When I write about the issue of children’s alignment and rejection after divorce and separation rather than parental alienation, it is because as a psychotherapist working with children who display this behavioural pattern, I am working with the underlying psychological dynamics which are present in the family affected. As a psychotherapist, I need to understand those dynamics in their entirety, because in order to treat them, I have to be able to understand how they appear in the family system. I also have to understand how treatment must be delivered in the correct manner at the correct time. If I do not understand this, then what I am doing is experimenting and experimenting with this problem, is never a good thing to do.

This problem is, in my clinical experience, a childhood relational trauma which is caused by the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, in children who are vulnerable because they are triangulated into the dissolution of the parental relationship. Whilst the presenting problem appears to be the rejection of a parent, the actual clinical problem is the child’s alignment with a parent which is pathological. The pathological nature of the alignment is rooted in the attachment maladaptations that the child has been forced to make due to the parental demands in the innter-psychic relationship. This is reinforced by the parental power and control over a child which enables the fusion of the relationship to take hold. Enmeshment and abandonment threat are the two key dynamics which are seen when working with alienated children and it is this which makes this a childhood relational trauma.

Childhood Relational Trauma

Relational trauma is a term used to describe the aftermath of abuse, neglect, maltreatment, or abandonment within a relationship. Experiencing childhood relational trauma, can affect how a person sees themselves and the type of relationship they believe they “deserve. Whilst the word ‘trauma’ is often used to describe the type of abuse we are familiar with, physical or sexual abuse being the most commonly recognised forms of childhood harm, emotional and psychological abuse is also a childhood relational trauma. In fact emotional and psychological abuse, especially that which feels to the child as if it is a loving bond, is a particularly insidious form of abuse, prescisely because to the child it feels so good. Being an adult’s ‘special child’ because the adult needs the child to regulate their feelings, places an impossible burden upon a child which creates a sense of omnipotency AND deep discomfort. The child at once likes the feeling of being the special child, whilst struggling against the inverted bond which they are aware of. An inverted bond in this regard meaning that the child is aware that the parent is looking to them to have their needs met. Childhood relational trauma leaves a lasting legacy, this video explains more about why.

What Lies Beneath Alignment in Divorce and Separation?

When we examine the alignment between the child and parent we can see varying levels of interpersonal threat which cause the child to respond in ways which reassure the parent that they are in control. This is a feedback loop which begins with parental signals to the child that it is not acceptable to love the other parent, discomfort which is leaked to the child when it is time for the child to spend time away, projection onto the other parent of the split off anxiety in a parent, which is shared with the child either verbally or unconsciously and which ends with the child conforming to the will of the parent by aligning strongly with them.

Parentification is one of the biggest problems that I see in my work with adult children of divorce and separation and this goes for those who were not alienated from one parent as well as those who were. Parentification is a boundary violation, in which children are used to meet the needs of a parent. In divorce and separation, many children are pulled into this position for a time but as the family rights itself and parents move on in life, they return to being the parent. This next video explains that transitional period very well.

For other children, the role of parenting a parent continues long after the divorce and separation and the child can be bound into an alignment with a parent which becomes a hostile coalition against the other parent. In the psychological literature, this is articulated especially well by structural family therapist such as Salvador Minuchin.

There are particular features of families affected by hostile coalitions between children and parents, I wrote about this in a blog some years ago. Working with these families requires a particular approach, a skill set which includes a deep knowledge of how such families present and how that is different to the internal world experienced by its members. In such families, the hierarchy of relationships is inverted, with children often seen as having more power than the adults, parenting is not an actual process in these families, which operate more like a cult, where loyalty to the system comes before experiencing of one’s own emotional and psychological needs. In such circumstances, children cannot develop a sense of self but instead coexist in the inter-psychic world of the family within diffuse boundaries which lack the definition between self and other.

There is much more to say about Childhood Relational Trauma in divorce and separation and over the coming months we will be exploring all those things which lie beneath, as part of our project to curate a body of knowledge which is rooted in the psychological literature, for parents and practitioners to use in healing and treating families affected by a child’s alignment and rejection behaviour.

The Healing Power of Grandparents

Our listening circles provide a regular point for parents who are developing their therapeutic parenting skills, to meet and discuss this approach to helping children who are aligning and rejecting after divorce and separation. Our next circle is for grandparents, to help them to understand their place and strengths in helping to heal children who are suffering after divorce or separation.

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

Further circles are planned as follows –

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

The Clinic only accepts cases for treatment after fact finding and where psychological and/or emotional harm has been identified and in England and Wales we only accept instructions from the Central Family Court or the High Court as well as selected Local Authorities and associated Courts. We can accept instructions for an Independent Social Work assessment in the lower courts however and have limited capacity for this in the coming months. Please see here for enquiries about this