Here are some resources and links recommended by friends of the alienation experience blog.
SOME EXPLANATION: An alienation experience is part of a wide range of harmful coercive patterns. See here and the Open Minds Foundation for more on that. Domestic partner abuse and child abuse entail alienation too. The resources below focus on just one kind of family alienation, commonly called: Parental Alienation – the only label that includes the alienation that all harmful coercive patterns have at their core. The resources are also limited to UK-based ones, but include links to international resources too. Constructive suggestions welcome.
A more substantial website designed to help you find what you need for family separation is Sorting Out Separation. Remember that ordinary and successful separated parenting are hard work even before the going gets tougher. Here is a short blogpost that shows what a well-functioning separated parent does to support their children’s relationship with their other parent in contrast to the opposite.
Here’s a short Children Beyond Dispute video that makes the point about how difficult it is to be separated and ensure your child gets what they need. The video points you to further resources worth paying for.
It is worth remembering what your children need when separation goes well so that you understand how important it is to try to get things right for them when separation has become hellish high conflict with knobs on from everyone else involved too.
When separation doesn’t go well, family law is a first port of call – though it is widely criticised. Based in England and Wales, the work of the Transparency Project applies elsewhere too. They open a window on why family law and everybody finds the task of helping separating families in dispute so complicated, why it gets so messy with so many ‘sides’ to integrate. The key issue is when domestic abuse and risk is alleged – the smoke that can happen without fire. So here is one of their transparent guides on that.
Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly – Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto is another way to describe what parenting looks like .,.. even when separation or Alienation makes that seem impossible.
QUALIFICATION: Being listed here as a resource is informal information. As yet there is no guarantee or generally established special qualification in the UK in this field. Everyone must take responsibility for deciding for themselves that the person they’re contacting fits for them and their requirements. Your situation is unique. Make sure the person you turn to takes time and can answer your questions and concerns openly and clearly.
MORE ON WHAT TO CHECK: Ordinary counselling and therapy may not be what you need because most helping professionals don’t know much about working with separated families in high conflict with legal processes going on. They may not believe that Parental Alienation happens. Here are some frequently asked questions that you should get answers for. Even more than usual when hoping to get help for a problem, a worker needs to explain carefully what they can and cannot do to help or promise as the outcome. These are challenging situations for everyone – they can defeat anyone’s best efforts. Desperate hope is not your best guide for choosing help. Your confidence in the worker will be helped by knowing about their relevant trainings and qualifications, their experience and range of approaches to helping, what it’s going to cost, and their membership of a known professional body. You should be able to look them up online to check their accreditation, professional code of conduct, ethical and other standards of practice, continuing professional development and supervision requirements, and their complaints system. Whatever your concern is, the person you see should be ready to engage in discussing your questions fully to your satisfaction. Oversimplifying, the usual international standards for Parental Alienation mean assessing cases on a scale between the more common, less severe Mixed or Hybrid cases and the rarer Severe or Pure Alienation pattern. A competent worker should be able to talk through with you the complications and specific local contexts (e.g. courts and professionals involved) and about the options of a more multi-modal approach or, where appropriate, of working with courts to transfer residence. No one is 100% successful so it’s worth asking about outcomes, what factors and chances there are, and ask about the worker’s failed cases too. In any field, but especially this one, if someone tells you they have a 100% success rate, you can be pretty sure they’re too good to be true!
The information and discussion on this blog is open to anyone in the world. But because we are based in the UK, we can only offer to try to respond to individual requests by clients and professionals within the UK – and the Republic of Ireland too. Contact us with a brief description of what you are looking for and we will try to suggest specific local services and specific professional networks. As yet these are few in the UK and we can make no guarantee of availability, quality or satisfaction.
Contact us too if you have updates and corrections to the information on this page. Or if you are a professional or want to publicise your service link here. Or if you want us to keep your service on an unpublished list to be suggested for specific requests that we get. This is entirely informal, free, based on hear-say, and based on trust. No guarantees can be given. But feedback will help.
Best Summary Introductions to Parental / Child Alienation (PA)
A little goldmine from the world’s leading authorities in Canada – Prof Nicolas Bala and Dr Barbara Fidler. An overview article and three short packed videos.
- Brief summary on: What to do when Parental Alienation gets you –
as an excluded parent, as an alienated child, and as a by-stander.
- Someone has made sure the Wikipedia page on Parental Alienation is really clear.
Australia has the best websites! Eeny Meeny Foundation’s website presents a neat collation of what PA is and what parents, children, and everyone can do about it (bottom of that linked page). And Divorce Pizza (with fridge magnets) and PA Affirmative Action are lovingly created goldmines of info and support. While For Kids Sake gets a medal for its thorough campaign approach.
- Amy Baker’s short summary of the standard view of PA and PA Syndrome – the parent’s strategies and the child’s syndrome. And why PA is emotional abuse of children.
