Hostility against Grandparents following Parental Separation and Divorce

Grandparents do not go unscathed when the marriage of a couple fails and results in the implacable hostility of at least one of the partners against the other. Once a partner has been alienated or rejected and prevented from having good contact with the children of the relationship, the extended family, including grandparents are also frequently prevented from further contact.

Grandparents at present do not have any legal rights to be involved with their grandchildren’s lives. When there is implacable hostility expressed by the custodial parent this can cause great pain to the innocent grandparents, especially when they have had a warm and caring relationship with the children in the past.

The children themselves are in a conflict situation and unable to understand why their beloved and loving grandparents have been taken from them. Frequently they hear negative and malicious and mostly untrue comments from the custodial parent with who they reside about the now absent parents and his/her immediate family. This includes predominantly grandparents, but could also include uncles, aunts, cousins etc.

Case illustration

As an expert witness in the area of family problems following an acrimonious divorce or separation, I receive numerous communications not only from alienated parents but also from grandparents. The letter which follows is from a grandmother. It illustrates a feeling of helplessness, sadness, and other negative emotions of the alienated grandparent.

Grandparent alienation

“Dear Dr. Lowenstein,
We are alienated from our three granddaughters due to Parental Alienation. I do not understand why no one seems to be writing about our plight and the emotional abuse we too suffer at the hands of the alienator. Our grandchildren had a wonderful relationship with us and our son until a divorce (which is still continuing today – 12 years later) which can only be described as “pure hell” for our son and our entire family. He was cut off completely from his daughter three years ago due to what the psychologist (two of them now) say are unfounded claims of sexual abuse. Because of the accusations our daughter in law has alienated us from her two daughters. The story is too long and too personal to tell you in any detail but after reading numerous articles written by you I feel like you may have been secretly living in one of our wardrobes.
I have read all of your books and every article of yours and any other expert in the field of parental alienation I can find (not that it will help our grandchildren) because the courts here in the U.S. fail to see “Parental Alienation” as a serious form of child abuse. The feminist groups say it is just an excuse for fathers to sexually and physically abuse their children. This is pure hogwash!!
There is nothing more terrorizing than to watch the slow insidious brainwashing of my grandchildren against my son and our entire family. It is the same as watching someone you love slowly be roasted over an open fire. Because of the opinion of the courts the only thing you can do is to stand by and helplessly watch their total engulfment and death. It is an agony that never leaves you! Please, if at all possible, write some articles or books on the effects of Parental Alienation on us Grandparents. No one is telling our story or taking us seriously.

Thanks for listening.”


This is one of many emails, letters and telephone calls the author receives regularly. These grandparents and many others have urged me to write something about the pain caused by the implacable hostility leading not only to the alienation of a good parent but grandparents and other members of the extended family. What follows is dedicated to this grandmother and all the other grandparents wherever and whoever they are.

The value of grandparents

Grandparents, most especially, and other members of the extended family are often essential substitute parental figures when something untoward occurs. This included the illness or untimely loss of actual parents due to accidents and death.

Sometimes the extended family is also supportive in case parents are found to be unfit to parent for whatever reasons. Before parents divorce or separate, grandparents are often well known to the children. There is frequently a close and loving relationship between grandparents and their grand children. This is of significant value to the children themselves. It also makes the children a part of the supportive network of an extended family.

While grandparents on the whole are likely to support their son or daughter when there is a rift with a daughter or son-in-law, they can also be a force of neutrality and understanding. They may therefore act as a balanced influence on the children or family. They will often do what they can to encourage the parents to find a way, or show conduct which will be in the best interest of the children, who are caught up in the turmoil of the parental conflict.

Such conflicts inevitably have repercussions on children via contact disputes and when one parent is alienated and hence sidelined from having good contact with children. These conflicts between the parents do much harm to the children who have often had a good relationship with both parents.

The children are often uncertain where the blame lies and even blame themselves unjustly, and often the alienated parent. This is because the remaining custodial parent will speak negatively about the absent parent due to the implacable hostility they have towards the now absent parent.

The children feel they need to choose between which parent they should give their loyalty. Since they are living with the custodial parent, they tend to choose to give their support to that parent. This is partly out of fear at having lost one caring parent; they may also lose the custodial parent.

