Containing the uncontainable

The work being done in families affected by alienation of children is best described as ‘containing the uncontainable.’ When families separate, most struggle in the first few months but find a way to make the crossing safely. Those who do not are those families where other difficulties, hidden until the family breakdown occurred, come sharply into light. In doing so, those difficulties breach the ordinary everyday boundaries of the family. Let me give an example.

When families are together they replicate the patterns of behaviours which are learned in childhood by each parent. If mom grew up with strong messages of ‘do your best’ and ‘behave yourself’ and dad grew up with ‘anything goes’ and ‘children are equal to adults’ then the psychological wrangling between these two when they first become parents, will be to find either a happy middle ground or one will be forced to bend to the other’s will. In terms of how that operates on a day to day basis when the family is together, most will find a way to live in the moment and make things work. Some will not. When parents separate, some will find a way to make partnerships that work for their children, some will recreate the internal struggle within the family when it was together and a small minority will enter into an uncontained (and uncontainable) state of distress, in which the crisis of the separation, allows the leakage of repressed psychological material to erupt.

Within this small group, are those parents who as children, suffered early attachment disorder. Early developmental difficulties, lead to behavioural patterns in adulthood which can be termed compulsive. (Johnstone and Roseby 1997). Unresolved harm, done to the adults in childhood, can drive problematic patterns of behaviours in the crisis of divorce.

Similarly, patterns of coercive control, enacted within the marriage, can erupt into uncontainable patterns of behaviours which triangulate children into the adult relationship when the family separates. For children who themselves, may have suffered early developmental trauma, this brings significant risk of exposure to leakage adult psychological and emotional distress.

All of these conditions are seen in families where children reject a parent outright in the absence of anything that a parent has been found to have done to cause that. Finding out what lies beneath the alignment and rejection behaviours in children in this group of families, is what we are doing when we assess and differentiate the problem.

Treatment of this problem however, is an entirely different matter. When the differentiation process is complete and the child’s route into the psychologically split state of mind – (children who reject a parent in circumstances where the cause of that is triagulation into adult distress, show a clear pattern of induced psychological splitting), treatment is focused upon relieving the pressure upon the child so that the split state of mind integrates.

I come to this work with one focus only and that is the harm that is done to children who are induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation. My work is with those children and families where this occurs and those children who, over the years since rejecting a parent, have struggled to integrate the split state of mind this caused. I work with adult children who struggle with the impact of having rejected a parent in childhood as well as children in the here and now. All of these children tell the story of living through the uncontained and (at the time), uncontainable emotional and psychological eruption of their family. The story of family separation for this group of families, is of volcanic eruptions of pain, blame, projection, rage, terror and fear. In the midst of this, children tell their stories of having carried the responsibility for preventing parents from psychologically disintegrating and the impact of that on their lives.

Doing this work with children in the here and now, is about containing the uncontainable and putting boundaries around the unboundaried emotional and psychological eruptions experienced by adults, so that children are protected. When children feel protected, the risk of being triangulated decreases and their capacity to enjoy life unencumbered by the responsibility to protect a parent emerges again. Doing this work with adults, is about taking them back to that point of eruption and retracing the ways in which they took up the responsibility to protect parents from disintegration.

Far away from beliefs that those of us who do this work are against parents, our work is, in fact, to help parents to focus upon the needs of their children and to provide them with support to relieve children of the burdens that uncontained emotions place upon them. Some parents understand this and work with us to put in place the necessary boundaries. Others are unable to, focused only upon furthering the patterns of behaviours which are rooted in defences from their own childhood. During treatment of families, those who can understand are differentiated from those who can’t. Where parents cannot understand and cannot utilise help to contain the uncontained material, child protection protocols guide further work so that the child is not continually exposed to a reality which has its basis in projection and blame.

Containing the uncontainable is something that I have spent my working life doing with families. I do this because of the deep harm that children suffer when they are exposed to adult psychological and emotional distress and triangulated as little helpers who attempt to resolve what is, for them, unresolvable.

I do this work because of the life long impact some of these children suffer and because this harm is hidden, it is ignored and it is covered up, by those who seek to roll up the experience of children into the needs of their parents. These children have already found themselves rolled up into the psychological and emotional issues of their parents, they need help to be separated from that, not further immersed in it.

In telling me the story of his adult daughter, found in a mental health hospital in her twenties, after two decades of being enmeshed into the emotional and psychological life of her mother, one father described the reality of the life long impact of this on children.

Forced to reject her father and silenced in terms of her own psychological life, this young woman had kept her father’s address with her all of those years. When her own mental health broke under the traumatic impact, the treating team found this address and called for her father.

At the end of the story of this uncontained and uncontainable family breakdown, this father said to me in tears, – ‘suffer the little children and as adults, they still do.’

That is the reality of what happens to children who suffer uncontained relational trauma in divorce and separation. That is why we do this work.

online harassment

The individual behind the Twitter account @punishthepoor is known to the Met Police for her stalking & harassment of many people including me. Twitter also recognises her abuse and harassment. Those who find themselves a victim of her behaviours, can report to the Met Police as well as Twitter, her details are known to both.

The Plight of the parentified child

In our work with families affected by a child’s outright rejection of a parent, we look at the deep layers of maladapted behaviours in the family which cause this phenomenon to occur. In my experience, a child is induced to use psychological splitting in an environment in which they are left with no other option but to enter into this defence, the alternative being psychological disintegration. The defence of psychological splitting, is an infantile defence, meaning that the child who is induced to use it, suffers disruption to developmental processes. A child who regresses to a world in which everything is either good or bad, black or white, is a child who has lost perspective and who cannot do the work of normal development. Induced psychological splitting is the outcome of what can be a long process (chronic onset) or it can be an instantaneous outcome (acute onset). The difference in onset is, in my clinical experience, concerned with the capacity of the child to withstand the psychological pressure caused by a parent’s anxiety leakage, (covert) or direct instruction such as bad mouthing (overt). For some children, the pressure to align with a parent’s viewpoint is continuous but resisted until an event (what we call a trigger event) occurs. When the trigger event occurs (and this can be a seemingly innocuous event on the outside), the child enters into the defence of splitting which leads to complete rejection of a parent. This is the underlying pattern of behaviour which is seen when a child is experienced as being happy up to the point at which they leave a parent’s home, never to return.

Defensive splitting is the visible sign of underlying patterns of relationships in families which are themselves harmful to the child. These underlying patterns, like undercurrents in a river, are often present from birth and are the maladapted behaviours which are normalised in families. Children who suffer induced psychological splitting are often seen to have suffered early developmental trauma such as a prolonged absence from a parent in the first five years of life. Other scenarios which cause vulnerability to induced splitting are patterns of behaviours in families which corrupt the roles that parents play in their children’s lives.

Parentification is a behavioural pattern in families which was first noticed by Boszormenyi-Nagy, in which the child serves as a caregiver to a parent. This pattern of behaviour is one which is seen in many families where alienation of a child is present and it is vital that when we see it, we understand it and treat it. This is because parentification causes the chlid to eschew their own capacity to receive care from a parent in favour of hyper attentiveness to the needs of a parent. It is worth explaining just how damaging this is over the lifetime through examining parentification via a case study from work done by the Clinic with a parentified child over a period of 12 years.

Alyce is a twenty two year woman with a younger sister who is now aged eighteen. Alyce’s parents separated when she was eight years old, her sister at the time was four. Prior to the family separating, Alyce had been in the care of her maternal grandmother for eighteen months after her sister was born, when her mother suffered from post natal depression. Alyce returned to her mother and father’s care when she was five and half and from that point on, she appeared to be a highly competent child who did not make any demands upon her parents and who helped her mother to care for her sister as much as she could.

When her parents separated, Alyce became hyper vigilent and increased in her competence in caring for her mother and her sister. Alyce’s father would visit at first but very quickly after the separation, Alyce began to show signs of resisting his incoming care. Whilst at first she would interact with him when he visited at home, she soon refused to spend time with him and when it was suggested that she should go for trips out with him, she became at first angry and then extremely distressed. Her sister on the other hand, went off for day trips and then overnight trips with her father without complaint and was soon spending half of her holidays with her father. There were no obvious reasons why Alyce could not do the same, she had shown a strong bond with her father up until the family separated but she now increasingly resisted even being in the same room as him. Whilst she could tolerate her sister on a day to day basis, she avoided her on the days that she returned from her time with her father. Alyce’s mother could not understand why Alyce was reacting this way to her father and began to wonder whether he had done something to her to cause this.

On entry into working with this family, assessment showed the potential for early developmental trauma in Alyce with the separation from the care of her mother and father and her mother’s emotional absence after the birth of her sister. Whilst Alyce had enjoyed her time with her grandmother and spoke of feeling safe and happy in her care, she had very little memory of the period when she returned home to the care of her mother and father, other than an overwhelming sense that something might go wrong and that she must, at all times, take care of her sister and as much as she could, be good for her mother. Reports from her family about Alyce during this period were that she was a very good girl with a ‘wisdom beyond her years.’ She was reported to help her mother with housework and to keep her mother company during the times when she felt vulnerable, her mother said that Alyce was ‘a tower of strength’ who kept her going through difficult days.

Working with Alyce was difficult at first because of her defensive intellectual analysis of everything that was happening. Unfailingly polite in communication, it became apparent quite quickly that Alyce lived two lives, the life which was on display and the internal life which caused her to do unexpected things, like stealing small items and making things up which could not possibly be true. Observation of Alyce in her interactions with her family showed that she was very much in charge on a day to day basis and that her mother and her sister relied upon her to organise their lives in ways that kept the household running smoothly. At the age of almost nine, Alyce made breakfast for her sister and took her mother a cup of tea in the morning. She walked her sister to school and waited for her to come out of class to walk her home again. She made her sister’s packed lunch in the morning and helped her to get dressed. Alyce was always up early and always organised. Her mother said that she did not know how she would have managed without her when the family separated.

The plight of this parentified child was soon apparent. Alyce was the mother to her mother and sister, her need to care for them, instilled by separation anxiety during the period she was cared for by her grandmother at the age of four, was a defense against the fear of abandonment. As such, her parentification, demonstrated by her pseudo competence on the outside, disguising the emotionally immature self who signalled her presence by stealing (children who steal are showing that they do not have enough of something) and make up of stories (children who make things up are showing that they have a need to create an alternative reality that fits their internal felt sense of who they are). Alyce was rejecting her father because the relationship with him demanded that she leave her mother and leaving her mother to cope alone was not something that the parentified child could do. Just like when children suffer from school refusal, where the issue is not school but the relationship with the parent they have to leave behind to go to school, Alyce could not leave her mother for fear that she would not cope and/or, would not be there when she returned. Her separation anxiety, coupled with the maladapted attachment strategies, developed so that she could cope with the loss of her mother at a critical time in her life, led to the defence of parentification and the combination of this led to alienation from her father when the family separated.

Treating parentification is very difficult because the defence itself is designed to prevent adults from taking charge of the child’s internal world. The child who is parentified has experienced a sense that there is no-one else in the world to depend upon and so they must take charge of their own lives. Emerging from this experience is a super competence, in which the false persona appears to be capable of just about anything. Underlying this is a hyper analytical approach in which the child is constantly seeking to try and make sense of what other people are doing and why. This is in order that the child can predict the possibility of abandonment and the point at which they may have to rely completely upon their own selves for survival.

Alyce had pushed her father to the margins in her quest to keep herself safe by care taking her mother and her sister and she had also pushed her own self, her own needs and her own childhood to the outer reaches of her awareness in order to survive. Treating this child, meant enabling her to allow her father back into her life and helping her to allow his incoming care. It also meant assisting her mother to understand that Alyce’s super competence was a disguise for an emotionally and psychologically immature self who desperately needed nurture and protection.

Alyce eventually allowed her father back into her life and her mother and father worked hard together to provide for Alyce the high nurture she needed to drop the parentified self. Just as in school refusal, treatment of this problem did not involve allowing Alyce to continue to split off and deny her father, it created opportunities for a persistent and consistent pattern of supported engagement with him. When Alyce could experience her father consistently and return to her mother and know that her mother was still there and coping, she began to integrate the pseudo competent and emotionally immature child. The stealing and the make believe stopped and throughout her teenage years she became much more unconsciously engaged with her peers.

In her early twenties, Alyce is still competent and still at times, intellectually defended. She remains analytical in relationships, something she is working on in therapy so that she can experience relational space more unconsciously. Her need to predict the future however remains and one of the fantasies that she brings to therapy consistently, is that if necessary, she could create a home for herself in minutes, so long as she has a place to put her precious belongings (which are few and talismanic, meaning that they are bestowed with special meaning), she will feel safe. When I hear this I know, that Alyce’s trust in the world as a benign place, is still not fully repaired, I know that she suffers from that need for survival that only those whose trust is broken in childhood can experience.

The plight of the parentified child underpins many cases of alienation of children in divorce and separation and as such is another one of those dynamics which demands our attention in assessment and treatment.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is a complex psychological issue which requires capacity to perform that finely attuned analysis which leads to the correct treatment route. Whilst it comes to light in the post divorce and separation landscape, it is the signal that something deeper is going on in the family system which requires attuned differention and naunced treatment routes.

Performing the archeological dig that Freud spoke of, in families affected by a child’s outright rejection of a parent in divorce and separation, brings help to children like Alyce whose needs have been long overlooked.

“I arrived at a procedure which I later developed into a regular method and employed deliberately. This procedure was one of clearing away the pathogenic psychical material layer by layer, and we liked to compare it with the technique of excavating a buried city.”

Sigmund Freud – Studies in Hysteria

Reference

Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Spark, G. (1973). Invisible loyalties: Reciprocity in intergenerational family therapy. Hagerstown, MD: Harper & Row.

Perspective and the ‘penny drop’ moment in parental alienation

Perspective: a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Penny Drop : used to say that someone finally understands something after not understanding it.

Please Note: In this post I am using the term ‘parental alienation’. I am using it because I want to show you how that label is being utilised by the campaigners who are trying to undo the progress made over the past decade, in bringing the experience of abused children in divorce and separation to light. Whilst I no longer use the label, largely because it is not necessary to do so in my work in this field, I do still work with the concept of alienated children and I consider the word ‘alienation’ to be an absolutely perfect description of what is being done to children who outright reject a parent, in circumstances where there is no evidence that a parent has caused them harm.

When a child is induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation, it is because there are recognisable maladaptive psychological behaviours being used in the family in which they reside. Those behaviours include coercive control, enmeshment, parentification and spouseification. Control behaviours include psychological aggression, threats both overt and covert and verbal manipulation as well as emotional and psychological manipulation such as threatening the child’s sense of safety and continuity of care. When a child enters into the state of mind we call psychological splitting, they do so in order to continue living their lives without psychological disintegration. This defence mechanism, which is infantile in nature, collapses the child’s capacity for perspective and critical thinking and causes hyper vigilence and alignment with one parent and outright rejection of the other. The defence can be caused by the actions of one parent against the other, the actions of two parents against each other or the actions of one and the extreme reaction of the other. In my experience of doing this work, the type of pressure placed upon the child prior to the onset of the defence of psychological splitting requires differentiation. The source of the pressure requires identification and the testing of whether one or both parents can change their behaviour, leads to isolation of the cause of the onset and therefore the route that must be taken to resolving the dynamics which have caused the defence. When the dynamics change, the defence drops, but getting to the point where the defence drops in the child’s mind, referred to colloquially as the ‘penny drop’ moment, depends upon how we intervene and who else is working with us or against us.

I cannot think of any other field of work, in which assisting an abused child requires the capacity and tenacity to withstand the kinds of personal and professional attack that those of us who do this work suffer. At times, it feels like being on a battlefield, trying to help children, whilst being heavily shelled from all directions. This is not because we do this work in the family courts, it is because we do this work in a world in which the campaigns to obfuscate reality, make it feel like anything goes and anything can be said and done. In effect, the uncontained psychological behaviours which are seen in cases of alienation, are mirrored in the uncontained behaviours of those who campaign against the concept of alienation. Let me explain what I mean by that because it goes right to the heart of why, the label parental alienation is being relentlessly attacked by campaigners and why perspective and the penny drop moment are so important both in doing this work and in talking about the problem in the outside world.

In situations where a child is being induced to use psychological splitting, the impact on the child is alienation of the self from the self, the appearance of a false persona and the removal of the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood. The scientific evidence of the harm that is done to a child when they are threatened with abandonment, coercively controlled, parentified or spouseified is clear and abundant, and the evidence of what happens to a child who develops a false persona is well documented.

When a child is being induced to use psychological splitting, their capacity for perspective and critical thinking is removed. In short, the defence of psychological splitting, prevents the child from being to experience the world from the right place in the family hierarchy.

All families are hierarchical by virtue of the fact that there is usually at least a couple of decades between each generation. Grandparents have the greater perspective of having lived a longer life, parents are in the here and now in actively caring for children and children are being cared for. That is the natural order of families and exists regardless of whether the culture within and within is authoratarian, permissive, or a mix of both. Children and parents are not friends, they are not mates, they do not exist on the same generational plane. A healthy family has a hierarchy and children are helped to respect the older generations within it.

This is because children do not come into the world with the capacity for perspective and critical thinking. They are helped to build those skills through the relational networks they are born into. Similarly, children do not have the emotional and psychological capacity to make decisions for themselves, they are helped to build the capacity to make healthy decisions through relationships which assist in the development of the brain. Nature and nurture are in constant relationship as the internal and external experiences are cycled and recycled by the developing child. The idea that children have capacity to make adult decisions is one which is promulgated by those who wish to inveigle the child into the wrong place in the family hierarchy. Children do not have the same perspective of their parents as their parents have of each other. Forcing a child to share adult perspectives is abusive because it puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time and removes their right to their own perspective (and feelings) about a parent.

Children who are inveigled into a parent’s perspective of the other parent are being triangulated, pressured and ultimately coercively controlled. This is because the child does not possess any power in the adult/child relationship and must depend upon parents entirely for their wellbeing. A child has no independence, no money, no way of making money, no means of escape and no-one they can talk to other than the people they are utterly dependent upon. When a parent causes a child to understand that loving the other parent is not acceptable (for whatever reason), the child has no choice but to obey the command. Whether that is issued overtly as in bad mouting, labelling and denigrating or covertly as in manipulating, fear inducing and withdrawal of affection, the child recognises that they have no means of escape and mus conform.

Going to the meta narrative of the campaigners who attack the label parental alienation, the exact same dynamics can be observed. As the observers of this narrative however, we are not dependent children, we can retain perspective and we can use critical thinking skills to avoid being brainwashed.

The notion that parental alienation is a discredited theory used by abusive men to abuse women who have left them is, at its heart, a perfect alienating strategy. What its proponents are attempting to do, is brainwash the reader into believing something which isn’t true. What they are also trying to do, is distract the observer’s attention from the experience of the child and roll that up into narratives about the family courts, which are designed to shock and create fear. The goal is to disorienate outsiders and convince them that something is very wrong. Looking at the kinds of research ‘evidence’ that these narratives are built upon and the exposure of the woozels being used to convince the outside world, the only way that I can think of to describe what is being done by these campaigners, is alienation (a deliberate attempt to destroy perspective and critical thinking skills about what is happening to children in divorce and separation in the public at large).

So what about the ‘penny drop’ moment and the return of perspective. The penny drop moment is that point at which the defence in the child drops and they return to the right place in the family hierarchy. In doing so, the child recognises that the allegiance to a parent has been coerced due to fear and anxiety and the parent they were taught to fear is not frightening at all. In reaching this point, the child’s split sense of self integrates and their denial of their own heritage is resolved. When the child welcomes back that side of the self they have denied, the projection onto parents is retracted and the block to the rejected parent’s incoming care is removed. Now the child can feel the side of the self which is identified with the once rejected parent and the lopsided narrative of living is balanced. The penny drop moment is something I have witnessed many times over, in children of divorce of all ages. It is a magical moment, when the child is reunited with the whole self and perspective returns. From this place, the child (at whatever age) can regain the lost energies which have been put into keeping the defence in place. The tangled becomes untangled, on the inside as well as the out.

Currently what is happening around the world is a concerted effort to prevent the penny drop moment from occuring in children, as well as anyone who works in this field or observes this field. There is a determined and joined up effort to obfuscate and deny the reality of alienation of children and to attack the label parental alienation with as much force as possible. At the same time, fogging techniques and gas lighting, both strategies being claimed by the campaigners as tools of abuse, are being used against anyone who does this work or who researches in this field. Strategies of denigration and confusion abound as campaigners on both sides of the fence attempt to take control of the narratives.

Stepping outside of this wild west landscape, we are focused only upon the ways in which alienated children are helped to build perspective and critical thinking skills. We keep in mind, the power of the legal and mental health interlock, to bring about resolution and we follow only, the path which brings greater awareness of how to do this work. This vision, which is tunnel in terms of determination to bring about change for abused children in divorce and which is detailed, nuanced and differentiated in terms of understanding how alienation in children presents, how patterns of behaviours in parents are understood and how true alienation is isolated from claims of alienation, is the driving force behind all that we do.

This way of working, which is shared amongst serious practitioners in this space around the world, is how we will continue to educate and iluminate the reality of alienation of children in divorce and separation. This is how the power of the penny drop moment and perspective is protected for children and all who want to help them.

This is our project for 2021.

The Anxiety of the alienated child

Alienated children in divorce and separation are captured within the anxiety cycles of the influencing parent and the reaction of the rejected parent. As such they are trapped within a recycling of feelings, which leak through to their conscious awareness and they are forced into managing this on a routine basis.

This exposure to anxiety, which occurs as the child attempts to manage their own responses to family separation, creates a parentified child when it drips constantly into the child’s consciousness or, when it breaks through suddenly. I call this chronic or acute exposure to the parental anxiety which occurs in family separation. I see children affected by both of these patterns of parentification and when I am working with a parentified alienated child, I know that what I am working with primarily, is anxiety.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear, it causes a sense of dread and an internal restlessness which drives the sufferer to do things to reduce the feeling to a manageable level. In parentified children of divorce, the anxiety is caused by the exposure to the parental feelings about each other or exposure to one parent’s negative feelings about the other. In situations where a parent is using the child to regulate their own anxiety (adults should be able to self regulate, not use their children to bolster their own sense of self), the child becomes the parent’s care taker, spending much time trying to soothe and calm a parent. The fear for the child is, that if they do not do this, the parent may decompensate and be unable to cope. The child is fearful of that scenario, because of the deep anxiety about abandonment in such circumstances and so will do what is possible to regulate the parent, including mirroring back to them, their belief about the other parent.

In such circumstances, the child compartmentalises their feelings for parents, sharing with the anxious parent who requires the child to take care of their needs, their ‘dislike’ of spending time with the other parent. This occurs even whilst the child is observed to be happy with the parent they profess to dislike, causing the influencing parent to become convinced that those who observe something different, are disregarding the child’s real feelings. Far from disregarding the child’s feelings, when we see compartmentalisation in a child, we know that they are not far from being induced to use the defence of psychological splitting, in which they divide their own sense of self into good/bad, split off and bury the bad into the unconscious and then project those feelings at their parents. In such circumstances, one parent becomes idealised and one becomes demonised. These projections onto parents, then become the child’s narrative about why they are rejecting a parent and the reasons for doing so, will escalate, in order to ensure that observers believe their story. Sadly for the child, the story they are trying to tell, is not of the parent they are rejecting, but the parent who is causing the pressure on the child to maladapt behaviours.

This is why, when we see a child who is compartmentalising, we know that they are experiencing leakage of anxiety and we have to find that leak and find ways to stop it. If we don’t, the end game is not that the child rejects a parent, so much as the child rejects their identification with that part of their heritage and as such buries it deep into the unconscious. The reason why an alienated child is so fierce in their rejection of a parent, is because they have to keep the defence in place in order to survive without intra-psychic collapse.

Alienated children are easily understood if you recognise how defence mechanisms work. Trapped between two loved parents, the child experiences emotional and psychological pressure in the inter-psychic relationship or receives overt messages of denigration of the other parent or a mix of both. That psychological pressure comes from leakage of feelings in an uncontained emotional environment and it causes a series of actions in the child, which are designed to protect the child from psychological disintegration.