- Amy Baker’s “Beyond the Highroad” is now sold from her website as “Advice for Targeted Parents”
- Here’s a review and a summary of Amy Baker’s famous research and book about adult children of PAS that makes a link between harmful cults and PAS.
- Edward Kruk (2018)’s summary review of Parental Alienation shows that we will soon by-pass that contentious term and see the list of what’s happening very obviously as one form of Psychological Abuse of children.
- Now even UK social workers are learning about PA as child emotional abuse.
- A great quick summary is Sue Whitcombe’s What is Parental Alienation? hand-out (2-pages plus references).
- Or this Canberra newspaper article informed by Nicolas Bala’s up-to-date research and thinking (prompted by a PAS story where neither side was well-informed).
- Or Brian O’Sullivan’s article in The Village Magazine.
- A review by Walters and Friedlander (2016) (2o pages) freshens up the key lessons for PA around a new name for it: intractable ‘Resist/Refuse Dynamic’. Published in the long established Family Court Review (FCR) journal of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).
- A packed medium-sized summary is Nick Child’s Off-putting relationships: Essentials of Child Alienation – an always-updated concise but comprehensive overview (26 pages). See References section there for bigger PA books and resources. Nick summarises PA as he values the bigger map of ‘relationships that take you in and cut you off’.
- Another good medium-sized summary is in Edward Kruk’s articles in Psychology Today: The impact on children, The impact on alienated parents, and: Reunification and other programs.
- Try ‘Making sense of the alienation experience‘ on this blog … what was Nick Child’s Sutherland Lecture in May 2018.
- A great short book is Jennifer Harman & Zeynep Bringer’s (2016) Parents Acting Badly: How institutions and societies promote the alienation of children from their loving families. – freshly researched and carefully thought through to confirm old and create new understanding (247 pages). Published by, and buy from, Amazon.
- Parental Alienation happens to mothers as well as to fathers. Each gets gender-customised untested allegations that get believed all the way to court. The Empathy Gap thoroughly corrects powerful dominant beliefs about men and boys.
Best Video Introductions
- Een Meeny Foundation website has a fine selection of videos. Try the first 5 mins of their own YouTube video / text summary for a start.
- Amy Baker summarising PA and PAS (8 mins). Read more of the 17 Alienating strategies a parent may use. And the 8 features of the ‘PA Syndrome’ when the child is not able to resist.
- Audio not video, here is an important BBC Radio 4 feature on PA in Woman’s Hour (15th Feb 2017). Important because strong ideological influences often prevent PA being aired in this established and gendered radio show. The realisation that mothers and fathers can both be Alienated gets round the usual prejudice.
- Here’s the feature (17 mins) on Parental Alienation that BBC2 did in the news magazine show, Victoria Derbyshire (21st Nov 2016). And the discussion (10 mins).
- Below is an engaging short (30 mins) educational video: Memories of a Monster: A closer look at Parental Alienation, based on a semi-realistic Desperate Housewives storyline. It’s not usually the by-stander friend who initiates conscious dirty tactics. But lots of it is accurate and very well explained, underlining how small behaviour and big nuances make it happen. The final scene is definitely not true to life but the video brilliantly makes that contrast with how healthy non-coercive parents should deal with separation in the first place. However, as this Bowen Theory conversation shows, there can be cut-offs in real life family triangles that take some effort to resolve that would otherwise become even more fixed and damaging.
- At the very outset before any of the horrible conflict gets going, listen and follow this excellent 2.5 mins child-spoken teaching that covers all the main principles for any separating couple with children. If everyone did what this child is asking us to, there would be no Parental Alienation at all. The FNFS report on Shared Parenting: Better for Scotland’s Children and Malin Bergstrom video summarising Sweden’s experience, complements this child’s voice well. See below for how the system terribly mis-uses the child’s voice as chief witness in high conflict separation contact disputes; this is the key factor in how Parental Alienation has taken off.
- If you like online videos, a good place to find several more on PA is Howie Dennison’s collection here.
- And this is the best short video explaining the importance of Attachment theory in intimate couple and family relationships, from Sue Johnson (Emotionally Focused Therapy), and Ed Tronick (Still Face experiment).
Note: As “Parental Alienation” gets known about, people may find themselves tapping into resources with that heading as a first step. But you should note that many professionals and agencies are not well-disposed to help people who present “PA” as their leading concern. So you may find lots of other steps and resources are more useful as a first step. For example, people who’ve contacted us have had clear-cut child protection concerns that can be followed up, or false allegations brewing, or legal issues to learn about. So don’t forget to explore these as well as more PA-shaped things. Meanwhile – read on!
A substantial more general website designed to help find what you need for your own family separation is Sorting Out Separation.