The children in siding with the custodial parent (usually the mother) then are prepared to alienate the now absent parent (usually the father). In recent times the current psychologist, an expert witness to the courts, has noted a shift in the custodial parent being the father rather than the mother. He then, not unlike the maternal figure, when she has custody, seeks to alienate the children against the mother.

There therefore follows a similar scenario where the child favours and is loyal to the father, who seeks to alienate the mother from having good contact with the children. Grandparents in both situations can do much to encourage both parents to refrain from, as much as possible, showing animosity towards one another, and hence upsetting the children. Grandparents should also refrain from taking sides.

Children should not be placed in the position of having to make decisions such as which parent they wish to be with and which one they wish to reject! They should not need to, or have to choose between often two loving parents. Grandparents frequently can help in this respect.

It must be accepted as fact, that in some cases the alienated parent has indeed had faults that affected the relationship both with the other parent and the child. These negative features are often remembered by the child while the good things are forgotten. This is due to the fact that negative excuses or reasons why the parents cannot be together, or cannot have access to their children is all part of the litigation that takes place between the warring factions. This complicates the picture as to why the child does not want good contact with the absent parent and that parent’s extended family and sides are chosen. This often negates the position of the extended family of the alienated parent.

Finally, it must be said that the value of grandparents and the extended family should not be underestimated. It has been shown that extended family networks can do much to increase the children’s feelings of belonging leading to greater security for the child. This is especially the case when parents have been in an acrimonious divorce or separation.

Changing the law re contact of grandparents with grandchildren

One may well need to consider that it is time for the law to be changed in this regard. Currently, parents when separated are provided by the courts with contact with their children following divorce or separation of the parents. The implacable hostility however, of one parent, usually the custodial parent, should not sideline a worthy non abusive parent or indeed the grandparents. This ruling should include the grandparents of children having a right of good contact with their grandchildren. They are frequently innocent parties to any dispute between the actual parents.

Children frequently have a close attachment to the extended family, and especially the grandparents. These are likely to be sidelined by an vindictive unjust alienator. Sometimes, however, such rejection is due totally or partly to the behaviour of the alienated parent. The need to be cognisant of this and act accordingly when making decisions can lead to encouraging good contact between grandparents and their grandchildren. Sometimes children have in the past has an especially good or bad relationship with the grandparents. If the relationship has been good then contact should certainly continue. If it has been poor then such contact will be refused by the children themselves regardless of the wishes of the grandparents of the non custodial parent.

Much damage to children, and suffering for grandparents occurs, when unjustified alienation of a parent lead also to the unjustified alienation of doting, caring and loving grandparents who have been close to their grandchildren in the past.

Alienated children Alienation Dr Ludwig Lowenstein EXPERTS Parental Alienation PA

Southern England Psychological Services

We offer an independent psychological service to schools, parents, families, barristers and the courts. Dr Ludwig F Lowenstein (BA, MA, Dip.Psych, C.Psychol Ph.D) is a Chartered Psychologist, as well as a member of the British and American Psychological Associations. He was recently made President Elect (2010) of the International Council of Psychologists. He is also a former Director of the International Council of Psychologists. Being a director of ‘Southern England Psychological Services’, he diagnoses treatments in children and adults with various psychological problems. A forensic psychologist dealing with cases onpersonal injury, criminal behaviour, educational, family and children problems (specialising in parental alienation). Please feel free to for more information. Working in defence of clients and prosecution with 40 years of experience and over 400 articles (published over a dozen books in the areas of psychology) we offer a professional, efficient, qualitative and comprehensive service.

Southern England Psychological Services work in several areas:

  • Forensic psychology.
  • Medico-legal assessments and treatment
  • Educational assessments
  • Employee and employer disputes leading to tribunals.
  • Working with children, adolescent and adult problems of various kinds.
  • We publish widely in the area of forensic psychology including medico-legal problems and criminal areas. (see publications on this website).

    Medico-Legal Work

    We assess individuals on a medico-legal basis using an independent expert witness. We have been doing this for over 30 years with considerable success and satisfied clients, many solicitors, as well as private individuals. The Southern England Psychological Service based in Hampshire and London provides expert solutions to problems of individuals as well as companies.

