Abolishing the alienation angels and dispelling demons

This weekend we have been in Plymouth UK working with family court professionals and parents in two separate workshops about parental alienation. On Friday evening, to a surpringly large audience for an end of week seminar, I spent two hours discussing our practice with families, differentiation of alienation and how to bring about a better triage system for the UK so that child protection in these circumstances is improved.  The seminar which was billed as a 45 minute delivery with questions, ran on for two hours as we debated and discussed, with court practitioners, family support workers (and the youngest family court Judge I have ever met), the pros and cons of presenting an alienation case in the UK courts and how to achieve better outcomes for children so affected.

On Saturday we furthered this theme with alienated parents directly and unpacked the issues that lead to a situation where a child refuses to see a parent after separation.  During this session and on Friday night I became increasingly aware of the ways in which the splitting reaction of the child – that of dividing parents into all good and all bad in their minds – is readily mirrored by family court practitioners, family support workers and parents themselves – demons and angels being the overall motif that emerged from discussion and debate, something which mirrors the attitudes I experience projected towards me at times, from parents as well as practitioners, many of whom are either for me or against me, seeing me as wholly good or wholly bad but rarely from a balanced perspective.  Working as I do, in the space between the demonic and angelic projections, I thought it might be useful to look more closely at these themes and see them for what they are, unhelpful projections which mirror the child’s coping mechanism of splitting. If all that one sees are demons or angels in the world that one inhabits, what of the grey areas, the uncertain parts and the ambivalent. What becomes of the balance within as one battles with the impact of the loss of a child?  Today then our theme is of demons and angels and the traps that are laid when they take over the world.

I am often referred to as an angel when I work with families where children are able to heal from an alienation reaction. That projection, of my presence as an angel sent to heal, is one which is borne out of the helplessness that parents feel as they navigate the loss of their child and the attempts that they make to remedy that through the courts.  When one has negotiated many assumptions, many closed eyes and many people who are either unable or unwilling to assist in changing the dynamic that caused a child to reject, having someone arrive on the scene who understands, validates and changes that dynamic will seem like an angelic intervention. But it is not.

Similarly, for those parents who are stuck in the behaviours that cause children to reject, who are afraid or unable to change, who have found that their distorted view points are not only shared but upheld by people in the family court system, my arrival may feel demonic, as the control they seek and often need is removed from their grasp. Demonic projections, in which parents (and sometimes family court practitioners) completely and determinedly dismiss every part of the work that I do, based on their own drive to keep control over the landscape they inhabit are as unhelpful as the angelic ones.  Both because they are not real and both because they mirror the splitting that goes on in a child’s mind when one or both parents projects their own issues onto them.

Alienated parents are not angels and alienating parents are not demons, they are people.  And so am I, a person, not an angel or a demon. And parental alienation is a problem with a human face not an archetypal one, much as it seems that way at times.  Parents alienate and are alienated.  Parents are people, not angels, not demons and definitely not monsters. Whilst alienating a child is a monstrous act, alienating parents are not monsters and it is folly to believe that they are, because in doing so one removes the power for change from the hands of the parents who are healthy.  If all alienating parents are demonic monsters, then all alienated parents are helpless and innocent victims who need angels to come in and save them.  Which is a myth worthy of the greek gods. Only we are people, not gods and alienation is a problem with a human face not an archetypal one.

It is true however that the archetypes of good and evil are drawn up from the depths of the psyche when the possession of a child’s mind, body and soul are concerned. In the work that I do I see mythology being played out in people’s lives over and over again. Perspehone in the underworld, disappeared and lamented by her mother who sits and waits for her to return after she has been kidnapped by her father, Medea and her revenge upon the husband who leaves her, triggering abandonment rage and vengeance in the shape of the murder of her child and the Oedipal and Electra stories which are played out through role corruption and boundary blurring in alienated families.  All of these scenes from a marriage are present but whilst they may bear the hall marks of the tragedies and they may draw up the energy of the archetypes, they remain human at every level. They are ordinary stories of the family, played out against a backdrop of the culture and society we live in. Ordinary people, living extraordinary lives in the crisis that is family separation, which causes the defences to fail and the angels and demons to rush in to occupy the space in between.

