News from the Family Separation Clinic

This week I have been working in Wales where it is said by some that parental alienation is not recognised. Far from not being recognised, my experience of working with families affected by the problem in Wales, is that in some courts the problem is acknowledged far more readily than in parts of England.  Just like in England and now Northern Ireland and in small incremental steps, Scotland too, change in Wales is coming in patches.  Having done a lot of work in Wales in 2014/15, including residence transfer, I found that understanding of parental alienation  in CAFCASS Cymru was far ahead of its English counterpart.  Fortunately England is catching up now and hopefully, with some more work, we will see a  more uniform understanding emerging across the UK.

As I move around the UK and now Europe, it is very clear that where we are successful in our interventions, we are also educating the court system on the effectiveness of the internationally recognised standards of intervention in parental alienation cases.  This increases the importance as well as the power of an association like the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners and makes it all the more necessary to focus on getting the standards, training, supervision, membership and accreditation elements of this right.  As our working group comes together, this is what we are focused on right now.

And it is vital that we are focused because there are still those who believe that all cases of parental alienation are caused in the main by either high conflict or two parents contributing to the dynamic.  Reading and responding to comments on a great blog by one of the participants at the meeting in Prague last week, I am ever more aware that the problem of understanding parental alienation in terms of effective practice, is wide reaching.

Fortunately there are some people who are long established in this field who know the truth of how to deal with problem.  Reading this blog this week, about how traditional therapy will not work in cases of parental alienation sharpened my understanding of the mental health and legal interlock which is necessary to create rapid and effective change. This is what our work with EAPAP is focused on and what the work of the Family Separation Clinic has always been about.

The greatest danger to alienated children is, in my view, the belief that parental alienation can be treated via therapeutic means and that both parents contribute to the problems seen.  Nothing could be further from the truth in my view and the two year timescale given in some services to successfully treat a case of parental alienation is appalling.  Two years in a child’s life is too long to wait for restoration of a relationship and the often used approach of placating the alienating parent by attempting to fix the rejected parent is harmful to the child and parent concerned.  As we develop EAPAP we will be working on awareness campaigns and providing information and guidance on the internationally recognised standards in working with children and families affected by parental alienation, to drive up standards and protect families from being subjected to this kind of practice.

As part of this work, The Family Separation Clinic in conjunction with the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will be holding a major conference in London on 30/31st August 2018 with Amy J. L. Baker and many other key figures in the field of parental alienation.  The conference will be held at the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street, London which is central and very easily accessible from all over Europe.  The conference is for legal and mental health professionals and will provide a unique learning opportunity, offering access to the most up to date research in the field and a chance to hear key people speaking about their work.  Discussion seminars and education workshops will be available and attendance will attract CPD points. We will additionally, stream parts of the conference around the world for parents and practitioners who are unable to attend in person.  We will be announcing the full programme of events in August and you will be able to book places at early bird prices from August 30th 2017.  We are incredibly grateful to a key supporter of our work for his financial investment in this conference which we see as a game changer in terms of understanding and treatment of parental alienation in Europe.

Great news arrived this week on top of plans for the conference.  The book is now entering the printing process which means that we are now very close to seeing it published. As soon as we get news that it is available from Amazon we will alert you. Those of you who pre-ordered it will now finally receive your package directly.  Thank you for your patience, I know that the wait has been too long for some. Unfortunately we have had to work on this during holidays and other spare moments as we cannot stop our other work in order to write and so it has taken longer than we hoped.  We also had to reduce the word count from 110,000 to 90,000, to make it financially viable. This process of reducing words took almost as long as writing the original 110,000!  At least though we have a good start on the next book with 30,000 words already down on paper.

As we enter into the busiest phase of development work we have ever seen at the Family Separation Clinic I am conscious always that driving change in understanding and practice around parental alienation is key to changing the lives of parents and children affected by it.  With many people now coming together around the internationally recognised standards of practice which we know make the difference, it is time to change gear into fast forward.  Getting more successful outcomes to more families is our goal, bringing in a new generation of expert practitioners to assist in doing that is our methodology.  We are scaling up the efforts and using all of our expertise and our evidence base of successful outcomes to increase the pressure.

We are working towards a tomorrow where parental alienation is both universally understood and helped to heal so that it no longer has to be coped with by anyone.

Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal  will shortly be available, published  2017 by Charles C Thomas Illinois.

 

 

 

What is Success in Treating Parental Alienation?

This week I have been starting the process of codifying the principles of practice in working with alienated children and their families for the development of training programmes. As part of this work I have been sifting back through the cases where I have achieved rapid reunification of children with the parent they have rejected.  What has always been clear to me as I do this work, is that it is not therapy in the traditional sense, in that the actual reunification work is not achieved through talking or through regular meetings in the therapist’s office.  Reunification work is done actively, largely in situations where children are shifted swiftly through psychological change.  Successful reunification means that the child is freed from the alienation reaction and changes from lacking in perspective as a cause of the psychologically split state of mind, to an integrated perspective in which they are able to see those things which they have previously been unable to allow into their conscious mind.  Sometimes this shift occurs instantaneously, at others it can take some time. However, done correctly, integration occurs within hours or at the most days.

