What it really takes to be a parental alienation practitioner and then some

Back from some time away and preparing to work intensively with families until the Christmas break. Having been at the centre of the eruption amongst parental alienation experts in the US however, I thought I had better put some thoughts down about how this has affected us in the UK and our work with families. Especially as one reader wrote to me this week to say that she felt as if she were a child in the midst of her  warring parents. Something I would never want for anyone who reads this or other blogs about parental alienation.

To be blunt, the fact is it hasn’t really affected us at all and our work in the UK continues just as it always has done. The only difference that the spat appears to have made is that we have become overwhelmed with requests for help and support. Given that we are working 14 hours a day at the moment and using all of our spare time to get ready to launch our new website and book, this puts more pressure on us at a time when we are focused  on our new projects. Trust me however, we will get these things done and we will meet the demand for help somehow. Working in this field has never been easy, rolling our sleeves a little further up and gritting our teeth is a familiar feeling.

I want to say a few things about working in the field of parental alienation in the UK this morning however, because it is important that we mark out the differences here from those things which are being argued about in the US.  Over there, where Amy Baker has recently set out a list of experts in the field for Psychology Today, (notably missing off Dr Childress and Dorcy Pruter), the mental health field and its interaction with separating parents appears very different. The major interactions that families have, being with mental health professionals (the people Dr Childress takes umbrage with for their lack of training and awareness).

Not that things are any easier for us over here, they are not. But it is not the case, for example, that the first people that families encounter are mental health professionals.  Thus, our difficulties are not just with the field of mental health. Before anyone ever gets to see a mental health professional in the UK, there are the family court professionals to deal with. People with enormous power and very little in the way of standardised or accountable training in the field of high conflict separation and alienation.  This is one of the reasons why we are so far behind in alienation awareness in this country. Those family court professionals, who are empowered to act upon their subjective feelings and who are not accountable through a common assessment framework or follow up research into the outcomes they recommend, hold the key to whether or not the mental health professionals who may be able to unlock a case are even appointed in the first place.

So far then the arguments in the US appear to be about who holds power in the field of parental alienation and why.  For Dr Childress the issue is that the Gardenarians (as he calls them), (practitioners who use the original eight signs described by Richard Gardener to describe alienation) are barking up the wrong tree. For Amy Baker, the issue is that true parental alienation experts have to conform to a set of standards which appear to have been drawn up by those people who are already acknowledged as alienation experts in the US (by each other). Watching this unfold and knowing that my piece for the PASG was instrumental in triggering this, reminds me of those families where alienation strikes. Difficulties rumbling under the surface suddenly hit a patch of severe intolerance and all of a sudden we seem to have reached the tipping point where the alienation reaction takes hold and rejection is complete. From there, we know that recovery of a balanced perspective takes one heck of a lot of work (unless we separate the children from the alienating parent).  The problem is, who is the alienator and who is the alienated?  I would say all are both and the problem with trying to unravel the mess is that when people are speaking in absolutes it becomes very difficult to narrow the widening gap between them.  Perhaps it is futile to even try.  Let the US experts do what the US experts have to do. We in the UK have to keep on keeping on, we have our own work to do here, which is tough enough, without becoming involved in arguments over constructs and who is an expert or not.

I have written before on choosing your alienation practitioner wisely. It is worth revisiting this today because one thing that Amy Baker left off her list in Psychology Today was that which is THE most important thing of all –  experience in working with alienated children.  One can have all the degrees possible, have done a huge pile of research, written books and been collaborative with other alienation professionals, but without ever having worked directly with an alienated child, one is pretty much stuck in relying upon others who have to do that work for you. And in the UK, as set out in case law, the experience of working with alienated children is really what matters.