And it is in that human experience that we must work as practitioners concerned with alienation because if we allow ourselves to carry the projections of good and bad we do parents a disservice.  Our work as practitioners is about absorbing those projections and balancing them, giving back to the parents we work with the perspective they and their child have lost. This is what we do when we work with alienated children and it is what we do with parents too, we may recognise, acknowledge and validate the innocence of one parent and the damaging actions of the other but we do not encourage the splitting of two parents into wholly good and wholly bad. Neither do we subscribe to the notion that parents whose children have chosen them over the other are monsters, even when we know that the act of alienation of a child is a monstrous and deeply damaging thing to do to that child.  Even when we advocate the removal of that child from that parent.

To accept the projections of angel or demon or support the division of parents into all good or all bad is to play god with children’s lives.  Divine justice is for the gods to mete out, we are human, in the business of bringing resolution and balance back to the lives of children we work with. We struggle for perspective by working through the challenges parents create so that their children do not have to. Teaching parents on the way that dividing their world into wholly good or wholly bad is a projection not a reality. Even the most personality disordered parent who has coldly and determinedly alienated their child, is a human not a monstrous myth.  Understanding that is the first big step to wresting control over life back from the hands of that parent.

Projections do not help and our destiny does not lie in the lap of the gods. Our children’s health requires us all to live in the real world, taking care of adult concerns so that they do not have to. Some until the day their child is able to wriggle free, some for even longer that that.  All because being a parent is a human condition which never leaves us, can never be eradicated or taken away.   And because we are not angels or demons but fallible human beings, which one day, our children, wherever they are, will thank us for.

23 comments

  1. karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

    actually tamarmanipbes I have taken your post down because it is so factually incorrect that I have decided it is unhelpful to others to allow it through. if you would like to rewrite it, taking out the factual inaccuracies, for example your assertion that Nick or I stated that it was inevitable that 20% of children will be abused by PA, I will be happy to publish it. What I actually said, which I think you have taken and distorted for yourself, is that even in shared care situations alienation will arise – and it will and does …. that is just one example. I am not in the business of promoting distortions in any shape or form so if you would like to discuss the ways in which you are, in my view, projecting your own beliefs onto what we do at the Clinic I am happy to do so but I am not willing to allow you to simply make factually incorrect statements to shore up your own belief system here. You can do that somewhere else where others who want to follow your views can read them. Neither Nick nor I have ever considered ourselves or promoted ourselves as a Wilberforce couple, whatever that means, we simply do what we do, say what we say and take a hell of a lot of flak for it by doubters. You believe you have the magic wand that will answer the problem so many face so feel free to promote that, but you are not going to do it on here by making factually incorrect and misleading statements about people who work very very hard to fight the problems of PA at every level of society.

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    • Vincent McGovern. · October 19, 2015

      Actually I very seldom come across parental alienation by fathers against mothers but as I said above I hold it in particular contempt and have no doubt that many more fathers would do it if they had the chance. It is the removal as far as possible of the possibilities for doing so that I consider so important which is why I have loathing for the agencies which promote such. This is a disease that society needs to grasp and deal with. Your addressing family court professionals is vital. I am unconvinced that fluffy bunny therapy will work any magic on those who alienate with ferocity. But where it does work then good, whatever solves the problem is fine by me.

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      • karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

        would you be surprised to know that at the Clinic the stats for use are 48% mothers and 53% fathers? Alienated mothers are invisible to the outside world and where they are visible they are damned, much more so in my view than fathers. In many respects why would any mother want to be a mother who is not the main carer for their children? When they are they are considered either drug addicts, drunks, mad, bad or otherwise dangerous. These are the stereotypes that drive our family services, these are the nonsensical notions of the unaware. Fathers alienate mothers as visciously and nastily as mothers alienate fathers and interestingly, they do so because of mental health issues almost in equal numbers. Fluffy bunny therapy is necessary in some cases, in others it is not, you should know more than others that I do non fluffy therapy better than most but I still contend this is a problem with a human face and splitting the discussion into monstrous mothers and innocent fathers is naive and dangerous. This is about how we negotiate the spaces that open up around children and all the laws in the land won’t change that one single jot in my view unless we empower parents to understand how to do that.