Whilst training in parental alienation awareness can give information about how to think about helping alienated children, there is absolutely no substitute for learning the principles and practice of the actual reunification process.  Anyone who tells you that reunification takes months or years and that in order to achieve this you must attend regular sessions in offices with therapists, is not working with reunification but something else.  In the UK, where some therapists claim that they are working with parental alienation but are unable to demonstrate rapid reunification, the issue remains that parents and children are subjected to a practice which is not recognised in international research.  It would appear that the same is true of other countries in Europe and in fact, around the world.

Reunification of alienated children means that they move from the psychologically split state of mind to an integration quickly. This translates into normal warm responding to the parent who has hitherto been rejected.  Thus, the  person who is able to recognise whether reunification has worked is the targeted parent, not the ‘expert.’  In some cases of parental alienation in the UK, targets parents are told that their child is recovered in situations where the child is still in the position of deciding whether and when they will see a parent. This is not recovery, this is something else and it is usually seen in situations where the people who consider themselves to be ‘experts’ in this field are making decisions about parents and children from a place where they regard both parents as being active contributors to the problem.

Many systemic family therapists for example do not believe in the concept of pure alienation.  In fact at the Children’s Mental Health Centre last Saturday I was told by one such therapist that people with personality disorders are usually married or in partnership with other people who have similar disorders.  On a blog this week about the launch of the European Association a comment was made that most cases of parental alienation are hybrid, meaning in this setting that both parents contribute.  When I trained some systemic family therapists in 2013 I was told the same thing, that in such cases each parent makes their own contribution to the problem and therefore the concept of pure alienation is not valid.  This is so completely out of step with international researchthat it is frankly offensive to targeted parents and in my view, dangerous to children.  Because if one spends time trying to fix the healthy parent in order to placate the unhealthy one, the children lose out on the one chance they have to escape the terrible dilemma which faces them, which is to be in positive and recovered relationship with the parent who can help them.

When I do reunification work with children I am aiming to put them back into a relationship with a rejected parent in a normal and healthy manner as quickly as I possibly can.  This may take some time at the outset because in achieving the right dynamic for swift liberation, one has to have the right dynamic configured around the child.  I will not attempt the reunification until I have the right conditions, which in pure and severe alienation means that the child is removed from the care of the alienating parent and placed directly (where it is at all possible) with the targeted parent.  During the removal and placement, I undertake the dynamic intervention which shifts the child from split state of mind to integration.  It is this which causes the immediate disappearance of the alienation and which returns the child to warm and normal relationship with the once targeted parent. I have done this with eleven children this year, last year I worked with twenty seven children in this way.

What is very apparent to me is that the removal and placement elements of this work HAVE to be undertaken with by someone who can deliver the dynamic intervention which shifts the child’s perspective.  I have come to understand this much more clearly this year as I have also been working with children who were not removed and placed by me but by social workers or CAFCASS officers.  When I work with these children, which I am asked to do because of the continued problems in their behaviours, it is clear that removal and placement without the accompanying dynamic intervention, the child remains alienated and the split state of mind is simply transferred with the child. Put simply, transfer of residence works, but only in circumstances where the child is enabled to resolve the psychologically split state of mind in the process of transfer.  This makes it clear that the legal and mental health interlock, in which the legal framework holds the mental health intervention, is utterly essential in the reunification process.

The dynamic intervention which shifts the child’s perspective is codified within the skillset of the therapist or other who carries out the removal and placement of the child. In the USA, it is common to send a child to a reunification programme such as Family Bridges or the High Road Protocol.  In the UK it is common to use a direct residence transfer or a stepping stone transfer for such work.  I work with either of these although I much prefer the direct transfer to the stepping stone. This is because in stepping stone transfer, there are too many other people whose feelings and beliefs can cause blocks to the child being enabled to make the dynamic change.  When I am working directly with a child I find it easier to provide for them the psychological intervention which resolves the split state of mind. When I have to negotiate my way around several other dynamics, social work, CAFCASS and foster carers and educate them to hold the right dynamic in place, the work becomes much more complex. This is because the intervention which causes the shift in the child’s mind depends upon me being able to hold an integrated dynamic around the child. This is an  example of how such an intervention works.

Nick and I work together at times on reunification and last year we undertook such a piece of work on a cold day in November in the south west of England. Two children were involved aged 12 and 9, both completely rejecting of their mother and both vehement that they would not see her ever again.  We set out on that day with the children being delivered by the foster carer they had been living with for several weeks (we did not remove the children into foster care and they had become stuck in care unable to reunite with their mother and not able to go back to their father who had been judged to have seriously harmed them).   The children’s mother had arrived earlier and was sitting nervously in the playroom where we had decided the early meetings would take place.  The children shuffled angrily into the room adjacent to the playroom, both were scowling and both were absolutely furious that they were being made to do this.  I had met with each child previously at their school and had heard the same dark mutterings from each that emanate from all alienated children.  On this day the two muttered together in the corner and demonstrated the same rehearsed and overly dramatic responses seen in many of these children.  They couldn’t go into that room they told us, their mother was a monster who would hurt them.  We didn’t know her really, she would be nice in front of us but horrible to them when our backs were turned.  This litany of phrases is so familiar to me in such situations that I didn’t break from my bright and somewhat school mistressy shunting of the children into the room where their mother sat quietly.  Scooting across the room to the far side, both children sat down determinedly with their backs to their mother who looked upset and anxious.  We signalled to her to breathe deeply and simply sit there.  We sat down on the other two sides of the room and relaxed.

