I am heading to Croatia on Friday to train Social Workers in Zagreb’s Child Protection Centre. As I do so I am leaving behind several pieces of work with families where children are alienated from a one loved parent. I am also leaving behind several children who remain captured in the psychological prison of their parent’s mind. For those children I feel immense sadness and concern. For the ones who got away, the ones whose need to split the world into good and bad is receding, I feel happiness and relief. It matters not a jot what other people think about me, my only concern is for the children I work with and the ways in which my work impacts upon them. In all cases of alienation there is likely to be at least one disgruntled parent who is not getting their own way, whether that be the alienating parent who is resentful and angry that their power has been taken away or a parent who was convinced they were alienated when in truth they were not. Someone being unhappy with what I do somewhere in the world at any given time comes with the territory, something I have learned to live with. From the unqualified ‘expert’ who believes in his own self importance to those who have so little self awareness that they cannot see their own hidden agenda, doing this work brings out oddities in people.
The field of parental alienation is a strange one to work in and navigating it requires one to recognise that aside from the murderers, the people we work with are likely to be the most damaged in our society. Doing this work requires a great deal of focus as well as courage and tenacity. I have learned much in the time I have been doing this work, a great deal of that has been about trust, who to place it it and who to avoid. What I have learned most in this field, is that the truly ethical alienation practitioner is focused on one thing and on thing alone, the welfare of children and how to assist them to escape and how to help them in recovery. There are many therapists who preach about their ethics but few who truly practice what they preach. I don’t preach about ethics, not because I am not interested in ethics, but because my ethical practice is focused on helping children first, last and always. If that means one parent or both do not get exactly what they want or if it means that I have to tell someone who thinks that they are alienated, that they are not, or if that means that I have to make some really difficult decisions about how to help children, that is what I will do. Children first, healthy parents next, everyone else can get in line.
I don’t expect everyone to like this approach and I don’t expect it to win me friends or influence people. What I do expect is that anyone who works with me, understands that I will be as tough as I need to be to get children to the place of psychological freedom which returns them to the unconscious place of childhood which is theirs by right. Working in the family courts is not an easy thing to do, for anyone in any role. But it is made easier for me by following my own ethical practice of putting children’s needs first, last and always.
And let’s face it, if we are going to work in this field then children’s needs first, last and always has to be that which guides everything that we do. And for me children’s needs to live the unconscious life of childhood is primary, it comes above all else. Children’s childhoods are not to be divvied up, they are to be spent doing the unconscious work of growing up and finding a way to help children do that is what I am the most ethically committed to. This may challenge those concerned with parental rights but I have never apologised for the fact that my only focus in doing this work is the needs of children to live their lives unfettered by adult concerns. The alienated child is one whose right to that peaceful unconscious childhood has been corrupted. Helping to clean that up is what I do best.
In reflecting on this subject I am drawn again to Alice Miller, whose break with Freudian thinking took her into the realm of pioneer/rogue therapist. Her challenges to Freudian thinking were immense and controversial and she was, at times pilloried for her break with tradition. What she left behind however, was a body of work which truly set the needs, rights and lives of children at the heart of a new way of thinking and working. Her work was visionary and she was truly an advocate for children, something which is so sadly lacking in this world of ‘child focused’ practice I find myself in.
I don’t pretend to be anything like the pioneer that Alice Miller was but I am determined that before I have finished my turn at the wheel that truly child focused practice will underpin everything that is done with alienated children in the UK. I am determined to push for the reform of practices of involving children in adult decisions by asking their wishes and feelings at every end and turn and that red flags of alienation in children will be as widely understood as possible. I am equally determined that where alienation in children is present, assessment by a committed alienation aware expert will be common practice. The irony of going to train Social Workers in Croatia in this issue, when it is such a systemic problem in the UK, is not in the slightest bit lost on me. I remain committed as I have always been, to the raising of awareness of the needs of alienated children for the properly delivered, alienation aware support that is so badly lacking in the UK.
Being alienated is a truly dreadful experience for a child and one which heralds many problems in later life. Trust of the self and of other people is broken and the diffusion of the personal boundaries and sense of self requires deep levels of attuned therapeutic work to repair. This hidden, awful, scandalous epidemic of harm to our children will one day be recognised for the child abuse it is. Ethical alienation practice demands that we who work in this field raise this reality alongside the work that we do with families. I remain committed to that task.
As I ready myself to work with Croatian colleagues I will be thinking about the children and parents I am leaving behind. Some of these parents are the most courageous people I have ever known in my working life and I admire them greatly. So many children are born into the world unwanted, to have your children reduced to hatred and rejection through no fault of your own is an appalling fate for any parent. For those alienated children whose rejected parent loves them even through the alienation, despite it and eventually even because of it (in their understanding that their children are victims), hope lies in the hands of those parents.
Those parents share with me that one pointed focus which is that children’s needs come first, last and always. Call it love, call it ethics, call it whatever you want to, in the end it is the only thing that really matters – protecting the next generation and ensuring their right to live those childhood years in unconscious enjoyment.
The ethical alienation practitioner, in real terms, it is only ever about the children.
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