The first of its kind? London legal people gather to listen to the Parental Alienation debate at Withersworldwide.
Last night was a bit of a turning point in the politics of parental alienation, or so it seemed to me. From where I was sitting on the panel, alongside Dr Mark Berelowitz and Stephen Jarmain, Deborah Eaton QC in the chair and Sarah Brooks and Dr Florian Ruths at her other side, Lisa Lustigman from Withers steering proceedings, the room was full of legal people gathered to listen to those of us who work in this field, talk about the reality of parental alienation and its impact on children. The debate was lively and challenging at times though the overall learning I took away was that there is much to do in terms of education, provision of services and working out how best to make the legal framework interlock with the available help for families so affected. What struck me most of all afterwards, was the wave of interest and recognition amongst the people working in the legal arena around this issue. From the High Court Judge who sees this issue through the door regularly to the ISW who knows it when he sees it but is flummoxed about what to do about it, the issue is recognised and the debate about it is welcomed. Which leaves me thinking, where do we go from here?
Never one to let my thinking stand still I was hugely heartened to hear Dr Florian Ruths talk about the psychiatric profile of the alienating parent, mentioning the word narcissist several times and giving us a clinical picture of the risk to high functioning people who decompensate in times of crisis such as family separation. This of course is what we who work with such families are always aware of and the difficulties of holding and managing that decompensation and its impact on children are what we grapple with daily. So it was really exciting to hear Dr Ruths discuss his work on schema therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder, you can be sure that I will be making my way over to see him and discuss our joint interest in this field.
Having worked in this field for some years now I forget that not many people have actually done the work of effecting a transfer of residence framed by therapeutic intervention and I was able to outline for the audience the work that we do at the Family Separation Clinic and share our successes in this area. I was also able to bring to the meeting, the voices of alienated children, sharing my interviews with children in recovery and the way in which they look back at their alienated behaviour. I was pleased to be able to do this because it is all too often missing in the legal discussion, the focus on the welfare of the child often getting hooked into the alienated voice of the child, leading people to be afraid to override the expressions of rejection and hatred. Bolstered by Dr Ruth’s careful clinical explanations for the underlying pathology in such cases, I was able to explain how children change when their alienated voice is not allowed to drive decisions. Additionally I was hugely encouraged by his compassionate care for those alienating parents who simply cannot help what they are doing because of their psychiatric profile. This chimes with our work at the Clinic where we would view a transfer of residence as a huge failure if it were simply to leave a child in a psychological position of counter rejection. I felt that Dr Ruths has a grasp of this issue which provides the strong clinical reasoning we know is needed to enable those of us who do the work with children, to bring about rapid change.
From the legal side of things there are clear precedents set with increasing changes of residence, although it was recognised that the further out of London one lives the less likely such an outcome is seen. Additionally, the challenge of providing intervention without delay is clearly a powerful one.
At the end of the debate three votes were taken on the issue as follows –
1. Do the courts take the issue of emotional abuse seriously enough?
2. Should there be a protocol in alienation cases?
3. Is a working group needed to advise the Judiciary on parental alienation?
The overwhelming response in the room was that the issue of emotional abuse is not taken seriously enough and that there should be both a protocol and a working group to advise the judiciary. The positive response demonstrated just how much this issue is recognised and acknowledged in the legal field, now comes the work of interlocking th mental health solutions to the legal framework to bring about the change we know can come when the dynamics are right.
A write up of the debate will be available from Withers and 1KBW and I will endeavour to post that when it is ready. For now it is time to cautiously welcome a change in the wind which we who work with this issue have long waited for. Work will be ongoing in partnerships across the UK in order to bring to life the services and support we know are so needed for families affected by the problem. I will report on progress throughout the coming months from the heart of the change for alienated children that we desperately want to see in this country.