It matters because before one can get the court to do the things that are necessary to help the child, your alienation practitioner has to be able to work with the child(ren) involved, at least for long enough to understand from the child directly, what their presentation looks and feels like. Whilst some practitioners may undertake paper based assessments (as do we at the Clinic), the real evidence that is relied upon in court in the UK, is that which is garnered from direct work with the child.  Thus, the core competence for any alienation practitioner working in the UK family courts is the ability to work with alienated children. How many alienated children have you worked with, should therefore be the first question all targeted parents ask of any professional who professes to be able to offer any kind of intervention in an alienation case. (For the record, this year I have worked directly with 24 alienated children).

But there are other core competencies which I would argue are key to being a practitioner in this field.  The ability to wear a teflon coat is one of them as is the capacity to mirror to targeted parents that behaviour which you know is necessary for them to adopt to survive the marathon ahead.  Empathy is a core skill along with the willingness to keep on supporting parents through the darkest and most difficult times of their lives. Walking in the darkest places with parents is not for the faint hearted. In my view, those who do that best are those who themselves have lived the dark places and recovered. As C G Jung said, we can heal others only to the degree that we have been harmed and healed ourselves. When one has encountered the worst that human beings can do to each other and survived it, other people’s dark places are not scary. This work is, for me, akin to being a sherpa, guiding families across the roughest terrain and into better, safer places. Any practitioner not willing to carry parents across those spaces should not, in my view, be doing this work. This is about helping people in the most desperate moments of their lives, when they are facing allegations of abuse, loss of their loved ones and loss of hope and belief in life. It is not  for anyone who is seeking glory, power or prestige.

People often tell me they wish there were more of us at the Family Separation Clinic, I can tell you, so do I.  The reason there are not more of us however is not because we particularly want to own this space, it is because doing this work is hard on the soul and the spirit and not many people can stand the pace. Being a parental alienation practitioner requires the ability to fight on all levels, all at once and consistently.  When one is working with complex personalities, troubled children and traumatised rejected parents as well as hostile family court professionals and the demand to give evidence in an adversarial family court, it can lead one into burn out very very quickly. Taking care of ourselves as practitioners is a key element to keeping our work with families safe. Taking care of our physical health is also a key component, especially when we are working with children and their proclivity to carrying viruses!  The winter months are particularly difficult for us at the Clinic as we endeavour to stay physically well through the onslaught of bugs.  Keeping emotionally and psychologically safe is about ensuring we have enough down time to counter the intensive and often combative nature of our work with families.

In listing all those things that go to making up an alienation practitioner I am aware that I have shown you that us folk who do this work are just people.  Like children who come to understand that their parents are fallible, all targeted parents must know that the people they put their faith in are just people at the end of the day.  Just people, but nontheless people who care. And it is that word care, which sums up the reality of what it really takes to be a parental alienation practitioner. To do this work one has to care, about parents, about children, about people.  In my experience healing children who are alienated (whatever route one takes to doing that), is only really achieved when one cares deeply about their wellbeing. Which requires one to do more than offer routine appointments in remote offices on a regular day each week. Caring for children in these circumstances means doing everything necessary to bring about dynamic change. It means being there and it means caring about what happens to them.

And that for me is what matters most in this work. Beyond arguments about constructs and lists of who is expert and who is not. Beyond professional discussion groups and whether or not eight signs or three are the mark of alienation in a child.  Caring what happens to children who are alienated means utilising everything and anything to create liberation routes, it means being courageous enough to keep on keeping on even when the family court professionals are heckling and dismissive and even when governing bodies are labelling one’s practice as deficient (and other so called experts are trying to use that to ill effect).  Caring about what happens to children is what keeps us going at the Clinic.

And keeping going is what we will be doing today and every other day, regardless. Because families depend upon us to do so and because children’s lives are changed because of it.

Which at the end of the day, is the only thing that really matters at all.

18 comments

  1. Vincent McGovern · November 16, 2015

    Anyone who is considered or portrays themself as an expert in parental alienation but who has NOT worked directly and successfully with at least 20 or more alienated children is either a fraud or an academic. Quite often I cannot tell the difference. Hands on approach and on the job training is what matters. As for Teflon coated I would add asbestos lined also. Good to have you back in Blighty.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      Thanks Vincent, good to be back though the weeks ahead look both packed out and turbulent in so many ways. We keep on keeping on, that is the key to it.