What I know about alienated children is that they have internalised radar systems on red alert.  The psychologically split state of mind occurs in bright and sensitive children who have become used to ‘reading’ the emotional temperature of the spaces they inhabit.  These children are watchful and I knew that sitting with their backs to us would cause them some discomfort because they could not sweep for emotional responses. Sure enough, after some more dark mutterings, the eldest child turned round to scan us.  I had instructed their mother that until I signalled, she should not look directly at either child. But I did.  As I met this child’s eyes I could see the search of the face which is common in these situations.  I gazed back. The child turned back. We had engaged and I knew that this child was now aware that there was someone in the room in more control than they were.

The most powerful reunions which take place are in silence and this one was no different.  As mother sat quietly and I watched both children carefully, I noticed that the elder child was fidgeting with fingers.  Those fidgets got more pronounced and I noticed the drop in the shoulders and the tuck of the chin which comes when a child is moving to wards tears. When tears come the resistance is breaking and the time has arrived for the offer of reconnection. I gestured to mum to come closer and Nick too up his place next to the younger child.  With mother sitting behind the child on the floor and Nick sitting cross legged and playing noughts and crosses with the younger child, I tentatively put my hand on the older child’s shoulder. The child turned, not towards me but towards her mother who she sensed was sitting behind her. Her mother opened her arms and the child climbed onto her lap and cried. The younger child, watching this in confusion at first and then recognition, turned and did the same. We left them then in a three way hug that lasted for as long as it needed to.  When reunification comes, it is best to feed it and enable it as much as possible. The love that the children had rejected from their mother was all the healing that they needed.

Reunification work is not standard therapy and it requires something other than standard skills and understanding. What it requires is not easily codeified but we are doing so in order to train others to do what we do.  Without the ability to actively demonstrate success in this arena, awareness and knowledge offer little in terms of supporting alienated children and their families and so it is the whole package which is absolutely necessary to effect greater change in this arena. This is what we provide at the Family Separation Clinic, this is what we will be putting at the heart of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.

As I work further on my doctoral thesis and examine all of the elements of intervention with children, one of the clearest recognitions that I have about our work is that the alienated child is a child who is not being parented by either of their parents, one of whom is using the child as a conduit for processing their own psychological issues and the other who is being prevented by the alienation reaction from assisting the child in any meaningful way. Alienated children are therefore in a precarious place psychologically and the intervention we are using restores them to both a place of psychological integration and safety in relationship to a healthy parent.  In doing so we are utilising eye contact and body language to reconfigure the landscape the child is used to dominating. Alongside story and metaphor, we are using the child’s language to tell them that help has arrived and they are no longer in charge.  Having the courage to do so in a world which burdens children with making choices and decisions they are too young to make, is one of the core skills for anyone practicing in this field.

For now, telling the stories of reunification (heavily disguised to protect identity but containing the principles and relational dynamics which are always involved), is the best way to convey the reality of what successful treatment of parental alienation looks like. As we move on, the codeified principles of practice will be made available to others and intensive trainings such as those we are delivering this year on our French retreat and in the USA, will begin the process of building the workforce.  As EAPAP comes to life, all of this will be at the heart of our training and education work in Europe to enable more people to practice successfully with children.

I leave you today with the thought of that mother and two children wrapped in her lap. They had ‘hated’ her for two and a half years.  They had told stories about the harm she had done to them to every professional they had encountered (all of which was shown to be false). That cold day in November, they sat with her for four hours before they went off for a pizza and a game of ten pin bowling.  Three days later they went home with her and they have lived with her ever since.  When I last visited the eldest child and I played a game of bowls in the garden as the youngest one did cartwheels. ‘How’s things going‘ I asked as I bowled a ball across the grass, ‘oh, you know‘ said the elder child, ‘it’s cool again now.‘  Mum knocked on the window and called us in for tea and cake, she had talked to me earlier of the sense of trauma she had felt as her children came home. ‘It was as if my mind and my body could not really comprehend what I had been through’ she told me, ‘as if I had been knocking loudly on a plate glass window to tell the world that my children were in danger and nobody listened.’  The youngest child came in and wolfed a large slice of chocolate cake down ‘I’m off down the road to play with xxxx for a while‘ and was gone. ‘Take your coat‘ shouted mum as the child hurtled out of the front door.  I looked at the older child who met my gaze and half shrugged as if to say, ‘bonkers sibling!’

I drank my tea with mum. Somewhere spiderman was saving the day on TV and an ice-cream van tinkled its way down the street.  Life had become ordinary again.

This is what successful treatment of parental alienation looks like. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than this.

What Will the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners mean to Family Law in Europe?

In this third article following the launch of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, I am taking a brief look at what EAPAP will mean in terms of family law.  Whilst I cannot be detailed as each member country has a different legal framework in place, I understand enough about the difference in legal systems in member countries to be able to predict what such an association can do to create the necessary paradigm shifts that allow change to occur.