    We provide a service for Solicitors and Barristers and provide expert witness testimony acting in both criminal and civil cases. Our expert witness will be highly trained to provide the best possible service. We work quickly, especially if there is a necessity for doing so, to provide an assessment, and a clear concise report. We receive both single and joint instructions.

    Private Individuals

    We offer a psycho-diagnostic assessment for children, adolescents as well as adults and provide a swift reporting system on our findings.We also offer treatment as a follow-up and advise as to how the client can best be helped in the future. In the area of treatment we use cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and other useful techniques likely to achieve their end of helping individuals to improve in a wide range of psychological difficulties.

    We provide risk assessment in a number of areas based on in-depth interviews and psychological tests, both for children and adults as well as families. This includes cognitive as well as personality testing.

    In the work setting

    In the work setting we provide information on improving mental health, reducing stress and burn-out and increasing productivity. We also work to improve communications within the organisation and resulting conflicts.


    Child abuse problems, minimum and maximum brain damage, psychological aspects of delinquent or criminal activities, failure to receive education according to their special needs, parental alienation syndrome, child custody disputes.


    Emotional and behavioural problems, serious crimes wherein there is a psychological factor explaining the behaviour, crimes committed as a result of subnormality or moral imbecility, munchausen syndrome, and clients accused of sex offences, rape, fetishes, homicide, substance abuse, alcoholism, kleptomania, arson, road rage (aggression in driving), fitness to plead; educational problems such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysorthographia, brain injury, and special needs; problems facing children such as child sex abuse; parental alienation syndrome (PAS), child custody disputes; personal injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related illness, minimal brain dysfunction.


Healing hearts, changing minds and CAFCASS: the power of the positive

Alienated children Alienation Expert in USA EXPERTS Parental Alienation PA

Protect Yourself and Your Kids from a Toxic Divorce, False Accusations, and Parental Alienation

“When three great minds like these collaborate, a prism is created through which a light of wisdom can shine in the darkest of places. A mustread for all people touched by this unfathomable dilemma.”
—Judge Michele Lowrance (ret), mediator and author of The Good Karma Divorce and Parental Alienation 911

“In each journey through parental alienation, it is easy to lose the way. What seems to be a clear and just path in navigating family court is not always reality. Amy J. L. Baker, Brian Ludmer, and J. Michael Bone have given alienated parents a comprehensive road map that allows them to make their journey through this highly emotional period with level heads and hearts. The authors’ work empowers readers and leaves them feeling revived, secure, and confident as they travel to their final destination: reunification with their children.”
—Jill Egizii, president of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization, USA

“The HighConflict Custody Battle is a joint effort by writers with complementary skills and expertise: Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, is a research psychologist who has studied child psychological abuse; J. Michael Bone, PhD, is a clinical and forensic psychologist; and Brian Ludmer, BComm, LLB, is an attorney whose practice focusses on high conflict family law. The three authors have created a book that is both scholarly and highly practical, which will be helpful for mothers and fathers who find themselves coping with a difficult, overly litigious marital separation or divorce. The book addresses in detail the personal and legal crises that frequently occur in highconflict divorce, such as parental alienation; allegations of domestic violence and child sexual abuse; and undertaking a child custody evaluation. It is notable that the authors acknowledge that all the participants in these legal battles have both flaws and biases, so no one is expected to be perfect. Although this book is primarily intended for divorcing parents, it will also be good reading for mental health and legal professionals, including judges.”
—William Bernet, MD, professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN

“Having recently tried the most publicized parental alienation case to a successful conclusion, I highly recommend this book for parents coping with an alienating spouse. The authors have provided an effective guide to assist parents through difficult litigation. This book should be read by every targeted parent.”
—Jim Pritikin, fellow of The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

About the Author
Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, has a doctorate in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and is a professional writer and researcher. She is the author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome and coauthor of Coparenting with a Toxic Ex, among other books and articles on parental alienation and parentchild relationships.

J. Michael Bone, PhD, has a doctorate from the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School for Social Research in New York, NY. He has served as a mental health expert, consultant, and advisor to the court on parental alienation cases around the United States, and maintains a consulting practice in Florida.

