Climbing the mountain: 1. Intro and overall aims

There’s a new Climbing the mountain page to click in the top menu of the blog. Reading it all in one go is, as the name suggests, a bit arduous. So this is the opener of a series of posts that will unpack it in stages – a better way to digest and improve something this important.

It would be particularly good if you could put us right about where this kind of exercise has been done before or better.

Introducing the Mountain

IScreen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.08.02n the UK or anywhere, high conflict family separation is a mountain of a field to get to grips with. The system involves so many agencies, authorities, professionals, and client families – and so many diverse and divergent views about what to do.

High conflict separation presents in all its forms. So this mountainous field includes the whole complex range, the good the bad and the ugly alike. We can expect that specific patterns and risks will be promptly assessed, differentiated out and skilfully handled. We can’t expect the mountain to be partial, neatly giving us only risk and proven abuse, or only Parental Alienation or Abduction, depending on our own particular interests. So scoping and route-planning the mountain like this, is going to team up parties – e.g. across gendered groupings – people who are otherwise firm enemies over the subject of family abuse and conflict.

One imagines that there are integrated groups of people working on this in their own corners. But if they put their head above the parapet, they may get shot down in flames. So we don’t seem to have a lot of access to much of the joined up thinking that is needed to getting everything sorted.

Who dares to sketch the mountain and set out some routes to get to the top?  Let’s have a go in the alienation experience blog. Please help fill in gaps and propose improvements.

The headings are:

  • Overall Aims
  • Prevention and Early Intervention: Before Going to Court
  • Prevention and Early Intervention: In Courts
  • Enduring Cases
  • Awareness Raising
  • Coordinating Our Efforts
  • Comprehensive Services and Standards
  • Some Benefits of Sketching the Mountain

Overall Aims:

  • The overall aim is to understand and help separated families and children to avoid, resolve or otherwise get out of enduring high conflict patterns of all kinds to stop the harm those cause.

It has to be “of all kinds”. Often there is a mixture (or hybrid) of unreasonable reactions and thinking, talk and behaviour, of alleged and actual risk and abuse too. High conflict includes specific patterns at one end of the spectrum: Child and Parental Alienation and Child Abduction. Those dealing with high conflict separation must be qualified to spot and know what should be done about the whole range. However, there are several separate sections to climbing this mountain.

  • The top priority throughout is the present and future welfare of any children involved.

It is fair to assume that ALL enduring high conflict separation is emotionally abusive to the children. If nothing is done, there can be long-term harm throughout their lives. Dispensing with one parent may seem to solve the conflict, but it usually harms the child. So the child’s welfare may not be simply achieved, but it is the main reason why this mountain must be climbed.

Other reasons are the extreme distress to parents and other family members, and the extreme financial costs of often prolonged frustrating legal and professional involvement that plainly doesn’t often work very well.

In what follows, below each heading is a summary of that aspect of the mountain, along with some ‘Aims’ that point the need for a route up it. …. To be continued. (If you can’t wait, read on here.)


… So, is this introduction clear and agreeable? Please Comment below to say anything that you think would improve it.

Next time:  Prevention and Early Intervention: Before Going to Court

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

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


  1. Nick, I have been working with Heather MacLetchie Ehinger to get many of the issues you feel are to spread thin to come together into a proper training program for professionals and parents. As with any mental health issue, there is often more than one way to handle it though there are certain methods that work better than others. For example, parental alienation/custodial interference/hostile aggressive parenting is often best dealt with using a family systems approach with some eclectic tools from other theories such as Cognitive Behavioral. The problem is that one size does not fit all.

    In addition, the courts and it’s professionals are NOT trained well enough in psychology, let alone child psychology. A 30 hours course, nor a BS in psychology is enough. Extensive training into family systems and child psychology is a must. This is where Heather and I are working to pull things together using not just our own tools and programs that we have developed but others as well.

    For example, there are many views on Reunification Therapy. Therapists need to be trained in all of them as one might work better than another based on the family dynamics and situation. Without a diverse education in more than one venue, we limit our ability to educate to the fullest and help families fully.