The child recognises that the influencing/pressuring parent, requires their care/allegiance/support/parenting/presence and seeks to give that, all the while attempting (in many cases) to compartmentalise their feelings for the other parent so that they are hidden from view. This is not something that the child does consciously, it is a process of survival, of adaptation to circumstances, in order to go on with as normal a life as possible. In entering into this process, the child begins to compartmentalise their own self, segregating identification with each parent into two parts. Now there is the part ‘like mummy’ and the part ‘like daddy.’ If daddy is pressuring the child, the mummy part must be disposed of, if mummy is pressuring the child, the daddy part must go. When one of the segregated parts is disposed of into the unconscious of the child’s mind, it must be thrust there with some force in order to keep it there. If anyone comes asking about that part, it must be kept in the unconscious by escalation of the reasoning for it being absent. And all of this is accompanied by anxiety. And all of that anxiety takes the child away from an unconscious experience of childhood.

Alienation of a child is a well recognised defence mechanism caused by and causing, immense anxiety for the child. Whilst there are many different ways of thinking about it and debates aplenty about what it is called, at its core it is a defence, caused in the child, leaving a lasting legacy of anxiety which has to be coped with, along with the other manifestations of alienation which last far longer than childhood.

I work with the alienated child’s false persona, when their behavioural presentation is all about anxiety and I work with the recovered child, who returns to an unconscious experience of childhood. I know the difference, I see the difference, the difference is the presence and absence of anxiety. Whilst it is counter intuitive to many, high nurture within firmly held boundaries, brings about relief from anxiety for the child, a condition Winnicott called the holding environment. It is this environment which is created when the alienated child enters protected space in which he/she can encounter the split off object relationship with the rejected parent.

Reintegration of a child experiencing splitting as a defence, is treated via encountering the rejected parent in this protected space. Of course what the child is really encountering, is the split off part of the self, that which has been denied and repressed into the unconscious. It is this experience, undertaken in a secure environment, in which leakage of anxiety from the other parent is prevented, which allows the child to integrate and unblock the incoming care of the rejected parent.

Understanding how to do this is what is missing for many professionals. This is the missing piece of a jigsaw which has been put together over many years by many people. This is the piece of the puzzle we are about to embark upon completing.

And why would we not wish to complete this jigsaw puzzle? If for five decades or more, what we have been seeing in divorce and separation, are children using a well recognised defence, why would we not want more people to know and understand what that is, how it manifests, what harm it does to children and how to treat it? Why would we not want children to suffer less anxiety and live better childhoods?

The answer to that question lies in the ideological underpinnings of those who seek to silence and prevent work with alienated children and their families.

Whether it be mothers or fathers who alienated their children however, it is the anxiety of the alienated child which concerns me the most.

Training for professionals around the world

FSC is currently working with partners to develop training materials for online and face to face delivery. Utilising the Clinic’s models of intervention for mild, moderate and severe alienation of children, these materials will be available later this year. Please check back for details, previews will be available soon.

Training for Parents

The Recovering Older Children seminar which ran before Christmas will be available shortly. For all those who attended, please bear with us whilst we prepare the platform for delivery and send you the link to rewatch. If you were unable to watch at the time, this seminar will be available for purchase shortly.

We will be delivering further seminars in this series, the next one of which will be advertised here soon, please check back for details.

Important News

Jennifer Harman reports that her study, co-authored with Demos Lorandos, is now free to read. This is due to a generous grant, making this important rectification of the misinformation spread by the Meier et al study, accessible by the general public free of charge here.

Living On the Borders: Psychopathology and Alienated Children

Let’s begin the new year with thinking about the way which the alienated child suffers when they are triangulated into the adult distress of family breakdown. Not a happy topic, but one which is at the very core of what we are working with when we work with families affected by a child’s rejection of a parent.

I have written and spoken many times about the need to differentiate those children who are rejecting a parent because of the harm that the parent has caused to the child. Such children do not display the signs of psychological splitting which denote the child who has been triangulated into the adult relationship. It is the outright rejection of the parent, accompanied by behaviours of idealisation of the aligned parent and contempt and disdain for the rejected parent, which point to the child’s alienation.

Children who are alienated are alienated from their own selves first. What this means is that they have been forced to develop what Winnicott called the ‘false persona’ which is a protective self which protects the true self from completely disintegrating. What is clear about children who develop this false self, is that they are having to maladapt their attachments, their strategies for staying mentally integrated and their behavioural responses to their parents in order to avoid serious psychological collapse. The development of the false self is a trauma based response to pressure being placed upon them, it occurs over time (chronic onset) or in an instant (acute onset) and when it happens, it is the child’s only recourse to going on with normal life in a way which is possible for them to manage.

In that respect, the alienated child is protecting the self first, finding a way to continue to live which does not completely destroy their psychological self. I call this ‘living on the borders’, because it is clear that these children are skating along the edges of surviving psychopathology which is unrecognised and unrelieved in too many cases.

I work with alienated children. Close up, I see the way in which they are placed into impossible positions. From a place of unconscious enjoyment of childhood, they are brought into the lives of their parents and asked to take sides, this occurs consciously as in the parent consciously manipulates the child and unconsciously in that the parent covertly manipulates the child to feel afraid of one parent and to take care of the needs of the other. This is grim place to exist for a child, who is robbed of their unconscious self and caused to live an anxious life, constantly seeking to take care of a parent. The child becomes either terrified of aggression or abandonment, living in limbo and forced to constantly be on alert for signs that a parent may not be there when they get back. At its worst, the alienation of a child is the use of the child to further malicious hatred towards the other parent, at best it is the unconscious plea of a parent who is unable to manage separation of the self from the child. In cold reality, it is abuse of the child, nothing more, nothing less and it is manifest in societies all around the world, causing too many children to lose their precious childhood years in which play should be the major focus not parental caretaking.

Working with alienated children enables awareness of the different ways that they suffer psychopathology, either they become maladapted in their own behaviours or they are exposed to the pathological problems of a parent. Left alone, without anyone recognising their plight, these children have struggled, across the years, to recognise and be recognised in terms of their suffering.

One of the reasons why alienation of children has been left hidden in the long grass for so long, is the way in which the problem is constantly located in the landscape of adult separation. When the narrative about divorce and separation is sharply focused upon the needs of adults and when ideological campaigns wrap up the needs of children with the rights of their parents, the impact on children is lost.

Divorce and separation are a fact of life and alienation of children, which was for decades, overlooked as being something that people claimed was happening, when in fact the child was making a justified choice, is no longer hidden in the long grass. Yesterday I watched Baroness Catherine Meyer founder of the organisation PACT, which has long campaigned against abduction of children after divorce, speak eloquently about alienation of children in the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the UK House of Lords. Baroness Meyer said –

I have long been concerned that, when people talk of domestic abuse, their frame of reference is exclusively adults. Unfortunately, children are the collateral damage from an abusive adult relationship. I therefore welcome the Government’s amendment to include in the definition of domestic abuse victims

“a child who … sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, the abuse, and … is related to” the individuals. This is a step forward but it is not enough. It does not capture the full horror of when the abuser parent uses the child as their weapon of choice.

In my almost 20 years of running a charity, I saw this happen time and again. The abuser will typically put pressure on the child, denigrating the other parent or telling the child that the other parent does not love it anymore. Indoctrination of this kind, as easily perpetrated by an abusive father as by an abusive mother—this is not gender related—is not just the poisoned fruit of a thirst for revenge. It is also deliberately intended to persuade the child to bear witness against the other parent in family court proceedings.

Of course, there are circumstances in which a child is fully justified in not wanting further contact with a parent, but I am talking about a situation in which a child’s hostility towards one parent is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. That is known as parental alienation. Just imagine the distress and confusion that it causes the child. Caught in a conflict of loyalty between the child’s two parents, the child is vulnerable and easily coerced into making false allegations in court, destroying the life and reputation of the abused parent and denying them all contact with the child for no good reason.

Baroness Meyer 2021

This speech by Baroness Meyer, encapsulates, for me, the way in which Domestic Abuse has become so entwined with gendered ideological notions of what DA is, that the reality that some children, are used by mothers and fathers to further their own aims against the other parent, has been overlooked entirely. Tucked away in a small corner of a long debate, in which many from the House of Lords spoke about women and the abuse they suffer, (entirely overlooking the needs of many children), is a beacon of light and hope for children living on the borders of psychopathology, who have hitherto not been seen or heard other than in the Family Courts where some Judges have recognised at last, their desperate need for help.

In my view, this form of child abuse deserves its own recognition, separate from and entirely independent of domestic abuse debates, which can too easily subsume the needs of children into ideologically driven narratives. Whilst I hope that the issue receives the attention it deserves in the Bill which is passing through parliament, my eggs are not all in this basket, in terms of how alienated children will receive the help they need in the coming months and years.


News From the Family Separation Clinic

The Lighthouse Project

This year more than any other year before, we will be working to bring information, guidance and support to families affected by the alienation of a child. Working with partners around the world, we will be bringing parents and professionals a series of two hour seminars designed to build understanding of the needs of alienated children, how to help them, how to help the self and how to convey the problem to professionals who work in this field.

The Lighthouse Project, which is my name for the work we are doing to bring low cost services to families around the world, will be partnering with other professionals, to bring a wider range of help to families, including free seminars. Check back here regularly for details.

Training for Professionals

We will also be producing training courses for professionals which will be delivered online this year due to the Pandemic. We are currently working with a partner from Sweden to develop these resources which will be available later this year.

Partnership Work

Mediation Training

In continuation of our partnership work with the Family Mediation Association in the UK this year, we will be delivering more courses for mediators, including our new six module course which is psycho-educational and aims to assist people to be mediation ready.

In addition to our work with FMA, we are working with mediators around the world to assist in developing their understanding and skill set in helping alienated children and their families.

Child and Adolescent Protection Centre in Zagreb

We continue our partnership work with the Child and Adolescent Protection Centre in Zagreb both in furthering awareness of the needs of alienated children and families and in sharing learning about working with alienated children. Senior clinicians from the Centre, will join us over this coming year, in delivery of online seminars for parents and professionals.

Croatia has recently been suffering from earthquakes which will inevitably impact upon the psychological health of the country during the pandemic. Our thoughts and good wishes are with our colleages during this difficult time.

European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners

After a hugely successful online conference in September 2020, the EAPAP Board, will shortly meet to discuss the next EAPAP Conference, news here soon.

Conferences

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall will present online, with colleagues Kelley Baker and Amy Eichler at the AFCC Annual Conference this year. Entitled ‘When the Child Says No’ this online presentation will look at psychological splitting and how to address this in court managed interventions.

Supervision

Supervision of cases is currently being delivered in Hong Kong, Sweden, the UK, Israel and the Republic of Ireland. For information about supervision, please contact office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk.

An international supervision group has been convened by the Clinic, to support senior clinicians. Currently comprising colleages from Croatia, Malta, Republic of Ireland, UK, USA and Israel, this group is open to applications from senior practitioners who wish to work in the model used by the Family Separation Clinic. Please email us at office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk, if you are interested in joining this group.

THE SOVEREIGN RIGHT TO SELF AND AN UNCONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE OF CHILDHOOD

Self Sovereignty is the right to self determination, the ownership of your own mind and freedom to choose how you will live.

An unconscious experience of childhood, is the freedom to live as a child, in the world of play and fantasy, in preparation for the responsibilities of older teenage years and adulthood.


Working with children who are triangulated into the divorce and separation of their parents, shows me that we have not yet got a complete grip on how we support the rights of the child. Reviewing the year’s campaign battles around the family courts, it is not surprising to me that there is a lack of clarity on what we mean by children’s rights. Some would say that children have the right to choose how they have relationships with parents after family separation, others would say that children should be living in a fifty/fifty shared care situation. I would say that we have not yet understood that what is taken from children during divorce and separation, is their sovereign right to self and an unconscious experience of childhood. These two things are, in my view, the core of what we should be fighting to protect when we examine how families are helped after family separation, and yet they are often the two most disposable concepts in practice.

How can a sovereign right to self and an unconscious experience of childhood sit side by side? On the face of it, we are saying that children have the right to grow up unconsciously and yet, at the same time, have the inalienable right to a sovereign self. In my view, these two things are perfectly paired, the one supports the other and if we truly understand what we mean when we say that these things are stolen from children in divorce and separation, perhaps more of us would be fighting to protect these things, instead of fighting to uphold the rights of parents on either sides of the gendered war which constantly rages in this field.

A sovereign right to self means to be able to truly experience your own true self. Your healthy self, which in childhood is largely unconscious and enacted through fantasy and play. The unconscious in childhood, is a rich tapestry of experiences, not all of which are understood by the child but which contribute to the development of the brain and the sense of self. In childhood, more than at any other time in our lives, we could and should be living in our unconscious world, it is the crucible in which our future selves are created and yet, so many people in the field of family separation, seem to believe that breaking into that unconscious place, (which should be sacrosanct and fiercely protected), is what child protection is all about.

Children are dragged into adult matters the moment someone says to them, tell me about your mummy and daddy, or show me how you feel about your mum and dad. Often, when professionals do this, they believe that they are creating a safe space for children and they ‘buddy up’ to the child, in an attempt to create a sense of safety. What these professionals do, is fracture the child’s trust in adults even further and they give the child the message that the child must now be in charge of what happens.

Children who have been triangulated into adult matters in divorce and separation are exposed to the leakage of parental feelings about each other. Now the two people who once kept the child safe, are the two who cause the child the most anxiety. Fear of loss of one or the other or both, stalks the child’s unconscious mind daily. Is there any wonder that a child becomes clingy or terribly afraid that if they leave their mother, she may not be there when they return?

Asking a child who is traumatised by the separation of their parents, to tell someone how they feel about it, is like burning down the childhood home and then asking the child which room they would like to live in, it is harmful to the child and it causes more anxiety not less. Nevertheless, professionals from all over the world, continue to believe in the idea that consulting children and making them more involved in decisions about their care after family separation, is what is needed. It is not.

More than ever these days I understand that children who suffer from alienation, are alienated from their own sovereign self first. (Johnson and Roseby 1997). I recognise this from the many hours I have spent with alienated children in recovery. I also recognise, that at the heart of this problem, is a two step formula which is guaranteed to create alienation of the child. The first step is to break into the child’s unconscious experience of childhood by triangulating them into adult feelings, (your father/mother left us), the second step is to traumatise the child, either by causing fear of abandonment, (I cannot cope alone, if you see him I will be so scared until you get back), or terrorising the child into fear of aggression (I can do to you what I did to her).

I will say that again.

Alienation of a child is caused by –

  1. Shattering the child’s unconscious experience of childhood by triangulation into adult matters.
  2. Traumatising the child via fear of abandonment or aggression.

The first outcome of this two step approach to alienation is that the child relinquishes their unconscious experience and becomes conscious of adult matters in the wrong place at the wrong time in their lives. Now we have a parentified or adultified or spouseified child (Minuchin 1974).

The second outcome of this two step approach, is that the child is terrorised (traumatised) into hyper attachment to the parent who is threatening either abandonment or aggression.

I will repeat that.

Outcomes of alienation of a child are –

  1. The child is now in the wrong place in the family hierarchy and conscious of the need to regulate a parent.
  2. The child is now traumatised, alienated from their own sovereign self and hyper vigilent to the needs of the parent who has caused this.

The alienated child learns that the world is not a safe place.

In my work with alienated children, I see how close their suffering is to that of children who have been sexually abused. Children who have been sexually abused, have had their unconscious experience of childhood shattered, by being used by an adult for sexual gratification. The child is now in the wrong place in the family hierachy at the wrong time in their lives and conscious that the world is not a safe place. Children who have been sexually abused, have been traumatised by having their sovereign rights to their physical selves shattered, they have often been threatened by abandonment (I will tell you mother and you will be blamed and sent away) or aggression (if you tell anyone I will kill you).

Sexual abuse of children used to be a secret, until those children able to speak out about what they suffered were able to do so. Now we understand that sexual abuse of children is a theft of childhood, an intrusion into the child’s inalienable right to sovereign control of their own body and an act of child abuse.

Alienation of children is still a secret and many around the world are fighting to keep it that way by distorting what alienation is and trying to mischaracterise the issue as a battle between abusive fathers and protective mothers.

Sexually abusing a child removes their right to an unconscious childhood and their own developing sovereign self in favour of gratifying an adult’s sexual needs.

Alienating a child removes their right to an unconscious childhood and their own developing sense of self in favour of gratifying an adult’s emotional and psychological needs.

Each as damaging as the other. One still a secret to be hidden away, in favour of upholding the rights of women over men.

As 2021 unfolds, let us hope that vaccinating children against abuse in divorce and separation, through ever growing awareness of what alienation of a child really is, grows to be a worldwide project.

References

Johnston, J. and Roseby, V., 1997. In The Name Of The Child. New York: Free Press.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy . Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

the domestic violence by proxy debate: ALIENATING A CHILD IS AN ACT OF CHILD ABUSE BEFORE ALL ELSE

Following on from my last post, in which I discussed the way that women’s rights advocates are trying to shift the debate about alienation of a child towards the idea that this is really domestic violence by proxy, it is useful to clarify what I mean when I say that PA is not DA.

Some seem to think that by saying PA is not DA, I am somehow denying the coercive control elements of the problems seen in families where a child becomes alienated, I am not. Careful reading of my last post will show that the dynamic of coercive control is recognised, alongside enmeshment, triangulation, identification with the aggressor and more.

Alienation of a child is the removal of the child’s right to their own sovereign self. It is the triangulation of the child into adult issues for the purpose of either a) comforting a parent and regulating their anxiety and decompensation or b) regulating a parent’s rage and desire for control towards the other parent or c) terrorising the child into identifying with the controlling parent. The outcome of A, B and C is d) the child rejects a parent.

A, B, C and D above are all about parents. I am talking about the impact on the child. What I am saying in this post is that to attempt to reduce alienation of a child to domestic violence by proxy is to deliberately ignore the impact of alienation on the child, in favour of focusing attention on parents. And I am asking the question, why would anyone want to hide the impact of alienation on a child?

Ignoring the child in this debate means that the reality of the abuse that a child suffers when they become alienated from a parent is hidden. What it is replaced with in the domestic violence by proxy debate, are tales of terror, which are designed to make the outside world believe that all courts around the world are routinely handing children to abusive parents. In this narrative, the child’s real experience is erased, replaced with the child as object rather than subject.

Since I read the Harman and Lorandos study, I have had a much clearer understanding of the way in which the Meier et al study has been used to woozle misleading information into public consciousness. The key information which is being used as a woozle, is that family courts are routinely handing children to abusive parents and that claims of parental alienation are used to ignore allegations of abuse. In understanding this, I have become even more concerned about the silencing of children in this debate.

Harman and her coauthor, forensic psychologist and attorney Demosthenes Lorandos, wanted to investigate some of these claims. To do so, they designed a rigorous, open science study to assess how parental alienation allegations were impacting courts’ decisions around child custody. Their results were published online Dec. 14 in Psychology, Public Policy & Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Prompting the new study was a 2019 assertion from a legal scholar who claimed that she and her team had found empirical evidence that claims of parental alienation were being used to ignore allegations of abuse, frequently putting the children into the care of potential abusers – and that it was also leading to women being more likely to lose custody. The researchers were also concerned that this new work was being cited frequently in arguments in the U.S. and abroad for policies and laws proposing to ignore parental alienation in child custody cases.

“That was alarming,” Harman said. What worried them even more was that the legal team’s report did not appear in a peer-reviewed research journal and lacked transparency as to their methodology and data, even when Harman’s team requested more information. “The more we dug into it, the worse it looked,” she said.

Katie Courage – Colorado State University

Alienation of a child is an act of abuse because it is a non accidental injury to the mind of a child. It does not matter which way we look at this, the outcome of alienation, is that the child loses their capacity to think and feel from an integrated sense of self and is forced to raise a defence against the dynamics around them. A child in these circumstances, is not receiving the parenting that they have the right to receive, instead they are being used to regulate and compensate a parent’s needs.

The idea that children are routinely being handed to abusive parents is not my experience of working in the family courts in the UK and around the world. The Meier report, which has been widely used to instil the belief that parental alienation is only a claim made by abusive fathers, is now thoroughly debunked. Nevertheless, the campaign to mischaracterise alienation of a child as being domestic violence by proxy, rages on. Focused largely around the label Parental Alienation, this debate holds that PA is something made up, it is junk science and it doesn’t really exist. Argued largely by women’s rights activists, the game of political (small p) football being played with the label Parental Alienation, is another family tactic used by those who want to hide the experience of the child. Hiding the child, in favour of focus on women’s rights, means that the reality of what is happening, can be wrapped up in the notion that all that children need after divorce and separation, is their mother and child support payments.

Alienation of a child is not domestic violence by proxy, it is not about contact, it is not about adults at all. It is about the removal of the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood and it is, in its starkest reality, an act of child abuse. In writing this however, I am conscious of the many ways that children become alienated and the need for delicate and thorough differentiation of cases where alienation is present, because there are those who claim parental alienation, who ARE using this as a way of furthering control over a parent (and child). There is no reason whatsoever to deny that reality, to do so would be to replicate the Meier approach and enter into a reciprocal game of denial, splitting and projection.

And that, for me, is why I no longer use the label parental alienation and why I have gone back to how I began work in this field, to object relations theory and the underlying foundational knowledge and skills which enable success in working with families. The furore around the label PA is a red herring and the efforts being made to mischaracterise the problem, are just deliberate attempts to obfuscate what is happening to children. The more time we spend arguing about the label, the less time we have to focus on finding ways of differentiating and treating this horrible problem.

Children suffering alienation are being harmed, they are experiencing a non accidental injury to the mind and they are carrying the scars from this into their childhood. Having worked in this field for a long time now, I can see firsthand how the internalised wounds are lived out in later life when alienated children become parents themselves. And why would that not be? We learn to be parents by being parented ourselves, if our early experiences of being parented are of being triangulated into adult distress, then when we are older, we will seek out those trauma based relationships which cause that same anxiety and stress. Alienated children become alienated parents, that is their internalised object relationship, alienation from the self first and then from others. This renders children extraordinarily vulnerable to entering into relationships with controlling people in later life.

The alienation of children, through the triangulation into adult issues in divorce and separation, is an act of child abuse. It wounds the child and renders them vulnerable to controlling relationships as they grow older.

Forget the labels, forget the myths and focus on the reality for children suffering harm in divorce and separation. For anyone who is concerned about abuse at home, that is the aspect of this debate they should be concerned about first.

self help for alienated parents

The Lighthouse Project is my name for the support and services we offer to families which are freee of charge or at low cost. Whilst this project is in the early days of development, I am keen to give as much time to supporting and promoting it as possible.

Whilst I now work in private practice, my roots are in self help and mutual endeavour. Whilst I have always been very cautious about promoting self help within the field of alienation, largely because I have seen the way that online groups can drive people into the most negative behaviours rather than supporting their wellbeing, I know that a group which listens, cares and provides safety, is a valuable resource for alienated parents.

I really pleased therefore, to support one of my blog readers (Erica), to launch a self help group, by sharing with you a questionaire which will help her to understand what mutual need and interest there is out there. Here’s Erica

Ever since I found a name for what has been done to me and my son, about two years ago, I have wanted to find a support group for parents who are enduring the same thing. Of course the details of our stories are different, but the core issues, indignities, and traumas are strikingly similar. No matter how many supportive friends and family members we may have, it is impossible for them to fully grasp what we are going through. Karen’s blog has been so essential in my ongoing healing process, but I still crave the empathy and camaraderie of other like-minded alienated parents. If you are also searching for something similar, please fill out this brief questionnaire and I will be in touch to schedule our first meeting. Questionnaire link
The idea of this group is to support one another in the journey to rebuild our lives after the loss and after the legal battle, and at the same time to keep the focus on our children, even if we do not have any contact with them or if the contact is extremely painful. Two of the main issues I’m struggling with are maintaining healthy (for me) contact with my son as well as self-imposed isolation from friends and family due to extreme shame and guilt. This is just a starting point, but I believe we will find that many of our struggles are shared. 
It is very important to note that this group is expressly NOT a place to vent about our exes or to offer or speculate about any legal advice. The group is open to mothers and fathers and to alienated parents in any part of the world. We are going to focus on creating happy, healthy lives for ourselves and on healthy, loving parenting against all odds. I look forward to hearing from you.

Erica

Wishing Erica and everyone who joins with her, success in this project, when parents come together and support each other, life gets just a little bit easier. Self help can change your world.

