The humour of Berger and Wyse’s “custardy” cartoon is to highlight that high conflict family separations are never a laughing matter. Even when families face bereavement, there is usually room for warmth and humour alongside the grief. The lack of a place for humour shows that we are dealing here with some of the hardest “tribal” human predicaments outside of actual war-zones.
This Code contains the standards of ethics, practice and conduct which UKCP expects of all practitioners, and which must be followed whatever your modality of practice and whether you meet clients in person, online or otherwise.
The term ‘practitioner’ means an individual UKCP registrant who practises psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic counselling.
The term ‘client’ includes individuals, couples, families or groups who engage in psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic counselling.
Should a concern arise about a practitioner’s practice, it is against these standards that it will be judged under the Complaints and Conduct Process.
A word more about false allegations: If you’ve not been on the receiving end of false allegations you may not know how extremely damaging they are. People say that a hundred false allegations are acceptable if one true perpetrator is caught. But that approach itself perpetrates ninety-nine more lives destroyed without justice.
Reported false allegations to police or social work can be a ‘nuclear’ option to get the court to prevent contact for months of investigation while the Alienation is entrenched. Informal false allegations through hints and gossip are devastating too: “I heard he’s a bit strict with the kids” … “She’s a career woman, not very motherly … on anti-depressants too.” Rumour spreads like fake news does on social media … all the way to the unqualified kangaroo courts. Even saying nothing leaves imagination to fill the gaps. … By the way, did you spot your own gullibility there? Hardly any children would live with their own family if their parents were disqualified by having a career, or depression, or by setting limits! … Making false allegations would lose much of its power to damage, if allegations of all kinds were quickly and properly assessed, and if appropriate work and supported contact were quickly started and sustained.
So a standard definition of Parental Alienation is: A family pattern most strikingly (but not only) found in the context of implacably disputed separations, where a child is shaped into totally rejecting the other parent and their tribe, in a lasting way and for no good reason, even though the child previously had, and could still have, a safe and valued relationship with them. … So the kind of Alienation we’re talking about takes three parties to do it: One person turns a second person against a third person in a lasting way for no good reason.
As I said: let’s not be too simplistic. It is rarely as obvious as the classic melodramatic picture. Commonly it is more mixed up, two-sided and multi-factorial. But that same complexity is true of children who refuse school: it shouldn’t stop us doing the same job with those who refuse a parent. Being bamboozled means people often get frustrated and over-react in simplistic ways with Alienation. The following sorts of thing are too simplistic:
It’s just a syndrome, a diagnosis, you have it or you don’t;
It doesn’t exist, it’s not scientific;
It’s weird and nothing like normal separation or relationships;
It’s just bad fathers – or bad mothers – with evil personality disorders. They should be evaporated;
Intervention is simple – just transfer residence to the other parent.
But some conclusions are clear:
Yes, it’s serious and not good for the children and their development
No, it’s not just an equally-matched tit-for-tat; it’s not just a contact dispute.
Yes, the reasons for resisting contact may not be clear. And:
Yes, one or two parents may use Parental Alienation as a cover up.
So yes, we need to understand, assess, and intervene at least as thoroughly as we do with school refusal, each case in its own right.
No, don’t “give it time” – remember Abduction is urgent; these patterns quickly get entrenched
Yes, whatever happens, keep any kind of contact and communication going with the other parent.
Teachers, GPs, Social Workers, and CAMHS staff: For all separated families, always contact both parents. If one parent says you shouldn’t, check it out.
And yes, lawyers and courts are sometimes needed.
And yes, sometimes transferring residence completely transforms a child’s life.
OK, you ask: What do you do next? That’s quite easy to answer but not to do:
You already know what to do: Resisting seeing a parent is much more serious than a child resisting going to school. But both of these require the same approach. You pull together the picture with the child and everyone else and put together a plan. However many factors there are to sort out, the aim is the same: get the relationship with rejected school or rejected parent back on track. We know how to do that with school-refusal, but no one yet does the same with parent-refusal.
If you get that idea, you’re well on the right tracks. But so many tricky things bamboozle everyone that you need to learn moreto get through the fog.
Alienation may need ordinary or extraordinary help. But for any clients who don’t engage, start thinking of reporting – as questions of child welfare – the following concerns. (Some of us need to begin this reporting or no one will ever learn why):
Any child’s rejection of a parent – whether it is un-ambivalent or reasonable.
Any parent who seriously threatens that their ex- is never going to see the children again.
Another thing you can do is to talk about this everywhere, so that it stops being such a hidden pothole.
The question of trust in professionals and institutions is both ancient and modern. Each generation thinks it’s better than before. Across the world, we have way more democratic influence and access than ever to expanding mountains of information, trading and professional standards, legislation, campaigns, feedback, complaints systems, checks and balances and so on. Yet – or as a result – our present institutions are crumbling as Niall Ferguson showed in his 2012 Reith Lectures. Continue reading “Blood-letting: learning from the past”
Nick passionately believes that the best way for the world to become aware, to educate children, adults and professionals, and to prevent and stop all kinds of undue influence, in and outside of families, is to team up together against them all. He has also found plenty of rich learning to transfer across from one kind of undue influence (eg cults) to another form (eg in families, in parental alienation). And so that’s how you find Nick here in the engine-room of the Open Minds Foundation.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to a gathering of a group of parentally alienated mothers and fathers in Waltham, Massachusetts. Parental alienation is a phenomenon where children are turned against one of their parents (either mother or father) by the other parent, usually when there is a divorce, without good reason. In some cases, children are physically and psychologically isolated for years and they are programmed against the non-custodial parent. Of course, negative programming is done all the time in cult groups, when a parent decides they want to exit the cult. What I have learned is that this problem happens in non-cult situations quite frequently. So I decided to set up an interview with a friend and colleague from Scotland Dr. Nick Child, BSc MB ChB MRCPsych, MPhil. He is a retired child psychiatrist and family therapist who has focused a lot of his energy on the problem of parental abduction and alienation. Continue reading “Parental Abduction and Alienation: A Discussion with Psychiatrist Nick Child”
Nick Childs – Thank you Nick for responding to my recent question above:
Apart from Amy JL Baker’s famous work – see recent blog for link to her original paper – I have found huge transferable ideas fro the field of how to help an adult loved one in cults. Read Steve Hassan’s website freedomofmind.com and his two main books (in newer editions) featured there.
The quickest version of that recruitment is Parental Child Abduction. Abduction requires subsequent Alienation of the children to keep them on-side. Serious Parental Child Alienation achieves exactly the same child-recruit outcome as Abduction, but the Alienation may be a longer process – though often it can get going quite quickly.
We accuse you adults! Where were you when our parents tore us children apart, in their mad divorce war, which lasted for 12 years and really was a war? Where were the judges and social workers, and the experts, who interviewed us a dozen times, but never made any changes, although our father always had the right of custody!
And you, grandparents, what did you actually do? We were never allowed to see our father’s parents, they died without ever really knowing us. But my mother’s parents: you knew them, didn’t you? They were kind! You wanted us all to your-selves, you never told your daughter that she was trampling all over our human rights. Did you not teach her any morals? You never stood up for us grandchildren, not once.