Introducing The Understanding Parental Alienation Workshop Series 2017/18

Our first workshop in the series Understanding Parental Alienation, Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal, will be in Central London on December 2nd 2017.  This will begin a series of workshops in the UK and Europe in which we aim to walk parents through the process of managing their own case of parental alienation, including understanding how to manage the case in the court process and how to ensure the selection of the very best mental health practitioner possible.

Based upon our new book, these workshops are highly intensive and experiential and will equip parents with all of the information needed to cope and help to heal the problem of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after separation.

Booking for these workshops opens next week and you can make payment online via pay pal or bank transfer.

To register interest please email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk.  Places are limited to 45 per workshop in order to ensure that we give the very best input each time.

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Pass it On

‘A guru gives you himself and then his system.  A teacher gives us his subject and then ourselves.’  (Adam Gopnik in Through the Children’s Gate). 

I am back now from our retreat in France where we worked with seven practitioners to help them to develop their leadership and message making skills about parental alienation.  This work, which is part of our development of networks of skilled practitioners, is designed to increase the numbers of people who know about parental alienation and can conceptualise and speak about it confidently.  Our aim in doing this is to raise to the collective consciousness, the issues facing children who are captured in the mind of a parent after separation.  Our method in doing it is to share as much information and knowledge about the problem of parental alienation and how to resolve it as widely and as quickly as we possibly can.

In doing so we know that we must pass this knowledge on and bring others to the place where they are both able to understand and share the knowledge with others.  Parental alienation is a problem with a human face, something I never tire of saying and it is one which requires the deepest understanding of children’s needs in the post separation landscape as possible.  This problem will never be resolved with a one size fits all formula and those who peddle the myth that there are magic solutions to the problem are fooling no-one but the most vulnerable.  What is required, to bring this problem to the consciousness of the outside world, are people with courage who are able to withstand the hostile and conflicted space within which this work takes place and an indefatigable nature in which the ego which is necessary to do this work, is healthy and contained.  Those with messiah complex need not apply for this job.  Those who can share the knowledge, behave well in teams and drive forward a collective agenda are welcomed with open arms.  Here is why.

Surviving parental alienation is about the toughest task facing any parent, it is in fact tougher in physical emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual terms, than facing the death of a child.  At least when a child dies there is a grieving route which is predictable, a route in which the death is mourned and the living memory of the child can be returned to the heart of the parents who grieve.  In parental alienation, the physical separation is the same as in death but the grieving cannot be completed and is complicated by the lack of support from others and the confusion and blame which is sowed by the alienating parents. One of the saddest things I have ever borne witness to, was a father who told me that he envied those whose children had died for at least they got the support from the community that was utterly lacking for him in his suffering of endless loss.  For this healthy parent, the reality of his children being trapped in their mother’s mindset is, like so many others, an unbearable suffering which must be borne in order to provide his children with the possibility of a better future. Witnessing the entrapment of children in the mind of a parent is something which corrodes to the bone and hollows out the heart and mind of a parent. It causes immense confusion, endless self doubt and renders parents vulnerable to being preyed upon by those who peddle quick fixes and costly interventions. Conversely, the condition lends itself to the pretensions of those who see all parents in such circumstances as being in need of expert help, those who are able to confidently propose that family therapy is the way forward when in fact all that does is prolong the agony further.

Vulnerable parents need help, they need direct services that work and they need ancillary services involved in their cases to be alienation aware.  Alienated children need services which liberate them rapidly from the trap they are in so that they can return to the unconscious world of childhood.  As the work continues to raise the issue  of parental alienation to the collective consciousness of communities all around the world, the leaders, the message makers, the service providers are urgently needed because in the wake of the realisation of this horrible problem, will come the naysayers and the diluters who want to shape and change the necessary response to ensure that they do not move outside of their own comfort zone.

Too many people who say they do this work are unable to demonstrate success, which leaves vulnerable parents in the hands of practitioners who cannot prove that they do what they say they can do.  With our work to establish the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners we are reducing this risk to parents, by ensuring that all parents in Europe who suffer rejection, can draw upon an accredited practitioner who can demonstrate their success.  We know that too many practitioners rely upon the insulation of their governing body to protect them from scrutiny in this field.  We also know that expertise in generic therapy or psychology, does not automatically translate into expertise in working with alienated children and their families.  The European Association will ensure that people who work in this field are certified by their experience of success in delivering positive outcomes for children and their families.  By August next year when Amy J.L. Baker will be in London for our conference at the Royal School of Medicine, membership will be open and training programmes will begin.  It is our intention to take the knowledge of what works in supporting families affected by parental alienation and pass it on, which is the thread which runs through all of our work.