During the conference I spoke with Dr Simona Valdica from Romania, a country which has criminalised parental alienation. Our discussions confirmed for me that the belief that simply making it illegal to alienate a child will resolve the problem is erroneous. Dr Simona spoke of the work her organisation continues to do in the deeply complex field of serious and entrenched parental alienation and how even in the face of alienation of a child being a criminal act, the problem still remains.

This is because parental alienation is a problem with a human face and as such cannot be eradicated by the use of the law alone. For if laws made people behave themselves properly, we would have no need of prisons. And if laws made people behave better in general, we would not suffer the problem of anti social behaviour in our societies.  Laws alone cannot prevent parental alienation, legislation may make people feel that things are more just and it may discourage some of those who alienate, but it will not, cannot stop the problem entirely because it is a problem with a human face and as such requires the legal mental health interlock to properly address it.

The legal and mental health interlock is the concept by which the mental health intervention is held firmly in place by the legal system.  Therapists, coaches and mediators who work within this system are involved in a hierarchical multi disciplinary team who see the Judge as the super parent, guiding and enforcing participation by the parties.  This dynamic causes the shift in power which is often necessary to free the child from the captured mindset which is underpinned by coercive control. When this dynamic shifts, therapists work with the child to hold the splitting and restore the relationship between child and rejected parent.

This is very delicate work and requires the understanding and participation of the legal professionals and the mental health team treating the problem.  In some countries where there are inquisitorial approaches to law, this is more easily achieved, in others where the legal system is adversarial, it is less easy.

Nevertheless, the law and the mental health intervention, when properly interlocked, can achieve great things for alienated children, who can be released from the alienation reaction swiftly. Once released, the child must then be taken through the recovery steps to full integration of the splitting reaction and protected as they progress through this from the continued influence of the alienating parent.

These principles of practice are curated from the international research and will be codified by EAPAP into training programmes for practitioners.  Additional education and training for ancillary staff will be provided so that all professionals around the alienated child and family, are enabled to understand the problem and how to work with it.  Supervision, mentoring and safeguarding will be at the heart of EAPAP and all members will receive regular CPD input.  What will emerge, is a workforce which is capable of dealing with the problem of parental alienation swiftly and successfully.

Training from senior members of EAPAP, to the Judiciary in each member country will be a core part of delivery. As Dr Simona told me, it is that training which offers Judges and Lawyers, the understanding and confidence to understand the issue and their role in resolving it.  With people who are key in their field in their own country, best practice in delivery of treatment and training is very accessible for translation into all countries. We are already looking at assessment protocols being used in Croatia to begin the process of building a standardised approach to formulating interventions.

The new Association will provide a great deal of information, training and awareness around the issue of parental alienation for all legal professionals in member countries. It will also provide an accredited workforce which is capable of responding to the problem in line with international standards of practice.  As much of the focus of the Association will also be upon research into the issue, evidence based interventions which emerge from research in Europe, will be at the heart of this delivery.

In the coming months and years, the new Association will benefit Family Law in each member country in myriad ways, changing the possibilities for clients and their children significantly.   Our work, which is already welcomed by the Judiciary in different countries across Europe, will bring change for children in what used to be considered intractable cases but which will now be recognised as those in need of specialist interventions provided by the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.

Legal professionals who wish to understand more about the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will soon be able to make enquiries via our website which is being developed as an information hub for all member countries. www.eapap.eu

What Will The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Mean to Families?

In this second post on the launch of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, I thought it would be helpful to write a short piece on what EAPAP will mean to parents.  The third in the series, will be for lawyers and family service workers.

EAPAP signifies a change for families affected by parental alienation because it will provide for you, the confirmation and reassurance that the services you are receiving from your mental health practitioner, are fully in line with the internationally recognised standards of practice known to help alienated children and their families.  This means that when you go into court on the basis of parental alienation, you will have more choice and more control over the interventions provided to help you.

We know that many parents know more about parental alienation than practitioners, this is true of all of the member countries in EAPAP.  It was recognised by the group which met in Prague that ensuring that there is workforce which is properly trained and accredited is an essential step in meeting the needs of families affected by parental alienation.  Currently, there are many practitioners across Europe who say that they are professional in this field but who are delivering therapies which are not recognised as being in line with international standards.  This means that parents and children are being subjected to interventions which do not work, do not fully address the alienation reaction in children and leave rejected parents in the place where they are expected to change in order to placate the alienating parent. This is not good enough.  It is abusive to rejected parents, it is harmful to children and it is simply unacceptable in terms of ethical practice.

And yet, those practitioners are enabled to deliver on these terms because they can safely be protected by their governing body, leaving rejected parents as helpless and dependent upon the practitioner as they are on the alienating parent.  Some are told that it can take up to two years to rectify the problem of parental alienation. Two years!  A lifetime in childhood, too long a loss for the rejected parent and child.

International standards of practice demonstrate that a child who is in relationship distress should be released from that position quickly.  Liberating the child from the dynamic is the primary goal and this must be achieved at least within a twelve week period of time.  Liberation of the child from the alienation reaction alongside the restoration of the relationship with the parent is an additional primary goal and this too should be accomplished within a twelve week period.  (In actual fact, with really skilled practitioners, a child can be released in seconds, the issue being how the practitioner is able to reconfigure the legal framework to enable that to happen).  Nevertheless, none of this work takes years or even months and anyone who says that it does is not delivering ethical practice in treating parental alienation.

