When Alienation is solved it’s still a problem

Dr Sue Whitcombe, counselling psychologist at Family Psychology Solutions, gives us this case scenario. It’s unusual because you’d think the problem’s been solved. But the solution has ushered in another problem, just as awful.

Dr Sue Whitcombe

Sue’s original title was: A question of competence? Mental health and protection from harm and abuse.  It’s such a strong case study that it’s worth publishing afresh here – with her permission. Please respond as well to Sue’s request to support the petition and the cause in Wales to ensure that professionals have to be more aware.

Our title here – When Alienation is solved it’s still a problem – underlines how Parental Alienation can be harmful even when you might think the Alienation has been solved. The young adult child, Jane, in this case has re-established a relationship with her previously Alienated parent. But the predicament is still so terrible that she presents as suicidal.  So: “What’s the problem now?!”

Sue’s important ‘question of competence’ highlights how many helping professionals fail to understand and fail to help such a client. Jane presents with what the unaware helper may think is just an ‘ordinary’ mental health problem. The ignorance of Alienation and its terrible effects could be unhelpful or even fatal. We urge all professionals to take Parental Alienation much more seriously and learn about it. There is really no excuse for ignorance now. Here’s Sue with Jane:


Jane is nineteen*. She sits in my room distraught. She can barely function at the moment. She cannot recall the last time she had a good night’s sleep – she is woken almost every night with recurring nightmares and her waking hours are peppered with intrusive thoughts. Jane is unable to attend her lectures, she is filled with anxiety and her mood is rock bottom. She has researched how to end her life; she is desperate for help.

Jane has a wonderfully supportive partner, Chris, who she met when she started University a year ago. She also has a great relationship with her dad – thanks to Chris.

For much of her childhood Jane was told her father didn’t love her; he’d abandoned her; he was cruel and aggressive and selfish. There was plenty of evidence to back this up. Jane never received birthday cards. Dad never contacted her. He wasn’t there when she had a major operation; nor was he there at her eighteenth birthday party. Jane didn’t even know where he lived. Jane tried to talk to her mum about him – but mum became upset, or angry. It was easier not to ask. Dad must have really hurt her mum.

It wasn’t until she met Chris that Jane started to question her assumptions and understanding of her dad. There had always been niggles. She had vague, yet fond, memories of great holidays, Christmases and fun at rugby matches, days out cycling and snowball fights. Dad hadn’t seemed cruel or vile … Then there was that Birthday card she received in school – from dad. And there was his Facebook page – plastered with family photos and happy, thoughtful comments.

Jane met Chris and began to realise

When she met Chris, Jane began to realise that her family life hadn’t been “normal.” Jane began to reflect on her mother’s behaviour and the absence of her father. She began to notice how her mother manipulated the people close to her, how she twisted information, how she lied. Jane loves her mum dearly, but she began to realise how her mother had prevented her from having a relationship with her father,

With Chris’s support, after many months of anguish and anxiety, Jane contacted her dad. It was as though they had never been apart – they took up where they left off. Jane is fascinated by how similar she is to her dad: they look alike, they share the same interests, they have exactly the same mannerisms. Jane has reconnected with her paternal grandparents, her uncles, aunts and cousins, and old family friends. She is totally relaxed and comfortable and “whole” in their company.

So why is Jane sitting in my room, distraught, considering how to end her life?

Jane is terrified

Jane cannot tell her mother that she is seeing dad – and she desperately wants to. She does not want to lie or be deceitful or secretive. She loves her mum, she wants to share everything with her. But … Jane knows if she tells her mother, her mother will distance herself, close ranks, reduce or cut off contact with her. Jane is terrified of losing her relationship with Beth, her thirteen year old sister. For Jane, having a normal, loving relationship with her dad comes at such a high cost – and Jane cannot quite reconcile that. So for now, her worries, her anxieties, her tensions are stopping her from functioning – day and night – and Jane cannot cope.

There are thousands, upon thousands of young people just like Jane – young adults who were alienated as children. And there are thousands upon thousands of younger alienated children who will, like Jane, suffer extreme psychological distress into their adult lives because none of the many professionals involved in their lives understood parental alienation, and intervened.

A lack of knowledge and understanding in social workers, therapists, teachers, doctors, psychologists and family workers leaves children, like Jane, at risk of emotional harm and psychological abuse. I know this – because I was one of those uneducated, unaware professionals.

* ‘Jane’ is a composite of many of the children and young people Sue works with.

Help make professionals aware of Parental Alienation

Please take one simple step today to help children and young people like Jane. Wherever you live in the world, sign this petition to ask the Welsh Assembly to ensure that ALL frontline staff are aware of parental alienation so that we can start protecting our children.


About Nick Child

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


  1. lostdad

    Reblogged this on LOST DAD.


  2. Good for you admitting you used to be unaware of the effects and difficulties of PA even after the kids “figure it out” and reconnect. I was one of those children; tormented just attempting to love both parents after reconnecting. In that situation, it is almost inevitable that the child struggles with one or both parents. It has been my terrible experience that therapists generally will not admit they do not know this arena, forcing not just the child, but the targeted parent to suffer all over again. Kudos.


  3. I have a grandchild who found it difficult to eat as he was in a similar situation.


  4. I have been in this situation as the (adult) alienated child. Even decades later, in middle age, I know the currency I pay to remain in a civil relationship w/ my father means not speaking of my mother (the target parent).


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