Karen Woodall has been leading the setting up of Family Separation Clinics in various places now – London, Jersey and Edinburgh so far. They offer “specialist services to families experiencing divorce or separation and, in particular, those where parental alienation may be present.” Here is their brochure: fsc-parental-alienation-brochure-2015-1. You can email their office for further advice. Professionals too can use the same email to ask for info about: court work, therapeutic intervention, other legal professionals (who can give reference for the FSC work), as well as coaching and other services and training. The Woodalls’ book for families is now published. And the new online service specifically for Parental Alienation help.
Dr Sue Whitcombe, based in Wales, is a Counselling Psychologist with a special interest in Alienation. She offers a similar (to FSC’s) range of services, training and events through Family Psychology Solutions.
There are a number of psychologists who work under Psychology Associates who have knowledge and experience of working with parental alienation. Two independent social workers with therapeutic skills where alienation features work under Child and Family Solutions.
Melanie Gill and Dr Chip Chimera set up Family Assessment Consultants in 2018 based on many years of expertise. They combine expert objective DMM Attachment-based assessment (eg for courts) and can also offer therapeutic work thereafter guided by that framework. Some would say this is the new gold-standard for this field.
Gillian Solomon uses her integrated approach and international experience of separating families, based in Somerset, to offer some services to families in managing co-parenting, couple therapy, parenting plans, and child-inclusive primary dispute resolution. She offers distance work with Skype. Contact Gillian by emailing her. Her website is nicely called: It Takes a Village.
Brian O’Sullivan is based in Laois, Eire. He is a therapist with a special interest in PA. He offers help to children and families affected. See his webpage for more and how to contact him.
Kenneth Lane founded Contact Matters. He has “pioneered an innovative service for separating parents caught up in an unhelpful legal system. Contact Matters is about rescuing children’s futures. www.contactmatters.co.uk. Contact Matters utilises professional time-based guidelines that Cafcass, and its predecessor, failed to install – enabling parents to establish timely child-centred solutions at mediation or at the first Hearing. Contact Matters has a proven track record of success of achieving resolution, including in cases involving seemingly intransigent hostility. Contact Matters is about the child.”
Dr Shelagh Wright is a PA-aware Family and Systemic Psychotherapist and a Family Mediator trained in Direct Child Consultation.
Child and Family Solutions are Alison Bushell and Jo Masterton-Francis. They mention their knowledge of Parental Alienation and offer a range of services based in the South East of England – McKenzie Friends (Self Representing or Litigants in Person), Children’s Guardian, Mediation, Family Group Conference, Special Education Needs, and Social Work Services.
In England and Wales (but not Scotland) CAFCASS is the standard Child and Family Court Assessment and Support Services. Recently their CEO (see above) has explicitly taken on board Parental Alienation as a serious concern. The limited budget and training helps explain any limitations in the service. In their in-house resources have a look at their Impact of Parental Conflict Tool.
In Scotland, as well as Sue Whitcombe and Karen Woodall (see above) who visit to do court and other work, psychologist, Tommy Mackay (tommymackay.com) has been the only known reliable PA court expert.
Across Scotland, Pat Barclay, Child & Couple Separation Counsellor at Relationship Solutions has been developing effective services to children and families including reports and work for courts. … It’s worth saying more about her work to encourage others to emulate her: As anyone needs to in this work, she starts and keeps very child-focused, using her knowledge of child-developmental stages as well as of high conflict separation patterns, as she works and assesses the particular case, including of course (separate) meetings with both parents and more as needed. Not only does she then provide focused useful reports to the courts, but the reports help courts see how their role is needed to continue to keep things on track afterwards. Pat has created a pragmatic comprehensive approach and service that is most effective at the earliest stages, but even entrenched cases may benefit. … If Pat can create this on her own initiative in Scotland, building her own training to support it, so can others! If you do this too – please Contact us so we can list you here. Thanks.
Online support, resources and networks
The normal advice and guidance (that if followed would stop high conflict) are available everywhere. For example, What Children Say (and here: What-most-children-say). Scottish government guidelines also set out clearly what the best way to think and do things: Family Matters: Parenting Agreement for Scotland – Guidelines & Plan; Living Together in Scotland; and Charter for Grandchildren.
The positive approach to Alienation is to make shared care as the default. This happens in Sweden (see below). Scotland is heading to learn how to make Both Parents Matter after separation. See this Shared Parenting website.
However, what is reasonable in guidelines does not mean that separating couples don’t operate their own more powerful unilateral reasons. Then power can be more important. ‘Possession is 9/10ths of the law’ means that the parent who has main care of the children can, if they want, ignore all else and decide what they want. If the other parent opposes this, the threat is expensive lawyers and family court procedures (maybe with added allegations) to determine just what is reasonable … but that only ends after awful protracted polarised adversarial conflict has made the whole thing worse still. Amicable separation may often mean backing down to avoid all that.