      Like

  2. Luke Matthews · November 16, 2015

    Hi Karen. Congratulations on keeping up your profile and what sounds a very worthwhile visit to the US.
    Although I don’t agree with a lot of Dr Childress comments, I felt I should point out that in my case as an alienated parent, who is now totally estranged from his daughter, the rot definitely started with the mental health professionals who catastrophically misread the situation and then went on to mislead social services and CAFCASS. If you want to know more about how CAMHS ( child and adolescent mental health services) totally and unjustly biased the UK family court against me, please get in touch. From my experience, it is not uncommon for unskilled mental health professionals to be the first people to initiate problems that later down the line can have devastating consequences.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      thanks for pointing that out Luke, of course children can be seen by incompetent MHP’s before CAFCASS in some cases. CAHMS have no experience of alienation at all, they often will not take children in those circumstances either. Pitiful and in those circumstances, exactly the people who are targeted for reform by Dr Childresss.

      Like

  3. PapaMissingKids · November 16, 2015

    QUOTE: “Just people, but nontheless people who care. And it is that word care, which sums up the reality of what it really takes to be a parental alienation practitioner. To do this work one has to care, about parents, about children, about people. In my experience healing children who are alienated (whatever route one takes to doing that), is only really achieved when one cares deeply about their wellbeing.”

    Yes.

    During my legal battle, I managed to get 2 experts involved. One was Karen Woodall, and the other (who was the primary expert at the time) was a so-called-expert that did NOT care.

    …..It didn’t work out.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      and it was and is to my regret that I could not be the primary expert in your case PMK.

      Like

  4. Eddy Mercury · November 16, 2015

    Does this mean that each country has to work its own way? According to you, is “Parental Alienation” specific to a country, a language or a culture?

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      Navigating parental alienation according to me is about knowing the systems it operates in and how those systems further it and protecting families from the abuse that system can do to them. End of. I know you are a great fan of Dr Childress Eddy, I am not arguing with you about this, I have said my piece.

      Like

      • PapaMissingKids · November 16, 2015

        In the UK, we drive on the left hand side of the road.

        In the USA, they drive on the right hand side of the road and, apparently this is fact, they did that because they specifically wanted to be different to the UK (who were, or are, their forefathers!).

        In India, they drive on any side of the road (in the rural areas still, but maybe not in most urban areas, though they did not too long ago!) , and yet surprisingly there are far fewer accidents than one can ever imagine, given that cows, buffaloes and goats frequent the roads too….but all that is another anthology.

        What will happen if u drive on the left in the USA?

        You get my drift?

        Like

  5. Amanda Blue · November 16, 2015

    AGREED! The academics of the world are great for research– but they are not problem solvers. I’m sure that by reading books on heart surgery, I could learn a great deal. Want me to crack your chest open? I didn’t think so.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      Research is one thing, knowledge is another, being communicative is something else entirely, being respectful and listening to others is important but the only thing that really matters when it comes down to it is how you free the child and in my experience, a child is freed when the system is managed and the child can trust that they can walk free. To get to that point one has to be able to juggle a whole lot of balls and fend off a whole lot of attack.