 

 

The PA is DA Debate: an unecessary distraction

I tried to stay out of the PA is DA debate, largely because I am not a campaigner and have no interest in advocating for one side or the other. Despite accusations from some, I have never advocated for fathers or mothers in this arena, because a) I come to this work via my experience in gender analysis and mainstreaming and b) I have always only really been interested in the rights of children to live an unconscious experience of childhood which is free from abuse.

Gender analysis and mainstreaming means to understand the different experiences of men and women and to adjust services to support them so that their different needs are met. It means to understand at the deepest level, those barriers which men and women face in society and to adjust and adapt services to enable them to overcome them.

Working from the perspective of helping children to live an unconscious experience of childhood, means delivering services to families which assists them to overcome barriers to parenting after family separation, in order to provide their children with the healthiest route through to adulthood.

I work to achieve that by working directly with families, training others to work in the same way, writing about the work that I do, developing low cost services through the Lighthouse Project and research. I think I have enough experience therefore, to say my piece in this unfolding debate.

My view of the PA is DA debate is that those who come to family separation through an ideological lens, wish to mischaracterise alienation of children (notice I do not say PA), as being only about coercive control of fathers over mothers using children as a weapon. This, they say, is domestic violence by proxy. In the same ideological framework, all men who claim they are being alienated, are actually abusive men whose children are rejecting them for justifiable reasons.

The idealogues go to town on the label Parental Alienation, using it to ”prove’ that anyone who claims it or works with it must be dodgy. The liberal use of commas around the word expert, in reference to anyone who works in this field, being a clear sign of their righteousness in the debate.

Whilst I do not get directly involved in this kind of campaigning, because it is just a pointless game of opinion tennis, I do have thoughts and views on the matter and I am curious about how ideological campaigners adjust their arguments to keep the binary split of good mothers/bad fathers fixed firmly in place.

The ideological argument is (as far as I can work it out), mothers whose children refuse to see them are suffering domestic violence by proxy, the father of their children is using the children to continue to harm them. Mothers whose children refuse to see their fathers are simply protecting them from abusive fathers.

For this to be true however, the experience of the child has to be completely erased from all analysis and understanding. My view is that if we take the child who is refusing to see their mother and the child who is refusing to see their father, we will know whether or not the child is alienated or rejecting a parent because of abuse, by the presence or absence of psychological splitting in the child.

This is, for me, where the PA is DA argument falls completely apart because if there is no such thing as PA (I will come back to the label shortly), and PA is just DA by proxy, then the child would not show those signs of induced psychological splitting.

Children who have abusive parents, show a much more ambivalent response to that parent, they do not outright reject, they want their parent to change and they long for better times. Only when children are triangulated into the adult distress, do they reject outright and it is that part of the trauma story which for me, is what is missing in the PA is DA perspective.

In our work with families, where DA is present, we do not call it alienation. We differentiate cases where a child has been exposed to domestic abuse between adults and we recognise that we need to protect the abused parent’s safety and wellbeing. In reality, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by either parent upon an ex partner and/or child, rules out any kind of reunification work, because the courts want children to have healthy childhoods and I do too.

Since the Harman and Lorandos report demolished the Meier et al study, the cracks have become more obvious in the PA is DA debate, illuminating the way in which research can be filtered through a biased lens to lodge what are called woozles into public consciousness.

Ideological campaigners are really good at woozling, I watch some of them doing it about me. The idea is that is you link A to C without including B and say it often enough, others will believe it. Add to that a healthy dose of negative projection (watch how the ideological campaigners use shame and blame to bully people with opinions they do not like, into silence) and you have a perfect way of splitting off the parts of the debate you don’t want to be heard by the outside world.

The part of the PA is DA debate that the ideological campaigners don’t want you to hear is the experience of children. Notice how PA is DA focuses ONLY on women. Mothers are suffering domestic violence by proxy, mothers are being abused, mothers are only protecting their children, mothers are under attack from abusive men. Rarely do we hear about children in this debate, and when we do, is to usually to paint people who do this work with children as being cruel and inhuman.

For me, the cruelty and inhumanity comes from people who want to hide the abuse of children, the experience children have of being alienated from their own sovereign self, children who are losing their rights to an unconcious experience of childhood at the hands of their parents. That is what the PA is DA debate is really about, disguising psychological and emotional abuse of children by splitting it off, calling that ‘protective’ and projecting the blame for abuse onto fathers and anyone who is trying to help alienated children.

Parental alienation is a label that I don’t use it anymore because it really isn’t necessary to do so. The patterns of psychological harm in alienation cases are well recognised in research, in literature and in the family courts. Whether that alienation is caused primarily by a mother or primarily by a father or a mixture of both, what the child experiences in suffering psychological splitting, is an alienation of the self from the self first. This is a ghastly defence, it causes deep psychological harm and it removes from children their right to an unconscious experience of childhood. It is child abuse.

In the PA is DA debate, who speaks for those children who are psychologically abused in divorce and separation and whose independent needs are being bound back into the rights of their mothers?

No-one speaks for those children, because they are collatoral damage in the effort to uphold the ideology, an ideology which is founded upon good women/bad men and which omits the rights of children completely.

PA is not DA. Alienation of children includes patterns of coercive control behaviours, it also includes patterns of enmeshment, triangulation and other psychological issues which cause harm, it is far more complex than this popular discourse wants you to believe.

Listen for the voices of abused children in divorce and separation, whilst the campaigners seek to drown them out, they are getting louder.

Disguising abuse: A genealogy of denial

The Meier Report (2019) triggered a wave of ideological based narratives, that claims of alienation are only a tool used by abusive men against protective mothers. Amongst those narratives, were, that when alienation is claimed in a case, there is a greater likelihood of the father gaining custody. Fortunately, the reconstruction of the Meier report by Harman and Lorandos (2020), has thoroughly debunked these claims, showing that far from children being handed to abusive fathers, courts take very seriously, any allegations of domestic abuse and that children are not routinely being handed to abusive men who play the ‘alienation card.’

I am grateful for the clarity, depth and detail of the Harman and Lorandos report, not only because their attention to detail in reconstructing the Meier study is so clearly set out, but because they have done this work fearlessly, in an environment where efforts to silence and harm, those of us who do this work, have increased ten fold.

It takes guts to stand up and say that children are being harmed by their parents and that alienation is child abuse, in a world where we are lied about, threatened, stalked and harassed. I am not the only person in this field who suffers these things and that we suffer it because we are raising the reality of abuse of children to light, is what frankly appalls me most.

Alienating a child from their own sense of sovereign self, by triangulating them into adult issues, is an act of child abuse. Whilst many children will suffer a mild degree of this during family separation, there are some who become so badly harmed by this that they are induced to use psychological splitting. I work with children who suffer psychological splitting, it is a horrible defence for a child, in which they are encouraged to believe that a parent who loves them is harmful to them. Leading them into an impossible situation of fear and anxiety, so that they are forced to split off and deny their feelings for that parent.

The ideological hostility to the reality of this abuse of children, is set largely in a political framework which is denigrating of family ties, responsibility of adults to provide healthy care of children and lack of respect for anyone who does not agree with that mindset. Sometimes, it seems to me, that the ideological drivers are so powerful, that children are simply objects to be used to hold up the ideology itself.

I understand how painful family separation is and I understand that there are some families where children reject parents because of what a parent is doing. I also understand however, that in those cases, children’s behaviours are not the same as those where a child is alienated. I have worked with children whose parents have physically abused them, those children are apprehensive when they see a parent but they do not reject them with contempt and disdain. I have also worked with children who are alienated and I see the distinct markers of that split state of mind, in which the child is contemptuous, entitled and denigrating, towards a parent who has hitherto, provided loving care.

Alienation of a child is abusive. Pretending that alienation is not something real, but just something that abusive men claim that women do, in order to gain custody of children, creates false ideological narratives. Perpetrating those ideological narratives which are based upon denial of alienation is, in my view, incitement to further abuse of children.

A genealogy of denial has been created by the Meier report, in which the perpetration of false ideological narratives, underpin campaigns which claim to tell the truth about what is happening in the family courts. They do not.

What is happening in the family courts is that children who are being emotionally and psychologically abused by a parent in divorce and separation, are being identified and that abuse is being stopped.

This has got nothing to do with men’s rights and nothing to do with women’s rights. Just like the awareness of child sexual abuse developed, child psychological abuse in the form of alienation in divorce and separation, is about protecting children. The Harman and Lorandos report, corrects the false claims made by Meier et al and gives a clear view of what that study really shows us.

We tested a set of findings reported by Meier (2019) related to the use of parental alienation (PA) as a legal defense in cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. A total of 967 appellate reports in which PA was found or alleged were sequentially selected from a legal database search. Nineteen research assistants blind to the study’s hypotheses coded the reports for the variables used to test six pre-registered hypotheses using a series of logistic and linear regression models. We failed to find any support for the conclusions made by Meier (2019).

Harman and Lorandos (2020)

Results indicate that the majority of courts carefully weigh allegations of all forms of family violence in their determinations about the best interests of children. These findings, along with several others, raise concerns that the methodological, analytical, and statistical problems we detail about Meier’s report (2019) make her conclusions untrustworthy. Discussion focuses on the importance of using open science practices for transparent and rigorous empirical testing of hypotheses and the dangers of misusing scientific findings to mislead influential professionals who affect the well-being of millions of families.

Harman and Lorandos (2020)

In conclusion and after transparently and rigorously testing six pre-registered hypothoses, our results soundly disconfirmed nearly all of the findings we tested from Meier et al’ (2019) report or discovered the findings to be in the opposite direction claimed by the authors. We identified 30 very concerning conceptual, methodological and statistical issues with Meier et al’s (2019) study and when asked to provide us with appendices and statistical output to evaluate her conclusions, she refused to provide them, questioned the inquirer about who they worked for and what types of clients they represented (mothers or fathers) and referred them to a national archive for the material, where such material was still not available at the time of writing. This response raises concerns about the validity of Meier et al’s (2019) data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Harman & Lorandos (2020)

Ideological beliefs about alienation of children, are denial of child abuse.

Harman and Lorandos show us how, by creating a false narrative, this child abuse is hidden. I can only wonder why, those who claim to be against abuse, would want to hide the child’s experience.

The Harman & Lorandos Study: Exposing misleading information in ideological narratives of alienation

The project to separate out, the needs of children, from the rights of their mothers and fathers, is important. Throughout many decades, the project to convince the outside world that children do not need fathers or that mothers whose children reject them must have done something very wrong indeed, has been ongoing. The picture of a parental rights fight as the dominant discourse, has been a useful way of obfuscating what is happening to alienated children.

Alienation of children from their own sense of self and the parental care that is theirs by right, is the child protection issue we are working with and keeping that at the forefront of our mind is key to everything we do.

The Research

For anyone who works with court mandated treatment of families affected by alienation, evidence based working is essential. Those of us who are concerned with helping families, read research evidence to inform ourselves and develop our practice. If we are to be fully informed, we read all of the research which relates to this field.

It was therefore necessary for anyone working in this space, to read and seek to understand the study by Joan Meier, which was published in 2019.

In a presentation to the National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference in 2018, Joan Meier stated that –

After years of challenging the concept in litigation, trainings, and scholarship, it became clear we need national, objective data to show (or refute) that (i)courts are eexcessively reluctant to believe mother’s abuse claims, resulting in widespread losses of custody to likely abusers.

(ii)alienation theory is used in a gender biased manner to facilitate the denial or minimization of abuse.

**This phenomenon is global and generating growing concern in Canada and the UK.

Joan Meier 2018

KEY FINDINGS FROM THE MEIER STUDY

  • Courts are far less likely to credit child abuse claims than partner violence (DV).
  • Mothers’ reports of Fathers’ abuse in custody litigation are credited less than half the time.
  • When Fathers use the alienation defense, courts credit abuse – especially child abuse – far less.
  • Child abuse allegations and alienation defenses put Mothers at highest risk of losing custody
  • Reduces likelihood of abuse being believed by a factor of 2
  • Reduces likelihood of child abuse being believed by a factor of almost 4 (3.9
  • When Fathers cross-claimed alienation, they were almost 3 (2.9) times more likely to take custody from mothers alleging any kind of abuse

The findings were summarised by Joan Meier in her presentation to the NCFR Annual conference as follows –

These data confirm the widespread complaints about family courts’ rejections of abuse concerns, potentially putting children at risk.

They also confirm that alienation claims are effective in negating abuse concerns

Joan Meier 2018

This study, which makes strong claims about how the Courts are influenced into making decisions, by practitioners who work with the concept of alienation, has had widespread influence around the world, including in the UK. In February 2020, Joan Meier was a guest at a workshop held at Brunel University which was led by Adrienne Barnett, author of a report published in January 2020 entitled ‘A Genealogy of Hostility: Parental Alienation in England and Wales

Meier’s study is referred to as ‘ground breaking’ on the website for this workshop.

Cognitive Distortions

The Meier study was confusing to read, because as a clinician working in this space, it does not correlate with my experience of how courts make decisions about the care of children. For example, in my experience –

  1. fathers claiming alienation must demonstrate significant evidence in the court process in order to achieve the establishment of alienation as a possibility in their case.
  2. mothers claiming alienation, must do the same and in many cases of mother alienation, the practitioner belief that a child is rejecting because of something a mother has actually done is very strong. This gendered bias, which in my experience is sometimes in play in the family court system, is that if a child is rejecting a mother, it must be because she has done something very very wrong, (because children hardly ever reject a mother). This creates a higher bar for mothers to have alienation recognised.

The Meier study was undertaken in the USA. Academics in the UK however, used her findings to support claims made about the UK Family Courts. In Adrienne Barnett’s (2020) paper (see above), the same focus was applied to the discourse within, promoting the idea that alienation is something which is used by hostile fathers towards protective mothers. Barnett claims that the Courts take a widespread ‘hostile mother’ approach.

New Research Which Challenges The Meier et al (2019) Study

The Meier Study has been used around the world to embed information into public consciousness,

The Meier Study however, is now challenged by the outcomes of new research which replicated the Meier Study in order to test the claims being made.

Allegations of Family Violence in Court: How Parental Alienation Affects Judicial Outcomes

Co-authored by Jennifer J. Harman, PhD Colorado State University and Demosthenes Lorandos, PhD, JD PsychLaw.net.

To be published shortly in Psychology, Public Policy and Law

The abstract states (reproduced with permission from the authors)

We tested a set of findings reported by Meier (2019) related to the use of parental alienation (PA) as a legal defense in cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. A total of 967 appellate reports in which PA was found or alleged were sequentially selected from a legal database search. Nineteen research assistants blind to the study’s hypotheses coded the reports for the variables used to test six pre-registered hypotheses using a series of logistic and linear regression models. We failed to find any support for the conclusions made by Meier (2019).

Harman and Lorandos (2020)

The abstract gives some startling information in terms of Meier’s claims, amongst many of which are, that the family courts take child abuse allegations less seriously, when parental alienation is alleged by fathers.

The abstract goes on to say –

Results indicate that the majority of courts carefully weigh allegations of all forms of family violence in their determinations about the best interests of children. These findings, along with several others, raise concerns that the methodological, analytical, and statistical problems we detail about Meier’s report (2019) make her conclusions untrustworthy. Discussion focuses on the importance of using open science practices for transparent and rigorous empirical testing of hypotheses and the dangers of misusing scientific findings to mislead influential professionals who affect the well-being of millions of families.

Harman and Lorandos (2020)
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE HARMAN & LORANDOS STUDY
  • Harman and Lorandos identified at least 30 conceptual and methodological problems with the design and analyses of the Meier Study. The severity of this raises the concern that the study is being used as a ‘woozle.’ (P.2) The concern is raised that there is potential for misleading a naive scientific audience. (P.3)
  • An example is given of such a statement which is that the concept of parental alienation, ‘ was created specifically as a rationale for rejecting child sexual abuse claims.’ This is said to be repeated throughout the Meier study. The repetitive nature of this statement and Meier’s claims that the study provdes ‘evidence’ for this, was the motivating factor for the Harman & Lorandos Study.
  • Harman & Lorandos criticise the Meier report for its claims that Guardians ad Litem (GALS) and evaluators were not likely to credit mothers abuse claims and need to be educated about the use of PA claims when child abuse is alleged by mothers. Harman & Lorandos argue that ‘this implies that all claims of abuse made by mothers should be taken at face value and fails to acknowledge that these third parties have had access to considerably more information than what is provided in the judicial reports the research team reviewed.’ (P.5).
  • Further criticism of the Meier report is found in the use of embolding words to persuade the reader to believe that the findings were statistically significant when they were not, and making the reader believe there is a consensus on a topic when there is not.

Reconstruction of the Meier Study

Harman & Lorandos reconstructed the Meier study and give a lot of detail about the work they put into doing so. They also highlight the difficulties they encountered when trying to obtain information about how the original study was constructed.

In January 2020 the hypothoses were pre-registered by the Harman & Lorandos team in order to minimise potential for their own ideological biases. A team of nineteen research assistants who were blind to the study’s hypothoses, coded 967 appelate reports for the variables used to test the pre-registered hypothoses.

Results

The results of this study are startling and the conclusions are serious. From the authors themselves on page 36 of their report –

In conclusion and after transparently and rigorously testing six pre-registered hypothoses, our results soundly disconfirmed nearly all of the findings we tested from Meier et al’ (2019) report or discovered the findings to be in the opposite direction claimed by the authors. We identified 30 very concerning conceptual, methodological and statistical issues with Meier et al’s (2019) study and when asked to provide us with appendices and statistical output to evaluate her conclusions, she refused to provide them, questioned the inquirer about who they worked for and what types of clients they represented (mothers or fathers) and referred them to a national archive for the material, where such material was still not available at the time of writing. This response raises concerns about the validity of Meier et al’s (2019) data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Harman & Lorandos (2020)

The report into this study is lengthy and complex. It gives significant detail about how these authors have diligently reconstructed the Meier et al study, to show the unreliability of the findings from it, which are currently being used around the world, not only to attack the concept of alienation of children in divorce and separation, but to also attack those who work in this field.

Hiding the Child

The strongest feeling I am left with after reading this report, is a deep concern about the way in which the Meier study has been used in an attempt to shift the narrative away from the plight of the alienated child. This has been achieved by persuading people to believe that parental alienation is only about abusive men using the issue to control protective mothers. The Harman & Lorandos study, which thoroughly debunks that claim and others of a similar nature, puts some serious questions on the table about the credibility of the Meier et al (2019) study.

Alienation of children is a serious mental health concern, it is a problem which has been clearly identified and articulated over the past decade in particular and it has begun to be properly addressed as the child protection issue it truly is. The concept of alienation of children and the harm that this causes, is now well recognised in the UK family courts, where case law sets out how this should be managed.

The Harman & Lorandos study makes transparent, the risks being taken in hiding the alienated child, by all those who accept the Meier et al (2019) research without question.

Alienated children right around the world need protection and this study helps to place their needs back where they belong, at the forefront of our collective consciousness.

National Family Breakdown Service for the UK?

As anyone who has read this blog since I began writing it in 2009 knows, one of my long time hopes has been for a national family breakdown service.

In 2008, when we worked for the DWP in developing co-ordinated family services to support collaborative child maintenance arrangements, the focus was very much upon helping to close the gap between parents, which opens up when the family separates.

This gap, which is well articulated in the report released this week, by the Family Solutions Group, entitled ‘What About Me? Reframing Support for Separated Families, is at last being addressed.

This is an impressive document which is clearly researched and which identifies all of the points of difficulties facing families as they make the crossing from together to apart. Well balanced in terms of the acknowledgement of the need for assessment tools for issues such as domestic abuse, the report takes into account, but does not bend to the polarised positions within the parental rights groups, which demand the right to include or exclude parents on the basis of allegations alone.

Despite the somewhat ridiculous reporting by the Daily Mail on the report, in which they claim that divorced parents will be required to take an ‘eye contact test’ in order to determine whether they can share care, the level of detail in the report is heartening. Quoting from the book ‘The Guide for Separated Parents’ which Nick and I wrote together in 2007, the making of eye contact during handovers, is recognised in the report, as being an important behavioural support to children, which reduces the psychological and emotional gap that children must cross in the post separation landscape.

Eye contact is how we know that we are connected to other people. Those children who become alienated from a parent, are those who do not have support to make the psychological journey into the care of the other parent. Eye contact demonstrates permission giving, permission to love, permission to leave, permission to return safely. Eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, the neuroscience explains very well that the mirror neurons in the brain are activated by eye contact. Put simply, eye contact between parents on handover, assists a child to make the move from the care of one parent to the other by creatings signals of safety and acceptance. There is a reason why a nursery nurse will kneel down and make eye contact with mum or dad as he/she helps a reluctant toddler to make the crossing into the room. It is because the child in seeing that, receives the message that it is safe to make the crossing and that the nursery is a safe place and that mum or dad will come back to the collect them.

Whilst it is ridiculous of the Mail to suggest that an eye contact test can be applied, this simple guidance can be given to any separating parent who wants to help their child to feel safe in a new landscape. In our work with families over the years, we have had many responses which tell us that these simple things, make a great deal of difference in the lives of children and I am delighted that a book we wrote 13 years ago, is still relevant to the work being done now to support families through separation.

I am now working at the more complex end of the spectrum of family separation but I know how vital it is to have triage and early intervention services for all separating families in place. I have long been a supporter of the Early Interventions Project, which is a great example of how triage can work effectively in family separation support.

We have also continued to support families at the point of separation through our online resources, one of which is The Family Separation Hub, which has been run by Nick on a voluntary basis for the past decade. That the report recommends a national separated families hub, along the same lines, is something we both welcome, because we know from the feedback we receive from families all over the world, how such information supports this difficult transition time in family life.

This is a comprehensive report which has clearly looked at all the dots and joined them up to articulate the problems facing families in the process of separation and beyond. Whilst there is much to digest in the report and clearly, for the government, much work to do in creating the networks that are recommended, I look forward to seeing the positive impact that this will have on the work that we are doing at the most complex end of the spectrum. Because whilst it is not the case that early intervention can eradicate alienation completely, the provision of early support services can, without a doubt, triage those families who can co-operate into services to help them to do so.

Having flagged the need for a National Family Breakdown Service many times over, it looks like my long held hope, is one step closer to coming true. My reading of this report tells me that there is a rich infrastructure ready and waiting to be joined up in the UK, to bring the recommendations of this report to life and I wish the project to do that well.


The Family Solutions Group Report is called ‘What About Me – Reframing Support for Separated Families and it can be read here.

Bruises on my soul: A clinical Seminar from the lighthouse project

This week I recorded a clinical seminar for the Lighthouse Project. with five highly experienced practitioners in the field of relational trauma in divorce and separation working in different countries.

The title of this blog, which introduces this seminar to you, is taken from a picture, shown in the seminar, by Mia Roje Djapic, a psychologist from the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb. Bruises on my soul is the title of a picture drawn by a formerly alienated child, to depict the suffering of induced psychological splitting. In the seminar, Mia introduces us to the ways in which children who have been in abusive family situations depict themselves and how alienated children depict themselves. She further differentiates, children’s drawings of their experience of high conflict, to show the ways in which we can understand the difference in our work with families.

This is a seminar which is rich in clinical content, in which the big questions about this work are addressed with thought and grace and great care. Comparing how six clinicians, in six different countries in the world, are all working with the same phenomenon, Dr Benny Bailey, a social workers and psychotherapist in Israel, draws our attention back to the reality that these are families affected by dysregulated behaviours which impact upon children but that they are ultimately, ordinary families which with help can move on to healthier ways of living.

Dr Claire Francica from Malta, introduces the need for a unified understanding of this emerging discipline and how working in the consulting room requires a team approach in which everyone understands the assessment and treatments necessary. Joan Long, a Psychologist and Psychotherapist from the Republic of Ireland, speaks at length about the risks to children and the core realities of working with boundaries in families where these are not present or leaky, putting children at risk. Dr Kelly Baker from the USA, speaks eloquently about the special moments in reunification, when a child who has been fiercely rejecting, allow incoming care again from a parent and calls for training for all disciplines in understanding this hidden form of child abuse.

I am priviliged to work with these colleagues and to draw from them, inspiration, support and clinical learning to continue the development work of EAPAP so that our network of alienation aware practitioners can keep growing.