International standards which are curated from the research evidence, show that the work to be done in parental alienation has to be held within a legal framework.  Additionally it must be clear within that framework how the practitioner has differentiated the case in order to recommend a treatment route.  Experts who recommend treatment routes must be able to present a formulation which properly reasons the path they set out and they must be able to clearly show why that path will work.  Experts should not claim evidence based practice without being able to give references to successful outcomes.  Anyone who claims expertise should be able to show how they are properly trained, mentored and supervised by someone who has a higher level of skill than they in the field.

All of these things will be curated and codified in the coming months by members of EAPAP and the result will be a membership body which offers parents affected by parental alienation in Europe, the guarantee that the practitioner they are working with is recognised and accredited in the use of international standards of practice. Because EAPAP will offer members training and supervision as well as accreditation, you can be certain that the service you will receive from an EAPAP member will be that which is  evidenced based and in line with international standards of practice. This means that you can be sure that what you are doing in choosing an EAPAP member to work with your family, is giving you and your child the very best chance possible of recovery.

EAPAP is not created simply to protect practitioners, it is created to protect and serve families across Europe who for too long have had to be dependent upon mental health practice which is not properly informed and which is not properly evidenced.  We know that many people call themselves parental alienation experts or practitioners without any evidence to show success. EAPAP will set and maintain standards of practice across Europe, ensuring that this kind of claim is challenged and improvements in services to parents and children are made at a systemic level.

EAPAP will additionally educate ancillary services, providing standardised training to the police, the judiciary and family services in every member country, ensuring that the internationally curated research is properly embedded into those systems which work around the alienated child and family.  A leader in each member country will champion this delivery through funding secured from Europe.

We aim to drive through these changes swiftly so that by the time we arrive at our European conference in London next year, the membership and accreditation scheme will be live.

This work is active now. As practitioners, we are going to create change for your children from today onwards so that you are more in control, more informed and more able to make the best choices for your children in the years to come.

My next blog on EAPAP will be about what the new association means to the legal systems in member countries.  After that I will regularly update you on our work but the bulk of the information about EAPAP will be found on the website which is being developed as a hub for all member countries.  We will be busy on social media too and we will be engaging with the media in all member countries to tell the story of parental alienation and our response to it.  Our voices are stronger when we shout about it together and there is a determined and very vocal group of people involved in this project who will make enough noise to raise the roof.

On behalf of you and your children, we have come to the coal face to work with you, to show you that we understand, we care and to ensure that what you get from us is what you really need, not what you are told you need.

Make no mistake, what happened in Prague this week has already changed the world.  By working together with you and for you, we will make this change real and lasting for every child and family affected by parental alienation, everywhere in Europe.

The Family Separation Clinic in conjunction with the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will hold a major two day conference in London in summer 2018 which is headlined by Amy J.L. Baker PhD, along with key European practitioners.  For legal and mental health professionals and entitled ‘Moving Upstream (to tackle the problem of parental alienation),’ parts of this conference will be streamed live around the world.

And hot off the press – the news that our book, Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal (Charles C Thomas – Illinois), is about to go into print.  

 

 

 

 

11.7.2017 – An Historic Day in Europe

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Yesterday, in Prague, a major step in practice with parental alienation occurred, as colleagues from fourteen countries in Europe met to form the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.  The day was described as an historic event by Bill Bernet, President of the Parental Alienation Study Group, pictured here.

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Throughout the day it became clear that parental alienation and the internationally recognised approaches to treating the problem, raise the same concerns in all of the countries represented by colleagues attending the meeting. Lack of understanding, lack of acceptance of parental alienation, lack of intervention which effectively treats the issue and blocks and barriers to effective practice.  Throughout the day there was an overwhelming consensus for the need for a unified European approach to the problem and colleagues heard from Prof. dr. sc. Gordana Buljan Flander, Director of the Child Protection Center of Zagreb (pictured below) on the work done in Croatia to educate and change practice via partnership with the Family Separation Clinic in London.

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Later in the day discussions were held between colleagues on the need for the new European Association and the role it will play in setting standards, regulating practice and protecting members.  There was a firm agreement that all of these things plus education, awareness raising and practitioner development will be a core part of the work going forward.

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The day was filled with discussion about the difficulties faced by practitioners, the resistance to the interventions which properly help children and the need to continue the fight to get parental alienation properly recognised and responded to in each member country.  The day was filled with hope however and love and laughter and a special birthday song for Dr Simona Vladica from Romania, pictured below.

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This world in which we work, is so full of challenge that it was a joy to share with colleagues a day to celebrate our strengths and successes. I found myself, throughout the day, feeling the same respite from the often unpleasant dynamic of working in isolation in the UK.  I ended the day feeling reinvigorated and deeply contented that the work of EAPAP, to protect practitioners and thereby build a strong workforce response to the problem of parental alienation in Europe has begun.