Parental alienation is an issue which can be resolved with the right interventions delivered in the right way.  Matching treatment to assessment as closely as possible ensures that children’s needs are set at the heart of everything that we do.  Using assessment protocols which are set out in the international literature, including those which denote pure and severe alienation, we are able to educate the court and ask for the interlocking orders which potentise the delivery of the mental health intervention.  This skill, which is key to resolving a child’s resistance to a relationship with a parent after separation is one which must be passed on carefully. Knowing the limits of one’s own competency and working within that is a critical aspect of educating others.

Passing on knowledge and sharing skills is something I have been involved with for the whole of my working life, it comes naturally to me, it nourishes and nurtures me. which is why training, education and development of associations is a real pleasure in my working life.   For I know that this knowledge is not mine and I know that the contribution I make in translating concepts for others to read is part of the process of passing it on.  In doing so I do not ask that others lead or follow me but that in taking the knowledge that I can share, they find within themselves, the answer which has been with them  all along.

Changing this very difficult landscape and helping others to heal is not about knowledge hoarding, it is not about status and it is not about believing that the problem can be resolved by Christmas.  It is about sharing, supporting and helping others to find the key which unlocks the problem for their child in the unique relational space which is their own family history.

The secret to solving the problem of parental alienation is learning to use the tools that help, within the systems which influence families, with the power of the self made conscious.

And that is all it is.

Pass it on.

 

Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal is published by Charles Thomas (Illinois) and is now available from Amazon USA.

Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal workshops for parents begin in London in December 2017 and will be held throughout the year December 2017/2018 in Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Belfast in the United Kingdom and in Europe in conjunction with member bodies of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners. Dates and costs will be published next week.

These workshops will assist you to –

Understand the behaviours in a child and how to describe them in ways which ensure that the core problem of unjustified rejection is clearly articulated to professionals working with you.

Understand the difference between a child’s transitional difficulties (in which a child is still able to see a parent but shows behaviours which demonstrate that there are underlying difficulties) and an alienation reaction and how to help the child in transition to prevent alienation from occurring.

Understand the ways in which professionals working with children’s resisting behaviours are likely to require education to understand how to work with the child and how to offer this educational input in ways that allow collaboration rather than judgement of a parent who is being rejected.

Build a strategy for short, mid and longer term management of a case of parental alienation.

Understand what to expect in the court process and how to manage that.

Coaching for parents in the USA and Australia is now available and can be booked through appts@familyseparationclinic.co.uk.  Delivery to suit your timezone.

The Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal workshop will run for parents in Boston USA on Friday 27th October – cost $75 per person with lunch provided.  45 places are available. Please email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk to book a place.

 

 

Imagine.

I am writing this from the silent kitchen in Provence which has been the heart of our home for the past four days.  As I write, the long fingers of sunlight poke through the windows and the shadows from the leaves on the trees dance across the table. To my left, a vase of flowers which we picked on Thursday to dress our dinner table. Across the room come faint smells of lavender from the candles we burned to keep our minds focused.

I am thinking about the seven people from Europe, England, Northern Ireland and the USA, who came here this weekend to discuss the messages we need to create and take back out to the world about parental alienation.  I am thinking about the power of collaborative practice which has been abundant this weekend. I am less lonely in this work today, I am more hopeful that it is possible that more will come and stay and do this work and others will provide the air cover we need to get the messages out to the people who can change children’s lives for the better.  I am certain, as I write this today, that the way forward for our work is to build new associations which will protect practitioners and safeguard parents from poor services and dismal deliveries of interventions.  I know it with every cell of my being, like being in the full flow of a river, the current is shifting and change is here.

21751553_10155567310941236_2962290461368758126_nFrom the back left to right:  Mairead from Northern Ireland, Kelley from the USA, Jan, from Holland, Margreeth from Holland, Petra from Belgium, Liz from the UK, Nick and I and Olivier from Belgium.

In many ways I am at the end of a long phase of work in this field. With the publication of our book and the development of our training in Europe and the USA, we are moving into a new way of thinking and working with the issue of parental alienation.  Whilst the Family Separation Clinic continues to deliver services in the UK via our team of experienced psychotherapists and independent social workers, my work with Nick is moving into training others and developing the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, through which we will standardise and accredit the right kind of practice with families across the UK and Europe.  My focus now turns also to research and the contribution I will make to the knowledge which is needed to further this field of work.  As I deepen my understanding of the needs of children in recovery from psychological splitting, I am able to hear the voices of children and evaluate the way in which the interventions we make, help them to recover their healthy relationship with the parent they have been forced to reject.