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      • karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

        clarfication 52% fathers.

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      • Everythinghappensforareason · October 20, 2015

        Well said, Karen!!

        For far too long, a big problem has been the denial of (and resistance to) the realities of what has being going on since long before the CA89. As humans, we all “think” we have a unique and compelling story that qualifies us to have THE answer to PA but anyone who thinks in the polarities and absolutes of goodies/baddies, rights/wrongs, true/false, etc etc is way off beam……what actually exists in PA are the feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and, ultimately, unhappiness that the alienator’s feels and drives him or her to behave in the dysfunctional and emotionally violent way theys do. The alienator is (and has been for some time) suffering and frightened and copes with the symptoms in any way possible, by aid of a multitude of vices…..day to day. This is a mentally ill person who struggles to deal with the realities of life and, in many ways, it is akin to someone who might be suffering from a physical illness that U.S. not of their own making. In many cases the alienator’s illness wasn’t of their own making either!

        Most fear is borne of our inability to accept change in general (of circumstances, people and ourselves) but if anything is to change with regards to this ever-increasing epidemic more of us will need to find the acceptance, understanding and forgiveness in our hearts that is the solution rather than the anger and argument (of being right and making others wrong) that had continued to persist and exacerbate the problem

        The “powers that be” do not possess a fraction of the knowledge and understanding required to improve this situation so it’s the responsibility of those most affected to, first, educate themselves in this area and, then, constructively contribute that wisdom to the cause

        From an alienated father of 4, who believes his children were let down by the family justice system and just about every agency that was involved over a 8-9 year period

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  2. The Devil's Advocate · October 19, 2015

    Dear Karen and Nick,

    Please do not think that there was any slight on your position and your interpretation of what you feel I have been inaccurate. The information I have received came from the FnF site and their promotion of the Pilgrims Father’s position in respect of their petition earlier of this year. Unless normal parents have normal rights then nothing will change. I was not challenging in any way your actions indeed the opposite is the case. I feel affronted that you took this view. Like others, as a Samaritan, I worked in my previous life as a professor and then teacher in secondary and later primary education. And as you and Nick have experienced in your specialized child and family resolve professionalism there are others promoting what is of benefit in the long run for all children and families in our society. Please don’t “knee jerk” a reaction. Sure if you want to edit the whole of what I wrote it is your prerogative.

    What you provided was a great insight into your experience of dealing on a one to one basis to benefit children with their families. Those of us in the “better together for children and families” would want what we are both attempting to promote. Every family you support and reconcile is more than wonderful. My input was not to belittle your work in any way. And there are lots of people I were going to suggest that they read your blog and then from your site when available in regard in particular to the peer review information made available particularly over the last year.

    No there is no magic wand to preventing alienation in our current society. Addressing it with parents who come to your clinic is wonderful, but as one of the attendees told me this is something he hopes will be able to “persuade” his ex-partner to do to resolve his position, but it is a “hope” and not a right for her to attend with his daughter. When many of my clients have been rejected by current family law under multi returns to court and having spent tens of thousands of £ on Court Fees promoting themselves as a good and engaged parent and only to be further rejected, then they again begin to question what is wrong with family law in England and Wales? Understanding from your workshop the aims and objectives of your work is great and as you say a vast majority of persons who enact alienation for their own selfish and harmful manner against children will have to consider their position even as Sir James Munby has stated on numerous rulings. (Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law site is a good example to illustrate “hopes” rather than “rights which you probably follow). But nothing fundamental will change, that is why there is a need for legislation in line with that of the Pilgrim Father’ petition.

