How anyone can tell truth to power


Linda with family therapist Salvador Minuchin

Sometimes complex issues in big messy systems crystallise best into simple effective messages. The trick is to care and to have someone you want to get the message through to. American family therapist, Linda Gottlieb provides generic letters that any professional can send to an appeal court about an Alienation case.

Therapists and other professionals – if we don’t realise what they’re getting into – attract a bad name when involved with Alienated family cases. We offer our usual unconditional validating welcome and support. That is fine normally. But where Alienation rules, if we don’t take care, we inadvertently escalate the side-taking that makes things so harmful for the child in the middle..

Even systemic family therapists – who make a big thing of including everyone’s views, and then some! – can find ourselves exclusively believing the person in front of us before we’ve cleared space to think about or hear from other family members.

Linda Gottlieb

So it is really good to know of the American family therapist, Linda Gottlieb, who is a leading authority in the US. She has published widely, including a textbook and a chapter in Baker and Sauber’s (2013) textbook. Do read her work – especially if you’re a family therapist – if only to see her combination of therapeutic and more proactive structural and interagency aspects to her methods. The photograph shows her debt to the famous structural family therapist, Salvador Minuchin. Everyday family therapy is not enough.

I have been reminded by this week’s FNF Scotland emailing of this kind of really “big systems” work. This is to do with courts and particular cases of your own. But don’t be put off. You would not need to be a properly qualified expert witness to send off an Amicus letter like the one she has provided as a template you can use or adapt.

Learn what matters most

Even if you don’t expect to be in a position to do this for any clients of yours, the brief format that directly tells truth to power, also powerfully summarises some key truths about why Alienation is serious for children and us, and why it needs to be properly attended to. There may be other powerful people involved that something like this letter may be usefully sent to inform them better – for example, a lawyer, other professionals involved, other family members. Here are some snippets from the letter …

“In evaluating, the consideration that should be granted to a child’s wishes and opinions in determining the nature of the relationship to the non-custodial parent, I wish to stress that doing so does not serve the child’s best interests.” 

“Firstly, in cases that reach the point of an adversarial court proceeding, it is impossible to separate the child’s wishes from the influence of the residential parent. In a high conflict parental relationship, we can expect that the child will merely mimic the thoughts, feelings, and wishes of the custodial parent…”

“Secondly, it is exceedingly unusual for a child to feel enmity for and reject a parent…”

“Thirdly, all the recent research indicates that children who have a parent either absent from their lives or only marginally involved develop very poor outcomes…”

“Fourthly, we need to consider how unhealthy it is for a child to linger with unresolved anger for a parent…”

“Fifthly, at some point in the child’s life he will recognize that he has rejected a parent when he rebuffed that parent’s efforts to reenter his life…”

Nick Child, Edinburgh

PS  In relation to The quick and the slow – last week’s post – read Linda’s own personal story as an alienated but spontaneously re-united child.


About Nick Child

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

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