Since 2019, I have been working with families affected by a child’s alignment and rejection behaviour, using the core sign of psychological splitting as the red flag that a child is not coping with the demands of having to hold two different realities in mind. In doing so, I have studied the way in which children signal that they have the defence of psychological splitting, measuring and monitoring the ways in which their behaviours change when they come under psychological pressure. The focus of my research at Regents University, is the way in which adults who rejected a parent in childhood after divorce and separation, make sense of their experience and my practice with families has continued to develop, most recently including therapeutic parenting training for parents with care of children who have experienced psychological splitting. The focus of all of my work is to understand how to treat children of divorce and separation who are caught between two worlds and how to help them to heal from the relational trauma they are suffering. Whilst this work continues to be located in a quagmire of controversy, (largely caused by people who themselves appear to be using the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection), we have made significant progress in recent months in determining how to build successful treatment routes.

The core problem for the child who strongly aligns and idealises one parent and as a consequence, rejects and demonises the other, is that they cannot hold both parental realities in mind at the same time. Splitting arises because the child is overwhelmed by the external forces of belief, attitude, emotional and psychological stress and distress which are located in their parents. In short, the child is overwhelmed by the emotional and psychological material which surrounds and infuses the world in which they live, this is either transmitted consciously through deliberate insults, unpleasant statements, lies or misrepresentations of the other parent or unconsciously in the inter-psychic relationship between parent and child. In either of these circumstances, the child is in the impossible position of having their relationship with a parent undermined and the reality of their relationship with that parent being weakened as a result. When one parent deliberately or otherwise, causes fear and anxiety in a child about the other parent’s love and care for them, the child cannot do anything other than conform to the dominant parental discource, this is especially true when a child is in the care of the influencing parent for a greater period than that of the parent in the rejected position. However, it is important to note that for vulnerable children, parents who have less care of the child, can still cause the splitting defence when they use strategies which are designed to pressure the child to conform to their reality.

As psychotherapists, it is essential that we understand what lies beneath the behavioural red flags which denote that a child is struggling with holding two realities in mind. These red flags can be bewildering to anyone who is unfamiliar with them and many parents have expressed concern that their child is suffering from a mental health problem at the onset of psychological splitting. This is not however, a mental health problem or condition but a relational problem which can become a relational trauma if it is not well understood or treated. What the child is doing, when they show the signs of psychological splitting, is showing that they are regressing to an infantile defensive position, which is inappropriate for their age but is in fact a normal response to an abnormal situation. When professionals and parents understand this, the red flag is recognised and the child can be assisted.

The signs of psychological splitting

A child demonstrates that they are using the defense of psychological splitting when they idealise and demonise their parents. This is the end result of a process which also includes behaviours such as ‘switching’ in which the child changes their persona to that which they believe fits what each parent wants (this is the precursor to the behaviours seen in the parentified child, who is often called a ‘people pleaser’). Other behaviours on this spectrum are compartmentalisation, which is when a child holds the part of self which is identified with a parent, away from their own consciousness whilst with the other parent. Splitting occurs when the child can no longer compartmentalise or hold two realities in mind at once. All of these behaviours are signs of attachment maladaptation in relationships, all can be considered to be childhood relational traumas.

The problem of parenting apart

The risk to children of psychological splitting after divorce and separation, is heightened when two parents are unable to see a child in the care of the other parent, this leaves an empty space in the awareness that a parent has about how the child behaves in the care of the other parent, it also requires the child to fill that empty space if a parent demands information. Many cases of psychological splitting in children are triggered by a child filling in the empty space with information about their experience of the other parent which fits what they know a parent wants to hear. This is not that children tell lies as such, although they do lie in circumstances where two parents live apart (I know this because of the work that I do where children tell lies and then retract them), it is because a child is trying to regulate a dysregulated parent by telling that parent what they think they want to hear. The problems caused by parenting apart, if there is an absence of collaboration and communication, is that the child is the person who has to navigate the empty space between their parents and that brings with it its own problems when there is hostility between parents.

Treating the Problem of Psychological Splitting

The defence of psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation is problematic because it causes long term difficulties for the sake of short term attachment maladaptations. What is called ‘parental alienation’ is in reality, a problem of the family attachment system and the child is seen to make short term attachment maladapations using splitting as a way of resolving an impossible dilemma (not being allowed to love both parents because of either fear and anxiety, threat of abandonment, enmeshment or coercive control in the relationship with one parent). When we recognise that splitting is a splitting of the ego (sense of self) first and then a projection of this onto the parents, we understand that the longer term harms which are caused by leaving this unresolved are too great a problem for the child. In recognising this we understand we must act to protect the child, constrain the behaviours of the influencing parent and only then treat the problem. What we are treating is the underlying attachment disruption which has been suffered by the child, by alleviating the pressure upon them caused by the influencing parent. We use structural intervention to protect the child (ameliorating the power a parent has over a child), this is court managed and the responsibility of the Judge in a case, we constrain the behaviours through the use of composite orders (seeking the detailed orders we need to ensure that a parent cannot continue to influence) and then we use an expedited approach to re-introducing the split off ‘object relationship’ in the form of the rejected parent, to enable the child to re-integrate the sense of self as a whole person.