Alienation affects mothers and fathers, but the organisations are unfortunately divided by gender. Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter – and the FNF Both Parents Matter Scotland and FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru ‘sister’ organisations – provide guidelines and support of various kinds. They don’t mind what gender of father contacts them. Here’s a FNFS webpage with useful resources that are more generally useful than just for the extremes of PA. Here is FNFS guide for Child Welfare (was Bar) Reports – family lawyers doing this report being the nearest equivalent in Scotland to CAFCASS. The FNFS report on Shared Parenting: Better for Scotland’s Children shows a positive way to implicitly reduce the negative pattern, PA.
Mothers Apart from Their CHildren (MATCH) may be helpful for mothers who have been alienated, though that is not the only predicament they cover. There are closed networks too that you can ask to join.
FNF and MATCH are most likely to know most about support groups and events happening for those affected by Alienation. Karen Woodall and Sue Whitcombe organise and present workshops and events for families and for professionals.
Several Facebook Groups offer peer group support 24/7. Have a look at or ask to join one or more of these UK family support groups: Parental Alienation (UK) Support and Help Parental Alienation Participation and Awareness UK Parent Speak. International groups include: People Against Parental Alienation Parental Alienation World Wide Support Group
Gary Direnfeld’s approach is typical of many mediators and professionals who don’t like using the ‘Alienation’ word. But if everyone followed his advice about how “Keeping a child away from their other parent can backfire” then quite a lot of the less severe Alienation patterns would never get going like they do.
The best advice for what targeted parents say, how to cope, is in Amy Baker and Paul Fine’s (2008) paper: Beyond the high road. It is now a cheap e-book available on her website: Advice for targeted parents.
While Ryan Thomas, child of Alienation, is the liveliest educational approach to helping us all understand how Alienation works and how Alienated parents can take action to reconnect with their child. There is loads of quality material on his website – free (e.g. blog, videos, articles, live webinar), cheap (e-book “Sabotaged”), and not so cheap (e.g. courses). But the engaging detailed up-front style makes the online workshops worth trying. Here’s Ryan Thomas on Facebook – look, for example, for the videos of his live online course on “How to connect with your Alienated child”. More recently Ryan has been creating YouTube videos that look like mainstream TV shows! Well, if you can’t get mainstream to do it, why not! Here’s his typical upbeat kind of approach featuring how a mother skilfully negotiated her way back to contact and reunite with her daughter.
Some international online resources provide active help wherever you are. Of many many websites around the world on PA, perhaps Joani Kloth-Zanard’s PAS-Intervention has been among the most sustained and deep.
Ludwig Lowenstein died a few years ago. For decades longer than most in the UK, he had worked with Parental Alienation. He kept offering to help people suffering with PAS to the end. He is sadly missed. His extensive publications and his book (2007) are listed here.
Stand Alone is a charity offering support to adults estranged from their family or children. They say: “Our latest research from Ipsos MORI shows that 1 in 5 families in the UK will be affected by estrangement and over 5 million people have decided to cut contact with at least one family member.” Contact them on their website. They have a ‘meeting people’ page and (as of August 2015) offer support services in London, Sheffield, Newcastle and Glasgow. Outside those areas, they have a comprehensive on-line support service.
From and For Parents and Children
Kent Family Mediation has this good general advice for separating parents that goes on to difficult situations including Alienation.
Now named Action Against Abduction (was Parents and Children Together) produced an excellent 35 minute video Victims of Another Warwhere three adults describing their childhood experiences of alienation and the lifelong harm that resulted. This leading organisation (and the documentaries) come under the broader, more acceptable, “abduction” heading. But Abduction is equally about severe Alienation, which is a slower process with the same result.
Expofunction’s blog is an unusual compact website with a parent’s perspective clearly and creatively presented – it should be much better known.
Pamela Roche’s raw and gripping story Broken Lives Broken Minds of international alienation from her sons, highlighting how legal and professional ignorance and incompetence can multiply dangerous and expensive abuses on children and families, and a comparison of different countries’ use and abuse of labels and authority.
Luke Matthews and Julie Burkhardt’s book Can’t Explain: A Frightening Tale of Parental Alienation Syndrome (2014, The Choir Press) is available in Kindle form too.
Karen Woodall’s own story of being an alienated child helps explain her commitment and expertise.
Parents Healing from Estrangement has loads of stories and other resources.
Many people highly rate Amy Baker’s book: Getting Through My Parents Divorce: Helping your child through a difficult divorceL A workbook for dealing with Parental Alienation, loyalty conflicts, and other tough stuff.
Ryan Thomas’s amazing online resources result from his own experience as a ‘child of alienation’ and how he found his way through to reconnecting with his Dad. He has a great talent for teaching us about that, along with teaching and support services, and how to make things better (see above for more).
Mothers Apart from Their CHildren (MATCH) may be helpful given the particular experiences of mothers, not all of whom are in alienated situations.