I am also able to map the damage that psychological splitting does to children and the longer term harm which is caused when the wrong approach to resolution is used. As I look ahead to the next five years, I find myself imagining the future, when the problem of a child’s complete rejection of a parent is more widely understood.

I also find myself imagining what it would be like if all of the practitioners and researchers in this field were able to work together.  Imagine all the people, working together as one, a topic we discussed this weekend around the dinner table.  Nine colleagues spending focused time together, all of us discussing the possibilities for change when a problem shared becomes a problem halved.

When I began this work in the UK I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, now I am one amongst a powerful group of people who are change makers in their own lands.  As we began our work this weekend I received an email from our friend and colleague in the EAPAP and the PASGDr. Simona Maria Vlădica from Romania, who wrote with wonderful news –

So, this week as a Professor  I introduced into curriculum of the first year of study for the future judges and prosecutors from National Institute of Magistracy – Romania, a course/conference named: “Parental Alienation – a form of severe psychological abuse on the child; implications in the decision-making of the courts on the exercise parental authority”. I’ve already held the first module of the course (about 80 people attended the course) and the second one will be held on the 11th of October 2017. The new curriculum was approved by the highest forum for justice system in Romania, Superior Council of Magistracy.
It was a real success because the future judges were very focused and curious to learn valuable psychological information regarding to this field. I’ve already presented them some information from the judicial practice of the courts.
I’ve attached some pictures.
I am very thankful that I have this opportunity to speak about parental alienation in front of the future judges and prosecutors.
The National Institute of Magistracy is a training school for future judges and prosecutors. In  Romania if you want to practice like a judge or prosecutor you must to attend 2 years to this Institute otherwise is not possible to work in this field.

 

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Dr. Simona Maria Vlădica, who is delivering the course “Parental Alienation – a form of severe psychological abuse on the child; implications in the decision-making of the courts on the exercise parental authority” as part of the curriculum of the first year of study for the future judges and prosecutors from National Institute of Magistracy.

After our visit to the Child and Youth Protection Centre in Zagreb two weeks ago, where we were working with Professor Gordona Flander and her team in developing services for children manipulated after divorce, this news from Romania made me realise with growing certainty, that those of us doing this work will no longer be alone in Europe or indeed around the world.  Together we are stronger and when we are stronger we are able to make change happen for children and their families on a wider and more sustainable basis.

Imagine if all of the people who work in this field worked this way?  Imagine if sharing and caring became the only way forward so that all of the ways and all of the theories and all of the practices which really work for these families, were woven together to make a whole tapestry for change.  No more demands from the my way or the highway brigade, no more attacking other people and trying to hold them to ransom. No more smoke and mirrors which make it appears that there is conflict when in fact there is no conflict at all. No more fog.  Just those of us who care, sitting around a table in a little village in the south of France taking time to make change happen.

The past few weeks in the world of parental alienation practice have been both unpleasant at times and yet they have also featured some of the most deeply satisfying days of my working life. In the midst of the nasty attacks on me and others in the PASG, we have been focusing on collaboration and care and building the bridges which will take us into new territories of change making.  A group of committed, passionate and deeply caring human beings who have taken the time because they know it matters, they know more hands are needed to make other people listen and they know that collaborative practice is the only way to achieve this.

Imagine all the people, working together as one?

It happened in Prague in June, it happened in Provence this weekend, it is happening in Washington DC in October and in Boston later the same month and in Sweden and Australia and in London next year as well as the USA and in France again.

Because this ball is rolling and it won’t stop now.

Pass it on.

 

 

 

A Problem Shared….

We are in Provence this weekend working with practitioners from Europe and the USA to grow strong leadership in the field of parental alienation.  As we prepare, bringing fresh foods in from the nearby markets and preparing the learning, I am reflecting on the field we work in and the importance of this collaborative practice.

Working with families affected by parental alienation requires a particular kind of dynamic understanding of the all of the different people in an alienation situation.  This is not the kind of therapeutic work or leadership which is only about championing one parent or the other or even in fact the child.  Anyone who works in this field has to be able to understand and be able to respond to each of the different players in the family dance. All the while not falling into the trap of traditional family therapy by always treating the family as if all members contribute to the problem of alienation.

What we are working with in most cases of parental alienation is trans-generational narratives which emerge during the crisis of family separation.  Often alienating behaviour will be present before the family separates and will be contributed to by grandparents who in turn were influenced themselves by their own parents.  In understanding trans-generational trauma I am drawn to the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky  the creator of psycho-geneology, which provides a way of understanding the family narratives and the way in which the present generation are haunted by those who have gone before.  In his home country of France, we are preparing to share ways of understanding trans-generational trauma and how to understand the narrative which is presented in a case of parental alienation.

