Nick Child’s Overview: Riding the Wild Waters

P1000330 Nick opened the conference with an overview of the international field of Parental Alienation, a “life-jacket” for “riding the wild waters of family separation”. Reviewing the conference PowerPoint below is a bit of a fiddly experience. So Nick has made that into a more accessible article: Off-putting relationships: the essentials of child alienation. The main section headings are: A Definition, Case Examples, and Key Bullet Points (‘the life jacket’). These sections can be viewed in the PP format separately with full notes included. Click below to open them up.

It may take an annoying delay while these download. Sorry! But it’s worth the wait. Move your cursor to find the useful control button panel to zoom in or out (- or +) and turn the pages (for the long “NickChild…” links). Each squiggle on the slides ‘~’ refers to the next note below. When you’ve finished, click your browser’s back button (or close the window, for short links) to return to this page to continue reading). If you prefer a pdf of the whole PP thing with full notes (it takes a long minute to download; and use links above for video and case story). NickChildPAPresentationLondonPP Nick Child, Family Therapist, Edinburgh. Retiring from a career as a CAMHS psychiatrist in the peripheries of excellence, Nick has worked for 11 years in a small part- time FT team in Edinburgh. He has been an active if maverick voice in AFT for decades, most recently in leading Aspens, the network for family therapy in the non-statutory sector. 3 years ago, a client cured his allergy to parental alienation. Nick has campaigned since as reparation for such ignorance.  He does not have a lot of practical experience. His websites feature this and other work. See and

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.


  1. I have become increasingly interested – as I prepared to present, in the discussions in London, and in my work and thinking before and since – in how the concept of alienation has been useful for me and other clients and families. There’s more about this in the “Not sure about?” page at the top. I hope that a broader application of the idea will develop. This might help more therapists and professionals who work with families more generally. And, it will allow more people to understand and access the field given the resistance many have had when hit solely and full-on by the seriously hard end of the spectrum, Parental Alienation. The name of this blog was influenced by this thinking.

    Similarly, other hard terminology – like Narcissistic Personality Disorder – may be helped not to put people off by using some more gentle introduction for those (like many systemic therapists) who prefer not to use negative blaming labels for people, even if those people may indeed be culpable of something, given that we want to engage with and help them. Abusers, victims and children are all going to be clients of someone. And the whole basis of the concern for PA is in repairing alienated relationships. So we should be wary of using alienating language where we can avoid it.

    At the conference, while accepting that PA is serious and emotional abuse is happening and authoritative steps need to be taken in courts, many people were looking for more sympathetic terms and ways of thinking – e.g. insecurity, vulnerability etc. These terms may not be strong enough to make a point in court, nor to use as chapter headings. But they may attract more people into thinking about the broad spectrum, and be helpful to clients too.



  2. Since London and after working to set up this new blog, I focused on writing up my overview into an article: Off-putting relationships: essentials of Child Alienation. It includes extra thinking that arose at the event – notably the British sensitivity about language, and the idea that the system (i.e. family courts) might be causing, and therefore might be most able to stop causing, most of the trouble.

    It has been endlessly redrafted, and is still open for improvements yet! Hopefully someone will want to publish the paper, but you can read it here: Click ‘X’ to go past the invitation to join Dropbox. Please feel free to share it too.

    I am now turning my energies mostly to Scotland where we find even greater ignorance and messy systems than there seem to be in England. This article is my “calling card” as I contact various key heads of agencies and others to engage their interest and get their advice about where to take it next. We are slowly and informally networking and teaming up with others. We are looking for any and all opportunities to present to larger groups and events up here too. Anyone interested or with suggestions, please contact us (use the Contact us option in the menu above).

    So far it seems like I need to head to self-commission my own “Child Report” on this local process of awareness raising and option appraising of how the Scottish system might get a better act together. Anyway, this is going to keep me busy for a while and might explain apparent inactivity here. But do keep watching this space for updates!

    Nick Child


  3. When there is general active ignorance about an important field like PA (in the UK especially), it is interesting to keep working on different ways to overcome the ignorance.

    In 2013, our first workshop to systemic therapists was entitled: Why do we dismiss PA? We took considerable care to explore that dismissal question. Websites and the usual publications are obvious ways to spread “the word”. But sometimes shouting loudly or in the wrong way about something just means people turn off even more.

    This issue of the best way to raise awareness came up at the London conference. It influenced the form of this blog and the search for more subtle pathways out of ignorance. For example, in the top menu’s Not sure about? stuff where the basic PA pattern – one person turns another against a third without good reason – is seen to be extremely widespread, not some strange and ignorable rarity.

    Another way to dissolve ignorance is to find quotable others who highlight how ignorance and prejudice can rule our thinking and practice, blinding us to better outcomes. So here are a couple of good quotes:

    Karen Straughan (girlwriteswhat) gave a Youtubed talk describing how “we just know” this or that. She was talking about “just knowing” that men are to blame for violence etc. If you substitute a PA situation into her words (at 20:45 in that video) you get this great description of thinking that leaps to faulty conclusions:

    You simply don’t have to work your way logically through evidence or case histories to understand how horrible and brutal the rejected parent is – because it’s right there in front of you every time you hear the child reject that parent. You hear it and you can jump from A to Z in one big emotionally charged rush. Children’s views are also the basis upon which we’ve come to identify ‘bad parents’. Of course they’re bad parents; why else would their own children reject them. No more information is needed. We don’t need to learn anything about their background or their history or their earlier parenting. We hear what their child says and we immediately know they’re bad; they just are; we just know.

    And Stanley Cohen in his book “States of Denial” writes simply that:

    With little understanding of an issue, myths and ideologies fulfil the hunger for some image to work with, and these images derive from the dominant culture.

    These are both good descriptions of how we leap to conclusions when more careful thought and awareness is badly needed. As professionals we like to think we do that careful thinking. But professionals too may be just as well programmed to jump to certain conclusions. Hopefully these quotes can help us all spot and stop when we do that.


  4. Pingback: A quart into a pint-pot: how to spread the word | the alienation experience

  5. Great read thankkyou


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