Living Losses is a new sound iCloud network resource. Alison’s ten minute story of being an alienated mother is a really good way to hear about it … and to note that it happens to mothers as well as fathers.
Claire Brett-Moran’s ‘lonely parent’ blog is by and for alienated parents. It’s got lots of really good stories, resources, support, advice and references too. The long version of her story is interesting – “I was an adult alienated child”. She describes a phase of being Alienated by her husband before her own Alienation from her children. Most commonly that first phase would be called the coercive control of intimate partner domestic abuse.
Reena Sommers in the US has set out her list of things that don’t work and things that might help in PAS.
Here’s Ryan Thomas on Facebook. Look for the videos of his live online course on “How to connect with your Alienated child”
Unsure about ‘alienation’?
Read Nick Child’s Not sure about? This counteracts the tendency to think way too simplistically. Each family is unique and has to be assessed in their own right. We are not dealing with two categories: everyone is either PA/S or not PA/S. There is a range of severity: here’s Douglas Darnall’s informal three categories. But even that is way too simplistic … especially when you extend the spectrum of patterns even wider. See Nick Child’s overview for more.
Long before the more personal alienation in families was described, social alienation has been much written about by theologists, sociologists, philosophers and psychologists. It can be interesting to learn and contrast the many more established meanings of alienation.
Alienation happens in lots of contexts, and in separating families it is no surprise. Alienation is part of a range of understandable patterns of close attachments and break-ups. See, for example: Pat Crittenden’s Raising Parents. Alienation is part of a range of many big and small varieties of coercive processes and undue influence, from cults, extremist terrorism, bulling to domestic abuse and parental alienation – see the Open Minds Foundation.
New Jersey Safe and Sound cover many aspects of the broad field of Undue Influence: summary of influence and Undue Influence, prevention, creating better legislation, etc. But they make a common error: They assume that a family is always safe and sound. In some families the worst abuse and undue influence is perpetrated. See comments below this blog for more and for how the error could easily be corrected.
Child and Parental Alienation
As laws, social beliefs (about gender and parenting), family courts, and socially supported ways to separate have changed in recent decades, problematic patterns have grown up. In high conflict separation, the interests of the child are supposed to be focused on, but we have turned to a faulty use of ‘the child’s voice’ to resolve the adults’ high conflict. This may put huge pressure on the child and what they say when asked – and that in turn is a key factor in developing Parental Alienation. The original child-focused approach was in Australia and aimed to help parents recognise their child’s needs; it was nothing to do with using the child to resolve the adult and court decisions.
Karen Woodall: Understanding and working with the alienated child. is a really good detailed enough overview with a case study too.
The most powerful book of research based on interviews with PA children grown-up is Amy Baker’s (2007) Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome. But she has done and published much more – see her website.
Nick Child’s “Children Resisting Contact” (the short version .. with loads more resources and links). Or the even shorter (20 pages) concise but comprehensive overview based on his London presentation.
Sue Whitcombe’s (2014): Powerless: the lived experience of alienated parents in the UK and article in The Psychologist (2014) Parental Alienation: time to notice, time to intervene. Sue provides a useful authoritative summary of Parental Alienation.
Karen Woodall and her blog (mixing experienced practical and polemical thinking) and The Family Separation Clinic are unique UK developments.
Stan Hayward’s 2002 www.parentalalienation.org.uk gives a comprehensive and updated covering of PA. He goes back to early 1990s with a systematic look at all agencies involved, and some interesting detailed guidance, advice, and correspondence (including from kids).
Counting numbers is hard for a pattern that is both familiar – one parent turns their child against the other for no good reason – yet its existence is denied when given the name Parental Alienation.
- A Resolution survey in England and Wales showed almost a third (32%) of children said one parent tried to turn them against the other during divorce, while over a quarter (27%) said that “my parents tried to involve me in their dispute.”
- Sue Whitcombe (personal comm) extrapolates from overseas studies that there are at least 5000 family proceedings in England and Wales each year featuring PA, affecting more than 10,000 children.
- And Jennifer Harman and Zeynep Bringer in their properly conducted survey reported in Parents Acting Badly come up with a staggering 10% of parents ub the USA experiencing Parental Alienation – that’s millions of them!
Understanding Parental Alienation is not helped by the many counter-intuitive hurdles. Richard Warshak (2015) listed some of these in Ten parental alienation fallacies that compromise decisions in court and in therapy. Edward Kruk (2015) unpacks those further.
Divorce is decreasing as cohabitation rather than marriage increases. Taking just England and Wales, half of all couples who divorce have children under 16 – about 57, 000 divorces affecting 100,000 children (ONS, 2013). But private family law cases include both married and cohabiting families who separate. Each year there are about 45,ooo new private family law cases involving about 120,ooo children under 16 – Cafcass is referred most of them (Cafcass).