    If you have any questions or want to learn more about our work and how you can help us to enhance or include your work, please contact us at


  2. Thanks Joani. It’s good to have your and everyone’s ideas and efforts on whichever part of the mountain they are climbing! It all helps build the overall picture.

    But in this multi-part paper I have tried to stand further back from the mountain. That’s partly because you and everyone are busy getting on with their own things in their own way in their own context. I am asking for all the various ways different people are working, but also I’m asking how do we picture and organise as a whole field, how do we strategise and establish what it is best to do, and what works best.

    For example, what kind of language and awareness raising will be best to get more people and more powerful people interested and able to see what PA is and what needs to be done about it? What are the best ways to prevent PA happening – cultural, mediation methods, legal and court ways of behaving? And how will we measure these things too.

    Some people reckon that we can envisage a future time when all our systems and culture will be so much improved that there will not be any PA coming down the river at all – we will have stopped or saved any cases upriver where they have until now been pushed in.

    Even if that’s a bit unreal, it’s worth asking so we don’t just accept PA if we can abolish it. Even if it’s unrealistic, to put all our efforts into pulling bodies out down-river is a surefire way to make sure more and more get pushed in!



    • Nick: I actually think that are many solutions to this problem because this is not a one fit all situation. In some states, the political or Dominant attitudes require a different approach than other. And this goes with countries too. I think it is going to be a combining of these strategies and ideas into a product that allows for versatility in application that will provide the best answer. For example, some role set the table with one fork, one knife, one spoon. In other families or homes they set the table with two forks, two knives and to spoons. Or we could look at it this way. Something lease believe in open hand spanking. Others believe no spanking. And then you have those that misuse spanking and border on abuse. Or how about looking at it this way, some countries drive on the left side of the road while others drive on the right. The point is if we can combine all of our different perspectives ideas and solutions into something that people can utilize the differences to fit their needs, we might be onto something. Joani

      Joan Kloth-Zanard Sent from my iPhone



  3. I agree that there’s lots of aspects and shapes and solutions to the problem of high conflict family separations. Through sharing this blog, I get some wonderful unexpected approaches from around the world.

    For example, have a look at Stable Paths and their creative use of horses (and dolphins) to create a different challenging context in which the usual PA rules have to be forgotten or else the horse may get out of hand instead!

    But Parental Child Alienation – I’ve started calling it that this week to match the abduction equivalent – is well known to have really strong similarities across the world in terms of the core pattern and issue that arise. So although every case and country have differences, it seems worth constructing some kind of overview and structured approach to the field, an approach that accommodates all the variety too.

    For example, Stable Paths leads me to create a new category of approaches (or just things that work in ordinary interview rooms) that use unexpected contexts and challenges to destabilise the entrenched set of alienation rules. For example, meeting in a ten-pin bowls venue, or using a one-way mirror as a step to reunification, or doing multi-family group work, or contriving to include someone who was well-liked and respected by the family pre-Alienation and who will remind them of that different set of loving rules. All these have been recommended and used. References available … or I may do a new blog on this theme.

    But it is a diverse set of ways ‘to lay the table’ within a conceptually common heading … and an addition to the overview or guideline for the sort of thing to do more of on the mountain of PA.


    • One of the reasons horses are excellent to use is that apparently, they can sense narcissistic/borderline personalities and do not like them. So for a person with this personality disorder to work in this program they actually have to change their ways to get the horse to listen to them. I thought this was so interesting.

      Joani Joan Kloth-Zanard Sent from my iPhone



  4. Very interesting train of thought here … powerful and in control but underneath nervous and vulnerable, meets: powerful and in control but underneath nervous and vulnerable; and then they have to find nonverbal ways to get close and work together.

    And we all know how 100% loved and loving pets mostly are, where it’s more 50:50% with other human beings (especially close ones!). Is this theory unpacked further somewhere? It provides that unexpected avenue into understanding and helping that we cannot get enough of!

    Maybe we should be saving some of this discussion for the more appropriate bit of the Climbing the mountain series – the Enduring cases and Services bits to come.


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