Children of divorce and separation need their parents to be able to continue to provide healthy mirroring across their developmental stages. Unfortunately for some children, the mirroring they receive is distorted, leading to maladapations in their behaviours as they strive to cope with the changing landscape of their lives. Children who are strongly aligned to a parent and rejecting of the other, are demonstrating that they are no longer able to make adaptations, meaning that they can no longer continue to relate to one of their parent at all. Captured in the distorted mirror of the influencing parent’s intra-psychic world, these children disappear into alignment and rejection, which at its heart, is an alienation of the self from the self, a condition which is well recognised in the psychoanlytical literature.

“Philosophers of all times have stressed the pivotal significance of being ourselves and the despair attendant on feeling barred from its approximation… “What other significance can our existence have than to be ourselves fully and completely?”

Karen Horney, Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis

Contemporary literature also gives clear explanations of the meaning of self alienation, with Fonagy and others referring the ‘alien self’ in their work on attachment, mentalisation and borderline personality disorder. In clinical work with children of divorce and separation who align and reject, it is clear that the behavioural presentation in the child, is a defensive splitting which produces a false self which is aligned with the inter-psychic world of the influencing parent.

The work being done at the Family Separation Clinic is in treatment of children affected by self alienation in circumstances where this arises in divorce and separation. The impact on parents, of this presentation in the child, which is flagged by the child’s demonstration of the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, is profound, and leads to lengthy and deeply destructive struggles, which render the child devoid of healthy mirroring during a time when they are maladapting their attachment behaviours in order to survive. This often occurs during the most significant developmental periods of childhood, leading to the loss of capacity for achieving integration in self and relationship with others.

To treat such dynamics, a therapist must have a depth understanding of the way in which primitive defences fracture family relationships, and an ability to work in a counter intuitive manner. Counter intuition means thinking about things in the opposite way to how therapy is usually delivered. For example, in ordinary therapy, patients are expected to uncover their deeper disturbances in the therapy room. In children who align and reject, it is impossible for uncovering to occur, unless protection is in place, in fact what usually happens if ordinary therapy is provided, is that the child entrenches the alignment and rejection dynamic by deepening the split within. The signs that the split within is deepened, is seen in the child’s adamant refusal, ‘forgetting’ of events, escalation of aggression or allegations.

Rather than talking in therapy, a child who is suffering self alienation, must be helped to do something, that something is encounter the split off part of self in the form of the identification with the rejected parent, this enables integration of self. To enable the child to integrate the self rather than try to encourage uncovering by talking, proximity to the denied and split off object relationship with the rejected parent, has to occur in a safe space. The safe space has to be protected from exposure to the parent the child is aligned to and the therapist has to be willing to hold material which is uncovered and behaviours which are displayed in this space, safely away from that parent. The role of the therapist in such work is to be able to provide the conditions in which the child can re-integrate split off parts of self in order to recover integration, in such circumstances, the false or alien self which is seen in the child when they are rejecting a parent due to alignment, disappears.

In my work with children who align and reject, I focus upon the integration of the child’s self as part of the therapeutic treatment which is delivered when a child is found by the Court to be alienated. In doing so, I work first to create the safe space needed through building a team around a child which is entirely focused upon holding the boundary of protection. The next stage is to train the parent in the rejected position, in therapeutic parenting skills to enable a safe container for the child to reconnect to. Stabilising rejected parents, who are often suffering from reactive splitting and C-PTSD due to the behaviours of their child and their anxiety about the harm which is being caused, is the major task.

Holding up a Healthy Mirror – Only Live Delivery for 2023 – Begins March 14th at 8am UK time (timing is suitable for parents in Europe, Australia/New Zealand)

Last year I delivered Holding up a Healthy Mirror to over three hundred parents from all around the world. What I discovered during delivery, is that the health, knowledge and willingness of rejected parents to take up the skills of mentalising and use them effectively, demonstrates that children with a healthy parent in the rejected position, do incredibly well on reconnection, rebuilding not only the relationship with a parent but integrating a sense of self which is not longer divided.

When trained, parents can use therapeutic parenting skills on a continuous basis, moving back to ordinary parenting when the child is integrated and using therapeutic parenting skills again if the child becomes dysregulated and begins to show signs of splitting.

I received more reports of reconnection, rebuilding and return of children to normal relational space during Christmas 2022, than at any time in my work over the past decade, leading me to understand more clearly, the power of this approach to helping parents to help their children.

About this course:

Children who hyper align with a parent and reject the other in divorce and separation are usually in the age group 8-14 years. This is because this age group is in a stage in which their sense of self and personality is under development and the ego is not strong enough to regulate the anxieties which are generated by the experience of attachment disruption in family separation.

What we know about children who experience these difficulties, is that they can be helped when one of their parents is able to understand their experience and in response, hold up a healthy mirror. When the holding of this mirror is consistent, the child who has suffered from induced psychological splitting which is demonstrated by aligning themselves with one parent and rejecting the other, can experience an integrated sense of self which assists in recovery.

In order to hold up a healthy mirror, the parent in the rejected position must first address the reactive splitting that they are likely to have suffered. Reactive splitting, which occurs when the child rejects, (often accompanied by false allegations), can cause a parent to feel natural reactions such as anger, bewilderment and shame. These feelings, which are normal in the circumstances, can become blocks and barriers to the child’s recovery as the parent refutes the allegations and shows the child their reactive feelings. In these circumstances, the child withdraws further, struggling with their own guilt and shame and begins to split off their feelings further.

Restoring health to 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.

On this course you will learn:

  • What psychological splitting is, how it occurs and why
  • How to identify your own reactive splitting
  • How to integrate split thinking in a fractured landscape
  • How to build integrated thinking strategies
  • What to embrace and what to avoid when rebuilding health in the face of alienation
  • How to build the healthy mirror your child needs
  • Mentalisation strategies for mirroring health
  • The power and importance of consistent mirroring
  • How other parents have used integrated mirroring to bring their children back to health
  • Therapeutic parenting – an integrated skills set
  • Building a consistent communications strategy for recovering your children
  • Working with the counter intuitive approach necessary to enable alienated children to withdraw their projections
  • Staying healthy amidst the chaos caused by psychological splitting

Based upon successful work with many families around the world, Karen Woodall will share with you the deep knowledge of how to recover children from the nightmare landscape of psychological splitting. Karen has helped families to rebuild health and wellbeing with children of all ages and has developed a structural approach to working with alienation which is easily translated into strategies which can be used by parents.

‘I have worked with Karen Woodall for two years now and both of my children are back in our lives and thriving. One of my children was alienated from me for ten years and she is clearly suffering the impact of that. With Karen’s guidance, I am working to address her attachment difficulties, which I now understand and recognise. Karen’s guidance works, it helps children to come home and then heal. It has been invaluable to me to do this work and understand and feel skilled as parent again.’

Emma, Mum to two children aged 16 and 19.

‘My children are both in their thirties and I despaired of ever seeing them again. I have worked with Karen for six months and am delighted to say that I seeing them both regularly now. Working with therapeutic parenting skills, I have begun to understand how they have been affected and I can help them with confidence and see the difference it makes. I am recovering a sense that I can do something about this nightmare and that makes all the difference in my life’

Jack. Dad to two adult children aged 32 and 37.

Purchase of tickets to this course offers access to the recordings by all participants for up to one month.


  • This webinar will be held on Zoom.
  • To gain access, you must provide a valid email address along with your name and PayPal order reference number (you will receive this by email from PayPal after you have made payment).


please note that the Listening Circle for grandparents, which was scheduled on the 7th February, will now take place on the 14th February at 19:00-21:00hrs.