Returning from Prague I read the latest newsletter from the Parental Alienation Study Group and knew that what had happened during that day was all the more important. Reading the claim from someone in the UK, that it is possible to intervene successfully in alienation cases and be a member of the UK regulating bodies BACP and UKCP made me smile.  It is not.  As a supervisor of practitioners in the UK, I regularly have to ensure that practitioners who are members of such bodies have to act in ways which fall far short of recognised international standards to ensure that they do not end up being complained about and sanctioned.  I regularly have to restrict intervention in such cases in order to protect the practitioner.

What people are doing when they make such a claim, is exactly the reason why EAPAP is necessary. The claim comes from the belief that the need to remain on the right side of a practitioner body is more important than the interventions which are known to work. That belief comes from adapting interventions to suit the practitioner not the family.  Any governing body, which does not recognise parental alienation in terms of the evidence based interventions which work for children, will always ensure that the practitioner falls short of the required standards of practice which work. Instead of adapting their practice to match the internationally recognised standards of intervention, such people adapt the research to match their own belief system or that of a governing body. Which is fine if what you are primarily concerned with is calling yourself a parental alienation ‘expert’, rather than achieving significant change for children. It is not fine if in the process one is attempting to promote as effective, interventions that are not based on the internationally curated and recognised standards of practice. Family therapy, mentalisation approaches and all of the other generic forms of therapy which are accepted by BACP or UKCP in the UK does not work with parental alienation.  Further, there is no evidence available to support claims that they do.

This is the reason why EAPAP is such an important step in this field, it will prevent the blocks and barriers to forward movement which are caused by those who seek to restrict and restrain practice. And it will challenge those who claim they are expert in this field but who are not capable of demonstrating success. Breaking existing boundaries of understanding, knowledge and intervention and resetting them where they need to be to help alienated children, is one of our primary goals. Liberating practitioners so that they can do the work which is necessary to help children is another. Successful outcomes are our concern, not the limitations caused by slavish adherence to the requirements of existing bodies.  There was universal agreement, from practitioners in every member country, at the conference yesterday, about all of these important points.

EAPAP is necessary to create a strong, courageous and determined workforce in the field of parental alienation and to prevent families from being subjected to this dumbed down approach.  EAPAP will curate and codify international standards of practice and will educate, train and inform at every level in each member country.  With strong and vibrant members who hold significant power in terms of the European agenda on the wellbeing of children, this work will progress quickly and I am delighted to be part of it.

With grateful thanks to all colleagues who took time to travel, some at great distance via Istanbul (from Malta and Sweden) and those who had to travel by bus from Vienna due to flight problems.  The courage and tenacity of such a group of people will truly change the world for those who practice in this field, the families we help and most of all the children who suffer the problem of parental alienation.

Make no mistake, what happened in Prague yesterday was a significant shift in the collective consciousness in Europe around parental alienation.  As colleagues return to their own countries, each I hope, as inspired and recharged as we were, expect great things from us.  We are collectively,  being the change we want to see in the world.

A conference paper will be prepared which will set out the stated aims of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, this will be made available to the public.  

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will convene regular meetings to develop its membership and accreditation scheme for all practitioners working with alienated children and their families in Europe. 

I will be on the panel at the PASG conference in Washington in October with Deirdre Rand and Linda Gottlieb.

I will also be speaking at the PASG conference in Sweden in August 2018.

The Family Separation Clinic in conjunction with the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will hold a major two day conference in London in summer 2018 which is headlined by Amy J.L. Baker PhD, along with key European practitioners.  For legal and mental health professionals and entitled ‘Moving Upstream (to tackle the problem of parental alienation),’ parts of this conference will be streamed live around the world.

And hot off the press – the news that our book, Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal (Charles C Thomas – Illinois), is about to go into print.  

 

The Adverse Childhood Experience of Parental Alienation

On Saturday I presented at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London at the conference ‘Too much Pain‘ on the issue of parental alienation as a child mental health issue.  The subject is clearly one which resonated with delegates as many had questions to ask afterwards and we discussed the issues facing children and parents in the context of us having watched the film Resilience at the start of the day.

Watching this film made me realise that the experience of parental alienation is not just about children’s mental health, it is about the impact of their mental health on their physical wellbeing. In fact, at worst, it is a public health issue in which children who are alienated from a parent face the likelihood of having a shortened life expectancy of – wait for it – 20 years less than their peers.  Let me unpack that.

Resilience is a film made about a group of people in the USA who noticed that the people they were working with who had physical health problems, had many things in common in their childhood history.  One of those things was sexual abuse.  Another was being witness to violence and another was the divorce or separation of their parents.  All of these things were recognised anecdotally by this team as having an impact on the physical well being of patients and so they began a longitudinal study, to find out whether this translated into evidence.  What they found was shocking. So shocking that even they could not believe it at first.  Patients who reported adverse childhood experiences were likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other life changing illnesses.  The risks for some were so high that it could be said that they reduced life expectancy by twenty years.

An adverse childhood experience is described as being an event or series of events in which a child is left to cope without the help of any other trusted and safe adult.  Sexual abuse, witness to violence, divorce and separation, removal of a child from a relationship with a parent they had a stable attachment to, all of these things are considered to be an adverse childhood experience which leads to higher levels of cortisol in the body and a traumatised response to the world which causes life long changes in the DNA.  Put simply, the child who has experienced traumatic events without any support from trusted adults, remains on high alert in the body and encounters life routinely as if it is dangerous to their wellbeing. Over time this impacts upon the cellular life of the body and the changes within lead to physical illness.  Add in the efforts of the growing child to self medicate the problems they encounter in the body, smoking, drinking, drug taking, addiction to gambling, driving at speed and more and you have an environment in which toxic stress causes irreversible changes.