In doing so we are using the constructs which we have been told we do not use, but in fact do use and have been using for decades in the UK.  During our retreat, we will be looking at differentiating cases of parental alienation to understand those which involve personality disorder, encapsulated delusional disorder and repetition of unresolved childhood trauma.  All constructs which we learned from our work with British Psychiatrists who have been using this approach for five decades.We will be working with those constructs, just as we always have done, in triaging those pure cases of alienation which require us to separate the child from the parent in order to treat, and those which can be treated using a combination of strong court management and multi modal therapeutic programmes which are based upon the work of Friedlander and Walters.

Does that make us Garnerian experts who do not want a solution to PA, or does it make us practitioners who are already doing what we are told we should be doing?  We know the answer to that and our successful work and growing networks are testimony to it. We don’t need to be involved in manufactured arguments about who is doing this right and who is doing this wrong. Our energy is better spent in creating and growing networks of people who do all those things and more in assisting families affected by parental alienation.

I have been called many things in my time in this field; a strong character, provocative, a nuisance, deluded, an unusual practitioner who pushes the boundaries and a model of working with families from the future, all labels I am proud to bear and wear because they describe the different aspects of who I am.  I am not impervious to criticism however, far from it, especially when it is unjustified and when it is designed to harm the work that I do with children and their families.  In recent years I have had a newly qualified British Psychologist write to me to tell me that she disapproved of my working methods and a group of people attempt to harm my work further by the republication of the BACP sanction against me. In recent weeks I have seen myself written about in emails and blogs flowing from the USA and have wondered about the underlying meaning of such things.  All of the people who have felt bold enough to act in this way have not even offered the professional courtesy of holding a conversation with me first. If they had, perhaps their unconscious drivers to compete might have receded and we may have found a way of collaborating and in doing so may well have shifted this field of work faster and further than we have been able to without that.

I am always curious about people who create conflict but who cannot deal with it head on.  What drives that behaviour in them and what fears are triggering that behaviour?  Many fears are borne of fatigue and loneliness and this field is a very lonely place at times to work in.  Just like rejected parents, those of us who do this work can be outcasts from the general field of psychotherapy and psychology and can find ourselves mocked at times and our opinions shifted to the margins.  That does not mean that we are silenced however, far from it. We know that in facing these barriers to our practice with families we are having to clear paths for the next generations of people who will come to help.  Which is why this weekend’s leadership retreat is so powerful and so important in the the development of networks of support and collaborative practice between practitioners in Europe and the USA.

By the time we have finished 2017 there will be seventy newly trained practitioners in the UK, Europe and the USA who are ready to develop their own practice and thinking and message making in this field of work.  This collaborative network of people are starting the process of describing and codifying what parental alienation practitioners do and will be researching, writing and creating the new membership body EAPAP to protect and support new and emerging practice in this field.  As part of that work we will be using constructs which diagnose and treat pure alienation (where a parent has a personality disorder) and methodology for delivering multi modal treatments for hybrid cases,  We will codify the way in which all such cases must be managed via the legal and mental health interlock and will begin to write and develop the training and supervision for all practitioners in this field.  By August of 2018 there will be a new membership body which clarifies the requirements for best practice in this field, ensuring that all parents can get access to a practitioner who meets recognised standards.  We will be codifying reporting standards and treatment methodology so that practitioners working in this field are protected from others who seek to do harm.

All by working together.  All by sharing our skills and knowledge. All by being able to accept difference and extend the courtesy of listening to each other and learning.

When we do that the problems we face as practitioners are halved and our courage grows and is sustained. When our courage grows and is sustained, the families we help get what they need. When the families get what they need, their confidence grows, when their confidence grows the healing begins.

Sharing is caring.  We tell it to our children, as practitioners we should tell it to each other on a daily basis.  For the next five days, here in Provence with our group of people who will lead the way over the next decades, it is writ large in every part of the work we are doing.

Less war, more Jaw.  The next generations of children depend upon it.

 

I Believe This Wave Will Bear My Weight, So Let it Flow

I made breakfast this morning accompanied by a song, posted here by someone with whom I have crossed swords with more than once in my journey to fully understand parental alienation.

Struggling through the undertow of difference however, we reach again a place where our common understanding of the world is the foundation stone of all that is between us.  Being able to cope with difference and conflict healthily, is one of the greatest gifts we can possess.  For alienated children, the existence of the healthy parent on the planet who can bear the weight of difference, is one of the greatest gifts available to them.  It is the gift of hope and of healing and of a recovered future. It is the protection against their own loss of their as yet unborn children and it is the rewriting of the historical narrative in the esoteric story of the individual family.