    Yes we need a universal application where the “duty of care” enables all professionals working with families to do so, but there is no legal framework for them apart from current legislation which is inadequate and helping to promote that which we are attempting to end. Perhaps if you have experienced a multitude of extremely severe forms of alienation when a person does not have to promote some form of support to attend what your clinic offers for they believe they have not committed anything which is defined by the term intractable hostility (dare not use the term alienation or the like for fear of alienating them from attending a therapy session). Then will you understand what you are offering is limited, not in the quality of input but by the number of families who can avail themselves to your support. This may be in quantity terms only to a small percentage of those in need as a whole. This is a fact and has no bearing on your support to reconnect children with all in their family. And please see this as supportive of your work and NOT any form of slight.

    When other nations have the wisdom to understand how much of a blight PA is and to criminalise it then it beholds others to pursue a similar actions as we want to protect our children. When will it end under current legislation, well never? If you do not want legislation to change to prevent this please say so but I hope you would be all in favour of it. So please don’t attack persons who want the same as you but using other strategic and logically compassionate actions to enable children to have a fulfilling relationships with all in their families. I hope this has resolved our differences.

    (For personal reasons below I will sign the Devil’s Advocate as a Samaritan I wish to my comments not be thought of associated with clients who might feel a connection.)

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    • karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

      I wasnt offended or affronted I was concerned that you had misinterpreted what was said and represented it in a factually incorrect manner. That doesn’t do in my world where presentation of ‘facts’ depends upon one’s point of view. Your proposition seems to me to be that in a world where it is illegal to alienate a child a child will not be alienated. I disagree with that view. We were shown, explicitly, in the workshop on Saturday how a mother who shared care managed to convince the children to reject their father by use the withdrawal of love and affection…her approach was.. if you don’t align yourself to me and continue in this shared care arrangement you will not have anything of me at all…either you do as I say or I will reject you. How are you going to criminalise that let alone police it? It is impossible to legislate to prevent alienation in my view, sure you can legislate for shared care but even in those circumstances parents, especially unwell parents, will use children to get what they want. Additionally, you can legislate and you can change society, but you cannot force every family support worker to shift their perspective to come into line with the new views. Even the CAFCASS officer in the room, enlightened and supportive, demonstrated his different beliefs about mothers and fathers and what they should be doing after separation. I do not see myself as anything other than someone who works to assist children to heal the splitting reaction and in doing that I have a responsibility in my view to write and speak about it. The only differences we have are that I don’t claim my answer is THE answer, it is only one of the strands that answer the problem, the strand I choose to work in and give up my time and energy and efforts for.

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  3. Vincent McGovern. · October 19, 2015

    Pardon me for being pretentious (most unusual) but there is a mite too much ‘fluffy bunny all parents are good with variable faults, all humans have faults but are good at heart.’ Strongly reminds me of Catholic teachings 40 or so years ago. Sadly the Augustinian Principle of wanting salvation but not right now because the penance is a bit harsh reasonates here. What i’m saying is that parental alienation is usually a deliberate conscious action over time which leads to a child rejecting it’s parent usually a father. There are lower forms varying from overt to covert, and some accidental I accept.

    I would argue that in first instance it is usually done by malevolent mothers who to justify their splitting of the family unit have to demonise the now absent father and who better to do this with than a child who has deep feelings for that parent. For the record I have particular contempt for fathers who alienate children from their mothers.

    My real anger is with the myriad unregulated unaccountable agencies who facilitate and promote so much of this. Have their funding removed by demonstrating their toxic ideology is a complete subversion of Children Act 1989 Section1 for a start. And then we have Articles 6 and 8 of ECHR which are made in the interests of children ultimately.

    Keep up the excellent work and long may you address and educate family court professionals and young Judges. That is a vital group to impress and improve. This pilgrimage has many steps and professional mothers are badly needed to educate the system so that Pilgrim Fathers have less heartache and blisters. And children have less problems and unlikely to copy the above when they become parents by either alienating or walking too much.