Brian Ludmer, BComm, LLB, is an attorney whose practice is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has a Bachelor of Commerce (1982) and Bachelor of Law (1985) from the University of Toronto. Ludmer has practiced corporate and securities law for twentyseven years and in parallel he conducts a family law practice focused on situations involving custody disputes, child estrangement, and parental alienation, as well as high net worth divorce litigation and business valuation.


Hating Half of Myself I Child of Parental Alienation I Ryan Thomas Speaks

Separated Parents Information Programmes (SPIP)

Separated Parents Information Programmes are designed to help parents learn more about the challenges of post-separation parenting, including the effects on children of ongoing conflict. It also  aims to provide advice and support about how best to help children in this situation and enables parents to take steps towards their own solutions. Most parents that go on the course find it very helpful. Parents in the same case always go to different SPIP sessions, but it is always important that both parents do attend. SPIP is run in groups.

Further information for service users is available in the SPIP Factsheet.

You can find a list of SPIP providers in your area in the DRS SPIP Service User Directory

SPIP is available when a court makes a court ordered activity as part of private law family proceedings in a family court. Service users can then choose their preferred SPIP provider for the list available.

If you wish to attend SPIP in Wales (where the equivalent is Working Together for Children) you should contact Cafcass

There is no charge where English courts make a court ordered activity in Wales:

The  Liz Trinder PIP Research Powerpoint Presentation is available here

The Executive Summary of the research is available here

Please visit for the full Research document.

Hostile aggressive parenting (HAP)

  • Often seen in high-conflict situations where an adult is unable to get over the separation and uses the child to control or seek revenge on the target parent. These parents cannot acknowledge their child’s needs, may view children as belonging just to them and often cannot see the damage they are inflicting on their children.
  • Sometimes these types of situations can develop so a child is significantly influenced by one parent to completely reject the other parent, placing them in a situation where they must view one parent as bad and one parent as good.  This leaves no space for a child to love both parents. The child is forced to deny or reject a part of themselves. Any intervention should be guided by the assessment of a qualified professional.
  • Can extend beyond the parent-child relationship and include other significant adults in a child’s life such as grandparents or step-parents.
  • It is important to remember, however, to consider all possible causes when a child distances themselves from a parent.  It may not be the fault of the other parent. HAP does not always lead to the child’s rejection of the target parent. But it greatly interferes with the development of a healthy parent child relationship.

Here are some tips for managing these situations:


  • Understand the problem so that you can act before things get worse.
  • Seek professional support to help you manage the stress and emotional drain.
  • Seek good legal representation when necessary. Ensure your lawyer is educated about Hostile Aggressive Parenting.
  • Behave with integrity. You may not have control over the other parent’s actions, but you can control how you handle the situation with your children.
  • Maintain contact and be consistent with your children.Despite their attempts to reject you, follow through with what you say you will do.
  • Offer children an alternative perception of reality whenever possible. It is okay to say that you do not agree with the other parent’s actions, but do not criticise them as this may push your child further away.
  • Give clear messages to your children, such as ‘children should not have to choose one parent over the other’ or ‘this is an issue between Mum and Dad’.


  • Put your child in the middle of adult issues.
  • Blame your children for the rejection. They are being placed in a situation where, to be embraced by one parent, they must reject the other.
  • Think you don’t matter to your children – you do. Your child still needs you and cannot manage this situation without support.
  • Give up. It may take years before you see change.

Parental alienation in the UK

On the whole, I am not someone who finds the routine use of labels helpful. However, in the case of Parental Alienation, I strongly believe the failure to use this label in the UK has perpetuated a lack of understanding and helplessness in those that work in this area. This helplessness parallels the experience of the 54 mothers and fathers who took part in my recent research study. For these parents, the “Parental Alienation” label enabled them to begin to make sense of their experience through accessing the large volume of literature and, more limited, peer support available. Yet despite this understanding, their sense of powerlessness was exacerbated by their encounters with the courts, Cafcass, social care services and legal professionals.

In my clinical and consultancy work, I continue to hear from the majority of parents, and many solicitors, that raising parental alienation as a concept is a non-starter. In the process of preparing my research manuscripts for publication, I found it necessary to seek some clarity on the official position regarding parental alienation.