So many parents and the wider family members who suffer this horrible problem, swim in rivers tangled with the weeds of loss of hope and lack of resolution.  Staying safe and well and healthy in the face of this can feel nigh on impossible and yet it can be done and is done all around the world.  Whilst the brick wall in your child’s mind remains in place and the fear based anxiety which has been created by the psychological splitting remains, there is little that you can do directly, without tangling the weeds further and falling into the trap laid by the work that has been so carefully done by the alienating parent.

Behind the brick wall the child struggles with the repression of the love they still hold for you and the guilt and shame they feel for having rejected you.  On the other side of the wall you wait, hoping, wishing, praying for the day when the child can walk free.

You already know why bearing this is essential for your children, the how to bear it can feel impossible.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Viktor Frankl

Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.  He spent all of his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.” His  book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it. He went on to later establish a new school of existential therapy called logotherapy, based in the premise that man’s underlying motivator in life is a “will to meaning,” even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Finding meaning is not the same as accepting blame or being made to feel that one is responsible for the circumstances in which your children are being held against their will.  Finding meaning is about you and your life journey and the way in which your suffering can be transformed into the power to survive and thrive in the face of torment.  Finding meaning is about withdrawing the locus of control from the external world and internalising it, (taking control over your own feelings and experience and knowing the difference between the things you can change and those things you cannot change in the outside world).  For some it is about self knowledge and the relationship one has to those things which happen to you, for others it is faith in something greater than themselves. For all who transform pain and suffering into meaning, the reality is that the torment of railing against the person who is abusing you, (for rejected parents this is the alienating parent), stops and in its place is acceptance and peace of mind.  The path to this place is not easy and it is not for the faint hearted but it is real and it has been travelled many times by many people all over the world who have transformed great suffering into meaning and purpose.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades and he walked free to transform the whole of South Africa.  Viktor Frankl was a survivor of the holocaust who went on to found a whole new school of psychotherapy, transforming lives around the world.  Transformation of the self, leads to transformation in the outside world and the path to such transformation is the peace which comes when the belief in oneself, as the healthy parent to your currently trapped children, is nurtured and fed and cared for.

When fishermen cannot fish because of storms at sea, they mend their nets.  Mending nets is what we help rejected parents to do so that when their children are ready, their ability to catch their children well as they escape the prison of repression of positive feelings is strong.  This is a different approach to feeding the anger, the rage and frustration that comes with being a rejected parent, all of which brings not peace of mind and relief of suffering but heightened anxiety, shame and continuation of the split thinking which is the child’s current experience.  We know that rejected parents are at risk of the same psychological splitting as their children, we know that the actions of the alienating parent in dividing the child’s mind, also divides the mind of the rejected parent and that when this occurs, the alienating parent gains more power. The psychologically split state of mind is an infantile defence mechanism. When the rejected parent also begins to suffer it, seeing the outside world as for or against them, good or bad, right or wrong, the work of the alienating parent is almost done.  Psychological splitting is very very infectious. It is not uncommon to find that the child, the rejected parent, the wider family and anyone in contact with either side of the family (including professionals), are suffering from split thinking.

When the alienating parent achieves full splitting in everyone around the family, the repetition of their trauma wound is in control of the system and the power of the rejected parent is nullified. This is the goal of the alienating parent, to nullify the opposition to their efforts to recreate the traumatic patterns of their childhood years.  This re-creation of the past is a driver in the unwell parent which overrides everything else.  As the character Professor Louis Levy says, in the Woody Allan film Crimes and Misdemeanors –

When we fall in love, we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom you were attached as children. On the other hand, we ask our beloved to correct all the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted on us. So, love contains in it the contradiction, the attempts to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.

whilst the schism in the psychology of the mother or father of our children is hidden from us when we meet and fall in love, the crisis of separation brings the fault line to the surface as the compulsion to repeat the past rises in the decompensation of the self.  Rejected parents find themselves watching helplessly as this compulsion repetition begins and they are edged to the margins of their children’s lives.  What most rejected parents do not know is that the end game of this action is not simply to split the minds of the children but to split their mind as well.  This is the only way that the unwell parent can be sure that they have absolute control over the circumstances, which is their way of defending against the decompensation.  Rejected parents must guard their minds against the psychologically split state of mind, taking great care around anyone who seeks to fuel anger and projection towards the unwell parent.  Yes it is an outrage, yes it is a tragedy, yes something must be done about it, but no, the other parent is not a demon or evil and does not require punishment conversant with such crimes.   To go down that route is to become as if you are the alienating parent, it is to become psychologically split in your own mind.  When that has been achieved by the alienating parent, the children are lost, their unborn children are lost and hope flies out of the window.