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    • karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

      I profoundly disagree Mr McG and you of all people should understand the numbers of mothers who are alienated by fathers and so avoid aligning yourself for one side against the other. This is a problem with a human face, it is a relational problem and cannot be resolved by encouraging the splitting that causes the splitting in the first place. Alienation is a monstrous act but alienating parents are not monsters they are people and resolving those people problems requires clarity and reality not monster slaying tactics. I am no fluffy bunny as you know but I know it takes fluffy bunnies to get around some of the realities of this in order to free children and in my view whatever works is what we will do to free children. This is about children first.

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  4. CitymanMichael (@CitymanMichael) · October 19, 2015

    Interesting that you use the word demons – while I was being alienated, my ex changed my name on her mobile phone to “The Devil”.

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    • karenwoodall · October 19, 2015

      these themes repeat themselves in this sphere CMM.

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  5. daveyone1 · October 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

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  6. Kat · October 20, 2015

    I think good/bad dichotomies goes far wider in our society than parental alienation. We like to think of people who do monstrous acts as inherently evil and not look at the human being behind the act – just have a look at our criminal justice system. It is an unhelpful way to view people if we want to understand and prevent monstrous acts. I don’t think trying to understand these people and accepting them as flawed humans beings needs to be a bleeding heart exercise that prevents strict actions to be taken against e.g. determined alienators to ensure the safety of their children.

    If there is an underlying belief that alienation is about one good and one bad parent then it is easy to dismiss alienation as being present in any case. You just have to find one good act by the alienator and one bad act by the alienated parent. It simply reduces helping families to identifying who is the good and who is the bad parent. It prevents an understanding that alienated parents, under the immense strain they are, will not always do the right thing. It equally prevents an understanding that many alienators genuinely love their children (as best they can) and want what is best for them, but have a poor understanding of what that is.

    Don’t get me wrong some alienators are very scary and terrifying people. Nevertheless they are what they are for a reason and the children, we try to save from their abuse, risk growing up to become what their parents were. I believe the best way to prevent this is for children to grow up with a relationship with both parents, even the alienators (though it may have to be restricted due to safety concerns). It is far better to grow up knowing your parents for what they truly are than to think of one as simply evil, regardless of whether that belief stems from having been removed from an abusive alienator or from a false perception resulting from alienation.

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  7. Linda Turner · October 20, 2015

    Hi Karen, As an alienated mother for over 25 years I can confirm that there are many of us out there. The problem is that most alienated mothers are ashamed and embarrassed to speak out for fear of being judged. I am part of closed facebook global group with over 1200 members and growing – all alienated mothers!!!! I should image the reason Mr McGovern seldom comes across parental alienation by fathers against mothers is that many of us are afraid to put our head above the parapet!!!

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    • karenwoodall · October 20, 2015

      Hi Linda, yes I know how big that group of alienated parents is, we work with almost as many women as men at the Clinic and it strikes me that there is a real need for some reciprocal understanding between mothers and fathers who are alienated from their children and how it happens so that the belief that all alienation is caused by malicious mothers is dispelled once and for all.

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      • Vincent McGovern. · October 20, 2015

        It is very disappointing for me as a senior officer in a Shared Parenting Charity to learn from Karen;s comment above that her clinic has almost as many alienated mothers as fathers. I have helped a few alienated mums and do realise that the system seems to almost gleefully put the boot into some mothers as a sort of perverse demonstration of equality or whatever. 95% of the attendees at the two branches I chair are dads from a combined annual total of slightly over 1,000.Any alienated parent is to my mind a victim of a crime first of all against their children and secondly themselves.

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  8. Pingback: Abolishing the alienation angels and dispelling demons | PARENTS HEALING FROM ESTRANGEMENT- #PAS
  9. Linda Turner · October 20, 2015
  10. Nick Woodall · October 20, 2015

    Hello Vincent

    I should start by saying that I’m not entirely sure where ‘fluffy bunnies’ comes into what Karen was trying to illustrate in her post and that I’m not sure that I recognise it in anything that the Clinic does!

