In cases of pure alienation, the alienating parent can’t or won’t change their behaviours and no amount of systemic therapy can alter that. Such behaviours often come about because the response of the alienating parent to the separation or their hatred of the other parent has become pathologised. Sometimes the behaviours are a continuation of longstanding patterns of power and control (Woodall, 2014) and sometimes because the alienating parent has a defined personality disorder which prevents them from behaving otherwise.
In such cases, it is simply wrong to subject the targeted parent to the ongoing pathological hostility of the other parent whilst being asked to reflect on their own contribution to the family dynamic. And it is tantamount to complicity in the damage to the child to allow the alienation to continue indefinitely in the hope that the alienating parent will at some stage come to recognise that their behaviour is, ultimately, abusive.
Most importantly, alienated children are not in a position where professionals can engage in open-ended therapeutic interventions in the hope that the disordered system will once again function. What is required is not that each parent is asked to reflect upon the dynamics and accommodate the other parent’s perspective but that the alienating parent is forced under threat of sanction to behave differently and, where that is not possible, the child is removed from the harm being caused to them.
The job of those of us working with families where alienation is present is not to bend the realities of parental alienation to meet the structures and theories of our own practice but to ensure that the interventions we use meet the realities of the situation.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Robert Frost.
There are diverging paths in the development of understanding of parental alienation in the UK at the moment. I dare say this same schism appears around Europe too and indeed, across the world. One path, which is being laid by the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, is aligned with the worldwide expertise in research and practice with families affected by PA. Whilst the other is a sort of do it yourself approach which seems to ignore all of the key evidence, in favour of the belief that both parents in a PA case are always, somehow to blame. This path, which also appears to be the populist path which is being followed by CAFCASS in the UK, holds that PA is a high…
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