Don’t go there.  If you begin to see people around you as either for or against you, if you begin to lose the ability to think critically and find yourself loving or hating, liking or loathing, take the greatest of care.  Psychological splitting as a defence against an impossible pain is a common problem, your children are suffering from it, they need you to be able to guard against it at all costs.

Between the stimulus and the response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response.  In our response is the key to freedom and growth.

Between the loss of your children and your response to it, there is a space.  In that space is the power that you hold to do everything you can to help your child and when you have done all you can, to do all you can to help yourself.  The meaning of this is that you are, for now, the parent of an alienated child, a child whose mind has been distorted through the actions and behaviours of an unwell parent.  That child needs you.  That child relies upon you to be there, healthy and well when they return.  That child gambled, when they made the ‘choice’ to reject you, that you would cope.  In your response, is not only the key to your freedom and growth, it is the key to their longer term survival.

When you have done all you can to ensure your child’s safety, when you know that you can do no more, put the burden down and go within.  Find meaning inside of yourself and the meaning in the outside world will make manifest.

So many of the parents who have survived this journey have done so precisely because this is what they were able to do.  Finding ways through the loneliness and the hopelessness by finding things which make their own soul sing, these parents have grown through their suffering to become giants within.

Each one of these people would tell you, that you are not alone on this journey, you do not need to suffer in silence and this too will pass.

Believe this.  because when you do, the health and wellbeing your children desperately need, will grow within and will become the thread which will draw them back to you.  It is the wellspring from which they will drink in their recovery and the nourishment they will draw upon as they heal.

Believe that this current wave will bear your weight and you can be sure that life WILL flow.

 

 

The Power of Peace

Back to London for a week before we hold our leadership retreat with a group of practitioners and message makers who will play a key role in the development of best practice in their own countries.  These people, along with those we are working with in our US training group, are those who are poised to build strong and effective interventions for families affected by parental alienation.  As well as developing messages to the outside world about parental alienation, which will influence and shape how ancillary services respond to children and families, we will be looking at how to stay healthy and well in the midst of this conflict ridden field.  In all aspects of what we do we will be finding peace in an unstable world, as practitioners and as people.  In all of our work together we will be celebrating the power of collaborative practice, of listening and learning and sharing.

There is no room for competitive practice in this field, no need for claiming ownership of concepts which have been used for decades to diagnose and evidence problems like encapsulated delusional disorder and trans-generational trauma.  There is no room for ego based work in which the personal belief that one is better than others is the driving force. Working with Professor Buljan Flanders and her team in Zagreb this week, we have been immersed in the kind of creative flow which produces amazing progress.  Thinking together, eating together, discussing and debating the concepts with space for disagreement as well as mutual understanding, is what furthers this field.  It has been a joy to share this time at the poliklinika-djeca who are a key stakeholder in the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners and who will be presenting at the Conference in London in 2018 alongside Amy J.L. Baker and other key people.

Maurice the therapy dog at the Poliklinika-djeca in Zagreb (and me!)

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This year our aim has been to take our work further afield and to train others to use the model of assessment and intervention which we have used successfully in our work in the UK.  In doing so we are not just training others to do this work, we are activating, encouraging and supporting curiosity, strength, resilience and capacity for shaping and changing the future for alienated children and their families.  We know that because of the continued controversies about parental alienation around the world, to do this work we must also be prepared to be educators, persuaders and lamp lighters.  We must be capable of withstanding personal and professional attack, disapproval and dismissal of our work and failure as well as success.  We do not do this work in a vacuum.  We do it in a world in which the concept of parental alienation is slowly coming to consciousness but at the same time is also being resisted strongly by single interest groups.  Parental alienation is child abuse, the more I do this work with children the more I know that they are hideously abused when they are forced into the infantile defence of psychological splitting.  I see it.  I know it.  I also know that the way to help these children is to work together with others who also see and know and to draw upon the best of what we all have to change the world for the better.

As I get back to my desk for a few days to prepare for our French retreat, I am also looking forward now to our visit to the Parental Alienation Study Group Conference in October and the convening of our training group in Boston later in the month.  More opportunities to share and grow and learn and to plant seeds together which we will nurture carefully.  Our aim is to bring to life networks of new practitioners who will benefit from our support and guidance and who will take forward the work with families and add to it.  This work takes many hands and there are so many roads to resolution for the whole spectrum of families who suffer this horrible problem.  Working together in creative flow brings peace of mind and the power which comes from peace within brings stability and strength.