Thank you to these clinicians too, for their courage to undertake risky and difficult work, in a field which is not well understood and which itself is criss crossed with splits and divisions. I join with my colleagues in hoping that the next decade brings a more unified approach to this field so that children in the future get the help that too many children in the past decades have been deprived of.

On behalf of my colleagues, thank you for watching.

This video is free of charge, its purpose is educational and to raise awareness so please, feel free to share it widely.

Karen Woodall

London

13.11.2020

Clinical Seminar Today

Dear Readers,

We have been inundated with requests for the link for the Clinical Seminar which features six clinicians from around the world who are working with alienated children and their families.

Our intention in bringing these experienced people together, is to provide learning and insight into the internal world of working with families affected by a child’s outright rejection of a parent after family separation.

Featuring – Dr Benny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Dr Claire Francica from Malta, Dr Kelly Baker from the USA, Mia Roje from Croatia and chaired by Karen Woodall from London, this seminar will ask big questions and throw a light on the reality of alienation of children as an act of child abuse.

The two hour seminar will be recorded and the link sent to all who have registered for it later this week. It will however, also be posted on social media and YouTube as well as on here, so do not worry if you have not registered yet.

The seminar link has been requested by social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, play therapists, teachers, nurses and GPs and schools from fourteen different countries, demonstrating the interest in this subject.

Please look out for the link later this week if you have registered for it, if you have not done so yet, there is no need to worry as you can watch here shortly.

This seminar is being delivered free of charge via the Lighthouse Project and is sponsored by the Family Separation Clinic in London, as part of our project to bring education and awareness of the issue of alienation and the harm it causes to public consciousness.

Our grateful thanks to the clinicians from around the world who are giving their valuable time in sharing their experience and insight into their work.

Silence is golden: avoiding the he said/she said trap in alienation

Today we have been working with Mediators from MIKK in Germany, the International Centre for Family Conflict and Child Abduction. Delivering to specialists in this field is a real privilege because it furthers the project of working across borders to build a network of alienation aware professionals.

Our work throughout the pandemic has increased significantly and whilst we have not been able to travel physically, we have been working across many borders in terms of geography and other fields of work, to build connections and develop awareness. Working with specialists in child abduction, family violence, child development services, family therapy, neuroscience, attachment and alienation, in nineteen different countries around the world, has created a significant network of highly skilled people.

In September, over four hundred clinicians joined the European Association’s conference online. That conference, which can now be viewed online, is a lasting foundational legacy of the work that has been done in raising awareness of relational trauma in divorce and separation.

Our next event is a Clinical Seminar with six leading psychotherapists who work with relational trauma, including alienation of children in divorce and separation, which has attracted sign up from over two hundred people already, from eleven countries around the world.

This work is developing despite the backlash from parental rights groups, despite the fact that all of us who are prominent in this field of work are subjected to constant attack on our reputation. Working closely together, clinicians from many countries are supporting each other, can interact safely and can develop the interventions which are necessary to help families where alienation is present. Discussing these attacks with colleagues recently, raised for me, the strategy that I have used to protect rejected parents for all of the years that I have done this work. I call this strategy the silence is golden approach to avoiding the hooks and traps that are laid in your way when people with psychological problems try to draw you into conflict.

I have written about the silence is golden approach before in 2017 – for anyone who faces false allegations and negative projections, it is the go to strategy, because what it does is prevent others from classifying what is happening as a he said/she said situation.

For rejected parents it is an absolute necessity, because what the other parent is doing to you is trying to draw you into a scenario where you can be depicted as being contributory to the problem.

The strategy is based upon the principle, that if you are in a net of false allegation or negative projection that someone has thrown around you, stop struggling. Stop calling attention to the net, stop looking at the net, stop allowing the net to exist. That net is someone’s else’s projection. It only becomes real if you give it attention because it is a projection. When you realise that, the net no longer exists.

It sounds easier said than done. Staying silent when someone is badmouthing you, not responding when someone is baiting you, standing still whilst someone is causing your child harm is about as counter intuitive as it gets. Of course you want to shout, of course you want to draw attention to what is happening, but like the parent who dangles the child over the crocodile pit and who pulls it away when you shout help, wasting your time playing someone else’s negative projection games is just that – a waste of time and precious energy. It is also extremely stressful.

During periods of great stress, I have always attempted to do three things.

  1. Find purpose in my daily life and a higher level of understanding of what is happening to me.
  2. Care well for my body, for without this safe container, all that I am would not and could not be.
  3. Take a longer view so that the tyrannical grip of anxiety is not in control of my day to day living.

For rejected parents, this is a strategy to adopt in order to cope with the longer term difficulties which come with the territory of being an alienated parent. When you are coping with court hearings, contact refusals and children’s outright rejection, anxiety and fear about the loss of the relationship brings a sense of loss of control over your life. When this experience becomes all encompassing, suffering is heightened and fear takes control.

Do not let it happen.  When you are in the tightening net of alienation, perhaps with allegations being made and things being said which are untrue, stop struggling.  If you continue to struggle you will simply tangle yourself up further into the alienation narrative which is being spun around the child and you will both fail to stop it and cause yourself more suffering.  When you are in the midst of the pain, stop struggling and simply be. Take care of your body and feed your soul.  If you have faith then place your trust in that, if you do not, relax into that which gives your life meaning.  This too will pass and change will come.

Much suffering is caused unnecessarily by being focused upon the alienation dynamic which you can see but others can’t.  In these circumstances you must approach your strategy to restore the relationship with your child, calmly and systematically.  If you are taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your ability to fight for your alienated child and as a result, you are parenting your child in the only way available to you right now.  Eat, rest, exercise and make sure you reconnect with what matters to you in your own heart.  Whilst I know that your children matter the most, focus upon those things which keep you alive and vital and present in the world.

If you focus upon the fear and the what if, you will find yourself tangled back up in the net of anxiety.  If you focus upon your strength and what is within your capacity to change, you will find yourself growing stronger and more able to withstand the challenges ahead.

The world of the rejected parent is filled with uncertainty. There is no end to the suffering and the psychological changes which come with bereavement cannot be followed. Instead what you must cope with is the repeated spike of hope which is dashed and the injustice of the child’s damaged mindset.  Additionally, around all of that, is the negatively bonded alienating parent who will, if they can, twist and jerk and turn the line to control you.

Do not let them.  Retrieve the power of the alienating parent over you and relocate it within you.  If you focus on their control and their power and the injustice of that, you will sink beneath the waves of their emotional chaos.  If you focus upon what is within your control and your power to change, you will find yourself becoming more stable and more able to cope in the longer term.

Anyone who spends their time negatively projecting things upon you is afraid of you, afraid of your health, afraid of your success, afraid of your vital place in the life of your child. Anyone who tries to stick labels onto you (look at the labels carefully because what they label you with, they are suffering from themselves, it is a projection), is suffering from a splitting of their own mind. When you encounter someone of this nature, silence is golden, disconnection is essential and absolute clear blue water should be flowing between you and them in every way, every single day.

That way your health grows and other people can see the reality of what is happening. Instead of seeing someone making allegations and projecting blame and you reacting like a fish on a hook, what they see is the reality.

If you want to catch a fish, you have to stay quiet. Getting people to understand what is happening, demands silence.

Don’t fall for the he said/she said trap, keep your own trap shut instead. That way you don’t muddy the waters, giving those with the power to stop the person doing harm, the chance to see what you can see. When they can see it they can take action.

And when they take action, the energy you could have expended in shouting for help, has been saved to use on more important things. Like living. Like loving. Like being the healthy person and parent that you are.

Avoid the he said/she said trap. Keep your own trap firmly shut.


Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

A Clinical Seminar on Zoom

What does working with a child who rejects a parent actually look like? What are the clinical issues which are seen and how do psychotherapists understand the issue of alienation of a child? Amidst the arguments about what alienation is and how it is differentiated from estrangement, leading psychotherapists from six countries will join together to discuss the issues which arise in doing this work. Topics such as recognising attachment disruption, the impact of early developmental trauma on a child, the experience of divorce and separation for children and identification of relational trauma in parents, will be explored in this two hour seminar.

Reunification work will be discussed within the context of understanding alienation of a child as significant emotional and psychological harm and the concept of non accidental injury to the mind will be considered within an exploration of alienation as an act of child abuse.

Setting this discussion within the landscape of six different cultures, means that the differences in legal frameworks can be explored as we examine the Court as ‘super parent’ in these cases. Looking at the ways in which families have reached the outer edges of their capacity to manage the problems alone, considerations of the mental health interventions necessary to protect children will be central to this seminar.

Finally the practice standards necessary to deliver this work successfully and the need for practitioner protection from efforts to do harm to the reputation of those who do this work, will provide a road map for future work in this evolving field.

Featuring Psychotherapists from Six CountriesBenny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Claire Francica from Malta, Mia Roje from Croatia, Kelley Baker from the USA and Karen Woodall from the UK.

Please note that this seminar is being recorded on November 10 2020 and the link to watch it will be sent to all who have registered with us shortly afterwards. If you would like to register for the link please email me at karen@karenwoodall.blog

The recording will be made available on here and a wide range of social media platforms around the world during the week of November 16th 2020.

The seminar is being delivered free of charge through the Lighthouse Project as part of our ongoing work to raise awareness of clinical work with families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation.

overcoming the high conflict myth in working with alienation in divorce and separation

Working with relational trauma in divorce and separation means looking at the whole spectrum of dynamics between parents who are separating. Drawing upon knowledge about how coercive control is used by some parents to control the other, we are able to identify those cases in which children are withdrawing from a parent due to something they have done. Looking at the child, we are able to identify the behavioural patterns which tell us that a parent is pressuring the child into the use of the splitting defence. Recognising the signs of enmeshed and controlling relationships, allows us to differentiate the child who is alienated from the child who is temporarily withdrawn.

This work is undertaken in the midst of extraordinary dynamics between two parents in a system which is decompensated. Whilst the spectrum of human behaviours are seen in this situation, from genuinely healthy and positive intent, to malevolence which emerges from personality disorder and uncontained rage, most parents post separation, will find a way to make things work for their children. Some however, do not, some cannot. Looking closer at those who do not and cannot, it becomes clear that here is where the risks to children in divorce and separation are highest.

Not High Conflict

I feel frustrated when people talk about alienation of children as being about high conflict divorce. In my clinical experience of being embedded with families over the past thirteen years, the outside view of what is going on inside, is about as upside down as it gets. The high conflict view is in fact, a projection of what the influencing parent wants the outside world to see. What is happening internally in these family systems, is not high conflict but dysfunctional patterns of behaviour which are driving the child and the other parent’s capacity to parent, plus that parent’s responses to the injustice, frustration and fear that being in this situation produces.

If we characterise alienation of children as being about high conflict divorce, we miss the critical elements of power and control over the child, the transgenerational patterns of trauma, the personality disorders and their impact and the terrifying element of abuse of a child, which is being enacted right in front of us. Instead of being able to intervene and protect the child in such circumstances, we say this is high conflict divorce and attempt to change both parents’ behaviours, allowing the influencing parent to get away with more harmful behaviour, whilst the rejected parent is rendered further helpless by our intervention.

This approach resolves nothing at all. What it does is further injure the child, the rejected parent and the family system as a whole. It leaves the family worse off than before we arrived on the scene. Taking an approach which places alienation of a child as being about high conflict divorce is harmful in my view.

Power and Control

Alienation of a child occurs in a particular dynamic in which one parent has more control over the child than the other. That is the very basis of what is happening in these families. In that respect it is possible to see how one parent alienates, how two parents can counter alienate, how parents can be fighting over control of the child and how false allegations of alienation can be used to obtain more power over the child and through that, their parent.

If we do not understand power and control dynamics, we will not understand how a child becomes alienated from a parent. Power and control dynamics in alienation of a child are, actually, incredibly easy to understand when you understand how children’s minds work.

Remembering that to alienate a child you have to alienate them from their own sense of self first, (alignment and rejection are projections onto parents), dividing the child into distinct parts of the self, one conscious and one unconscious, can be undertaken in a heartbeat if you know how. That some parents do know how (and some have been busy alienating their children from their own sovereign sense of self since birth), it is hardly surprising that alienation in a child is one of the spectrum problems seen in families when they separate.

Transgenerational trauma

The reality of what we are dealing with in families affected by alienation of a child is that the story of the family across the generations, often contains an unresolved thread of trauma which is passed from parent to child in the attachment relationship. As Jill Salberg described in her presentation at the EAPAP Conference this year, trauma in a parent is passed to the child in the earliest formation of attachment between them. In divorce and separation, it is my view that this traumatic transmission, which has been dormant until such time as crisis occurs, emerges in the here and now as a child’s alignment and rejection reaction to an unresolvable situation (the child knows that they cannot love the other parent without causing the aligned parent anxiety and harm).

Personality Disorders

The cases of alienation of a child which are prominent in their severity, are those which involve a personality disordered parent who is unable to see that their behaviours are harmful to their children. Within this group are those with fixed and fused enmeshed relationships with their children, where the leakage of the parents feelings to the child cause problems such as parentification and spouseification, where a child is meeting the needs of the parent and is not receiving the parental care they are entitled to. Personality disordered parents make up the majority of the severest cases of alienation of a child in my experience and the markers of this are quite clear in terms of recognition.

Overcoming the High Conflict Myth

To overcome the myth that alienation of a child is about high conflict between parents, it is necessary to work with and observe the family over a period of time. Just like taking a photograph, meeting the family once or twice in an office and making an assessment of the dynamics based upon those meetings, is like taking a snapshot of an event and saying that is the whole of the story. It is not.

Families where a child is alienated require close and careful observation, they require us to spend time with them and for us to become embedded in the way that they function, so that we not only see what the family does when it is putting on its ‘best face’, we see what it does over time and under pressure to conform to our requirtements to do things that they do not want to do. Only by asking parents to do things that they do not want to do, for example, make a child attend an observation session with a parent who is being rejected, do we understand the underlying dynamics in a case. Testing for disguised compliance (where a parent appears to be co-operative but is undermining behind the scenes), requires us to be patient enough to be with that parent for long enough to understand the way in which two strands of behaviours are operating at the same time. Working with alienation demands a forensic approach to understanding families, an open mind and a depth knowledge of how such families operate. Understanding how splitting, projection and other defence mechanisms work is essential.

We do families affected by alienation of a child, a great disservice when we characterise them as being about high conflict. Whilst that is what it might look like to the outside world, internally these families are about complex dynamics which require us to tease apart the way in which the actions and counter actions between parents, have become configured around the child to mean that one parent has control over the child’s mind and the other parent is rendered helpless.

Understanding this internalised world of families where children are alienated, means that we help, rather than hinder healing and we protect against being drawn into false allegations of alienation.

If all we do is believe that alienation is about two parents in conflict, all we will do is work with that projection and find ourselves clutching at shadows and fog.

Understanding the myth of high conflict, takes us into the internal world of families affected by alienation of a child and brings us face to face with the real dynamic.

What we can do then, becomes more powerful in terms of lasting change for children.


Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

A Clinical Seminar on Zoom

What does working with a child who rejects a parent actually look like? What are the clinical issues which are seen and how do psychotherapists understand the issue of alienation of a child? Amidst the arguments about what alienation is and how it is differentiated from estrangement, leading psychotherapists from six countries will join together to discuss the issues which arise in doing this work. Topics such as recognising attachment disruption, the impact of early developmental trauma on a child, the experience of divorce and separation for children and identification of relational trauma in parents, will be explored in this two hour seminar.

Reunification work will be discussed within the context of understanding alienation of a child as significant emotional and psychological harm and the concept of non accidental injury to the mind will be considered within an exploration of alienation as an act of child abuse.

Setting this discussion within the landscape of six different cultures, means that the differences in legal frameworks can be explored as we examine the Court as ‘super parent’ in these cases. Looking at the ways in which families have reached the outer edges of their capacity to manage the problems alone, considerations of the mental health interventions necessary to protect children will be central to this seminar.

Finally the practice standards necessary to deliver this work successfully and the need for practitioner protection from efforts to do harm to the reputation of those who do this work, will provide a road map for future work in this evolving field.

Featuring Psychotherapists from Six CountriesBenny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Claire Francica from Malta, Mia Roje from Croatia, Kelley Baker from the USA and Karen Woodall from the UK.

Please note that this seminar is being recorded on November 10 2020 and the link to watch it will be sent to all who have registered with us shortly afterwards. If you would like to register for the link please email me at karen@karenwoodall.blog

The recording will be made available on here and a wide range of social media platforms around the world during the week of November 16th 2020.

The seminar is being delivered free of charge through the Lighthouse Project as part of our ongoing work to raise awareness of clinical work with families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation.

Reconnections: recovering older alienated children: A Zoom Seminar with karen woodall

Tuesday 8 December 2020

16:00 – 18:30 GMT – London

11:00 – 13:30 EST  – New York

11:00 – 13:30 EST  – Toronto

08:00 – 10:30 PST – Los Angeles

08:00 – 10:30 PST – Vancouver

17:00 – 19:30 CET – Western Europe

19:00 – 21:30 MSK – Moscow

18:00 – 20:30 IST – Tel Aviv

10:00 – 12:30 CST – Mexico City

18:00 – 20:30 SAST Johannesburg

03:00 – 05:30 AEDT (9 December) – Sydney

If your time zone is not listed above, you can check your local start time here (just enter your city in the blue box):

Time Zone Converter

Many parents find that they are unable to reconnect with their children through the court process. This can leave older children, in particular, without any effective help to support reunification with their parents. Whilst many older children find their way home eventually, they do so with a hidden problem which continues to affect their relationships with family and friends.

This hidden problem is the defence of psychological splitting, which is a pernicious defence that remains active in many children, long after they have reunited with a parent. This is because, without intervention, the adult child is not aware of the defence, leaving relationships with others feeling distant and disconnected.

Working on the principle that the rejected parent holds the split off and denied aspect of self that is necessary to give a sense of integration, this seminar is for parents of older children. It is focused upon therapeutic parenting skills and understanding of the way that the defence operates in children. Working with the principles of assisting children with disorganised attachments, this seminar will walk you through the key skills of therapeutic parenting which are adapted for this group of children.

Using letter writing, social media and creation of communications strategies, this seminar will also help you to build a consistent strategy of therapeutic parenting presence. Building confidence in understanding and responding to the older alienated child, the seminar will equip you to understand what to do and say in particular circumstances.

We look forward to you joining us.


IMPORTANT:

  • 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).

Book here

Please Note:This seminar will be recorded and will be made available to everyone after the event, so if your time zone prevents you from joining us live, please book as normal and you will receive the link to the recording shortly afterwards.

Clinical practice with alienated children: What, Why and how

Alienated children are suffering from disorganised attachments and a defence which causes them to become alienated from their own self first. By alienation from the self we mean that children in these circumstances are being forced to create a false persona in order to survive intolerable dynamics.

A false persona is a defence mechanism which is created by children in order to survive the stress of developmental trauma in close relationships. Winnicott (1960), called the true self the authentic and spontaneous self and the false self a defensive facade which causes people to appear robotic and lifeless.

The false self is the person we meet when we work with a child who is alienated, the presentation in the child shows us the reality of this. Children who are suffering from psychological splitting, the defence which causes the manifestation of the false self, project that split onto their parents so that one parent is the projection of all that is good and the other is the projection of all that is bad.

Phillipa Perry, a well known psychotherapist, described the experience of being unable to hold two realities in mind well, in her excellent piece for Radio 4 last year. Featuring an adult child and a formerly alienated parent with whom I have worked, this programme brought the need for a child focused approach to this problem to the fore.

Away from the somewhat lurid polarised debates on the issue of parental alienation which are seen to be in play between the parental rights groups, child focused thinking and working with the issue brings a depth understand of the problem and how to treat it. Ignoring completely, ideologically driven rhetoric and focusing entirely upon the child’s experience in the centre of this landscape, brings clarity in thinking and success in delivery.

This is not a care and contact issue and that needs saying repeatedly. This is not about the relationship that the child has with the parent they are rejecting. This is about the way in which the child has been driven to use the defense of splitting and how that has been triggered by pressures in the relational world with the aligned or influencing parent.

Examining cases from the child’s perspective we start by finding out whether or not the child is using psychological splitting as a defence. It is worth repeating that psychological splitting as a defence in alienation cases, is accompanied by contemptuousness and disdain on the part of the child in relationship to the rejected parent and hyper attunement and attachment to the parent the child is aligned to.

Causes of the hyper alignment may be enmeshment with a parent who is using the child to meet their own needs or it may be coercive control by a parent who is terrorising the child into identification with their aggression. When we see hyper attunement and attachment to a parent we need to understand much more about that relationship in order to work out what the parent is doing to cause it.

This is a child protection approach to resolving alienation, it is an adapted form of systems therapy in which power and control dynamics play a central role in understanding. This is therapy, but not the kind of therapy that is ordinarily delivered in families. Reorganisation of the power and control dynamic in order to provide protected space for the child to reconnect to the rejected parent requires the interlocking relationship with the family court. This is the only way to properly reconfigure power dynamics in families where control over the child is held by a parent who will not or cannot recognise the harm they are causing.

In severe cases of alienation, a child is used as a conduit for the influencing parent to erase the rejected parent’s very sense of mother or fatherhood. The goal of serious and conscious manipulation of children, is to reduce the rejected parent to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. This is a grisly act of psychological murder, of one parent by the other, using the child to enact this. The child in these circumstances however is the ultimate victim, because they are being used by a parent who is unable to parent healthily, to murder the other parent psychologically. The child becomes an unconscious participant in the eradication of their own capacity to receive healthy care.

In other scenarios, children become enmeshed into the psychological bubble of belief in a parent that the other parent is damaging and dangerous. Sometimes this extends to ideologically driven beliefs that all women are good and all men are bad, a form of distorted psychological belief which itself depicts splitting as a defence mechanism. The further away I get from this ideological belief system, the more ridiculous it seems. Are all mothers good and healthy and well and all fathers bad and unhealthy and unwell? Of course not, so why would we allow such a belief system to drive the way we care for families through and beyond separation?

The way to approach differentiation of cases where a child is rejecting a parent is to carefully and systematically assess the dynamics over a period of time. We use a twelve week rolling assessmeny programme which offers the capacity to watch the family response to granular interventions which sift between estrangement and alienation, contributory dynamics from each parent and the psychological profiles which drive parental behaviours. We use relational trauma as a framework for recognising that this family has reached the outer limits of its capacity to cope alone and we understand how this child in this family at this time, came to be using the defence of splitting. And then we build the treatment route to liberate the child from the defence and re-organise the family furniture so that it does not need to return.

It sounds simple and in some ways it is. Alienation in a child is caused by trauma in close personal relationships, most often through family separation but not always. Alienation in a child is a defence mechanism which is triggered by intolerable pressure on the child in those close personal relationships and splitting brings swift relief for the child in the here and now but a host of problems in the future.

The immediate problem for the child however, is that they then have to find a way to explain the rejection to their parents and to the outside world. Put simply, the narrative of my dad is bad and my mum is good (or vice versa), is the child’s only way of justifying what they have done. It is a ghastly place to put a child because the false persona is a life long problem and very difficult for the child to resolve alone, simply because the nature of the false persona is to protect the child from the unresolved trauma, Thus they have no idea that it exists until either the trauma itself begins to push up into consciousness or the effort to keep the defence in place and emotional and psychological experiences repressed, begins to tell.

Children whose ‘decisions’ to reject a parent were upheld and supported in the past, find themselves in the current day, trying to work out what is wrong with them. Looking back at the fragmented memories, the uncertainties about self and the anxiety about being able to make decisions, the split self and the internalised fractured landscape, comes sharply into vision in the therapy room. The reason we do this work at the point the child uses splitting therefore, is not to reconnect the child to the rejected parent but to reconnect the child to the whole of their own selves. Doing that can only be achieved by confronting the child with the split off and denied aspect of self which is contained in the rejected parent. This is not about forcing children to be with abusive parents, it is not about forcing the child to be with the parent at all, it is about helping children to resolve the split state of mind so that they do not suffer the long term impact of the problem.

This is why the rejected parent is so vital in the life of the alienated child, without that parent, the child cannot reconnect to their own sovereign self. It is through that relationship, previously split off and denied, that integration and wholeness is achieved. The rejected parent contains the projected and denied part of the self that the child cannot tolerate because of the impossible position they have been placed in. When the child is able to tolerate the projection in the shape of the parent, they are able to tolerate the whole of their own self and the splitting defence recedes. This leaves the child free of the false persona and connected to the whole of who they are.