Explore how cults work (in similar ways to Alienation). Like PA, those who have been through it are most motivated and knowledgeable. There’s Steven Hassan’s Freedom of Mind approach. And Dr Alexandra Stein’s very clear personal experience and work e.g. this summary (including Attachment explanation). She is keen on prevention proposing comprehensive teaching – as all German children got after the Nazis – about the warning signs of ‘totalist’ coercion.
All kinds of people who are separately concerned about all kinds of harmful coercive patterns would do well to team up to raise awareness and teach people to resist it before it happens. Slavery and all categories of abuse, as well as cults and PA, all feature coercive control … although coercively controlling parents have a head start with their own children being insiders from their birth. Learning about a common enemy gives a general description of all harmful coercive patterns. The Open Minds Foundation tackles the whole range of ‘undue influence’.
Les Linet is an adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist. He has created and collected a huge set of internet videos and blogs on Parental Alienation amongst many other mental health topics. Here’s his general blog.
For those looking for a much fuller professional reference list of reading and resources, Nick Child’s overview is most accessible and updated. Choose (there) one or more of four key modern textbooks on children who resist contact, all published in 2013.
Increasingly people see that Parental Alienation is best understood as a relationship pattern, and so Attachment-based approaches to all parties make most sense. But there are quite different ways to use Attachment-based thinking. (Since 2013) Dr Craig Childress in the USA has been a powerful strategic voice for an Attachment-based approach, has published a book, and been the basis for a campaign against incompetent professionals who fail to accept or address the several relevant bits of the DSM even without the ‘A’ word. See below for more reflective and academically authoritative developments of Attachment-based approaches that go beyond the demonisation of those with e.g. personality disorders.
Understandably hurt and angry, on both sides, DSM personality disorder terms (like narcissistic, sociopathic) are often aggressively used as if they were weapons to damn, not tools to understand and help. Here’s a typical general summary of Narcissistic Personality / Disorder. The personality categories are not so black and white as people want to think. They aren’t as definite or as useful in practice with particular cases in helping or legal settings as people want to think. Mostly the list of things that make someone fit the category of a Personality Disorder tell you that they are the sort of person who does some of the list of things. Theories about the causes are not as proven as we’d like. Nor do the categories specify what treatment works. Individuals may tick a few or even a lot of the boxes on the lists of features. But tick boxes are not how professional assessment of anyone is done. Susan Stiffelman’s short article is useful sympathetic and constructive about degrees of narcissism and how to live with it before or after separation. These caveats limit but don’t deny that there is some usefulness for these concepts. See below for more on narcissism.
The Wider Field of Family Abuse and Conflict
In California, Ron Berglas doggedly pursued and here makes a strong case for Alienation to be included in the teaching of helping professionals as part of their child abuse course. (His presentation takes 17 mins; then discussion.) Why isn’t a professional making the case? How does a complex topic get taught with no more course time added on? Who would teach it?
A more nuanced and rich version of an Attachment-based approach to family conflict of all kinds is Pat Crittenden’s Dynamic Maturational Model as described in Raising Parents. This covers the full range of good, bad and ugly including coercive and alienation relationships from all sides. Brilliant, clear, deep and comprehensive, it can be condensed to a diagram of the DMM. But naturally the book is an appropriately big commitment to work through – the kind of challenge that professionals need to take on to qualify as competent to assess the unique complexity of each case. Here is her website summary of DMM and a page with a series of video interview clips that cover key topics.
Lots of people use the very negative term: Narcissistic Personality / Disorder for the very negative and overwhelmingly powerful personality of coercive people. But it is important to understand that, the inner core is not the well-known outer superiority. It is a huge resistance to feelings of vulnerability to anyone at any time. Seth Meyers puts this well. And Susan Stiffelman’s short article is useful sympathetic and constructive too.
Peter Fonagy focuses on how self reflective functioning or ‘mentalization’ in the parent – ‘thinking about what the child is thinking‘ – makes all the difference for the children. Bringing in neurobiological aspects of Attachment, this helps us understand the way early experience produces harm and disturbed Attachment patterns and new methods promise to help even the most disturbed people to change. Another example of this is Dan Brown and this clear summary report of Dan’s training. Here’s a Philosophy Bites interview with Hannah Pickard, therapist and philosopher, about Responsibility and personality disorder – a clear path through the messy arena of blame, justice, punishment and helping (15 mins). Find more links to Hannah Pickard’s writing here. Finally, Bill Hewlett is a mediator who rises more than many to the extreme challenge of engaging high conflict clients after separation. Bill is interviewed here (23 mins).
Those targeted by the most powerfully Alienating parent naturally want to attack back. Negative personality disorder labels may be the only ammunition they have. As Dan Brown shows, more understanding and help is available instead of execution at dawn! A view of what goes on inside a “narcissistic” personality is also important – it’s kinda the opposite of the outside appearance! This view doesn’t mean that helping them change is easy.