      Like

  6. Oakland Magpie · November 16, 2015

    Glad to have you back Karen, what a solid and thoughtful response. I think I was the one who said it felt like I was between the warring parents! I was alienated, they both attempted for years but ultimately failed, my parents were and are both such profound narcissists incapable of love that I was unwilling to pick a side and lose the tiny crumbs I had. I married a narcissist at 22 and that marriage ended badly after 10 years when I finally realized I had married someone not only like my parents, but who I quickly learned also had a burning need to punish me for leaving. We battled for 13 years. I thought my daughter would be free, and so would I at 18 when I would only have the very rare occasion to talk to him. But, my daughter vanished at 18 and it has been nearly 4 years, she doesn’t speak to me, and I don’t know where she lives, just where she goes to school. It is hell on earth. I only realized that I was alienated and that what had happened to my daughter now was alienation when my own mother told me a year and a half ago that she had hated me for 35 years and she still did, *because I would not choose a side against my father.* My mind was blown, suddenly my entire life made sense, and what happened with my daughter made sense. My therapist blamed me when my daughter left. I had worked with her on my own issues for over 20 years and trusted her completely, even though my gut was telling me something different. The problem was she had zero experience working with alienated children. I started sharing your work, and Amy Baker’s and Craig Childress’, now she gets it but it’s too late. This very long winded post (I am sorry!) is to ultimately say YES, make absolutely sure you get someone who understands alienation, I wasted 3 years with the wrong person for the job. If either of us had understood it was alienation maybe this would not be the beginning of the fourth year of grief. Thank you for your work and thank you for all you do, because it IS all about the children, whether 3 or 22 or whatever.

    Like

  7. Anonymous · November 16, 2015

    It seems that you really are a member of an exclusive club. Whilst I do not have your credentials I sincerely hope that all my work trying to support parents to co-parent, to help those who consider themselves targeted to believe in themselves and find the knowledge and strength to re-engage with their children despite opposition from their former partner, has not been in vain.

    Whilst I may not be in court to oppose the ridiculous arguments which perpetuate the wars which ensure the business of parenting the children is neglected, I am in the background offering support and encouragement……..as wise a Dandlebear as I can be.

    I have the experience of my own court case, I have smelt the whiff of court leather on slippery seats, the arrangement of pews and the lofty altars from which all judgments come and so I know how intimidating it can be.

    I also know about failings and mistakes and how to carry on regardless as if every new day were an opportunity to start again with a clean slate.

    I know how important it is to remain child-focussed, to empathise with your children (for these things I have a great deal to thank you for) and to sense what it must be like for our former partners also.

    I come from a world that appreciates how we can understand and control our behaviours; influence outcomes we previously had no idea how to. I have recovered from isolation, depression and deep sadness and found a place in this world for me and my children to continue our parent child relationship despite forces that would seemingly destroy it.

    I understand “alienation” to be a transient and illusionary beast that breeds in conditions of mistrust, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and absence.

    Whilst I seek no qualification for my understanding nor my achievements I feel worthiness when the people I help tell me that they appreciate my part in their journey.

    Kind regards

    Ps If there is any training you could give me that would help me coach parents hoping to co-parent their children, that would be greatly appreciated.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

      and you are vey much appreciated here someone, do not think I do not notice your contributions, you are a magnificent support to parents offering wise counsel and kind words and understanding, I feel your presence and I am sure others do too and I hope you will be one of those who offers wise counsel on our new site too. Thank you for all that you do. And yes, we can share knowledge and skills for helping parents to co-parent, of course we can. Email me at the Clinic and we can work that out. K

      Like

  8. karenwoodall · November 16, 2015

    I am glad your therapist did finally understand OM, it is a horrendous place to be in to be blamed for what is happening to your children. You sound as if you have been in the middle of trans generational patterns such as those described by Dr Childress, those which we would consider to be pure alienation in which the strongest intervention has to be taken to assist. I hope your daughter comes to and finds you, I am sure she will though her journey will be hard. You being there is her saving grace, never forget that. You are her healthy parent, her hope for the future, her transformative figure. Sending you my support. K

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  9. Oakland Magpie · November 16, 2015

    Thank you so much Karen, yes we are part of the rare and miserable 100%. I wonder if I didn’t experience it to prepare me for this with my own child. Family and friends also blame us (I remarried happily many years ago and my daughter has a wonderful stepdad) but we are keeping our eyes on the prize, reuniting our family and getting our daughter healthy. Always looking for a reason for something so senseless. Grateful for your support and encouragement. ❤️

    Like

  10. daveyone1 · November 16, 2015

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

    Like

  11. Pingback: What it really takes to be a parental alienation practitioner | Parental Alienation- UNCOVERED

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