wall
Scale 4: Acceptance vs. Rejection of the Infant’s Needs
Some outwardly accepting mothers are more rejecting than those, described above, who can give brief, healthy, situation-specific vent to annoyance. The pseudo-accepting mothers comply with the infant’s demands, but in a way which is in itself inappropriate. They comply masochistically, and in a pseudo-patient, long-suffering way, and usually underneath this type of compliance lies much repressed aggression—which is usually deep-seated and of long standing, and which has little to do with the infant except as his behavior may serve to activate this repressed aggression and threaten the defenses against it. Such a mother cannot give healthy vent to the anger occasioned by the infant’s behavior. She smothers it, and tries to be patient. Her very defenses against expressing her anger make it impossible for her to be truly responsive to the infant, and hence he tends to find her compliance unsatisfying. Both this and the often inappropriate outbursts of irritation which inevitably break through the defenses add up to rejection.
I can’t tell you how helpful your posts are Bob, I read everything you point to, thank you for taking the time. K