I have just returned from participating in a symposium on parental alienation: “Parental Alienation: A Critical Problem for Families in Many Countries” presented at the International Congress of Psychology (ICP 2016) in Yokohama, Japan. Six of us representing Japan, U.S.A, Australia and Hong Kong had been working towards this symposium for over a year.
My part of the symposium was to present the Australian context for parental alienation: “A Hopeful Presentation on Reconnection and Reunification after a History of Parental Alienation: A Disruptive Approach to a Disruptive Social Phenomena.
This presentation outlined the unusual model I have developed and the accompanying intervention methodology for working only with the rejected-alienated parent.
As a specialist parental alienation consultant, I work in an unusual context, where only the rejected/alienated parent will seek help.
Often, their alienated children are now adults, having grown up in the shadow of a family law that grants them the unheard of privilege of choosing their own parents when they cannot drive, vote, or even legally fill a vehicle with fuel.
Typically, mandated assessments conducted under the aegis of family law fail to consider parental alienation as a plausible hypothesis and therefore subsequent interventions are ineffective or simply unavailable. Regrettably, it is still the case in Australia that parental alienation is not regarded as a form of abuse of both the alienated child and the rejected parent. This is despite the fact that the definition of family violence within the Australian Family Law Act, 1975 contains a reasonable functional description of alienation.
Even when alienation is considered, Australian family law relies upon a model of alienation focused upon the ‘alienated child’ concept (Kelly, J.B, Johnson, J.R. 2001) that implicates the rejected-alienated parent in their own rejection and which leads to alienated children being considered the best informants of their own situation in spite of the coercive influence of the alienating parent that even this model recognises.
Furthermore, this model locates alienation along a spectrum of parent-child affiliations, as though it is just another parenting context to which a child must adapt. We do not see family violence or child sexual abuse associated in any way along the same spectrum as a normal parent-child affiliation, simply because these presentations are regarded as abusive and have nothing to do with parenting or families. This is a case of child inclusive-child focused ideology being inappropriately applied to a case of abuse for which it was never intended.
Australian Family Law is inconsistent in the manner in which it assesses the impact of alienation upon children. There have been notable cases where children have been ordered to remain in the care of an parent assessed as alienating simply because the children’s testimony was considered plausible in spite of the known effect of alienation on children’s perception and judgement and because, bizarrely, the alienating parent was regarded as the ‘better’ parent!
Perhaps the most important part of the context for this presentation is giving equal stature and voice to the impact of alienation upon the target parent. Naturally enough in matters of emotional abuse we focus upon its helpless victims notably the children, observing the predisposition to adverse outcomes later in life.
Notwithstanding that this is a necessary focus, it is still not appropriate to neglect the trauma suffered by parents rejected in this way particularly because it is those parents who are instrumental in healing the traumas and emotional/attachment injuries alienation inflicts upon their children. With parental alienation, we have to ‘prescribe the problem’. That is, the rejected parent is the solution to their alienated child’s rejection. Practitioners and their alienation-informed interventions then facilitate the remediation of the latent, interrupted relationship.
I consider it unlikely that Australia will adopt this consideration until it ‘joins the dots’ that deliberately rupturing a child’s relationship with a ‘good enough’, loved family member is an abuse of both the child and the rejected family member.
This cannot happen happen for as long as we subscribe to a philosophy that implicates the rejected parent. We must appreciate the uniquely triangulated form of abuse that characterises alienation in which the rejected parent is the uiltimate target and the alienated child is ‘weaponised’ against them.
For this reason, a significant focus of my approach is upon recovery from the specific form of intra-personal, interpersonal and social trauma caused by parental rejection by alienation. The latter dimension is the subject of my doctoral research. It is possible for a rejected-alienated parent to facilitate a reconnection with their children by addressing the impact of alienation upon them as a parent, as a person and as a member of society and then respond strategically and empathically to their alienated children.
Perhaps we can take some comfort when we compare our situation to Japan, where alienation is ignored, maternal custody is favoured in the majority of cases and parental child abduction is legal for the purpose of establishing a status quo for the law to then enforce under the principle of continuity.