On returning to my desk this morning, I opened my emails  to find a lovely letter from a dad we worked with some five years ago.  Attached to the letter was a picture of him with his two grown up children, all smiling into the camera, relaxed and happy.  He told me that his work had continued beyond the time we had been involved in his case and that eventually both of his children had moved to live with him.  He told me that the children’s mother had used the same behaviours on the children that had driven him to leave the marriage. As each child had reached the age where they were able to recognise that their mother was angry and fixated, they had reached out and found the stable hand of their father to guide them.  His words stay with me this morning.

When they said they wanted to live with me I was overjoyed at first and felt as if all of the pain and the loss and the suffering was coming to an end.  My eldest child moved first and then the youngest and I felt like my life was complete again.  But then, after a few weeks, I felt this gnawing feeling, like something was still wrong.  I remembered what you told me about counter rejection and the continuation of the psychological splitting and I realised that my children were not healed, they had simply flipped over the rejecting behaviour towards their mother.  I realised I couldn’t allow them to continue to live like this and so I sat them down and talked to them about the importance of facing their feelings instead of burying them so deep that they could easily reject their mother now instead of me.  Each of them said that they didn’t know how to love us both and that when difficult times came along their first response was to run away or cut their mother out of their lives.  Each also said that even though their mother had done bad things, they still loved her.  It took a few more weeks to get to a place where I could meet their mother and discuss things with her. She was angry and said that I had deliberately seduced them into coming to live with me but I held firm and did not allow her to continue the splitting.  I remembered what you said about me being the healthy parent and how I was the one who could guide our children home.  I did that.  It wasn’t easy and I was scared all the time that they would flip right back over to rejecting me again but they didn’t.

This man learned well those things we had taught him five years ago and when the time came he not only recognised the signs of continued splitting, he went into action and worked with his children to repair the problem.   The power of peace which comes from right action at the right time shone through this man’s words.  In his hands his children did not suffer continued psychological splitting and will, as a result, go well in their adult lives.

Collaborative practice works between practitioners and parents and it is this which we mirror when we work collaboratively as practitioners and experts.  This world is conflict ridden enough.  The power of peace which comes from working together is the balm to the wound of parental alienation.

I encourage all who are living and working in this world, to apply it liberally.

Broken Hearts and Broken Minds: The Recovery Journey of the Psychologically Split (Alienated) Child.

We are back in Zagreb after a tour of Europe for holiday and rest time as well as work.  Returning to the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb to work with Professor Bhuljan Flander and her team, we find ourselves back in the same location, but in a different time and space.

This time we are working with the recovery journey of the alienated child and sharing with the team here the stages that a child in recovery goes through.  In doing so we are focused upon the underlying harm which is caused to a child who becomes alienated, which is caused by the psychologically split state of mind.

The psychologically split state of mind is a regression to an infantile defence mechanism, it is the child’s use of a coping mechanism to escape from the intolerable pressure being placed upon them by one or sometimes the behaviours of both parents.  Children who become psychologically split, do so over time or in a second depending upon the dynamics which are configured around them. Some children seem absolutely fine with a parent, only to leave and never return.  Others struggle with transitions back and forth until they too cross what we call the ‘tipping point’ which denotes that psychological shift which the child utilises to resolve the impossible dilemma they face.  The question for the child is, ‘if I cannot love both, then which one must I love most.’  And the resolution of that leads to the psychologically split state of mind in which one parent becomes the idealised and adored one and the other becomes the demonised and rejected one.

The recovery journey of the alienated child is one which I am very familiar with as I am largely involved with the reunification of children with their rejected parent.  As a psychotherapist, this is what I spend my time doing.  In addition, I also work with post reunification therapeutic programmes with children, which gives me the opportunity to observe, record and analyse the longer term needs of children who suffer this problem.

Psychological splitting was recognised by Melanie Klein and the British Object Relations Theorists and is a defence mechanism which the child employs to prevent the bad feelings from contaminating the good feelings.  In a situation where a child is being pressured to feel bad feelings about their other parent for example, the splitting allows the child to defend themselves against the horror of being made to hate and do hateful things to a parent they really love.  Thus the child splits off the good from the bad feelings and projects the bad ‘out there’ onto one parent (usually the parent with least power or least time with the child) and the good feelings inside remain for the parent the child is either spending most time with (usually the parent with more power over the child).

A child in recovery from psychological splitting requires several things to happen to be able to resolve the divided state of mind –

a) the external circumstances which control their lives must be controlled by someone other than the parent they are aligned with.

b) whoever does the work of reuniting the child with the parent they are rejecting (splitting off and projecting bad things onto), must be able to hold the split state of mind AND the dynamic around the child, for long enough for the split to resolve itself.

When this occurs (as in reunification work), the child switches out of the split state of mind and resolves their divided feelings and is once again able to feel and show the integrated feelings they have for both of their parents.