The team who began this study, noticed that children were being brought to them with behavioural difficulties which their parents considered to be ADHD.  Instead of medicating these children however, the team began to educate parents and help children to learn mindfulness meditation and took them on woodland adventure days.  What happened was astonishing. The children began to respond to the support being given and learned how to switch off the trauma response in the brain sufficiently enough for their behaviours to change.  The team realised that these children did not have ADHD, they were traumatised children trying to cope with life the only way they knew how.

The parallels with the children I work with stopped me in my tracks.  Many of the alienated children who I see are said by their parents to be on the autism spectrum and indeed, when they are in the alienated state of mind it is easy to see how this belief arises. Alienated children are often mute or monosyllabic, they are often repetitive in their behaviours and they are difficult to predict emotionally. In addition they do not respond to the social cues given by others and can appear rude, difficult to deal with and are often described as living in a world of their own.  Those same children, when reunited with a parent, appear completely different. They are animated and appear to come back to life. Their faces no longer appear frozen, they are able to converse and discuss across a wide range of topics. They laugh and smile and show appropriate emotional responses such as empathy and compassion.  Could alienated children be exhibiting a trauma response I wondered as the film unfolded.  Without a doubt is the answer as the film showed that the loss of a stable attachment through divorce and separation, plus dependency upon an unpredictable parent concerned with their own needs first, is one of the most toxic traumatic childhood experiences a child can face.

The team in the USA who conducted this study talked about how, when they began this work they were laughed at and ridiculed and then opposed by people who said that the general population could not be asked questions about their childhood in case it made them  ‘decompensate,’ (break down psychologically).  The intimation clearly being ‘don’t go there‘.  One of the things that we have faced in our work over the past twenty years is the oft repeated ‘you can’t say that‘ in response to our assertion that divorce and separation harms children.  In one meeting, a leading researcher even told us, ‘well if you are going to say that divorce and separation harms children then you are actually promoting marriage and we can’t have that.’  Whilst this person shall remain nameless, her role in the feminist research community remains and it is this community, who for fifty years have controlled feminist policy around family separation who are the biggest silencers and the biggest mockers of anyone who is concerned about children’s mental and physical wellbeing in relation to divorce and separation.  I have always found it difficult to understand why people concerned with women’s rights find it so hard to consider children’s needs and experiences as being separate to those of their mothers, the clear reality is however that the way in which social policy has been shaped has been to consider children’s needs as being indivisible from those of their mothers.*  They are not. This film shows they are not. Removing children from relationships with a loved parent causes significant harm which is evidenced by one of the largest research studies of its type in the world.

As I watched how the team in the USA simply did what they did in the face of opposition and discovered the truth about the emotional roots of physical illness in the largely middle class community they were working with, I quietly determined that this would be the next part of my work in this field.  To raise to public consciousness, the fact that the adverse childhood experience of loss of a loved parent leads to a trauma response which creates significantly higher risk of ill health in adulthood.  Parental alienation is not simply a parental rights issue, it is not just a child mental health issue, it is a public health issue as well as a child protection issue. Protecting children from a trauma based experience in which they are helpless, is an urgent concern for us all.  Finding ways of shaping this message and putting it out into the communities concerned with children’s health and wellbeing is my next task.

I was left with a profound sense of injustice as well as grief and sadness for all the children whose lives have been blighted in this way, many of whom I recognise have suffered that trauma response which creates an ongoing challenge for them in daily life. I also felt however the stirrings of hope as I watched the way in which the research team had developed a wide range of helping responses to the problem. In communities where this work is taking place, violence in the community is reduced at a startling rate, familial relationships are ongoing rather than severed completely and referrals of children for medications for ADHD have dropped through the floor.  Mindfulness, outdoor activities, school initiatives where children are helped to talk about their feelings and worries about what is happening in their world from the age of four, perspective building so that children do not fall into being captured in the mind of parental ill health.  One great scene showed children writing letters to ‘Ms Kendra’ a fictitious character played by drama therapists who receive the letters and write back to the children as ‘Ms Kendra’ with help and advice and a listening ear.

What is clear is that children need and want to talk about their world and that when they do they use their own language of metaphor which can be a mysterious language unless you understand it.  Children who tell me that they are never going to daddy’s house again because he ‘put beans in the lasagne’ are telling me something about the things that they hear in their home and the meaning this has for them.  Daddy may well have put beans in the lasagne but did the child really care about that? No.  What the child cared about was that mummy didn’t think that daddy was feeding them right if he put beans in the lasagne and this and mummy’s heightened anxiety responses when the children arrive home, becomes translated in the child’s mind as daddy being unsafe because of the beans in the lasagne.  Pity this child who is responding to mother’s trauma based responses which come from her own childhood. Pity this mother who had no-one to help.  Pity this father who cannot protect this child.  And pity the family service workers who uphold this child’s trauma based responses and enable her to reject her father forever on this basis.