    Many rejected parents, quite understandably, want to see the alienating parent punished for the pain and distress they have put them and their children through. Unfortunately, parents often need to choose between a, perfectly natural, desire to have what they believe to be justice or to have a relationship with their child. Very often, it is not possible to have both. The role of the Clinic is to try to restore the relationship, not to deal out punishments or justice.

    What is important for us is doing what works. That means using whatever is the most effective approach to restoring a relationship between a child and an alienated parent. Sometimes that will require the court to wield a ‘big stick’ and sometimes it will require a more nurturing approach.

    Regards, Nick.

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    • Vincent McGovern. · October 20, 2015

      Hi Nick

      Fluffy bunny was a phrase in haste after initial of reading Karen’s blog. Some recent experiences have shall we say reduced my diplomacy which is not conducive to polite conversation. An error of phrase on my part. As regards using whatever tools and doing whatever is necessary to get a proper outcome you are speaking to the converted. Keep up the good work and keep publicising it. It needs to be heard loud and clear.

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  11. Anonymous · October 23, 2015

    Going back to your original blog. I think you have described the situation with surgical accuracy.

    The word “alienation” is not a noun. You can not label someone an alienator. To do so would be to cast them as a Demon.

    “Alienation” is a verb. We all do it, some better than others, some with intent and some not.

    We alienate when we want to induce a split. We behave in a despicable way because it seemingly serves our selfish purpose. It is born of ill-health and/or ill-feeling.

    If you have become alienated from your children then you have to examine all the players who operate close to your children and make informed decisions about how you are going to change the dynamic. How are you going to change to make the differences that will bring about the desires of your heart? How is your approach toward your children going to change?

    Adapt we must, change we must, embrace the changes we see and begin to play a positive role.

    Painful, devastating and life changing but necessary as much for humanity as anything else.

    Kind regards

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  12. Anonymous · October 25, 2015

    If you feel you have been alienated from your children there is hope. You do not need the agreement of your former partner nor the court nor your therapist nor anyone else. You need an understanding of yourself and a behavioural change. It’s not about angels and demons. It’s about understanding human behaviour, realising the power and control you possess over your situation and how to use it.

    You could spend many hours, days discussing who is to blame, apportioning chronic ailments, diseases on your former beloved or you could be rediscovering the way in which we make good. The techniques the strategies the acceptance of people and how they are, how they became.
    You may no longer see the need to demonise the x on social media in order to get them punished because you wish to assert your beliefs.
    As you lie in bed with your cup of cocoa and new born strategy you can afford a smile because even though your x, the alienator, is alive and kicking you are successfully juggling the needs of your children and placating the wrath of the alienator. You have rediscovered a form of empowerment. You no longer wish to alter the behaviour of others, you have become an observer and a listener and someone who accepts human nature in all of its wonderful guises. You prompt, celebrate and promote no longer sitting in judgment.

    Kind regards

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  13. Kate · November 9, 2015

    While you discuss parental alienation as though it is always real, what about the many mothers accused falsely of alienating when infact she is trying to protect the children who are refusing to see a father because of his abusive behaviour? This is the shocking and sinister fact, that the term ‘parental alienation’, these days called ‘implacable hostility’, is used as a tactic by barristers to win their case. Children are being forced into contact with an abuser father and if the distressed and worried mother doesn’t change, the children are taken from her and forced to live with the abusive father. The mother and children are then trapped, no-one will believe anything they say about abuse, the children are traumatised and learn to shut up and try to cope with the life of abuse, control and loneliness they have been thown into. Many mothers, reacting naturally to having their children taken,in a high state of anxiety, distress and trauma are then ‘mind-messed’ further and their natural behaviour used against them, with fingers pointing..’See we told you she was mad/bad/insane/alienating/hysterical…’. The ‘professionals’ can go home to their comfortable houses and lives while leaving a trail of distruction,pain and damaged children in their wake.

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