All of these approaches promote the idea that demonising your ex-partner only entrenches the relationship and harms the children further. That need to keep positive and ethical in these most hateful polarising relationships is echoed in the approaches used to help your loved one when they’re just as stuck in a mind-control cult. Read more of Steve Hassan’s cult expert thinking and approach and his two books. And all of this is in marked contrast to the very heated and blaming language and ideas that is found in so many social media pages about Parental Alienation.
Sweden is way ahead in so many ways. (But Parental Alienation still defeats their court systems with the typical mistaken assumption that a child’s views can be relied on, that they are not open to adult or other influence.) In general, Sweden’s lead comes from a range of policies matched by cultural values that make it unnecessary to head into fighting with your ex-partner about money or children. Malin Bergstrom presents research that shows how the Shared Parenting (in Sweden that means 50 50) has become standard for separating couples, and how much better this is for children in every measured respect than imbalanced or purely single parenting. The Guardian covered this well. The debate has raged on if and how babies and toddlers benefit from shared care with overnights, but recently published research (Fabricius & Woon 2017) shows that shared care benefits the child’s relationships with both parents in the long-term too.
The highest standards for competence for legal assessments is Steve Miller’s challenging chapter Clinical reasoning and decision-making in cases of child alignment: diagnostic and therapeutic issues, in Baker and Sauber’s book (2013) Working with Alienated Children and Families: A Clinical Guidebook.
Most authorities now focus on Alienation as emotional / psychological abuse of the child. Joan Kelly & Janet Johnston led the way to this child focus in 2001 with their famous paper: The Alienated Child: a reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Although ‘Parental’ stays in the name because everyone knows that name, many would prefer other terms that put the child centre frame.
However, Jennifer Harman has proposed in detail that PA is Intimate Partner Violence against the ex-partner (as well as child abuse) e.g. in this video lecture in Iceland (2017). How many Alienating parents want to torture their ex- partners for as long as possible? How many want to eliminate them from their lives as quick as possible?
If you want a comprehensive summary of all the ways that our minds refuse to work rationally for us, the way we fall into cognitive biases that fool us into thinking we’re being reasonable, have a look at this Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet. This version shows the diagram more clearly, and links to really useful flash cards on web or app. The diagram summarises it:
The English High Court Judge, Mr Justice (Paul) Coleridge (in 2010), challenged the way a child’s voice is used as if there is no chance of (undue) influence: Lets hear it for the child; Restoring the Authority of the Family Court, Blue skies and Sacred cows. Here’s the key excerpt. He references the key evidence of Dr Kirk Weir’s case review on Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings.
Nick Child (2014) has argued that Keeping one eye on family abuse is not enough – the ‘one eye’ being the ideological feminist gender one. Others have argued this too …
Domestic and child abuse gets a more accurately multifactorial (not just gendered) approach in Elly Farmer (now Hanson) and Samantha Callan’s report (2012) for the Centre for Social Justice, called: Beyond Violence: Breaking cycles of domestic abuse – full report.
Karen Woodall has set up a more global motor-way to by-pass the gender spats. As blogger on a world stage, The Huffington Post, in a single You ain’t no Muslim bruv blog, she joined together the world’s new top priority – the concern with young religious extremist terrorists – by giving them the same name: Alienation, and offering the skills from Parental Alienation as relevant.
A useful overarching and constructive framework is in the active promotion of shared parenting and custody as the norm. For example: the International Council on Shared Parenting among many other results from Googling. Here is a report on Shared Parenting and a video of Malin Bergstrom presenting (15 mins) a summary of Sweden’s positive experience for children (full research articles: here and here).
In an episode called ‘Blue for Bluebird’ of the BBC series Inspector George Gently, a happy family holiday camp in 1969 provides a nice setting at the start of changing-times for camps and for families. The subplot shows a familiar circular pattern happening: Separated father John Bacchus is hurt and angry at his ex-wife’s use of his behaviour as reason to keep his contact with his young daughter to a minimum. Gently gently engineers a happier ending for them.
Family Courts and The Law
Useful video guidance and many more relevant English cases are available on The Custody Minefield. England has CAFCASS – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service as the agency that has been now confirmed publicly (see above) to recognise Parental Alienation and to assess and help families.