In the UK, getting to this point requires the mental health and legal interlock, it is not resolved by therapy alone (much as some would have you believe it can be). Additionally,  because the split state of mind causes children to be highly attuned to the adults around them, any practitioner who does not have a robust understanding of how alienation in a child manifests itself, is at risk of preventing the resolution of the split through the child’s utilisation of the unconscious resistances.  As such, in any reunification programme the team is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain around the child.  And that is shown many times in efforts to reunite children which fail, because of the interruptions by people who simply do not understand how reunification of an alienated child works.

The split state of mind is upheld in a child by the dependence by adults upon the alienated child’s spoken feelings.   Because in the UK there is an over dependence by social workers and other ancillary services such as family court welfare officers, upon the UNRC article 12 (the right of the child to be heard in matters affecting them), it is often the case that an alienated child will be left in the split state of mind or even have that state of mind reinforced by the lack of understanding in professionals of the difference between the child’s spoken wishes and their underlying and split off and denied feelings.  This is where I often despair in my work, because this dependency on what alienated children say, effectively ensures that reunification is impossible.  A psychologically split child is not in a position to do anything other than speak the words which convey the truth of the dilemma they are in.  They have regressed to an infantile defence mechanism and the people who are supposed to help them keep asking them what they would like to happen.  The defence mechanism itself is actually the true voice of the child, the action of psychological splitting is the reality of the harm which is being done. The words the child speaks, are the parroted and robotic repetitions of what they have been forced to say and do to survive. Pity the alienated child who is surrounded by people who know nothing of the harm which has been done, it must feel like being in Groundhog Day being relied upon for directions in life by adults who should be taking responsibility, not conferring it upon the child.

Reunification work requires that the child’s split state of mind is healed and this is done by overriding the dynamics which have caused the use of the defence mechanism and confronting the child with the split off and denied parent.  How this occurs is different around the world but in the UK, being able to do this requires a court order in the main and a Judge who truly understands the difference between children’s expressed wishes and their real, underlying and buried feelings.  Only when this configuration of the legal compulsion plus the knowledge, skill and determined courage is combined, can children be helped to heal the split and mend the division in their mind.  What is becoming increasingly common in the UK in recent times however is the use of the transfer of residence as a way of enforcing the confrontation between child and split off and denied parent.  I have undertaken a number of these again this year, where they have been successful it has been with a team of alienation aware practitioners or simply carried out by me alone.  Where it has failed it has been with unaware practitioners who have not understood either the harm the child has suffered or the way in which the child’s real feelings about a parent are signalled in ways other than their spoken wishes. In all cases what has been apparent is the child’s need for assistance AFTER reunification and the way in which therapeutic intervention works best post transfer.  This is the work we are focused on in Zagreb this week, so that children whose primary residence is changed, are helped through the whole of the recovery journey from first healing of the psychologically split state of mind to resilience to the actions of the influencing parent.

So much to do and share and learn. Different legislative structures, different cultural imperatives. Different judicial system, more aware social services in Croatia than in the UK.  Same problem in the children and families however, signalled by the signs of alienation in the child and then evidenced in the excavations undertaken via assessment.  Same need for education programmes, same need for sharing skills and knowledge.  One uniform goal in front of us, to prevent, reduce and repair the damage which is done to children when they become psychologically split and alienated from a parent as a result.

I read somewhere recently that rejected parents are vulnerable to splitting in the same way as their children.  They are indeed.  We are witness to the splitting in the world we work in right now where groups of parents are being drawn into dividing people who work in this field into all good and all bad.  Let me tell you this too, the people who do this work are equally vulnerable to splitting, be they lawyers, psychotherapists, psychologists and even the judiciary itself in various countries.  There is no subject on earth more prone to causing splitting than the psychologically split child in the midst of a separated family.  Keeping one’s wits about one is critical for anyone who does this work over the longer term.

Keeping my wits about me is easier when I am collaborating with skilled, warm, compassionate colleagues who truly understand the problems we are working with.  Colleagues in Zagreb are the inspiration for the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners which has grown apace to connect through fourteen different countries.  Doing this work becomes easier in this kind of setting because we draw strength from each other and wisdom and shared determination.  This is how the broken hearts and broken minds of children get mended, when determined people work together.  This is how splitting is healed. This is how the children of tomorrow are prevented from having to encounter the defence mechanism of splitting in the first place.

Mutual respect, care and compassion.  Mutual interest in what works and how to keep the child at the heart of everything we do whilst protecting the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood.  Being big enough to take responsibility so they do not have to.

This is the future for this work with alienated children and their families.

It starts here.

Together.