Despite recent versions of the Cafcass Operating Framework making clear reference to parental alienation (Cafcass, 2012, 2014) there seems to be a refusal to use the term itself in communications. In a recent personal communication to Cafcass I stated that I was currently preparing my manuscripts for submission and “I require clarification of the Cafcass position on Parental Alienation in order that I can accurately convey it in the article.” Their response contained no inclusion of Parental Alienation as a term; they repeatedly refer to “implacable hostility”.

Cafcass does understand and recognise the potential for implacable hostility by a party in high conflict private law cases. Our practitioners are aware of the potential for children to be influenced by parental views and will remain live to this issue throughout the progress of a case. (Cafcass, 2015)

CAFCASS Cymru, a separate organisation under the auspices of the Welsh Assembly stated that:

… the position of CAFCASS Cymru is that parental alienation is not recognised as a syndrome by UK medical, academic or legal sectors. However we recognise that sadly some parents … do attempt to influence their children. Emotional harm to a child can occur when a parent attempts to alienate a child from the other parent following separation.  (CAFCASS Cymru, 2015)

In direct contradiction to the CAFCASS Cymru statement, Resolution, the association for family lawyers, refers to “Parental Alienation Syndrome” in a leaflet for parents (Resolution, 2008). However in the last few weeks, they have removed “Parental Alienation Syndrome” from their web-site, referring to “Hostile Aggressive Parenting”.

With such muddying of the waters, is it any wonder that so many families and children fail to receive the support and intervention needed to enable them to navigate the difficult path through conflicted family breakdown?

This lack of common reference and understanding suggests a failure to grasp the complexity of parental alienation. It is not a single factor phenomenon in which one parent alone acts to deliberately alienate a child from the other, except in extreme and severe cases. It is a complex issue of interpersonal and systemic dynamics, developmental processes, personality traits, individual characteristics and contextual and environmental factors which can lead to the rejection of a loving, caring parent and a life marred by psychological distress and relationship difficulties.

Read the full article

Parental Alienation:the debate around inclusion in DSM-5

Parental Alienation is a phrase often used in the context of high conflict relationship breakdown.  It refers to the actions of a parent to harm their child’s relationship with the other parent, where this had previously been a normal loving relationship.  Over a period of time, the child may become hostile, vitriolic and abusive, often culminating with the total rejection of the parent.
A pattern of behaviours which are common to cases of alienation was first described by Gardner in the 1980s.  Whilst his research has been criticised, the behaviours and symptoms he identified have been further explored and developed.  Worldwide, there continues to be a debate as to whether the behaviour patterns exhibited by a child constitute a disorder or syndrome – Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).  There appears to be some consensus that some children do alienate a parent and a wider range of views on the significance of parental behaviours involved in the alienation process.
This presentation will review the evidence for Parental Alienation and explore the wide-ranging debate surrounding the potential inclusion of Parental Alienation in DSM-V.

Alienation Dr. Sue Whitcombe EXPERTS

Parental alienation – time to notice, time to intervene

At this precise moment I’m in some manic, hyperactive mode that is suppressing my exhaustion as I beaver away at my urgent ‘to do’ list ahead of my Friday flight to Spain. Twelve days. Twelve whole days in which I am banned from using my computer, accessing e-mails and reading anything remotely related to my research – express orders from my 15-year old daughter. I had promised her that things would be different once the ‘conference season’ was over. I hadn’t quite anticipated the knock-on effects of disseminating my research.

My interest in psychology developed from the intertwining of two distinct threads. First, as a teacher of young people with additional needs, learning difficulties and social, emotional and behavioural problems, I became interested in their development, how they learn and barriers to their learning. As I came to know my students better, I found myself in awe of many of them. Just how did they actually manage to get into school with such regularity, considering the difficulties and challenges they faced daily, let alone engage with their learning? Second, I succumbed to a long period of debilitating depression: I had a burning need to understand why.