There is no equivalent to CAFCASS in Scotland. It is mostly lawyers doing all the roles. FNF Scotland describes how the family courts work in the form of guidelines for self-litigants – i.e. without a solicitor. There is now (2016) new official Scottish Guidance on Child Welfare Reports for family courts. These recommend many improvements – not yet happening, but we can now demand they do happen! The improvements include that those who provide the family courts with the most basic reports on separated families in conflict (as yet mostly untrained lawyers) must know about various aspects. One of these aspects is: ‘cases where a parent has undue influence over a child (sometimes known as parental alienation)‘. If even unqualified child welfare reporters have to know these things, one trusts that when Sheriffs and Judges in the family courts appoint a single joint expert assessor, they will ensure that the expert too knows their stuff. At present many expert witnesses do not. And sadly – despite decades of disciplined single joint investigation as normal for assessing other child physical and sexual abuse (see David La Rooy et al (2012) for their critical review of that) – family courts still seem happy to allow multiple expert witnesses on both sides to put the child through their hellish mill multiple times instead of appointing a single expert witness capable of assessing the key issues.
A famous UK expert witness, Dr Kirk Weir, published his case experience (in Family Court Journal) to show in “Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings.” And a more internationally known version in the Family Court Review too.
In the Republic of Ireland, Roisin O’Shea had open access to research what actually happens in family courts. Here’s a summary report (2013) and here’s her whole PhD (2014)! Would that someone would do in every country the same research.
The key to extreme cases – cases where one or both parents cannot or will not engage in all the recommended collaborative approaches – is for the court to organise the assessment and authorising of skilled collaborative working, e.g. Parenting Coordinators in the US. Here’s a good description of Singapore trying this out. “The intention is for the court to appoint a Parenting Coordinator for suitable cases.”
The use of the legal term ‘undue influence‘ should be noted, not just in those Scottish guidelines but also in Ireland’s legislation too – in 31. 6. a. “in determining best interests of a child … views of a child …endeavour to ensure that any views so expressed by the child are not expressed as a result of undue influence”. ‘Undue influence’ is the term used for all harmful patterns of coercive persuasion, inside or outside families – read more about this on the Open Minds Foundation
You can see how the legal system is in a comfortable monopoly position everywhere in the world, why lawyers earn a lot, and why they may not be highly motivated to do better in a hurry! … After reading this sort of thing, the best advice might be: 1. Don’t get married. 2. If you do, don’t have children. 3. If you do, for God’s sake don’t separate or divorce!! 😉 But Karen Straughan provides a deeply serious case for why marriage is too risky for men (60 min podcast) and in this video (45 mins) response on MGTOW (men going their own way).
Family Law in Partnership is an established forward-looking law firm with a page of useful resources here. Even though Alienation is most unlikely to come to or benefit from ordinary collaborative approaches, it is still highly recommended for all – parents and all other professionals – to learn more from FLIP’s clear, concise but comprehensive enough guides about Family Mediation and on Collaborative Divorce Or email for discounts on bulk purchase: firstname.lastname@example.org
An example of the endlessly expensive and admitted failure of UK family courts to help alienation cases is in this (2013) Appeal Judgement of a case.
Mr Justice Munby’s (2004) long and honest thinking on the family courts’ failure in intractable family cases
In the UK, the Midlands Region (and Glasgow now) uses this short guideline to prepare parents (and lawyers) for what will be expected of them in courts.
This is an interesting portrayal of the problem of being sensible in family courts about PA – Ludwig Loewenstein sets out a typical conversation between himself, a psychologist, and a judge.
A big expensive (legal publisher!) detailed legal book on Parental Alienation is: Children Held Hostage: Identifying Brainwashed Children, Presenting a Case, and Crafting Solutions (1991 now 2014 2nd edition) by Stanley S Clawer and Brynne V Rivlin. Read the blurb and reviews on Amazon to see how anyone would benefit from this dedicated work despite its price. There’s a useful online (i.e. free) presentation based on the book.
Robert A Evans and J. Michael Bone founded the National Association of PA Specialists in the US. Their website offers help to find a qualified attorney (presumably one who has paid for and completed their – APA approved! – training course). Plus free articles, podcasts, and their blog.
A more powerful version of guidelines that proactively set out from the very start the family court’s standing orders for separating families is found across Florida, USA. This effectively prevents children from being isolated from a parent.
For a comprehensive set of links to many international authors and websites, go down Nick Child’s forallthat.com pages on Children Resisting Contact.
The Australian Eeny Meeny Miney Mo Foundation is worth a visit.
If you want to see several of the leading authorities on PA sample their presentations at the Toronto, Montreal and New York conferences – except you don’t see the slides!
The international multidisciplinary Association of Family and Conciliation Courts is the leading professional body to belong to, delivering its high quality journal – read a sample here. Here is a look at the PA themed issue (2010) and one on Attachment (2012).
With a core of experienced professionals who have published about PA – and parents too – the PA Study Group webpage tells you more and how to join.
Otowa and colleagues have shown that parental separation in general is, for nearly every long term harm, worse on children than death of a parent.
Jose Luis Sariego Morillo is a Family Lawyer with his established Spanish language blog on Parental Alienation. But an option at the top of the page invites you to read it in a Google translation to your own language! Magic. And he has a really good reference list there too (again, apply the magic translate button).