The route we use to reconnect the alienated child to the integrated self is to build protected space for the child and rejected parent which is away from the influence of the aligned parent. This is the role of therapists and psychologists in this space, to differentiate alienation, as the Court to constrain the influencing parent, create protected space to work in, educate and prepare the rejected parent and then bring parent and child together so that the child can recover the whole of their own sense of self through that relationship.

Alienation of children is no longer the invisible everyday occurence it once was, and rejected parents no longer need to suffer being routinely abused by ideological campaigners, who seek to mischaracterise the problem using false divisions of good mother/bad father. Working well beyond that binary split, practice with alienated children and families is moving into a realm of holistic work to keep both parents engaged through and beyond integration of the split state of mind in the child.

Understanding and working with relational trauma and the alienated child opens the door wider for many more clinicians to walk through.

Reference

Winnicott, D. W. (1960). “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self”. The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. New York: International Universities Press, Inc: 140–57.


Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

A Clinical Seminar on Zoom

November 10 2020 at 16:00 London time

What does working with a child who rejects a parent actually look like? What are the clinical issues which are seen and how do psychotherapists understand the issue of alienation of a child? Amidst the arguments about what alienation is and how it is differentiated from estrangement, leading psychotherapists from six countries will join together to discuss the issues which arise in doing this work. Topics such as recognising attachment disruption, the impact of early developmental trauma on a child, the experience of divorce and separation for children and identification of relational trauma in parents, will be explored in this two hour seminar.

Reunification work will be discussed within the context of understanding alienation of a child as significant emotional and psychological harm and the concept of non accidental injury to the mind will be considered within an exploration of alienation as an act of child abuse.

Setting this discussion within the landscape of six different cultures, means that the differences in legal frameworks can be explored as we examine the Court as ‘super parent’ in these cases. Looking at the ways in which families have reached the outer edges of their capacity to manage the problems alone, considerations of the mental health interventions necessary to protect children will be central to this seminar.

Finally the practice standards necessary to deliver this work successfully and the need for practitioner protection from efforts to do harm to the reputation of those who do this work, will provide a road map for future work in this evolving field.

Featuring Psychotherapists from Six CountriesBenny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Claire Francica from Malta, Mia Roje from Croatia, Kelley Baker from the USA and Karen Woodall from the UK.

Chaired by Karen Woodall from the Family Separation Clinic in London, this seminar is free of charge.

Book by emailing Karen@karenwoodall.blog

The seminar will be recorded and made widely available here and on all social media platforms after the event.

The lighthouse project: A clinical seminar on zoom

The Havening Seminar which ran yesterday was attended by parents and practitioners from all over the world including Mexico, Israel, the USA, Holland, Belgium Sweden, Germany, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Finland, Iceland and the UK. Delivered by Elyse Killoran, this seminar delivered a treatment which is demonstrably effective in treating trauma.

What participants said

One of the most obvious benefits is that being able to self-regulate our emotional well-being helps us to behave and think more rationally and hence behave in more constructive ways and with greater self-assurance/confidence………..which isn’t a bad thing at all!

I sense that this is an important turning point in the construction/actualisation of new psychotherapy.  I know that the process is important like many similar mind body processes designed to reparent and calm the traumatised and stressed mind body but so important the way it is expressed by Elyse and yourself.  There is no doubt in my mind that you and Elyse come from a position of love as this is what I experienced.

Thank you for this seminar, it has made me realise that I can do something to help myself, it has made me realise that I became entangled in something that has caused me to suffer and that in trying to cope I have entangled myself more. I feel strongly now that I can move on and begin to heal.

You have been able to bring trauma healing to a group of people who have suffered greatly and you have done this with great care and attention to our needs. Thank you.

I want to thank Elyse for her time, given freely and with love, her committment to this work is clear and her warm and containing delivery was a joy to share. We will be announcing a regular group for those who wish to join very soon. We are working on a treatment path which includes Havening work with all members of the family affected by a child’s rejection of a parent and evaluating the impact of that.

The seminar was delivered as part of the Lighthouse Project on the gift economy principle where participants chose how much to pay to join. Income from the seminar was donated by Elyse to the Lighthouse Project and will be used to fund further low cost services over the coming months.

We will open bookings for a regular group soon and will share news of how therapists in this field can learn more about training to use the Havening approach with Elyse.


Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

A Clinical Seminar on Zoom

November 10 2020 at 16:00 London time

What does working with a child who rejects a parent actually look like? What are the clinical issues which are seen and how do psychotherapists understand the issue of alienation of a child? Amidst the arguments about what alienation is and how it is differentiated from estrangement, leading psychotherapists from six countries will join together to discuss the issues which arise in doing this work. Topics such as recognising attachment disruption, the impact of early developmental trauma on a child, the experience of divorce and separation for children and identification of relational trauma in parents, will be explored in this two hour seminar.

Reunification work will be discussed within the context of understanding alienation of a child as significant emotional and psychological harm and the concept of non accidental injury to the mind will be considered within an exploration of alienation as an act of child abuse.

Setting this discussion within the landscape of six different cultures, means that the differences in legal frameworks can be explored as we examine the Court as ‘super parent’ in these cases. Looking at the ways in which families have reached the outer edges of their capacity to manage the problems alone, considerations of the mental health interventions necessary to protect children will be central to this seminar.

Finally the practice standards necessary to deliver this work successfully and the need for practitioner protection from efforts to do harm to the reputation of those who do this work, will provide a road map for future work in this evolving field.

Featuring Psychotherapists from Six CountriesBenny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Claire Francica from Malta, Bruna Profaca from Croatia, Kelley Baker from the USA and Karen Woodall from the UK.

Karen and Nick Woodall
Karen and Nick Woodall
Karen and Nick Woodall

Chaired by Karen Woodall from the Family Separation Clinic, this seminar is free of charge via the Lighthouse Project.

Book by emailing Karen@karenwoodall.blog giving your name and email address for the zoom link to be sent to you.

psychological splitting as a marker of alienation in children suffering relational trauma after divorce and separation

Alienation in cases where children reject a parent after divorce and separation requires careful differentiation. In our assessment, which involves around thirty hours of time spent over twelve weeks with a family, we include a careful analysis of all of the dynamics seen in the family to differentiate those cases which are alienation and those which are not. This is to protect against false claims of a child being alienated, a scenario anyone who does this work must be aware of.

Do false claims of alienation of a child exist? Yes of course they do. Just like other false claims are made in the process of family separation, just as perspectives during this time are never more further apart, individual views on what alienation is and how it is caused are polarised. Some fathers, for example, believe that their children are alienated because they don’t have fifty/fifty shared care, some mothers believe their children are being abused simply because they have to follow a court order.

The reality of this dynamic, in which a child is seen to completely reject a parent without any evidence of wrong doing or harm by that parent, is that the alienated child displays the core symptom of psychological splitting. If psychological splitting is present in the child’s behaviour, further investigation is necessary into the relationship that the child has, not with the parent they are rejecting, but with the parent to whom they are hyper attached and aligned to.

Alienation of children in divorce and separation is not about contact, it is not about the rejected parent, it is about the dynamic which is seen when a child is terrorised into hyper alignment to one parent which leads to rejection of the other. This terrorisation is caused by overt or covert behaviours and it causes hyper attachment in a child which itself is caused by the child’s awareness of the emotional and psychological responses of a parent to scenarios which challenge that parent’s control over external circumstances.

When the case is analysed, from the child’s entry into the display of this symptom, the reality of how the dynamics are configured around the child to cause the symptom to be in play can be understood. The route the child took into the display of the symptom, shows the route that must be taken to lead the family out of the dynamics which are causing the problem. The symptom we see in such situations is the child’s use of defensive splitting.

In a clinical paper entitled ‘Denial of Ambivalence as a Hallmark of Parental Alienation, published in Cogent Psychology (2017), Forensic Clinical Psychologist, Alan Jaffe, along with colleagues Melanie J Thakker and Pascale Piron, wrote about the core symptom of psychological splitting as follows –

the purpose and diagnostic utility of the examination of this subject matter is to exemplify the need for making a fine grain clinical analysis of ambivalence in order to most accu-rately assess the existence of parental alienation in a clinical situation with children.

Jaffe, Thakker and Piron (2017)

Using a set differentiation tools which enable that fine grain analysis is essential in all cases of alienation we work with regardless of how they are presented to us by parents, other professionals and the Court. This is because the process of understanding what happened in the family affected by alienation, can only really be understood by a) spending a lot of time with that family and b) working out whether the dynamics will change with intervention .

Again, this is not about the child’s contact with the rejected parent. The goal of treatment in cases of alienation is not about the contact that the child has with that parent at all, the goal is to ameliorate the hyper alignment between child and parent to the degree where the child can resolve the split state of mind. Because it is the split state of mind which is deeply damaging to the child and that is caused not by the rejected parent’s behaviours but by the parent to whom the child is hyper aligned.

Hyper or pathological alignment causes a child to use irrational behaviours in which they will make claims which are extreme and which can be shown not to have substance. The child’s claims have a rehearsed quality to them which are accompanied by strong patterns of behaviours which denote that the alignment to a parent is something which is not under the child’s psychological or emotional control. This is because the underlying dynamic in the hyper alignment is power and control over the child, which manifests either as overt inter-personal terrorism (the child is afraid of the parent with control and has entered into the identification with the aggressor dynamic which is seen in cases of coercive control), or covert abandonment threats, (the child is afraid that if they do not uphold the covert wishes of the parent they will abandon them/not be there when they return). In the overt scenario we see mostly fathers alienating their children and in the covert scenario we see mostly mothers alienating their children.

Differentiating between false and real cases of alienation, therefore begins clinically, with an examination of whether a child is using psychological splitting as a defence. If the child is using splitting and is projecting this onto parents, dividing them into idealised and demonised and joining with the idealised parent to condemn and reject a parent completely, the child is likely to be alienated and further investigation is required to build a treatment route to assist the child to integrate the split state of mind which underpins this. Children who reject a parent who has been abusive show a more ambivalent rejection and do not use the defence of splitting. (Bernet, Gregory, Reay & Rohner 2017). If the child shows an ambivalent rejection and does not show idealisation and demonisation projections, the case would therefore clinically not be considerered to be alienation, but one in which behaviours in parents have caused the child to withdraw temporarily. In the court system, where all such cases are carefully considered, decisions about whether a child is alienated or not are made by Judges after full examination of such evidence and witnesses have been heard and cross examined.

In order to reject a once loved parent outright, a child must use the defence of splitting and as Melanie Klein told us, the splitting of an object (relationship), cannot occur without a splitting of the self occurring first. (Klein 1996). A child who is alienated from a parent therefore, is alienated from their own self first (Johnstone and Roseby 1997).

Janina Fisher speaks of alienation from the self as follows –

That good child might be precociously mature, sweet and helpful, perfectionistic, self critical or quiet and shy, but, most importantly, he or she has a way to be acceptable and safer in an unsafe world. Splitting or fragmenting in this way is an ingenious and adaptive survival strategy – but one with a steep price. To ensure that the rejected ‘not me’ child is kept out of the way (ie out of consciousness) requires that long after traumatic events are over, individuals must rely upon dissociation, denial and or self hatred for enforcing the disconnection.

Fisher (2017)

There is no doubt that for some children the experience of divorce and separation is a traumatic life event which creates dynamics which pressure them into using the defence of psychological splitting. Those dynamics, which include power and control over the child by a parent who has decompensated and who is unable to put the child’s needs first, create an intolerable double bind for the child. This is not routinely caused by high conflict as there is often no conflict at all between parents prior to the child’s entry into the defence of splitting. There is often however, a pattern of conflict behaviour in one parent who will use control over the child to maintain power over the other parent.

Splitting in children of divorce and separation has been hidden for several decades. In my experience the depiction of the problem as being about the rejected parent’s behaviours, is one reason why we, as clinicians, have been so slow to respond to it. The other reason is the gender war which rages between parental rights groups in which each seek to depict the other as being to blame. Getting in the middle of that leads clinicians into difficult places and so not many stay the course in doing this work. The only losers in this scenario have been children of divorce and separation, many of whom are only now beginning to recognise the harm that has been done to them by the lack of attention paid to their plight.

I receive many emails at the Family Separation Clinic, a recent one really brought home to me how little help children who have suffered splitting in divorce have really had over the years. This email, received this last week, which I have permission to publish, says all there is to say about why this work is so important.

I found your blog a month ago and I have been reading it non stop ever since. I am an adult now, aged 39 and married with two children, I have always felt that there is something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was, until I read your article about alienated children. I recognised myself immediately, after years and years of therapy, after years of trying to work out what was wrong, I know now that this feeling that I have bad blood in my veins is not a normal feeling.

My father left when I was 3 years old and my mother brought me up with my sister to believe that he was a bad man who had abandoned us. I know that I loved my father, or at least the distant memory of him which is just a fragment now, but I also grew up feeling that he was a bad man. I never questioned how I knew he was a bad man, he just was a bad man. The day that I read your article I realised that the ‘bad man’ I had rejected when he wanted to see me, was not a bad man at all, I just believed he was and I believed he was because I knew that when I said I didn’t want to see him, my mother felt happier and life felt easier.

I don’t blame my mother, I still love her and I am trying to work out a way of healing this without having to be angry and reject her for what she did. I am sure that if she had known that her teaching us to believe that our father was a bad man would harm us in this way, she would not have done it. She didn’t understand. I didn’t understand, but I do now. I used splitting as a defence, it caused me to believe that my father was a bad man and that because I was part of my father, I too must be a bad person with bad blood in my veins.

I have been waiting for that bad blood to erupt and do something terrible in my life for a very long time, ever since I was married I worried that somehow I would turn into my dad. I know now that I won’t, that the ‘bad blood’ in my veins is not bad at all, I was just taught that it was by circumstance.

Thank you for your writing, I hope that it reaches many more alienated children over the years because there is no help for us out there. You have put words to a problem which I believe many around the world have suffered and I can heal now because I understand it, my mind is at peace because I know who I am and how this happened to me.Dan.

This work is not about parental rights, this problem is not about rejected parents being to blame, this is about the way in which children’s right to an unconscious childhood are erased by pathological responses to relational trauma in divorce and separation and about how children are left to simply get on with that without any help at all.

Until this problem and its impact on children is widely understood and routinely treated therefore, our work to bring help to these families will not be done.

References

Bernet, W., Gregory, N., Reay, K. M. and Rohner, R. P. (2017). An Objective Measure of Splitting in Parental Alienation: The Parental Acceptance–Rejection Questionnaire. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 63(3):776-783.

Fisher, J. (2017) Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors. London: Routledge

Johnston, J. and Roseby, V., 1997. In The Name Of The Child. New York: Free Press.

Klein M. (1996). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. The Journal of psychotherapy practice and research,5(2), 160–179.


Coming Soon

Seminar – November 2020

Clinical Perspectives on Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

This online seminar will consider the issue of alienation of children from a clinical perspective and will examine relational responses to assisting children who use defensive splitting after divorce and separation.

The seminar will examine the most up to date differentiation of cases of alienation and how treatment routes are built, alongside interventions being used to create protected space for children to resolve the psychologically split state of mind. Thoughts on practice standards for all clinicians working with families affected by relational trauma will be discussed.

Featuring leading Psychotherapists –

  • Dr Benny Bailey from Israel
  • Dr Claire Francica from Malta
  • Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland
  • Kelly Baker Ph.D from the USA
  • Professor Bruna Profaca from Croatia

This seminar will be chaired by Karen Woodall from the UK and will be delivered free of charge on Zoom.

Full details here shortly.

The Lighthouse Project: A Healing Seminar

Our understanding of what is happening to families when a child rejects a parent outright after separation is growing and as a result we are moving into a phase of work. Following on from our conference earlier in the month on relational trauma in divorce and separation, we are starting to widen our lighthouse beam to find help for families affected by the problem of alienation.

In my work with families over the past ten years, I have been able to observe the ways in which every member of a family where a child rejects a parent outright, is affected by trauma reactions to the crisis which is family separation. Whilst the parent who is pathologically aligned to the child may have unresolved trauma, the rejected parent suffers reactive trauma to the way in which the child withdraws physically from them due to the projection of the split off negative feelings which are generated in the relationship with the influencing parent. The child suffers splitting which is itself a relational trauma.

Surrounding this trauma landscape, which is riven with psychological denial and projection, are circles of splitting in the parental rights lobby groups which fire their split off negative projections at each other in a persistent attempt to place the blame on the other side. Separating parents are drawn to these groups because they are vulnerable and hurting, because they fear their voices are being silenced and because their children are showing frightening behavioural signs of trauma.

We want to help families to heal. We want to help families to move through the traumatic experience of separation to a better place. Whilst so much of our work is about bringing more hands to help children who are already in an alienation reaction, we want to bring healing possibilities to the lives of the parents we know are best placed to help their children.

Rejected parents are bystanders to a drama which unfolds in the crucible of family separation. They are helpless in so many ways but they do not have to be. We know that when we are able to heal the reactive splitting in this group of parents, they are activated to help their children every way they can. We also know that when they are healed and well, that therapeutic parenting becomes more potent in their hands.

With all of that in mind, here is a gift to rejected parents. Given as part of the Lighthouse Project, given as part of a new phase of work which brings together people from around the world who work in trauma responding.

Delivered through The Lighthouse Project, Elyse is looking forward to introducing us to a brain-based therapy that “resets” neural networks and supports the re-integration of the body and the brain.

This seminar is being delivered via the Lighthouse Project. This project, which is part of my voluntary work on this blog, is designed to bring as much help to families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation as possible, all at low cost. Some services will be delivered via the gift economy where the recipient decides what they will pay for the service.

This seminar will be delivered at a cost chosen by the participant and so you decide how much you pay to join us – your choices are £5, £10, £20, £30 and whichever you choose the seminar is the same. We have decided to deliver this way because we know that many people need this help and because we know that many cannot afford it.

About this seminar

We know that suffering rejection by a loved child is a traumatic life event which cause serious impact for parents. We also know that those parents who can learn how to cope and to survive and thrive are those whose children do best on reunification.

We want to provide the foundational healing opportunities for rejected parents around the world and this is a powerful approach to healing trauma with proven benefits.

Leave this seminar with an understanding of the science behind – and a set of techniques to activate – a natural process to soothe your nervous system and recover from emotional pain:

  • Learn the neuroscience behind how we encode emotional pain
  • Discover the connection between emotion pain and the encoding of trauma
  • Gain clarity about why emotional wounds are so resistant to change
  • Have a direct experience of a drug-and-side-effects-free process that resets emotional circuitry in the brain
  • Practice using this simple and effective tool for both emotional self-regulation and building emotional resilience
  • Learn how others have used this same tool in therapeutic interventions to heal the effects of long-standing trauma

IMPORTANT:

  • 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).

Further healing seminars will follow along with our therapeutic parenting course and information and guidance seminars for all parents everywhere.

All proceeds from the Lighthouse Project are channelled into further development of low cost services meaning that this will become a self funded channel of support for families affected by relational trauma right across the world.

All of my work on this blog is given freely and always has been since I began to write it in 2009. With a vision which is shared by many colleagues, to provide healing and help to families, this will be the direction we will travel from now on.

To join this first healing seminar – book here

With love from the Lighthouse.

EAPAP2020 Round up

The third conference of the European Association of Parental Aliention Practitioners ended today after another information packed itinery focused upon the internal dynamics of the problem which has hitherto been referred to as parental alienation. More than four hundred clinicians from around the world attended this online conference, making it a landmark event in the development of this field and placing Zagreb 2020 as the gateway to a new road ahead in practice and practice informed research.

On closing the conference, Professor. Dr. Gordana Bujlan Flander, Director of the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb said that the conference marked a point at which the emotional abuse of a child, which is seen in alienation, is now visible to the outside world. Speaking about the road ahead, the EAPAP Board set out a new understanding of the problem called parental alienation using the term relational trauma to describe the dynamics seen in cases of a child’s pathological alignment and rejection of their parents.

This conference was a rich tapestry of content, in which the internal workings of families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation, were unpacked and examined closely. Using a psychoanalytical approach, the meaning of splitting was brought to the surface and the defence was explained in careful detail by Psychiatrist Milica Pejović Milovančević. Headline speaker Jill Salberg, spoke about transgenerational trauma transmission in her depth exploration entitled ‘The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures’. Exploring how this manifests in families as parental alienation, I later shared my experience in working with families affected by relational trauma and the structural requirements necessary to provide safe spaces for interventions where such dynamics are in play.

From Israel we heard about the successes and challenges of working with relational trauma in a country where there are helpful court structures in place and from Romania and Portugal we heard about court management of cases. From the Republic of Ireland, Joan Long spoke about her work in a country which is just coming to understand the problem and from Malta we heard about the particular problems of a country which is still struggling through the early days of awareness of the issues surrounding divorce and separation.

The conference dealt with topics affecting practitioners, the difficulties we face, the successes we achieve and the power of collaborative practice across borders. Panel discussions, which powerfully showcased the kind of collegiate relationships which are growing best practice in this emerging field of work, demonstrated that across borders, practitioners face similar kinds of attacks on their integrity which are designed to frighten, threaten and exhaust their capacity to continue in their work.

As Professor. Dr. Flander said, on the opening morning of the conference, despite it all, here we are, together. And at the close, quoting Dr Benny Bailey from Israel, ‘this is a marathon, we are in it for the long term.’

And we are in it for the long term. We are in it because we care about abused children of divorce and separation, children who, in suffering alienation of the self from the self, are forced to develop a false persona in order to survive in an intolerable landscape. We are in it because we know that inducing psychological splitting in a child is abusive and we know that when it happens it needs intervention to heal it.

Unpacking the component parts of assessment and differentiation, Nick Woodall from the Family Separation Clinic in London spoke about a psychoanalytical model of work which combined with trauma informed therapies can be delivered in a structural family therapy approach to resolve the splitting in the whole family. Trauma and the alienated child was explored by Professor Bruna Profaca from the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb. Power and control dynamics were examined by Professor Jennifer Jill Harman and Dr Sietska Djistra and attachment trauma was unpacked by Mirela Badurina and others.

From Switzerland, Marina Walter and Thomas Demessence examined forensic analysis of alienation cases and from Croatia Domagoj Štimac examined false allegations. Colleagues from the USA (Kelley Baker Ph.D) and from Canada (Attorney Brian Ludmer) gave their perspectives on working in this field and on legal management strategies.

Closing the conference, Dr. Wilfred von Boch Galhau said that his takeaway would be the clinical content and approaches to treatment which had been showcased by the conference. As he said in his presentation, it is not an option to simply leave a child without treatment. This conference demonstrated how this problem can be treated successfully and what areas of best practice can be combined to create a recognised path forward for standardised treatment routes.

This conference, which was hosted by the team at the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb supported by the Family Separation Clinic in London brings the values and principles of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, to a wider audience. Delivered by the production team at Moment Events, headed by Veronika Juric, the scientific and organising committees devoted many voluntary hours to the co-ordination of this content rich, ground breaking conference.

Underpinning it all, is that which was evident throughout the whole of the three days of the conference, a deep and abiding care for children. As Kelley Baker said in our discussion about surviving attacks on our integrity, which are many, remaining clear that before all else, doing the right thing for the child is what gets us up in the morning to keep us doing what we do.

Working with relational trauma in divorce and separation, responding to what Dr Claire Francica from Malta termed the ‘ignition of trauma’ in the child forced to use defensive splitting and resolving the reactive splitting in the whole family around the child is our path ahead.

Until next year. My grateful thanks to all who join with us in our project to reframe our understanding of parental alienation as relational trauma in divorce and separation. Children of the future will live better lives because of you.

