Other alienated groups: 1. homeless

Youth

Parental Alienation is the most serious hard-end of the alienation spectrum. We reckon it helps to explore that spectrum to engage more people and clarify different meanings.  Soft-end alienation featured at a recent conference on families, homelessness and conflict resolution.  Soft-end alienation is still a miserable experience. Let’s link together this wider relevance and thinking, not just label and isolate the hard-end of Alienation out on its own.

Our Not sure about? page explains more about why we want to cover a broad range of alienation experiences on this blog. Yes, the specific hard-end Child and Parental Alienation (with capital letters) is our core concern. But it helps to broaden and distinguish other more ordinary ways the word is used (with no capital letters).

Homelessness and conflict resolution

The Cyrenians are an Edinburgh based charity working for decades with homelessness. They know that a common cause of homelessness is when families fall out. Young people particularly, but not just the young, may then find themselves put out of their home, or just dropping out onto the streets. They are said to become alienated from their families. They may turn to other solutions than conflict resolution. Some of these may be called solvents, but they don’t really solve much.  So, in the context of homelessness, alienation refers to an individual’s experience of losing touch, dropping out or being cut off from those you could or should be with. The Cyrenians are just one of the organisations that tries to be there to help.

The soft-end alienation of homelessness doesn’t usually have the features of hard-end Child and Parental Alienation which has three parties involved – which is when one person actively turns another person against a third person (see Not sure about?). In the hard-end pattern in separated families, it is problematic despite and because the child still has one parent strongly claiming them. Usually homelessness is a two-parties alienation – a young person typically falls out with their parent/s and ends up homeless. Homelessness can mean you don’t have anyone to turn to – except maybe other homeless people. You lose touch with other people, groups and services.

In 2014, the Cyrenians generated a much bigger profile by setting up the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) and promoting a wide network of organisations and events. I went to an inspiring event in Edinburgh in February – Stop. Talk. Listen. Challenging the Culture of Conflict. Here’s family therapist, Karen Holford’s blog about it.

Given the aims of helping resolve conflict within families and more widely, family mediation and other kinds of conflict resolution featured a lot. Presenters covered a range of ways in which relationships make or harm health and happiness, and how mediation can help repair them. Karen and I were there as family therapists representing our own professional body too – AFT. As a child psychiatrist before that, I developed my own basic model of people, problems, other people, internal and external conflicts and solutions. And an early influence in that was Johan Galtung’s work on conflict resolution. So it was good to meet up with that field again after all those years.

My search for a home

While we’re at the soft end of the alienation spectrum, here’s a bit more on distanced relationships. You wouldn’t call these alienation. I had always felt that my choice of training in medicine, child psychiatry and even in psychotherapy didn’t really meet my search for something human and to do with human being and relationships. My own sense of early homelessness was rather different to the Cyrenians’ kind. It arose in a family that moved around a lot. I was sent to boarding school from a young age – a form of voluntary residential care and distanced family relationships that is strange in that it is highly rated by many people. In my training in the 1970s, family therapy was the best thing I came across in my search for understanding. But I have since still felt that family therapy and I were alienated from a true home for ourselves.

Family therapy’s main home in the UK has been the NHS where I was a psychiatrist in the child and adolescent mental health services. There, family therapy’s main function is as a treatment of individuals with mental health problems and diagnoses. That’s what it has to show it can do in order to earn it’s place there. An important business, for sure, working on the relationships around an identified problem and person. But somehow I don’t think it’s family therapy’s true home. Another home for family therapy has been as one of many psychotherapy and counselling models and organisations. Those are mostly individually focused therapies. Again systemic and family relationship approaches don’t easily fit in.

So the SCCR event felt like a warm home-coming to me. Many of my family therapy colleagues will prefer their home in the NHS and in the psychotherapies. But I felt again how much more that family therapy and I fitted in with this context of conflict resolution alongside family mediation methods. In the broadest sense, conflict resolution makes relationships work better which means that by definition, soft- or hard-end alienation is helped to resolve.

Along the spectrum …

So that has been a bit of my story of personal and a professional experience of distanced relationships, of homelessness and home-coming. To call that alienation would be to stretch the spectrum too far. But it helps explain why my field of interest has been in helping others who have relationship problems – and now specifically Alienation – so that people can hold on to or regain their families, friends and homes too.

Part of finding a home personally and professionally has been to see and challenge confusions and mystifications, to improve relationships and communication – demystification being the theme of my home website: forallthat.com. Good thinking and communication are essential – even if you are in the company of family or others – in order that you don’t feel cut off and alienated there.

After this softest-end of the spectrum, there’s two more posts to come on other cut-off or alienated kinds of people: 2. ethnic, and 3. gender groups. These are also not hard-end Alienation patterns. But they lead us up to a hard and important challenge that faces us – whistle-blowing even.

Now whistle-blowing doesn’t always get enthusiastic support. So this post also helps you tell how far I’m a sane sensible human being when you may think I’ve gone too far!

Nick Child, Edinburgh

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About Nick Child

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

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