It is the whole self of the child, which we are restoring when we treat the problem of psychological splitting and we are using the split off relationship with the parent in the rejected position to do this. Only when this work is complete do we move onto testing the capacity of the influencing parent to understand and change their behaviours so that the child can be in relationship with both parents without having to return to the paranoid schizoid position which denotes splitting.

For decades, children caught between two worlds have been left to cope without help but this is a problem which when recognised can be treated readily, ensuring that children do not have to live with the legacy of being forced back into an infantile position because of parental harms. Living in no mans land, where their experience has been poorly understood, these children have not been able to speak their experience for far too long. Bringing help, voice and new understanding to this problem, is our goal for 2023.

2023 Resources for Parents

Listening and Learning Circles

These popular online circles are for all parents and grandparents and wider family members in the rejected position, who want to learn more about therapeutic parenting and how it helps alienated children. The only requirement for attendance is curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn and, where you feel you can, share your experience. Facilitated by me, the next six sessions are as follows –

January 24 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Understanding Latent Vulnerability and How Therapeutic Parenting Helps

This is a circle which focuses upon the longer term needs of children who have suffered induced psychological splitting. Introducing the trauma concept of Latent Vulnerability, the skills to work with children who have suffered attachment disruption, which is seen to cause psychological splitting, will be explored.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

February 7 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Supporting Grandparents to find their healing place and power

This circle is for grandparents in families where children align and reject. It is to enable grandparents to understand what is happening to children and how they are well placed to provide the help that children need. Based upon Structural Therapy, this circle will work with hierarchies in families and how to build healthy structures for children both absent, present and returning.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

February 21 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Communicating with Alienated Children

Therapeutic Parenting skills can be used even if you are not able to see your children. By understanding the child’s experience, it is possible to find a way of communicating which can trigger change in your child’s responses to you. Based upon the successful circle held in 2022, ‘Writing to your Alienated Child’ which has produced a significant number of reports of successful reconnection following use of the strategies shared in that circle, this circle will expand upon communication strategies using creativity and curiosity as well as therapeutic parenting skills

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

March 7 – 19:00 -21:00 GMT

Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting Skills

This is an introductory session for parents who are new to therapeutic parenting. Using basic skills as a starter, we will explore how understanding the self as a therapeutic parent, changes the way that you signal your position to your child. Whilst this is an introductory session, all parents are encouraged to join this circle to build up shared momentum for knowledge and skills amongst rejected parents. This develops the capacity of the rejected parent community to assist other parents who are new to this experience.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

March 21 – 19:00-21:00

Helping the Parentified Child

Parentification is one of the key problems facing children who are manipulated in divorce and separation, it is a covert manipulation which can be difficult to spot, precisely because, as Dr Steve Miller always pointed out, it looks like a close and loving relationship.

There is no need to be helpless in the face of the parentified child however and, because the relational networks in the brain are constantly open to change, learning how to help the parentified child is a powerful tool to have at the ready for any parent who has been forced into the rejected position.

This circle will focus upon understanding how parentified children behave and how to operationalise strategies to help them.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

April 4 – 19:00-21:00

What is really happening when a child rejects a parent outright

The evidence is clear that a child who rejects a parent outright after divorce and separation, is not doing so because that parent is abusive. Instead, it is the parent to whom the child is aligned who is causing harm and it is the alignment we should be looking at because it is this which is abusive to the child. It is abusive because, even though it looks like love, it is a fear based response which is underpinned by the biological imperative to survive. In the framework of latent vulnerability, what we are seeing when a child aligns in this way, is a child who is already vulnerable in the parental relationship, succumbing to underlying disorganised attachments. This circle will explore the reality of what happens when a child rejects a parent and will focus on how therapeutic parenting can assist the child to recover.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

Online Courses for Parents

Holding Up A Healthy Mirror

This popular Therapeutic Parenting Course will be available on demand shortly.

Higher Level Understanding

This live course for those who have completed HUAM either live with me in 2022 or on demand in 2023, will be delivered three times over the coming year, I will announce the next delivery shortly.

Trainings for Parent Coaches

I will deliver a training for coaches who wish to use therapeutic parenting with clients in the first half of 2023 and will announce delivery in the coming weeks here.

Trainings and Resources for Practitioners

We are in the process of developing a suite of trainings and resources for practitioners which will be delivered from a dedicated training platform, I will update when these are ready here.

Instructing the Family Separation Clinic in Court

We regret that we cannot accept any instructions from the lower courts in 2023. High Court instructions for clinical trials for therapy in cases where children have been found to have been emotionally and psychologically harmed can be accepted, please do not propose the Clinic without enquiring about our availability first. Please see here for enquiries