EAPAP2020: Introducing the next chapter of our work

PROGRAM

DAY 1 / SEPTEMBER 16, 2020

09.00-10.30

Opening addresses

09.00-09.10

Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice  

Gordana Buljan Flander

09.10-10.00

Where we have come from: Historical perspectives of parental alienation in research

Wilfred von Boch-Galau

10.00-10.15

About EAPAP 

Nick Woodall

10.15-11.30

Keynote Lecture 

Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model 

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

11.30-12.00

12.00-13.15

12.00-12.45

Break

Power and control

“It’s not just what, but how they do it”: Using patterns of parental alienating behaviors to determine intent to harm

Jennifer Harman

12.45-13.15

‘I learned more in this single session than from all the help I was given over the past two years’ – The impact of coercive control on post-divorce relationships between mothers and their children as seen through the lens of a case study on restoring reciprocal mother-child contact

Sietske Dijkstra

13.15-13.45

Break

13.45-15.30

Alienation and attachment issues 

13.45-14.15

Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19 

Mirela Badurina

14.15-15.00

Attachment pitfalls   

Gordana Buljan Flander

15.00-15.30

Toxic stress in children 

Vanja Slijepčević Saftić

15.30-16.30

Reformulated practice 

15.30-16.00

Screening of child alienation and risk assessment in conflict parenting situations in the social welfare system

Marina Ajduković and Tatjana Katkić Stanić

16.00-16.30

Clinical perspective: Alienated child – traumatized child?

Bruna Profaca

DAY 2 / SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

09.00-11.00

Clinical perspectives 

09.00-10.00

Confronting policy and clinical challenges: Perspectives from Israel

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey

10.00-10.30

Splitting: A psychiatric perspective 

Milica Pejović Milovančević

10.30-11.00

Psychiatric consequences of alienation

Vlatka Boričević Maršanić

11.00-11.30

Break

11.30-12.00

Psychopathology of parents in alienation

Danijel Crnković

12.00-12.30

Diagnoses associated with parental alienation in child custody dispute forensic investigations

Marina Walter and Thomas Demessence

12.30-13.30

Round table discussion 

Healing relational trauma in children of divorce and separation

Moderator: Karen Woodall

Panellists: Benjamin Bailey, Claire Francica, Joan Long

13.30-14.00

Break

14.00-15.00

Keynote Lecture

The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg 

15.00-15.30

Live Q&A session with Jill Salberg

15.30-16.00

Working with children’s responses to transgenerational trauma 

Karen Woodall

DAY 3 / SEPTEMBER 18, 2020 / LECTURES ARE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

09.00-14.30

Legal management of cases 

09.00-09.45

Family law and parental alienation in Portugal   

Sandra Feitor

09.45-10.15

False allegations of abuse in families 

Domagoj Štimac

10.15-11.00

Addressing false allegations in court 

Brian Ludmer

11.00-11.30

Break

11.30-13.00

Regional panel 

Legal and mental health strategies in the region 

Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić

Panellists: Danica Ergovac, Ana Hrabar, Eleonora Katić, Kolinda Kolar, Teodora Minčić, Sara Jerebić

13.00-13.30

Break

13.30-14.00

Duties and challenges of judges in family disputes

Renata Šantek

14.00-14.30

Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals

Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker

14.30-15.00

Conference close 

Conclusions, learning, towards a new integrated model of practice informed research    

Gordana Buljan Flander, Karen Woodall, Simona Vladica, Sietska Dijkstra, Wilfred von Boch-Galau and Nick Woodall

PARALEL SESSION FOR PARENTS

09.30-11.30

Parallel Session for Parents

Karen and Nick Woodall 

Keeping the Focus Where it belongs: The Third EAPAP Conference 16-18 September 2020

The third conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners begins tomorrow, hosted by the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb. Over the coming three days, practitioners specialising in family dynamics, relational trauma, coercive control, domestic abuse, trans-generational trauma, attachment trauma, children and trauma and more, will be online to deliver expert presentations which are at the heart of the problem which is popularly known as parental alienation.

Research and practice go hand in hand at this conference, where those working in the family courts across sixteen different countries, will share experience and thinking about how best to help abused children in divorce and separation.

With well over four hundred clinicians registered to attend, this is a significant conference in the evolving field of child abuse in divorce and separation. Introduced by the Mayor of Zagreb, EAPAP2020 demonstrates a firm committment to child protection and child welfare.

In recent months, as part of concerted efforts to drag the issue of alienation of a child back into a gender war, ideological portrayals of alienation as being only part of a domestic abuse dynamic have grown. Based upon the idea that all mothers who alienate are ‘protective’ and all fathers who alienate are domestic abusers, the outcome of this mischaracterisation gives the truth of the campaign’s ulterior motive, which is to shift the focus away from the truth of what happens to children when they become alienated from a parent.

Amidst somwhat lurid portrayals of what happens in the family court and ignoring completely, the reality for children when they become triangulated into adult responses to divorce and separation, the focus on parental rights is obvious.

Those of us who do this work, know that this is not an issue about parental rights, it is not an issue about contact, it is a child protection issue and we must keep the focus in considering parental alienation and its manifestation in the lives of separating families where it belongs, on children.

As we have gone through preparation for the conference, as we have met colleagues online and heard again and again the focus being placed firmly on the wellbeing of children and their right to an unconscious experience of childhood, I have been reminded of the clarity of vision, the committment to enduring change and the courage of those with whom I work.

This is an exhausting, draining and often frightening field to work in. Filled with unwell people who behave behind the scenes in sometimes the most appalling ways, the dangers for anyone practicing in this space are clear. Working with colleagues we can trust, who share our vision and committment is a truly protective experience for all practitioners. And when practitioners are protected, they are sustained and when they are sustained their work can continue. The conference this week is packed full of the most courageous practitioners I have had the privilige of meeting and working with and I am proud that despite all that is thrown at us, individually and collectively, we are here, on the eve of our third conference together, still focused on the wellbeing of children of divorce and separation all over the world.

Ahead of what is an exciting programme which is rich in clinical material and bracketed by research evidence, I would like to say thank you for all of the work being done by everyone involved and for their determination to keep the focus where it belongs, on alienated children and their families.

Generations of abused children in divorce and separation will live better lives because of you.

The EAPAP Conference begins tomorrow and runs until Friday.

Building the road home for your alienated child: A workshop for parents at the EAPAP Conference

I have just been reviewing some of the content for the third European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference which takes place online this week. Rich in clinical material, this conference shifts gear in terms of addressing relational trauma in divorce and separation and offers a comprehensive toolbox for anyone working with the problem of a child’s outright rejection of a parent.

Also included in the three day programme, is a workshop for parents with myself and Nick, which is entitled Building the Road Home for your Alienated Child. I have just put the finishing touches to it and am pleased to say it is packed full of guidance and information about how to understand what is happening, how to develop an alienation aware mindset and how to utilise therapeutic parenting skills to provide a safe base for your child to return to.

The conference has over four hundred registrants who really are in for a treat in terms of unpacking the problem we call parental alienation and examining the ways in which the dynamics seen converge in the here and now as alienation of a child. From power and control to trans-generational trauma transmission, from attachment disruption to reformulation of models of working with the issue, this conference, which has developed largely under the radar this year, is set to bring a new agenda into this space.

With speakers from thirteen different European Countries and a couple more from other countries, we have put together an exciting and information three day event which can be accessed in your own time if you cannot join in real time. If you are a parent and you would like to join us for day three or for the special seminar just for parents, again you will be able to access this in your own time if that is easier for you.

We are grateful to the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb for hosting this year’s conference and excited that this has brought together so many skilled clinicians who are leading the way in their own country in bringing this child protection issue to light. Against a backdrop of heavy backlash, in which ideological attempts to drag the issue back into the gender war and identify it as only something which is claimed as a false allegation by abusive fathers, we know that we must continue all efforts to keep the spotlight on the alienated child.

This issue, which is about the removal of the child’s right to an unconscious childhood by triangulation into adult issues, is deliberately mischaracterised by those who wish to portray it only as a domestic violence issue. Fortunately however, alienation of a child is recognised around the world for the harm that it does over the child’s lifetime. It is recognised in law in many countries, including in the UK where it is established in case law.

This is about protecting children of divorce and separation and about raising awareness of the multiplicity of dynamics which converge to create the alignment and rejection behaviours which are popularly known as parental alienation. When the focus is upon the child and not the rights of parents, our capacity to find routes to resolution for the child which protects their relationships with both parents increases. When the focus is upon the child, the need to avoid the blame and shame game is clear.

It is not possible to treat alienation of the self using routes that alienate the child from another part of the self. A complex trauma requires a complex response and this conference showcases much of the work being done to build the kind of interventions which lead to integration of fragmented internal and external experiences.

If you are a parent and you would like to join us for the seminar on Friday, or if you would like to join the conference in part or full, book here.

Alienation of the self from the self: a transgenerational legacy?

Next week the third Conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will take place online. Examining the psychological backdrop to the problem which manifests itself in our current day experience in the form of what is popularly called parental alienation, this conference sets the scene for a paradigm shift in how we think and work with it.

Manifesting itself as a child’s outright rejection of a parent after divorce or separation, parental alienation is, in fact, a relational trauma which emerges because of the decompensation of family dynamics. When the component parts of this relational trauma are examined separately, it is possible to see how, when they converge, the result is that children are induced to use the defence of psychological splitting. When a child is using psychological splitting they are suffering alienation of the self from the self first. What comes afterwards is the perfect storm of reactive splitting which creates the wasteland known as parental alienation.

The component parts of this relational trauma are many and all are made manifest via the unresolved trauma stories of the people involved in the drama and the projections these create. The power and control that a parent with unresolved issues holds over the child is the triggering projection, the child’s own projected split of good and bad onto their parents is the heart of the problem and the rejected parent’s reactive splitting is the screen upon which the unresolved trauma story plays itself out.

In so many ways, it is possible to read this story by analysing the narratives which surround it, because it is that which tells the real story of the unresolved trauma story.

On a meta level this is seen in the campaign groups which surround this issue. The projections in the splitting are clear from the narrative. Listen to the story from two different view points.

There is an evil industry which has grown up around the family courts which involves unscrupulous people who work for large sums of money who support fathers who make false claims of parental alienation and who routinely take away children from innocent mothers to give them to abusive fathers.

There is an evil industry which has grown up around the family courts, which involves unscruplous people who work for large donations from the government, who routinely teach women how to make false claims of domestic violence in order to prevent fathers from having relationships with their children.’

On a micro level, the splitting in the family is clear from the same projeced narrative.

The other parent has caused this, they are to blame and they should be punished.’

This split narrative emerges from the dynamic of unresolved trauma which arises in the post divorce and separation landscape and which injures children of separated parents due to the lack of support and understanding. Because it is a primitve defence we are dealing with and not much is known about how it manifests, as practitioners, we risk being drawn into the splitting, sometimes becoming the recipients of fierce negative projection as part of the established defences.

If, therefore, all we do in trying to help families affected by splitting projection, is mirror the splitting back to those families, the truth of the harm which is being done, which is the child’s alienation of the self from the self, will remain hidden.

It is not possible to treat splitting by using a split narrative. It is not possible to treat splitting by playing a blame and shame game. If we are going to move on with the treatment of what we call parental alienation, we are going to have to get beyond one dimensional understandings and beyond interventions which move the child from one parent to the other without treating the splitting.

This is what the conference next week heralds for us. A big step into a new world of thinking about the problem we have called parental alienation which is actually a relational trauma and which can be treated by all psychotherapists if they know how.

We know that this problem has at its roots a projection, this is why the problem is counter intuitive in treatment. What you see is not what you get, it has to be interpreted to understand it and then it has to be absorbed by the therapist and reflected back as an integrated whole.

We know that this problem causes children immense suffering, all of our work with families shows us the long term impact of this problem and the psychological scarring if it is left untreated.

We also know that if we are going to find a long term treatment route which can be successfully replicated, those of us who do this work are going to have to survive the negative projections from the campaigns based in splitting and projection which surround us.

This is what the conference next week also heralds. A way of thinking and working in an extremely difficult and litigious space, a way of protecting the self and others in order to be able to survive in it for long enough to bring help to families and understanding to the outside world.

The primary defences of splitting and projection are powerful defences against anxiety and unbearable unconscious feelings. When we enter into a world which is driven by such primary defences, we risk drawing the transference to us so that the people we are working with come to behave as if we the people who hurt them in the past. This is why this space is so dangerous for practitioners, this is why there is such a high level of risk. We are working to protect children of divorce and separation from transgenerational traumatic alienation of the self from the self and in doing so we are encountering the split off and denied experiences of parents which are projected at us.

Navigating through these waters of knowledge and skill development requires courage and fortitude, it requires a srong sense of self and a teflon coat. But it also requires the capacity to be open to new thinking and deeper understanding and it is this which we are seeking through the next phase of our work with colleagues from all around the world.

I hope you will join us next week online. The programme is exciting, it unpacks the very heart of this problem and takes us deeper into understanding, further into differentiation and right to the heart of successful treatment routes which are being used around the world.

All children have the right to an unconscious experience of childhood. All children have the right to live free from the problem of alienation of the self from the self.

Until all of our children have the opportunity to survive and thrive, our collective work continues.

KEY PRESENTATIONS NEXT WEEK

Theory

Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model 

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

Power and Control

Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence 

Jennifer Harman

Attachment

Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19 

Mirela Badurina

Attachment pitfalls   

Gordana Buljan Flander

14.30-15.00    

Toxic stress in children 

Vanja Slijepčević Saftić

Clinical Perspectives

Perspectives from Israel 

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey

Splitting: A psychiatric perspective 

Milica Pejović Milovančević

Keynote Lecture

The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg 

False Allegations

False allegations of abuse in families 

Domagoj Štimac

Addressing false allegations in court 

Brian Ludmer

Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals

Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker

To join us, book here.

Child’s Play: Healing Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

Back in the country and the Family Separation Clinic will re-open from September 10th. As children all over the UK return to school today, the autumnal air bring memories of new terms and new beginnings. September always seemed to me to be the month for new resolutions, the time when we reap the crops we have sown and prepare the ground for new seeds. This year is no exception, even though it has been an exceptional year all over the world.

Covid 19 brought the reality of being cut off from loved ones to everyone around the world. It allowed us all to experience a glimpse of what being cut out of the life of a loved child might feel like. With some way to go before we are free of the restrictions the pandemic brought to our lives, there are many ways now that we can continue to raise the profile of the problem of alienation and how it has affected and continues to affect, generations of children.

One of our major projects this year has been in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Protection Centre in Zagreb, which is hosting the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference next week online. This conference brings together some of the most experienced clinicians in this field to discuss and highlight the issues which underpin the problem which is popularly called parental alienation.

As always, our work with families is a constant source of information about the problems which underpin this issue. As we continue to work successfully both inside and outside of the court system, we reunite children with the parent they have rejected through understanding and addressing the hyper alignment and rejection dynamic which is seen.

This year has given us new and deeper insights into the problem of psychological splitting and how it affects children in divorce and separation. Because of that we have moved even further away from the model of parental alienation which supports court battles about which parent is being alienated and which parent is causing it, towards a way of working which enables all members of the families to receive the help that they need to resolve the problem.

As we have always worked from the perspective of dynamics, (we are psychotherapists not psychiatrists), the notion of the child suffering a psychiatric disorder has never held any real validity for us. What is happening to a child who becomes alienated, is that they are being forced into maladaptive defences which create what Winnicott called a false self. The splitting of the ego, which takes place prior to the rejection of the parent, renders the child alienated from their own sovereign self first and then causes a projection onto the parents of idealisation and denigration.

When we understand the child’s experience, it is crystal clear that moving the child from one parent to the other is not the simple answer we have been led to believe it might be. The healing for the child requires far more than winning a court battle, it requires that the dynamics around the family are shifted until the child no longer has to use the defence of splitting. Using our own selves as objects to absorb the multiplicity of projections which emanate from the child first and then from the adults around the child, therapists can resolve the split state of mind in the child and the parents.

We still recognise that there are a number of families which will be affected by someone’s personality problems and we still recognise that moving a child in those circumstances is likely to be necessary. What we are no longer willing to support or be part of however, is the idea that reducing the issue of a child’s rejection of a parent simply requires identifying signs, symptoms and strategies in order to diagnose parental alienation. The problem of a child’s rejection of a parent is rooted in relational trauma. All of our experience over many years shows this to be the case. Healing relational trauma requires an approach which matches depth theoretical analysis with an assessment and differentiation process which sets out the therapeutic route to treatment of the whole family system.

This is the project we are working on in the coming months, the setting out of a theoretical framework which incorporates depth assessment and differentiation to lead to therapeutic treatment of the whole family. Held within the Court framework, such interventions are successful, we will show how and share this knowledge with other clinicians who wish to do this work successfully too.

Success in working in this field, appears to me to be a moving feast. Some would say success is working over a period of two years to have a child be able to tolerate two hours of contact with a rejected parent. Others would say that success is about proving alienation in court and moving the child. I would say that success is the healing of the original split in the mind of the child and returning the child to an unconscious experience of childhood, in which all of the relationships which are important to them are available to them and the incoming care from parents is not blocked by the anxious enmeshment with one parent’s unresolved issues. When that outcome is seen in the child, the transgenerational trauma pattern which is being passed down the line is transmogrified into health for the next generations. That for me, is what success looks like. That is what is possible using the model of intervention we have been working with for some time now.

In order to fully understand the problem we have grown used to calling parental alienation, clinicians must have a depth knowledge of the family they seek to help and must become embedded in the trauma landscape that the family is living in. To do that one needs health, strength and a teflon coat. A teflon coat is that metaphorical protection put on by practitioners when they enter into this space. It is necessary because of the high levels of negative projection which abound in this field. At the EAPAP conference next week, I will be discussing practitioner protection with some highly skilled colleagues around the world, all of whom, have suffered stalking, harassment and malicious allegations against them in their work. This highly litigious field contains some of the most difficult dynamics in human relationships it is possible to work with. It also contains campaigners, commentators and arm chair psychologists who mirror the very same dynamics seen in the families we work with. This place is not for the faint hearted and for those of us who become the focus of the opposite swing of the pendulum to understanding, health and wellbeing rely upon mutual support from colleagues.

Fortunately, within the group of practitioners gathered in EAPAP, we have that. From the UK to the USA, from Australia to Israel, across Europe, South Africa and beyond, those of us working with relational trauma in divorce and separation have grown strong and resolved this year. This new phase of work is producing tangible results all over the world. Practitioner knowledge and skill is growing and agreed standards of practice in the field for those who wish to heal these family dynamics are already in place.

Another phase of work opens this month with new services coming through the Lighthouse Project. Support to rejected parents for healing and wellbeing, knowledge sharing via seminars and our therapeutic parenting for alienated parents course which is almost complete. More news on all of that soon.

For now, here is a glimpse of what you can expect when you join more than 400 participants online next week for the EAPAP conference. To join us, book here.

Parental separation, alienation and splitting: Healing beyond reunification

Separacija roditelja, otuđenje i oporavak djeteta: Razvoj standarda dobre prakse

16-18 September 2020

LIVE WEBINAR

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners’ 2020 conference was due be held in the beautiful city of Zagreb, capital of Croatia in June of this year. However, after careful evaluation of the Coronavirus epidemic and maximum gathering guidelines that are currently in place, together with the wish to enable all registered participants to be able to participate at the conference, we have decided to hold the conference in a virtual form as a LIVE WEBINAR.

The conference will  focus on trauma and the harm that induced psychological splitting causes to children. It will bring together practitioners and specialists in the field of child abuse, trauma and attachment to explore the ways in which existing therapies and models of understanding of abuse and trauma can be translated into work with abused children of divorce and separation.

DAY 1 / SEPTEMBER 16, 2020

09.00-10.30

Opening addresses

09.00-09.15     

Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice  

Gordana Buljan Flander

09.15-09.45     

Where we have come from: Historical perspectives of parental alienation in research

Wilfred von Boch-Galau

09.45-10.00

About EAPAP 

Karen Woodall

10.00-11.20

Keynote Lecture 

Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model 

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

11.20-11.40

Break

11.40-13.15

Power and control

11.40-12.45

Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence 

Jennifer Harman

12.45-13.15

‘I learned more in this single session than from all the help I was given over the past two years’ – The impact of coercive control on post-divorce relationships between mothers and their children as seen through the lens of a case study on restoring reciprocal mother-child contact

Sietska Dijkstra

13.15-13.30

Break

13.30-16.00

Alienation and attachment issues 

13.30-14.00

Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19 

Mirela Badurina

14.00-14.30    

Attachment pitfalls   

Gordana Buljan Flander

14.30-15.00    

Toxic stress in children 

Vanja Slijepčević Saftić

15.00-16.30    

Reformulated practice 

15.00-15.30    

Early alienation screening and risk assessment 

Marina Ajduković and Tatjana Katkić Stanić

15.30-16.30

Live round table discussion 

Moderator: Mia Roje Đapić

Panellists: Inbal Kivenson Bar-On, Karen Woodall and Joan Long

DAY 2 / SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

09.00-11.00

Clinical perspectives 

09.00-10.00

Perspectives from Israel 

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey

10.0-10.30

Splitting: A psychiatric perspective 

Milica Pejović Milovančević

10.30-11.00

Psychiatric consequences of alienation

Vlatka Boričević Maršanić

11.00-11.15

Break

11.15-11.45

Psychopathology of parents in alienation

Danijel Crnković

11.45-12.15

Diagnoses associated with parental alienation in child custody dispute forensic investigations

Marina Walter

12.15-13.15

Live round table discussion 

Healing relational trauma in children of divorce and separation

Moderator: Karen Woodall

Panellists: Benjamin Bailey, Bruna Profaca, Claire Francica, Joan Long

13.15-13.30 

Break

13.30–15.00

Keynote Lecture

The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg 

15.00-15.30

Live Q&A session with Jill Salberg

15.30-15.45

Break

15.45-16.15

Working with children’s responses to transgenerational trauma 

Karen Woodall

DAY 3 / SEPTEMBER 18, 2020 / LECTURES ARE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

09.00-15.15

Legal management of cases 

09.00-09.30

Family law and parental alienation in Portugal   

Sandra Feitor

09.30-10.30

Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when alienation is criminalised

Simona Vladica

10.30-11.30

Keynote Lecture

Legal management: Parental alienation as a child protection issue

June Venters QC

11.30-11.45

Break

11.45-12.15

False allegations of abuse in families 

Domagoj Štimac

12.15-13.00

Addressing false allegations in court 

Brian Ludmer

13.00-13.30

Break

13.30-14.30

Regional panel 

Legal and mental health strategies in the region 

Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić

Panellists: Danica Ergovac, Eleonora Katić, Ana Hrabar, Teodora Minčić, Sara Jerebić, Kolinda Kolar

14.30-15.15

International panel 

Legal and mental health strategies in Europe 

Moderator: Lana Peto Kujundžić

Panellists: June Venters QC, Simona Vladica, Nick Woodall and Inbal Kivenson Bar-On  

15.15-15.30

Break

15.30-16.00

Duties and challenges of judges in family disputes

Renata Šantek

16.00-16.30

Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals

Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker

16.30-17.00

Conference close 

Conclusions, learning, towards a new integrated model of practice informed research    

Gordana Buljan Flander, Karen Woodall, Simona Vladica, Sietska Dijkstra, Wilfred von Boch-Galau and Nick Woodall

PARALEL SESSION FOR PARENTS

09.30-11.30

Parallel Session for Parents

Karen and Nick Woodall 

circles of influence

As we wind down to our vacation, I am already discussing with colleagues, new services coming through the Lighthouse Project to bring greater support for healing and strength to rejected parents around the world.

In recent days, I have supervised work in several countries around the world and have, through this work, built new connections with people who want to work with us to bring more information, education and support to parents and practitioners working with families affected by this problme.

I am super excited by these connections, which move the work I have done on this blog into a new, paradigm of self help and mutuality. From being a place where I have documented my journey across the wasteland of understanding and support to families affected by a child’s rejection after family separation, to a proactive space in which knowledge, education and healing can be shared with the wider world, this blog has become the change I wanted to see in the world.

I long ago left behind the idea that the state can change our lives. In the mid nineties, I began to realise that what the state gives, the state can take away and that awareness has never left me. From my younger years as a single parent, through to my older years as a grandmother, everything that I have done has been with that in mind. If we depend upon the state to provide what we need, we will be left wanting. If we want to feel secure and well in our own selves, dependency upon our own selves and our capacity to influence the world we live in is the way to go.

I have spent the past decade working in this highly complex, angry and often litigious field. I have watched over that decade as the issue of parental alienation has risen to consciousness and I have observed the way that the black and white thinking which permeates this field, is mirrored in services to support families as well as campaigns which attract hurt and angry people who mirror the very dynamics seen in families.