My journey into counselling psychology took a while longer. To be frank, like many I had never heard of counselling psychology. My recently acquired psychological understanding, my new-found sense of self and experience of personal therapy had changed my relationships with others. Friends and family found me to be supportive, empathic and non-judgemental, turning to me for advice, to sound off or for a shoulder to cry on. A therapeutic role seemed like an option worthy of serious consideration, but I was also keen to maintain my burgeoning interest in research. Then my daughter and I developed a friendship with a father and his similarly aged daughter, whiling away many an enjoyable Saturday together. I was totally unprepared for the devastating fallout of one ordinary Saturday afternoon where I witnessed a minor disagreement between dad and daughter – over a mobile phone and a bicycle. Immediately following that trivial disagreement, this young girl ceased all contact with father; she has refused to speak to or see him for the past three years. Even as a bystander, this experience has had a profound impact on me.

Discovering parental alienation
I thought I knew children and young people quite well. After all, I had three of my own and I had worked with them for 10 years; I understood child and adolescent behaviour didn’t I? So challenged was I by the behaviours I had observed, that I sought to gain an informed understanding. This was when I came across ‘parental alienation’ (PA). The more I read, the more I understood, the greater my shame, guilt and sadness. Shame that I had usually taken what I saw before me at face value and not sought to look deeper; guilt that my ignorance had probably contributed to the alienation; sadness at the growing realisation that there was very little I could do to rectify the situation for this young girl and her dad. Witnessing the devastating repercussions on the lives of people I loved and cared about, motivated me to ‘do’ something. So began my research, my determination to raise awareness of PA and to develop resources and support where little existed – and my training as a counselling psychologist.

Parental alienation is the unwarranted or illogical rejection of a parent by a child, where there was previously a normal, warm, loving relationship. It most often occurs in highly conflicted relationship break-ups and is the result of intentional or unintentional actions, most usually by the parent with care turning their child against the non-resident parent (NRP). Over a period of time, this poisoning effect leads to the child becoming hostile, vitriolic and abusive, usually culminating with the total rejection of the NRP.

This rejection is often the only ostensible solution for a distressed child who is unable to deal with the hostility and conflict between parents. Faced with the cognitive dissonance arising from the imbalance between their own experience and external messages, a child feels compelled to choose between one parent and the other in order to minimise distress and maintain what is needed – stability. This manifests itself in a splitting defence, whereby a child views one parent as all good, and the other as all bad, unable to manage the reality that there is good and bad in both. Once PA has become entrenched it is particularly resistant to remedy other than through the passage of time (Fidler & Bala, 2010).

A pattern of behaviours common to cases of alienation was first described by Gardner (1985) and further refined in later research (Gardner, 2003). Whilst Gardner’s research has been criticised as over-simplified, theoretical and subject to lack of peer review, he did bring the issue of PA to the attention of the legal, mental health and social care professions (Faller, 1998; Kelly & Johnston, 2001; Spruijt et al., 2005). Gardner’s behaviours and symptoms have been further explored and developed and while this research cannot confirm causality, the strategies and behaviours identified are believed by the participants to be alienating (e.g. Baker, 2005; Baker & Darnall, 2006, 2007).

Whilst in the short term children who reject their parent may appear to function reasonably well in their day-to-day lives, the medium and long-term effects can be significant and distressing (Waldron & Joanis, 1996). Evidence suggests that the lifelong effects of losing contact with a parent due to a child’s rejection for no significant reason are substantial. Depression, substance abuse, damaged self-esteem, and enduring relationship issues with lack of trust, divorce and alienation from their own children have been found in adults who experienced PA as a child (Baker, 2005, 2007). Not only do these children have to deal with their belief that their parent was a ‘bad’ person, but the later recognition that they have been forced to exclude a loving, caring, decent parent from their life may cause irreversible damage to their relationship with the alienating parent (Clawar & Rivlin, 1991).

American twaddle?
There are of course perfectly legitimate reasons why a child may reject a parent – as in cases of genuine neglect, physical or sexual abuse, or violence in the home. These cases of genuine estrangement are not covered by PA, which is characterised by a dislike and rejection of a parent for no apparent logical, significant reason.

