Last day of 2022 and I am planning the next phase of our work around the world. 2023 promises to be a year of outputs from the Family Separation Clinic as we ramp up our production of resources and support services for parents and practitioners. In doing so I am focusing upon those things which are most important in terms of raising awareness in the outside world, of the harm that is caused to children who are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence after divorce and separation. In my view the vital elements we must educate people about are as follows –

1.Alignment and rejection behaviours in children of divorce and separation are a relational trauma which causes maladaptations in the child’s behaviours.

2.Trauma based behavioural maladaptations cause latent vulnerability which means the impact doesn’t appear in the here and now but in later developmental stages.

3.Latent vulnerability is demonstrated by well understood signs in the trauma literature, the most common of which are a hyper focus in one area of life (such as school performance or compliant behaviours) and neglect in other areas of life (such as peer to peer relationships).

What Lies Beneath: Harms arising from induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation.
Karen Woodall 2022

Having studied the clinical pictures of many children who were induced to use psychological splitting as a defence, I have long been aware that what we are looking at when a child aligns with one parent and rejects the other, is a relational trauma. Relational trauma occurs when there is consistent disruption of a child’s sense of being safe and loved within the family. The most common cause of this disruption is either abandonment or enmeshment. This can be caused by one or more parents or caregivers. In children of divorce and separation, relational trauma is caused by abandonmnt threat (when a parent creates hyper anxiety in the child about their relationship with the other parent), or enmeshement, when the boundary between parent and child is weak and the parent uses the child to meet their own psychological needs).

Relational Trauma and Latent Vulnerabilty

Discussion on the psychological impact on children of induced psychological splitting – Karen Woodall 2019

Latent vulnerability refers to the way in which neurocognitive and biological systems adapt to early adverse environments in ways that may confer short-term functional advantages, but increase future risk of poor psychological/psychiatric outcome. Children’s behavioural maladaptations to the divorce of parents, are likely to be neuro-biological in nature, meaning that the anxiety caused by the separation, triggers biological drivers which influence neuro-cognitive changes. Put simply, the anxiety of family breakdown, drives biological behaviours which are designed to maintain proximity to caregivers, (clinging to, hyper aligning with for example), which in turn affect neurological development by impacting upon the building of the brain at critical times. It is the impact upon the building of the neurological networks which causes the latent vulnerability to poor psychological outcomes in later life.

Delayed Impact of Relational Trauma

The delayed impact of the relational trauma of alignment and rejection in divorce and separation, is well explained in the trauma literature. The following video is from the UK trauma council.

UK Trauma Council – Childhood Trauma and the Brain

when I study the clinical case notes from the work that we do at the Family Separation Clinic, it is clear that what we are seeing when a child aligns with one parent and rejects the other, is the red flag of relational trauma which have caused the child’s maladaptative behaviours. When the child is hyper aligned, we see hyper vigilence, separation anxiety and intense proximity seeking, this tells us that something is happening the relationship with that parent which is intolerable for the child without those maladaptations. The most important step in such circumstances, is to observe, evaluate and differentiate why the child is hyper-aligned, which is why in our work in the family courts, we run twelve week clinical trials to determine what lies beneath the child’s alignment behaviours. Concurrently, within the twelve week clinical trial, we scrutinise the rejected parent to determine the impact upon them of the child’s rejection, at the same time rebuilding their understanding of themselves as being key to the recovery of the child’s capacity to have healthy attachment relationships.

Relational Trauma and Therapeutic Parenting

Therapeutic Parenting is a highly nurturing approach to caring for children who are suffering from attachment disorders. This approach has been adapted by the Family Separation Clinic to fit the needs of children of divorce and separation who are suffering from the attachment disruptions seen in relational trauma. This is a neuro-biological approach to understanding attachment disorders and disruptions which focuses upon the neuro-biological skills which help children to heal. These are the parenting skills for all parents in the rejected position which assist children to reconnect and rebuild as well as recover from the latent vulnerability which causes harm in the longer term.

Dear Reader,

Thoughout 2021/22 I have been focused upon training parents in the rejected position to use therapeutic parenting to assist their children in recovering from relational trauma. I have been undertaking this with families I am working with in the Family Courts, enabling parents who receive their children in residence transfer, to provide the restorative attachment based care which treats the underlying attachment disorders seen in children who are removed from parents who have caused them significant emotional and psychological harm. I have also been delivering online training to parents around the world who are outside of the court process and in doing so, I have been recording the progress of all of the parents and children I have trained to use therapeutic parenting. As a result, I have a wealth of case study material which demonstrates the power of the rejected parent to act as therapeutic parent in healing the underlying harms seen in children who suffer relational trauma.

Having been aware for a long time that a healthy parent in the rejected position holds the key to protection from latent vulnerability in children of divorce and separation, my key focus in January 2023 is to complete the handbook of therapeutic parenting and provide more resources to help more parents use these skills. Alongside this, the popular Holding up a Healthy Mirror Course will be available for download on demand and I will run regular listening and learning circles again alongside Saturday Seminars for those parents who want to develop their skills to help their own children and help others.

As we move towards this new phase of provision of resources for parents, we are now able to provide a documented approach to helping children who are suffering from relational trauma, which is rooted in the psychological and neuro-cognitive literature and which will be supported by evidence of outcomes of residence transfers which have been supported by the Family Separation Clinic. 2023 will be a year in which we help more professionals to understand how to help psycholgically abused children of divorce and separation as well as helping more parents to help their children recover from harm.

Learning and Listening Circles

Facilitated by Karen Woodall

Every two weeks – January to April 2023 19:00-21:00hrs GMT

The restoration of health, for rejected parents, begins with an understanding of what has happened internally and how that has become entangled with the child’s own splitting reactions. When parents are able to map this splitting across the family system, their own reactive splitting can integrate and they can begin the work of developing the healthy mirror needed by the child.

Parents who have healed reactive splitting can then learn to apply the skills of therapeutic parenting. This is an approach to parenting children who are suffering from attachment disorder due to being emotionally and psychologically harmed. Alienated children with therapeutic parents are shown, in evaluation, to be able to recover quickly from the underlying harms which have caused their rejecting behaviours.

This is a bi monthly drop in group which can be attended regularly or just as a one-off. The circles will be facilitated by psychotherapist Karen Woodall. Each session will focus on a particular element of therapeutic parenting for children with attachment difficulties due to divorce and separation and will comprise of 45 minute input and then an hour and 15 minutes of group discussion. Participants can attend to listen and learn and to share and receive knowledge. The basic requirement is simply curiosity about helping alienated children. The cost of each session is £40.00 (including sales tax).

I will be posting the dates for Circles between January and April 2023 next week.