Having spent ten years delivering services to assist families, I have come to a place where I want to focus my next decade on developing the kinds of thinking and services which move away from this mirror of splitting towards a holistic way of thinking about relational trauma in family separation.

All of my work over the three decades I have been involved in the helping therapies, has come from a place of supporting children’s rights to an unconscious childhood, in which they can learn through playing and feel contained in a healthy hierarchy in which adults manage their safety. I do not subscribe to the idea of parental alienation being a psychiatric disorder in the child and I have never subscribed to the heroes and villains narrative which stalks this wasteland. Alienation in a child is a relational problem, it arises during times of significant psychological change in a child, when a child is potentially already vulnerable because of early developmental damage and where a parent is unwell or otherwise unable to provide the kind of parenting which holds the child in a safe container.

Neither have I ever subscribed to the idea that all you have to do is prove parental alienation in court and then remove the child. Having been in cases where I was clearly expected to be a hired gun, I have gained more than a couple of angry stalkers for refusing to say a child was alienated when actually the child was reacting to severe psychological control by the parent they were rejecting. I have never compromised my stance on working from the needs of the child. Back in 2012 we were severely attacked by the father’s rights groups for refusing to agree that 50/50 shared care is a panacea for all ills in family separation and that earned me some more enemies. But I didn’t budge from my stand point and I never will. Back then, I realised that this space is all about heroes and villains and whether you are one or the other really depends upon the standpoint view you are reacting from.

From there I have taken just about every negative projection it is possible to throw at me. Depending on which side of the fence you are on I am either an angel or a devil, a charlatan or a saviour, dangerous or a pioneer. In truth I am none of those things. I am someone who understands alienation and who has worked in a focused way to bring that understanding to the wider world via my work and my writing. That is my circle of influence. I have done that by focusing on what I can change, not what I can’t.

Which leads me back to circles of influence and the new and emerging plans for the Lighthouse Project, a phase of work which has brought others to work in this space to help us to grow our circle of influence further. To help you to understand what we mean by growing our circle of influence, here is a short piece which explains how to turn your influence from blaming and shaming to taking control over those things you can change.

From the autumn the Lighthouse Project will be developing to bring to parents and practitioners, positive services of support which enable you to expand your circle of influence and create change in your own life.

If you are one of those people who believes that changing the world starts with you, come and join us and change your own world first to grow your own circle of influence.

I will be back from September 10th when we will be getting ready for the EAPAP Conference online – Book Here to join us.

See you in the Autumn.

Reactive splitting in Rejected parents: the hidden cost of living with negative projection

In recent articles I have been talking about splitting, a defence mechanism which is used by the alienated child to cope with the intolerable situation in which they cannot love both of their parents.

Whatever the reason they are getting the message that it is not ok to love both parents, splitting is the defence which comes into play to resolve the problem.

Splitting as a defence mechanism is accompanied by denial and projection, two more defence mechanisms which come into play when someone is unable to tolerate the dynamics in the outside world around them. Johnstone and Robey (1997, P.204) suggested that the alienated child is likely to have sustained early developmental damage and indeed, in clinical work with families, it becomes apparent that alienated children are likely to be already vulnerable to the adult feelings and behaviours around them.

The splitting which occurs as a defence, occurs in the child first and is then projected outwards onto the parents. In working with children of all ages who have entered into a hyper aligned and rejecting pattern of behaviour, this is the one clear sign which denotes that their behaviour is a defence mechanism. Projection is a valuable tool in understanding the internal experience of the person suffering it, is denoted by the intensity of focus upon another and the denial in the self of what is being seen in others.

Projection is used by people who do not know themselves very well, by the undeveloped personality and those with low self esteem. Being unable to handle positive and negative feelings about the self, being placed in a position of being unable to express the self or resolve problems, projection comes into play in order to resolve the tension this creates.

A child aged between 8 and 14 is the throes of developing a knowledge of self and if this child is already vulnerable due to hidden developmental trauma for example, their ability to build the blocks of self confidence is interrupted. If the child is providing regulatory support for a parent, if the child is exposed to high levels of anxiety in the inter-psychic relationship with a parent and if the child cannot express the tensions this causes for them, splitting of the difficult feelings from the conscious mind is a distinct possibility.

When the splitting of difficult feelings takes place, the child divides their own internalised sense of self into good and bad first. This means that they divide their self identification with both of their parents into two distinct parts and deny the negative, leaving in their conscious mind, only the positive. When the projection begins, the positive is projected at a parent who is the major cause of the tensions around the child, either through active or passive influence. This parent receives that projection of positivity with gratitude, relieved that the child has ‘picked me’. The negative feelings are then projected at the parent who is being rejected.

One of the most common phrases heard in clinical work with aligned parents is ‘she/he has come to a point where he/she recognises how bad/controlling/difficult the rejected parent is. I am not going to force he/she to see that parent when he/she has just realised this.’

What is being expressed here, is the relief that the child has aligned their views and experience with the parent and that they are now fused in a defensive coalition which calms the aligned parent and keeps them feeling safe.

The onset of splitting in divorce and separation begins in the child and is projected outwards at the parents. This means that the child now identifies those elements of the self which are connected to the rejected parent, as being bad things and sees them only in that parent.

Receiving this negative projection, the parent is at first bewildered and then angry, confused and then distressed, frustrated and then anxious and eventually disorientated as they enter into a reactive splitting of the self.

This splitting of the self in rejected parents, manifests as a distinct pattern of behaviours (feeling spaced out, uncertain about memories, emotionally vulnerable and strong feelings of helplessness which some liken to feeling as if they are drowning). All of these feelings are, in my clinical experience, symptomatic of trauma in which the negative projection from the child, has triggered concentric circles of negative projections from professionals, friends and family and the wider world.

When I first began working with rejected parents I noticed a pattern of numbness and disconnecion from their own sense of self as a parent. I wondered where the parent in them had disappeared to. In the place of parent appeared to be a harmed child who was bewildered and highly anxious and in need of support and stabilisation. I understand now that this is the result of living with hidden trauma and the hidden trauma is the negative projection which rejected parents are being forced to carry every day of their lives.

Negative projection carries with it the force of all that is being denied by the person projecting it and thus it is full of toxicity and can knock you off balance. If your child is projecting that you are harmful, scary, dangerous and a thoroughly bad person, this is not about you, it is about the strength of the messaging, both covert and overt, the child has been subjected to. The stronger the projection, the stronger the messaging in my experience. The stronger the messaging the more the child has had to raise the defences in order to survive.

Negative projection is harmful to your wellbeing. Think of it as a stream of vexatious and malicious negativity which is being beamed your way, capturing in it others who have no idea that it is a projection who spend their time examining you to see what it is about you which is so wrong. Naive practitioners spend an awful lot of time working on the rejected parent to try and make them better parents because they too have fallen into the negative projection stream. Friends and family may do the same. The problem with negative projection is that the louder you scream ‘it’s not me’, the more everyone believes that your denial hides the truth.

Carrying negative projections can be exhausting and it is vital that anyone in this position gets help to cope with the impac of this. One of the ways that you can help yourself in this circumstances is to stay away from online groups which mirror the heroes and villains theme which denotes that splitting is in play. The world is not about heroes and villains. It is not about good and bad. All people do good and bad things, stuff happens and in the case of alienation, it is not well understood as it should be – yet. But we are getting there.

One way of coping is to deeply understand the problem of splitting and denial and projection. As I said I would, I am going to share with you resources which can help you on this journey of recovery and resilience building so that you can provide for your child the healthy parenting they desperately need. And even if you can only signal to your child that you are still here, using this healthy approach, in which you help yourself back to health first and then stay buoyant and resilient in the face of the projections, that is enough for now.

So to begin this new journey of building resilience, much more of which is coming in the Autumn in the shape of an exciting new development for the Lighthouse Project, here is a short film about emotions. Starting from the beginning, we will examine all of those things which make for healthy relationships and build these up to support you to understand more, learn how to regulate yourself more easily, recover more strength and build a lighter, brighter, more resilient self. Because as the other half of your child’s identify, you are the person best placed to offer them health and integration in their own recovery.

Supporting Families

Coming soon, an announcement about a new support service to assist all members of families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation.

Recovering Your Adult Child

I am already writing the therapeutic parenting course and handbook for families. This will be a new downloadable resource you can immediately use in thinking about how to set out and follow a plan to assist your adult child to come home.

I will add into this some guest posts from practitioners who are, behind the scenes, already doing the work of helping older children to come home.

In addition I will post links and host workshops online to help you to think through this process.

Recovering Younger Children

Recovery of younger children remains something which requires, in the main, the input of the Court because of the power and control that the aligned parent has over the child. The Family Separation Clinic continues its work in the Family Courts and can be instructed by following this link.

Please note however that I cannot be instructed until January 2021 as I am fully booked with cases, research and writing.

Please do not propose FSC for any in court service without obtaining permission first.

FSC Coaching Services

Our coaching service re-opens on September 7th, again, please use this link to find out more.

The Lighthouse Project

The Lighthouse project is my name for support services we deliver to families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation. Working on the principle of the gift economy, we will make as much of this work available on a donation only basis as possible. Donations will fund the ongoing development of this work so that it becomes a gift circle, giving back what is put in to grow a resource centre which serves the needs of the parents who support it. More soon on what you can expect to see coming through the Lighthouse Project.

EAPAP Conference

The third conference of the European Association will be held on 16/7/8 September and will feature presentations such as –

  • The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg – USA

  • Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice

Gordana Buljan Flander -Croatia

  • Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

  • Family law and parental alienation in Portugal

Sandra Feitor – Portugal

  • Addressing false allegations in court

Brian Ludmer – USA

  • Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when alienation is criminalised

Simona Vladica – Romania

  • Perspectives from Israel

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benny Bailey – Israel

  • Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence

Jennifer Harman – USA

  • ‘I did not see my daughters for years:’ The impact of coercive control on post-divorce relationships between mothers and children

Sietska Dijkstra – Netherlands

Discussion groups including Kelly Baker PhD from the USA and presentation by June Venters QC from the UK are being finalised.

There are many more participants throughout a packed three days in which we discussion panels will be held live along with Q&A sessions with experts.

The programme offers a wealth of information and discussion about research and practice and the importance of both in the developing field of Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation.  Suitable for all practitioners in mental health and legal services.

This is the third conference of the European Association and demonstrates the commitment and intent of the core participants to build a network of excellence in the relationship between research and practice in this field.

The cost  for the conference is

3 day registration fee – 203 Euro

1 Day pass for day three (open to public) 81 Euro

All prices include VAT.

Book Here

Relational trauma in divorce and separation

In September the EAPAP Conference will focus upon the component parts of how a child comes to reject a parent outright in divorce and separation. Featuring leading clinicians, this conference opens up a new chapter in evolving understanding of the problem which has been called parental alienation but which we now recognise as relational trauma. See the full programme here.

Relational trauma is caused by maladaptations in intimate relationships and causes transgenerational patterns of beliefs and behaviours, which lead to attachment disruptions and a reactions in children such as hyper alignment and rejection of parents.

We are only really at the start of this new route to understanding the problem of children’s behaviours in divorce and separation but we already know a great deal about how this problem persists throughout the life time.

One of the core things we have come to understand in the intensive work we have been doing in recent months, is that the splitting seen in alienated children is mirrored in their parents. Whilst the influencing parent is likely to be the source of the original splitting, the rejected parent is forced to use splitting as a defence in order to cope with the negative projection by the child of the split off and denied parts of the self which enable the complete rejection.

Negative projection, which is currently seen on the internet around the subject of parental alienation, causes the splitting off of parts of the self which cannot be faced or carried or coped with and the projection of these at others. Alongside this are the split off feelings of the person projecting who attempts to force the recipient of the projection to carry the shame and blame they cannot face in their own self. The purpose of this is to defend the self from the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness which cannot be carried in the conscious mind. Anyone using negative projection repeatedly, has a secret which is hidden even from themselves. The greater the projection, the harder the effort to blame and shame others, the more powerful the defence against that secret.

When the child projects negative blame and shame at a parent, it is the same dynamic which is seen. The secret is that the child loves the parent they are rejecting but they are not free to express that or even feel it in most cases. The more love the child has to split off and hide, the higher the defence and the fiercer the rejection.

Given that rejection of a parent by a child happens in an already tumultuous landscape, the only way that many parents can cope is to use reactive splitting to defend themselves – split off and deny all good about the other parent and completely blame and try to shame them for abusing the child, or accept the projection as truth.

This is the dynamic which leads to so much suffering for rejected parents, they are forced into an either/or response. When campaign groups mirror this splitting – people on the other side are completely evil and on my side they are completely good, the door to the prison of the split mind is locked and the key is thrown away.

We are working with a treatment route to healing relational trauma now that no longer mirrors the splitting in the family but which seeks to heal it right from the start. From the autumn we will be bringing help to parents, children and wider families which aim to support the whole family, wherever you are in the circle around the child. We are doing this because we recognise that if all we do is mirror the splitting and give it attention, all we will do is inflate the problem and hide the reality and its solution from our conscious awareness.

If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got.

Unknown Author, variously attributed to many over the years

It is time to do something different and this is what different looks like.

Trauma Healing for Rejected Parents

Starting today I am going to be writing about healing the reactive splitting suffered by rejected parents. This is a key building block to recovery from the negative projections and prepares you for recovering your child.

I am going to post links to people who are delivering support for your wellbeing so that you have places to go to help yourself.

Alongside this I am going to invite some key people I have been working with in trauma care, to share with you routes to healing, I am warmed and heartened by the interest from other practitioners in helping families affected by relational trauma and their enthusiam about working with this problem in this way.

Discussions about online group support are happening now and I will bring details of this to you soon.

For now, here is a small video to begin your journey of self recovery from the pernicious harm this relational trauma has done to your family. There are so many more videos to watch which assist you to understand your own self in the context of the family drama which unfolded around you when your child began to use defensive splitting, I will post more and give guidance on the thinking around this from the Autumn.

Recovering Your Adult Child

I am already writing the therapeutic parenting course and handbook for families. This will be a new downloadable resource you can immediately use in thinking about how to set out and follow a plan to assist your adult child to come home.

I will add into this some guest posts from practitioners who are, behind the scenes, already doing the work of helping older children to come home.

In addition I will post links and host workshops online to help you to think through this process.

Recovering Younger Children

Recovery of younger children remains something which requires, in the main, the input of the Court because of the power and control that the aligned parent has over the child. The Family Separation Clinic continues its work in the Family Courts and can be instructed by following this link.

Please note however that I cannot be instructed until January 2021 as I am fully booked with cases, research and writing.

Please do not propose FSC for any in court service without obtaining permission first.

FSC Coaching Services

Our coaching service re-opens on September 7th, again, please use this link to find out more.

Other support Services in the UK
Susan Rutter Independent Social Work Services

I am always keen to work with experienced practitioners who understand the issues at the heart of divorce and separation and who work from a relational trauma perspective. In recent weeks I have been talking with Susan Rutter who runs Separate Ways and who has a depth experience of relational trauma and who is delivering support services for families. You can contact Susan via the link above.

‘I DID NOT SEE MY DAUGHTERS FOR YEARS:’ THE IMPACT OF COERCIVE CONTROL ON POST-DIVORCE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MOTHERS AND CHILDREN – Dr Sietska Dijkstra

Dr Dijkstra is a Board member of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners. She will be presenting at the third conference of EAPAP in September.

Dr. Sietske Dijkstra is a specialist in violence within relationships. She offers research, education and advice to professionals, practitioners, managers and policy makers in many welfare, social and juridical sectors and educational organisations.

Dr Dijkstra’s article here, is concerned with intimate partner violence and alienation of mothers from their children. Mirroring the clinical experience of those of us who do this work, it is apparent that alienation of children is caused by fathers as well as mothers. Intervening to assist mothers and their children is something which is undertaken regularly in the UK and around the world. Interventions show that fathers mainly cause an alienation response in their children using strategies which are recognised as overt coercive control. Whilst mothers influence children using more covert strategies.

In consideration of the issue of family violence in post separation family life, it is vital to pull apart the different strands of influence upon the child to understand how a child comes to use the defence of psychological splitting. This defence, from which all of the behavioural signs of alienation arise, is one which causes a child to hyper align with one parent and completely reject the other. It is this presentation which denotes alienation in a child and it is this which is the cause of all of the defensive responses in the family around the child which cause the deep crises which are seen in the family courts.

Intervening before the child enters into a fixed defensive position is vital to prevent the escalation of the dynamics but it is not always possible to do so. This leads to the dynamics in which the family affected by a child’s defensive splitting, enters itself into a splitting, mirroring the child’s original split and losing sight of how that was originally caused. Often by the time the family court is involved, the obfuscation of the cause of the split is complete, meaning that there is then the need to enter into a campaign on each side of the child to ‘prove’ that the other side caused this. The lengths of time that parents then spend attempting to prove and disprove that the other parent caused this are quite simply frightening. The amounts of money spent in doing so are eye watering.

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners brings together clinicians from all over the world to consider the ways in which families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation can be helped through education and support as well as interventions. Bringing together some of the most experienced clinicians in the world, this conference is designed to educate, support and improve professional understanding of the problem of a child’s hyper alignment and rejection of parents after divorce and separation. With a keynote presentation from Jill Salberg, PhD, ABPP, Associate Professor of Psychology, faculty member and clinical supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, who will present a paper titled The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures.

Book here for the EAPAP Conference

I DID NOT SEE MY DAUGHTERS FOR YEARS:’ THE IMPACT OF COERCIVE CONTROL ON POST-DIVORCE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MOTHERS AND CHILDREN

Intimate partner violence and ex-partner violence can have many different faces and be played out by turning the children against the former spouse, thus a form of emotional child abuse. In this article (1) with the title above, I was reflecting on these issues based on in-depth interviews and a focus group I held with fathers, focusing my attention especially on the rejected mothers (2) I met in and through my work. The paper was originally presented at the second European Conference on Domestic Violence held in September 2017 in Porto, written up for the E-book in March 2018 and published in August 2019 as an E-Book. As a domestic violence specialist (3) I am involved in discussions on issues on relational and social safety and disruption in family relationships. Last decade I developed accredited courses for social professionals on child abuse and vulnerable family relationships, intergenerational trauma, complex divorce parental alienation. (4)….

Read the rest of the article here

Best Practice in Work with Alienated Children and Families – Israel

As the third conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners draws closer this is an article from Parental Alienation Europe, the Newsletter of EAPAP.

In Israel, colleagues are working with psychoanalytic understanding and trauma informed practice to bring about positive resolutions in cases of child alienation and relational trauma in divorce and separation.

Here, Dr Benny Bailey and Dr Inbal Kivenson Bar-On write about their experience of this work and about the challenges and outcomes for children and families that are created when therapeutic practice is configured correctly. Dr Bailey and Dr Kivenson Bar-On, write of the wide spectrum of cases they work with and the position in Israel in relationship to acceptance of the concept of alienation and the way in which it is recognised in the family courts and treated in Israel.

Dr Bailey and Dr Kivenson will present a paper on their work at the EAPAP conference in September.

Perspectives from Israel

Controlling twelve horses running and pulling a wagon about to break, with us as the driver, is a metaphor that can be related to the practice of parent-child reunification and its various means. Over the past two years we have been heavily involved in dozens of cases as experts appointed by a family court, working with both rejected fathers and mothers. About half of these have entailed the severe alienation of parents who were disconnected from their children for over six months to five years……….

Dr. Benjamin Bailey is a social worker and a psychotherapist. He is a faculty member in the department of criminology at Western Galilee College, Acre, Israel.

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On, PhD, is a lecturer at University of Haifa, teaching at child disorder department and counselling and human development faculty.

Read the rest of the article here

You can book for the EAPAP Conference here
Details for how to book for the seminar for parents with Karen and Nick Woodall at the EAPAP conference will be available shortly.

Dealing with Splitting: The Good, the Bad and avoiding the Ugly

Yesterday I ran our Zoom Seminar entitled Understanding the Alienated Child, which was attended by people from seven countries around the world. Eighty percent of the attendees were women.

Working through a two hour programme (which ran over to two and a half hours because as usual there is so much to say), we looked at a reconfiguration of parental alienation which moves away from the good/bad split inherent in the narratives around this issue and towards the reality of this issue as relational trauma in divorce and separation.

The issue of alienation of a child is, in my experience, ridden with splitting because it is a problem which arises from hidden psychological instability in families.  Whilst on each side of the issue campaigners try to characterise the problem as being the fault of someone else, the reality is that alienation of a child is a problem which arises in families where splitting behaviours are already in play.

If this were not the case then every divorce and separation would result in a child being alienated and that simply doesn’t happen. When alienation arises, there is usually a parent who is displaying splitting behaviours and another who is being forced to react to those. In the middle is a child who is triangulated into the relationship breakdown.

Alienation in a child is alienation from the self first, the development of what Winnicott called the False Persona. This original split, which is projected outwards onto the parents, is a good child/bad child split in which the identification with the parent who is putting most pressure on the child and who is perceived to have the most power, causes the child to split off and deny, those aspects of self which they perceive to be like the parent who is to be rejected.  These parts are pushed into the unconscious and then as part of the denial process, are projected at that parent.  This original split in the child is a serious problem if it is not resolved and leads to later life experiences which are all focused upon the problems caused by the lack of an integrated healthy self.

This is not an easy defence mechanism to work with because on the outside the child professes immense love for the parent to whom they have become hyper aligned.  The reconfiguration of understanding of alienation however, helps to unlock the conundrum and illuminates the problem so that it can be understood.  The question is not, why is this child rejecting this parent but why is this child hyper aligned?

Hyper alignment or hyper attachment is triggered by threat of abandonment and/or the identification with the aggressor dynamic.  Whilst much is said in the campaign world about the issue of alienation being gender neutral (which is used to mean it happens to mothers and fathers), in fact alienation in clinical practice is very much seen to be gendered (which means that mothers and fathers cause alienation of a child differently).

Fathers are seen to alienate their children using overt control strategies of threat towards the children’s mother and a campaign of denigration of her capacity to care for children. Fathers will often partner with their own mother to parent their children in these circumstances which in itself is a disruption of the family hierarchy.

Mothers are seen to alienated their children using covert strategies which enmesh their children into their psychological and emotional experience, often displaying inter-psychic relationships with their children which have no boundaries. This is often the result of trauma in the mother which belongs not to the relationship in the here and now but in the past, in childhood.  Differentiating between trauma caused by relationship breakdown and risks from a parent in the here and now and that which is emanating from the past, is part of the assessment process.

The current effort to portray alienation of a child as being something which is used to give children to abusive fathers is contradicted by the number of cases of mothers who are alienated from their children.  Over the past ten years, I have worked with just as many alienated mothers who received their children in residence transfer as I have fathers and yesterday’s Zoom Seminar proved again that this is an issue which affects mothers and fathers.

Unpacking the experience of alienation of a child by a father against a mother demonstrates clearly that whilst the behaviours in alienating parents are gendered, (fathers and mothers behave differently), the impact on the child is exactly the same. A child who is alienated from the self will produce a false persona and will hyper align with one parent and reject the other.  In situations where a child is rejecting because of something a parent has actually done, will show an ambivalent rejection and will not display the signs of contempt and disdain that are seen when induced psychological splitting causes alienation.

This landscape is ridden with splitting. In the concentric circles around alienated children are people who receive the negative projections which emanate from those who use psychological splitting as a defence. From the rejected parent to the unaware professional to the angry armchair psychologist to the vociferous and often viperous campaigners, splitting cuts like a knife to divide people into powerful, sometimes delusional beliefs that they are on the side of the just and the righteous and the rest are demons in disguise.  When we see that dynamic, when anyone is busy dividing the world into absolute good and absolute bad, splitting is in play and balanced outcomes will not be found.

Which is why, working with parents and practitioners in safe spaces is so important. Away from the he said/she said, the naysayers and those who metaphorically adorn sandwich boards proclaiming they are the holders of the truth, much work is being done in education, training and support of practitioners and parents who want to work with an integrated model which helps families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation.

Just as alienated children need protected space from splitting behaviours in order to restore an integrated state of mind,  work with practitioners and parents also takes place in calm, protected space.

I enjoyed working with so many people from around the world yesterday, it was two and a half hours well spent with people who were interested in finding new routes to resolution for this pernicious and painful problem in families.  We will do more seminars as the year progresses, alongside developing tools to assist parents and practitioners who work with them to work in a new, holistic approach to healing relational trauma in divorce and separation.