This film, for me, crystallised my purpose and my reason for doing this work.  Children’s right to an unconscious childhood which is free from trauma based responding has always been at the heart of my practice and that has been underscored for me ten fold this weekend.  One day this story of the adverse childhood experience of parental alienation and its trauma impact on children will be widely known about, I am making it central to my practice from now on to be part of the movement which brings this hidden issue to light.

I ended the weekend in Prague where I am, along with many European colleagues, looking forward to the first meeting of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.  This group of people, many of whom will have an adverse childhood experience score of 6 or more (people in the helping therapies are well represented amongst those who have survived trauma based childhoods, the key is we have learned to overcome the impact through learning and developing healthy ways of being in the world, sometimes over decades of self care) and who as a result are more open to the reality of the concept of childhood emotional trauma as the root of physical illness.  I will share with them my views from the film as we discuss the need for self care and protection from trauma ourselves as practitioners.  What is clear to me is that we as practitioners, are working with a  group of traumatised children, who are coping the only way they know how, and who are using a language that not enough people understand.  As we plan to raise awareness, standards of practice and development of training models across Europe, central to our plan will be helping others to understand the language of the alienated child, the only language the child can use, the language first recognised and curated by Richard Gardner and the door through which the reality of what is happening to the child can be illuminated.

This is our major task.  This is our commitment to alienated children. This is the way that the scandal of how family services have been influenced by a feminist agenda which has caused children’s authentic voices to be silenced for too long, will be brought to public consciousness.

This is my project for the rest of my working life.

*I have, in my work over the years, received much criticism about my views about the women’s rights domination of the social policy around family separation in the UK.  I make no apology for this but I do know that because of the domination of this agenda, it can be easily construed that my views are somehow extreme or ‘anti-women’ they are neither.  I come from a background of working with gender equality in which I researched and worked with gender for Oxfam.  My work showed me that the feminist policies around the family through the eighties and nineties were designed to uphold the belief that women are disadvantaged in divorce and separation and that their needs come first and that children’s needs are indivisible from those of their mothers.  This approach, which has over the years, dominated family services, CAFCASS, social workers etc, has caused mothers as well as fathers to be pushed out of children’s lives and has caused children to lose a beloved parent because of the lack of real mental health skill and awareness in those who are supposed to help children in the family courts.  The voice of the child agenda, written in the shadow of feminist policy takes this further and analyses the needs of women and children in the framework of patriarchal advantage rather than in the framework of understanding their mental health and needs for support.  Thus the voice of the child, which is often the voice of the dominating and unwell parent, is taken at face value instead of being properly interpreted. The most tragic part of this, for me, being that mothers whose children say they don’t want to see them are considered as if they must have done something very very bad to cause this.  The lack of mental health training, lack of gender awareness and lack of understanding of how social policy causes particular outcomes in the lives of separated families continues in both service delivery and policy development in the UK.  It is of a particular concern in social work in that the interventions made in a social work model, burden the child with ‘choices’ they simply are not equipped to make.  Until the policy and practice around the separated family in the UK and around the world is understood in the framework of mental AND physical health and wellbeing, I will continue my critique of the failures of government and its agencies and I will consider those who carry out the work of such agencies without questioning this, to be complicit in the continued abuse of children. This film showed me why this is necessary, it showed me why speaking up matters, it gave me courage to keep going and saying it and doing it the way we know makes a difference for children.  One day we will look back at what we did to alienated children and ask why.

Until that day we press on.

A Welcome Retreat to Nurture New Experts in Parental Alienation

Our efforts to build a new workforce in Europe for practice in the field of parental alienation continues.  As we prepare for the launch of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners we  are also preparing for a new leadership retreat.  Alongside our parental retreats, which are ongoing, we are convening a new leadership retreat this year in France where we will develop, nurture and intensively support and train, six new European leaders in the field of parental alienation.

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We know how demanding this work is for practitioners and we also know that self care is the ultimate protection against burn out and drop out from the field.  This year, to accompany our parent retreats, we have decided to run a one off leadership retreat to support  and plant new and emerging leaders in the field.  Sharing all of our skill and expertise as well as our knowledge about how to communicate in your own country and all around the world about parental alienation, we will spend four days with key people so that they can return to their own country and develop their practice and profile as a thought leader in the field.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Beyond the four day retreat, each participant will be coached and supported in set up and delivery of their own practice and will receive supervision and mentorship throughout the year.

We want to grow this field of work. We know it requires specialists to do that and people with vision and determination to make it work in their own country.  We can’t do it all on our own and this work doesn’t belong simply to us, it needs, deserves, has to be in the hands of people who can make a difference.

If you are reading and this appeals to you, we have two places left and we would like to hear from you. Let us know all about your current practice with children and families or as an advocate or voice in the field of parental alienation when you email us –

Office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

We have payment plans available to spread the cost and we guarantee that you will receive a wealth of support, guidance, knowledge and skill in return for your interest and time. You will also join with key others who are strong in their own country, as part of our worldwide bid to grow and nurture practice with alienated children and their families.

We have chosen this model of sharing our skills and knowledge because we know that people change people and people change systems and when systems change the whole world changes. We want to grow the group of people who can and will do it.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Karen and Nick Woodall

July 2017