Whilst the concept of PA is acknowledged and even seen as mainstream in many countries, it remains contentious and continues to be hotly debated as evidenced by the recent deliberations surrounding its inclusion in DSM-5 (Bernet et al., 2010). It is difficult to determine whether the benefits of a diagnosis of such a psychiatric disorder outweigh the risks.  Risk of harm may be further exacerbated due to an increase in parental conflict following such a diagnosis, which might suggest that one parent was to blame for the situation. Such a diagnosis may be counterproductive in the reparation process. However, the absence of PA in nosologies such as the DSM, enables its denial by some, and has been blamed for a lack of research and appropriate resources to support conflicted, separating families and young people.

Although there are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles by psychologists, psychiatrists, legal and social work professionals attesting to the concept and presence of PA in highly conflicted divorce cases, it has rarely been openly or formally discussed in the UK. Anecdotal evidence, and the preliminary findings in my research, suggest that the concept is perceived as ‘American twaddle’ and is most usually dismissed out of hand by the judiciary, solicitors and Cafcass officers when raised in family proceedings, despite clear reference to PA throughout the Cafcass Operating Framework (Cafcass, 2012).

I’ve been immersing myself in the literature around PA for three years now – scouring every journal article, magazine posting, book chapter, seminar, support group and blog that deals with the issue from one perspective or another. I have met with so many parents who have lived with PA on a daily basis – who deal with pain, loss, shame, guilt, anger, rejection, disbelief, depression, sadness, ignorance and judgement. I have met many more counsellors, psychologists, academics, teachers, social workers and lawyers who have never heard of PA. And then there are those people that happenstance dictates I bump into. In polite conversation they ask me why I’m going to a conference, or what I’m researching. After checking out – ‘Do you really want to know?’ (lest I should bore them) – I explain to them what PA is, and what my research is about. It never ceases to surprise and dismay me, the number of times I hear ‘that happened to my son’ or my partner, my daughter or my friend, a colleague.

I feel driven to raise awareness of PA in those professionals who work on a daily basis with those whose lives are damaged by this tragedy. I feel driven to raise awareness in the general public, so that PA can no longer be denied or swept under the carpet in the same way as childhood sex abuse used to be. This lack of awareness exacerbates the alienation process and its impact on children and parents alike.

My decision  to present at conferences this year, and particularly the Division of Counselling Psychology conference in Cardiff, was very much motivated by this desire to raise awareness in professionals who will come across PA in their daily work, yet may not be aware of it. Early responses from participants in my research align with the anecdotal evidence; many parents who have experienced PA are highly critical of their experience with psychologists. I am also keenly aware that whilst encouraging participation in my research by asking potential participants to ‘add their voice’to my study, many are sceptical whether their voice will actually be heard. After all – few people have listened to them or tried to understand their situation to date.

My experience at the Division of Counselling Psychology conference this year was a very emotional and rewarding one. Prior to my attendance, I had been advised that I had been awarded the BPS Division of Counselling Psychology (DCoP) Trainee of the Year prize for my work entitled ‘Psychopathology and the conceptualisation of mental disorder: The debate around the inclusion of Parental Alienation in DSM-5’ (Whitcombe, 2013). I was to receive the award at the conference. What I could not have envisioned was that my poster presentation ‘The lived experience of alienated parents: Developing a Q sort’ would also be judged as best at the conference. Yes, I feel some pride, but my overwhelming emotion is one of validation: validation by my peers and my chosen profession that PA and the experience of parents in this situation is especially worthy of discussion and research.

Presenting at the DCoP conference and then at the PsyPAG conference in Lancaster the following week, I feel that I achieved my objective: the voices of my research participants were heard. It is a small step in the right direction. But then there are also those knock-on effects, the ones I mentioned at the outset, which have found me (under my daughter’s orders) in need of enforced holiday relaxation before embarking on the final year of my doctorate.

Since returning home I have been inundated with e-mails, suggestions and requests; requests for more information about PA; to write articles; suggestions for collaborative research – even an invitation to make representation to a national government. Perhaps the time is just right to be talking about parental alienation. If we fail to acknowledge it, to understand it and start to address it, we are complicit in condemning so many families to a life with limited hope, little support and the lifelong impact of relationship difficulties, mental health problems and a diminished sense of self.

Sue Whitcombe is a trainee counselling psychologist and lecturer in psychology