Understanding the Alienated Child – A Zoom Seminar

The recording from yesterday’s seminar will shortly be available for download from the Family Separation Clinic Website. If you attended yesterday you will receive a link to this recording as soon as it is available. Anyone who paid but was unable to attend or who was locked out of the session after leaving temporarily, we will also receive the recording.


News from the Family Separation Clinic

Instructing the Clinic

The Clinic will close for vacation in August and re-open on September 7th. Our coaching, part 25 and consultancy services will be available for instruction from September 7th but please be aware that I am fully booked to January 2021 and cannot take new instructions until then.

Supervision

I am currently supervising cases in the USA, Republic of Ireland, Israel, Sweden and Hong Kong as well as the UK.  Enquiries about supervision of cases should be sent to office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

Training to Family Mediation Association

I have been delivering online training via Zoom to the Family Mediation Association throughout this year. This training will hopefully resume face to face in the Autumn.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 08.14.49

See here for details on how to book

 


The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference – September 2020

Building the Path Back Home – A Workshop For Parents

A workshop for parents will be held as part of the EAPAP Conference 2020. Focused on healthy strategies for recovering alienated children, this workshop will be run by Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall and will be based upon the work which is done at the Family Separation Clinic where treatment of children suffering from induced psychological splitting is the core focus.

Based upon the successful services of the Clinic, which are delivered using a psychoanalytic model of understanding and trauma informed interventions, this workshop is for all rejected parents who want to build a healthy future for their children.

Book for the Conference and Workshop Here

Screenshot 2020-05-29 at 17.20.13

Screenshot 2020-05-29 at 17.19.59

Shadowlands: The World in Negative Projection

Screenshot 2020-07-17 at 14.54.58

This definition of projection is from the APA

Negative projection is a powerful dynamic in families affected by alienation. It is a powerful dynamic surrounding those families too and anyone who ventures in to this space must understand what it is and how it manifests itself.  Negative projection is the mechanism by which someone splits off parts of their awareness of self and projects those parts, seeing in others what they are unable to see in their own self.

Negative projection in cases of alienation are often seen in the professional team around a family. It has a dynamic which is recognisable in that the team will often have a split opinion about the family it is working with, seeing others in the team as being wrong.

Negative projection is seen in campaign groups, where the people campaigning see others as the enemy and themselves as victims of another group or a system.

Negative projection is a dangerous dynamic and so as a parent or professional working in this field it is important to understand it, recognise it and learn how to cope and work with it.  Not all instances of negative projection will need to be worked with, some can simply be left to get on with itself (where for example, someone has decided that you are the cause of all of their problems and that someone doesn’t have the power to damage you in any way), others will require you to deal with it directly (where someone is using their negative projections to try and drive damaging outcomes in your life).

The child who is suffering from induced psychological splitting receives the projections of the influencing parent as well as the projections of the parent who is being rejected. This is an appalling place for a child to be and if you are the rejected parent, it is imperative that you understand that your projections, onto your child or their other parent, will heighten the child’s defence of splitting.  Avoiding projection is therefore important because it is one of the key defences used by influencing parents either consciously or unconsciously and by definition this parent is highly unlikely to be able to withdraw their projections.

Projections are those feelings that we are unable to experience in ourselves and so we split them off, deny that we have them and then project them at other people or groups of people. Projections are seen to be strongly at play in rights based groups, the argument that you have taken away my rights is projected at another person or group of people. It comes from a place where the blame for feelings of helplessness and powerlessness has to be hung upon someone else because the feelings are too strong to bear. That the person projecting blame feels powerful in this action, is the outcome of the defence.  Anyone who spends their time telling others that they are wrong and to blame for harm, whilst being unable to recognise that they are using controlling and power based tactics designed to harm the recipient of a projection, is using the defence of projection and as such, is not able to fully understand that they are causing others harm in doing so.

The world is not divided into good and bad, black and white, positive and negative.  As easy as it is to think and feel that way, it is not thus divided. In a post separation world, where emotional and psychological decompensation brings with it huge amounts of fear, splitting into good and bad and denying the bad in oneself and seeing it only in others, is a common outcome.  It replicates well, what happens to children in situations where they suffer alienation.  When these dynamics are at play in families, it is little wonder children are driven into using this defence.

The most startling examples of splitting are in parental rights campaign groups and it is here where the mirror image of each other’s projections are seen.  This is such a stark example of projection that the same subject matter is seen in each group only in reverse.

For example, campaign groups around the family courts are full of armchair psychologists determining that anyone who is not a feminist is a men’s rights activist with mummy issues, or conversely, arm chair psychologists who believe that all feminists have daddy issues.  These groups analyse their enemies and chatter amongst themselves about how the other side is the real baddy.  Victim blaming and shaming, victim championing and idealisation are rife in this arena, which leaves me wondering what the children of these families experience.  Whatever it is, it isn’t balanced and that is why projection as a defence mechanism has to be avoided in situations where a child is alienated.

Because if all you do as a rejected parent is mirror the behaviours of the alienator, if all that you do is keep company with people who are busy blaming others, then all your children will ever get, is more of the same of what caused the problem in the first place. If you want a chance to help your child, stay out of the way of negative projection and learn how to spot it and work with it or step aside from it when you need to.

You will know when someone is negatively projecting because they will see you as the whole of the problem.  Negative projection causes people to do things that ordinary well balanced people do not do. Projection can drive people into obsessive, angry behaviours which overstep the mark of normality. It can produce convictions of having discovered the truth about you and a drive to get others to believe the same thing.

Negative projections have a huge amount of obsessive energy, this is because the need to defend the self, in the person projecting, is enormous. People who spend their time blaming and shaming others, are in fact deeply ashamed in their own selves.  The stronger the projection, the deeper the shame.  Remember that next time you experience someone telling lies about you or creating campaigns of denigration or driving your children and others to behave as if you are a monster. The trauma story in blame projection is that the person doing it has something so monstrous to hide from themselves, they are forced to make others believe monstrous things about you.

Healthy people do not need to deny, split and project. Healthy people are aware of the parts of the self which are less healthy and work to understand them and how they can bring those parts to greater integrated health.  Working from a balanced place as a rejected parent, you will not feel the need to gather in groups and join in with the mob, you will find a greater peace in working on your own understanding of yourself and building a firm platform for your children to come home to.

Out there in the Wild West of the internet right now there are negative projections aplenty, which rise and fall with the collective waves of rage from unwell people.  There are lone rangers riding the wifi waves with missions in mind and groups which roll out shocking memes. There are people who claim that with their thousands of followers they have the power to change your world forever and people who will tell you that everyone else is selling snake oil (whatever that is).  At the same time these people will tell you that the others will harm you, are wicked and evil and will whisper of conspiracy theories and connections with the devil.  This is the world of borderline behaviours, it is harmful to spend too long out there.

Being safe requires a strong sense of self and a capacity to recognise negative projection.  Two things that rejected parents rarely possess on the outset of their journey but which they must learn quickly.

The first rule of coping with rejection by your child, is that you won’t learn anything by shouting with a mob into the wind.  All that will happen is that you will hear the echoes of your own desperation and the negative projections coming back at you from the other side. This is a game of negative projection tennis, it is a pointless waste of time. Those with a healthier mindset will recognise that quickly. The others will spend their time trying to win a game which cannot ever be won because the players are engaged in defending their own inability to accept the good and bad in their own selves.

Things to live by when you find yourself the designated rejected parent in a situation where an unwell parent is causing hyper alignment with your child –

  • Life is not divided into good and bad.
  • Good people sometimes do bad things.
  • You do not bring health to the world via blame and shame.
  • We are all responsible for our own wellbeing.
  • We all have our own internalised child to look after.

Give your inner child a break and stay away from the crowds. Listen, learn and love your inner child, when you do he/she will give you back those things you need to build a life which is rich with honesty and health.

As you do so you will build for your outer child, the path for them to walk home on. A path which is no longer shadowed by negative projections.

A path which walks right up to your door.


Building the Path Back Home – A Workshop For Parents

A workshop for parents will be held as part of the EAPAP Conference 2020. Focused on healthy strategies for recovering alienated children, this workshop will be run by Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall and will be based upon the work which is done at the Family Separation Clinic where treatment of children suffering from induced psychological splitting is the core focus.

Based upon the successful services of the Clinic, which are delivered using a psychoanalytic model of understanding and trauma informed interventions, this workshop is for all rejected parents who want to build a healthy future for their children.

Book for the Conference and Workshop Here

Screenshot 2020-05-29 at 17.20.13

Understanding the alienated child: a guide for parents and practitioners

TWO HOUR WEBINAR WITH KAREN WOODALL

Thursday 6 August 2020 4 – 6pm (GMT)

Check local times here: Time Zone Converter

 

The underlying issue seen in parental alienation is the defence of psychological splitting. This is a reflexive defence in a child which comes into play when the dynamics around the child are impossible for the child to cope with.

 

Induced psychological splitting causes the child to become alienated, first from their own sense of self and then from relationships in the external world. The results of this are denial and projection onto the parents of the split sense of self.

 

Understanding how children behave when they are psychologically splitting is important because it enables us to understand how to respond to them. What seem like strange behaviours are actually easy to recognise and respond to when the defence is recognised. Helping children to integrate the parts of the self which they have split off and denied is a key part of their recovery.

 

This session is suitable for parents and practitioners, and offers an introduction to understanding alienated children which will cover the dynamics that cause alienation, the different ways of conceptualising the problem, detailed analysis of the attachment disruption that the problem causes, and an introduction to how to respond effectively to that in parenting or practice with alienated children.

 


IMPORTANT:

  • 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).

Child Centred Practice: Working With Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

Putting the child at the heart of what we do when we are working with families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation is a core principle from where we begin and end our involvement with families.

Child centred practice means that we assess and treat the family affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting, from the perspective of how it has affected the child first and then the rest of the family.

We do this because at the heart of the problem we call alienation are abusive parenting practices and whilst these have been hidden for decades by ideology, which aims to distract the onlooker to believe that all children who reject a parent are doing so because of something that parent has done, the reality of what happens in these circumstances is now well illustrated and documented.  It is also well curated into the case law in the UK which means that the courts are increasingly getting to grips with the reality of what is going on around the child which causes the hyper alignment and rejection dynamic which is seen in cases of alienation.

Working from the child’s perspective outwards, the first point of assessment is to understand whether the child is using psychological splitting as a defence.  If the child is doing so then the further assessment aims to understand why.  Children who use psychological splitting as a defence are seen to be hyper aligned with one parent and completely rejecting of the other, they are also contemptuous and disdainful towards the parent they are rejecting and can be seen to act in parentified ways, protecting the parent they are aligned to and speaking a narrative which mirrors theirs.  On closer examination, these children will often, in the process of clinical observation, demonstrate a switch back into normal relationship with the parent they have been rejecting, only to revert to the contemptuous disdain seen previously when clinical observation ends.

Parentification is an attachment disorder, it means that the child is not receiving the care that they are entitled to receive. As such, when it is severe and the child has no other form of support, the welfare threshold (UK) is seen to be met.  The observation of families for up to thirty hours at a time, demonstrate the child’s dilemma. A child should not be taking care of a parent’s emotional and psychological needs. A parent and child are not one complete whole. The child has the sovereign right to an independent self and the role of a parent is to take care of that right and ensure that the child grows with a capacity for perspective in relationships with other people.

Children living in families where relational trauma after divorce and separation leads to alienation, first of the child’s own self from the self and then, projected outwards to the hyper alignment and rejection dynamics which demonstrate alienation is in play, are at risk of harm.  Whilst there is a drive amongst some groups to characterise the hyper alignment and rejection behaviours in a child as justified rejection, there is no correlation between behaviours induced by psychological splitting and actual harm caused by the parent who is being rejected.  When a parent HAS been abusive, the child will show a more ambivalent rejection.

Some ask why it is important that the child who is induced to use psychological splitting as a defence is helped. These people usually accompany this with the idea that the child will come looking for the parent when they are ready. Others say that children don’t need two parents so why bother. In reality, this is not about parents at all.

This problem is not about contact, it is not about two parents, it is not about the importance of family.  In reality, this is about the harm being done to a child in the hyper aligned relationship with a parent who is transferring their own unresolved trauma onto the shoulders of the child.

It is about child abuse, which has been hidden from view for decades and which comes to light in the maltreatment of children who are forced into the use of psychological splitting as a defence, because they are trapped in the coercive control behaviours of a parent with serious emotional and psychological problems.

When we work with families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation we are working with abused children who are held in the grip of an unwell parent who is unable to separate their own feelings and experiences from that of their child.  In doing so we are working with highly charged emotional content and super charged psychological control.  Helping children in the here and now is what we are doing but at the same time we are also further triggering the unresolved trauma responses of the parent who has caused the hyper alignment. A parent who can only see the bad in other people and good in themselves.

Little wonder this field of work is so polarised, little wonder it is full of blame and shame projection, hatred and terrorisation of those who do this work and Courts who make decisions about the wellbeing of a child.

Resolving psychological splitting gives enormous relief to children and returns them to an integrated self which has sovereign rights to an independent mind and an unconscious childhood.

Working with colleagues around the world, I am reminded again and again that the reason we do this work is to raise to consciousness the hidden abuse of children in divorce and separation.


Presentations on Family Violence at the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference

Two key presentations on family violence and coercive control will be heard at this conference.  Professor Jennifer Harman will examine the behaviours seen in parents who cause psychological splitting and alienate their children and Dr Sietska Dijkstra will examine the impact of coercive control on post divorce relationships between mothers and children.

This is the third conference of the European Association and demonstrates the commitment and intent of the core participants to build a network of excellence and strengthen the relationship between research and practice in this field.

The cost  for the conference is

3 day registration fee – 203 Euro

1 Day pass for day three (open to public) 81 Euro

 

All prices include VAT.

Book Here

EAPAP News 2020

Newsletter

Readers may wish to download the latest newsletter from the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.  Whilst this is a practitioner newsletter, it gives information about the work being done in Europe to bring together expert practice in the field of Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation.

Press the picture below to download the Newsletter.

Screenshot 2020-07-28 at 17.57.20


Conference

The third conference of the European Association will be held on 16/7/8 September and will feature presentations such as –

  • The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg – USA

  • Leading change in a complex field: Introducing core concepts of reformulated practice

Gordana Buljan Flander -Croatia

  • Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

  • Family law and parental alienation in Portugal

Sandra Feitor – Portugal

  • Addressing false allegations in court

Brian Ludmer – USA

  • Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when alienation is criminalised

Simona Vladica – Romania

  • Perspectives from Israel

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benny Bailey – Israel

  • Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence

Jennifer Harman – USA

  • ‘I did not see my daughters for years:’ The impact of coercive control on post-divorce relationships between mothers and children

Sietska Dijkstra – Netherlands

Discussion groups including Kelly Baker PhD from the USA and presentation by June Venters QC from the UK are being finalised.

There are many more participants throughout a packed three days in which we discussion panels will be held live along with Q&A sessions with experts.

The programme offers a wealth of information and discussion about research and practice and the importance of both in the developing field of Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation.  Suitable for all practitioners in mental health and legal services.

This is the third conference of the European Association and demonstrates the commitment and intent of the core participants to build a network of excellence in the relationship between research and practice in this field.

The cost  for the conference is

3 day registration fee – 203 Euro

1 Day pass for day three (open to public) 81 Euro

 

All prices include VAT.

Book Here

 

 

 

Whose Trauma Story is it Anyway?

Complex Relational Trauma is caused by the type of psycho-pathology which is seen in cases where children reject a parent.  But it is not seen in the child, it is seen in the backdrop to the family, in the narratives which surround the child and in the ways in which these hook together to create the double bind the alienated child is found in.

Whilst the child shows behaviours which appear confusing and responses to the parent who is being rejected which can change swiftly like the wind (more of that later), this is not a psychiatric problem which resides in the child, it is the child’s response to a trauma story which does not belong to them, but which is causing them to act out the behavioural pattern we have come to call parental alienation.

The behavioural pattern we call parental alienation is the child’s use of defensive splitting in a landscape which is controlling their behaviours, emotions and psychological stability.  There is, in essence, one clear sign that this behavioural pattern is in play and that is the child’s division of feelings about parents into wholly good and wholly bad and an accompanying disdain or contempt for the parent they deem to be wholly bad.

When children are using this defence, their unconscious aim is to resolve the double bind they are placed in, which is that they are aware that they cannot love both parents at the same time.  The reasons why they cannot love both parents at the same time may vary depending on the trauma story which is transmitting the signals to the child but the outcome is always the same. The child idealises one parent and rejects the other.

In psychoanalytic terms, the child splits their own ego, identifies with the more powerful parent, splits off and denies their positive feelings for the parent they perceive as weaker and then does everything possible to keep that split off and denied object relationship out of their own conscious mind.

In laypersons terms, the child develops a false self which is identified wholly with the parent who is causing fear of abandonment (appearing to the child as the strongest possible threat and therefore emanating from the parent with the most power).  To survive the double bind and retain the love of the threatening parent, the child rejects the other parent completely.

This is the drama of the alienated child. Pushed to the limit of their psychological safety, the child splits their own self identity in order to survive.  This is the reason why alienated children sound so brittle and rehearsed in their narratives. This is why they are so difficult to work with and why so many therapists end up simply making things worse by trying to ‘buddy up’ to an alienated child. What therapists do when they try to befriend the alienated child in this way is inflate the false self and deepen the splitting, leaving the child psychologically more harmed than they were previously.

The first thing that anyone working in this space must understand is that whilst we are looking at the drama of an alienated child on the surface, what we are really looking at is someone else’s trauma story and that someone else may not even be alive anymore.

Not all children who do not want to see a parent are alienated and that cannot be said often enough.  Alienated children show distinct clinical markers in their behaviours and the family system they are living in also show clinical markers. Families who are truly affected by this problem, by which I mean those who have been properly differentiated and identified as having the clinical markers of the problem, are a distinct group.

For the truly alienated child, the deeper layers of the problem lie in relational trauma. Uncovered, alienation of children is about violations of their interpersonal boundaries and about enmeshment into an unwell parent’s felt sense of who they are. The reality of relational trauma in divorce and separation is that the crisis of the breakdown of the family allows unresolved traumas to emerge, which are displaced into the wrong place in the generational line.  There is trauma in this story alright, but whose trauma is the question that we should be asking all of the time.

This is forensic work, it is about entering into the inter and intra-psychic world of the family affected and finding the paths through the forest which lead to ground zero.  When an unresolved trauma is emitting signals from the past, there are many ways in which the here and now can be affected. Alienation of a child in the post divorce and separation landscape is just one of them.


Screenshot 2020-05-29 at 17.20.13

 The EAPAP Conference will feature presentations on trans-generational trauma and relational trauma in divorce and separation and looks forward to welcoming Jill Salberg PhD  as our headline speaker.   This conference will be of interest to all clinicians interested in working with relational trauma in divorce and separation.

BOOK HERE

THE SHADOW OF OUR GHOSTS: GENERATIONS OF RUPTURES

Jill Salberg, PhD

‘When trauma revisits a person transgenerationally through dysregulated and disrupted attachment patterns, it is within the child’s empathic attunement and search for a parental bond that the mode of transmission can be found.’

Salberg, J, (2015). The texture of traumatic attachment: Presence and ghostly absence in transgenerational transmission. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 84(1), 21-46.

Parental alienation is typically described as a child’s rejection of a parent. However, whilst the problem appears to be the child’s rejection of one of their parents, in reality, the rejection is not the cause of the problem but is, rather, a symptom of the child’s pathological alignment to the other parent. Similarly, many papers on the subject refer to the alienating ‘strategies’ of aligned parents.

Whilst it is true that some cases are driven by the deliberate and conscious actions of a one parent seeking to remove the other, many more feature dysfunction in the inter-psychic relationship between the aligned parent and the child. Such cases feature high levels of psychopathology and maladaptive defences which are often rooted in the transgenerational transmission of unresolved trauma of the aligned parent.

We are, therefore, delighted to able to welcome Jill Salberg, PhD, as our special guest speaker at the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioner’s 2020 online conference hosted by the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb (Poliklinika za zaštitu djece i mladih Grada Zagreba). Dr Salberg is a world leading expert in transgenerational trauma and the effect that it has on children’s relational self.

Dr Salberg argues that children of parents who have unresolved trauma inherit altered biochemistry that can leave them more vulnerable to registering fearful and anxious situations and to being more fearful and anxious themselves. She writes that the legacy of transgenerational transmission of traumatic forms of attachment is an alteration in both the biology and the attachment systems and suggests that, whilst some of these parents will be able to transmit safety and provide for consistent attachment, others will transmit a confusing mix of messages of fearfulness and safety.

For clinicians working with post divorce splitting in children, the patterns and disruptions of attachment are of vital importance as what often appears, on the surface, to be warm and attentive parenting can be charged with the projection of unresolved trauma, enmeshment and the child’s unconscious, existential terror of abandonment. This area of research is one that is opening up new ways of understanding children’s experiences and new approaches to treatment. The work of Dr Salberg is, therefore, something that will be of great interest to anyone working in this field.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jill Salberg, PhD, ABPP is a clinical adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology, faculty member and clinical consultant/supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, faculty and a supervisor at the Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She has written on reformulating concepts of termination, trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, gender, Freud, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and Jewish studies.

 

Her papers have been published in Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Studies in Gender and Sexuality and American Imago and she has chapters in Relational Traditions, Vol. 5; The Jewish World of Sigmund Freud; and Answering a Question with a Question. She is a contributor to and the editor of the book Good Enough Endings: Breaks, Interruptions and Terminations from Contemporary Relational Perspectives (Routledge, 2010). She has co-edited two books with Sue Grand, The Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Trans-generational Transmission of Trauma and Trans-generational Trauma and Dialogues Across History and Difference (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group 2017). She has conceived of and co-edits a new book series Psyche and Soul: Psychoanalysis, Spirituality and Religion in Dialogue (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group). She has co-edited two books with Sue Grand, The Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma and Haunted Dialogues: Conversing Across History and Difference (Routledge, 2016). She is in private practice in Manhattan.

Parental Alienation and Child Protection in the UK High Court: Re S: Transfer of Primary Care

The case of Re S, an Appeal Court judgment in the UK in May 2020,  was summarised in the judgment as follows –

In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has become too late to take it.

Read the full Appeal Court Judgment here

The concluding sentence in this judgment, from the perspective of child protection is powerful and speaks of the need for preventative action in cases where children are at risk of alienation.  The judgment as a whole, set a tone of decisive action within the family courts in the UK in which interventions such a residence transfer were recognised as necessary in order to protect children from harm.

Having been appealed, the case returned to the High Court. Originally due to be in front of the President of the Family Division, the case was heard by Mr Justice Williams whose judgment can be read here.

Whilst this judgement looks likely to be appealed, there are a number of significant points within it which demonstrate that the Judiciary in the UK have a firm grip on the management of such cases. For anyone who works in this field, this is to be welcomed because when the legal system interlocks with the mental health intervention, resolution for children suffering from non accidental injury to the mind, is swift.

The conclusions within this judgment offer clear guidance for anyone working in this field in terms of how the Court views the need to protect children suffering from alienation.

Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 11.37.43Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 11.37.58Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 11.38.15

Point 63 is a clear statement of the Court’s view of the impact of alienation and the harm that enmeshment with a parent causes.

However, all of her views have to be assessed having regard to the fact that they are distorted by the prism of alienation. Her wishes and feelings are the subjective result of exposure to harmful beliefs and practices which have led to her alienation from her father and her enmeshment with her mother. She is nine years old. I do not consider it necessary to obtain any more up to date evidence of her views. Ms Ware is a highly experienced independent social worker who has acted as a children guardian for many years and I accept her assessment that seeking the child’s views would be likely to engender further conflict and distress for the child.

The outcome of this case was that the child was transferred to live with her father.  As in some cases of transfer, it appears that the child returned to her mother after being collected by her father but the police were involved and the Judge did not change his position and thus the decision of the Court was upheld.

When cases are managed in this way, children who are enmeshed with the narratives of psychologically unwell parents, are protected as a first priority.  The influencing parent is constrained which makes treatment of the split state of mind in the child possible.

Just as in non accidental physical injury, this is a child protection approach to case management which sets a precedent in the UK, as such it is to be welcomed.

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: