Parental Alienation: Clinical and Legal Perspectives
On the 10th of October, Dr Jennifer Neoh & Jacky Campbell presented ‘Parental Alienation: Clinical and Legal Perspectives’. The event began at 3pm and ran until 5pm. 90 people attended.
Both speakers presented for 30 minutes each. Dr Neoh covered the clinical perspective to parental alienation by identifying the clinical issues that are commonly associated with these cases. She gave a comprehensive explanation of what Reportable Intensive Family Therapy (RIFT) is, why it is her preferred therapeutic method for parental alienation cases, and its potential outcomes. Jacky Campbell discussed the legal perspective, providing helpful advice for solicitors to follow. She recommended useful strategies to manage parental alienation in a legal context, and gave specific advice for solicitors to give the preferred and rejected parent in order to achieve the most beneficial outcome.
The networking exercise gave attendees an opportunity to discuss the content of the presentation as well as share their own experiences with parental alienation with each other. The event concluded with a Q&A panel discussion, where Dr Neoh and Jacky Campbell answered audience questions and provided opinions on past experiences.
Dr Neoh began her presentation by providing an insight into the clinical perspective of ‘parental alienation’. She identified the terms ‘parental alienation’ and ‘alienated’ parent as inappropriate, as they are too politically and emotionally loaded. They are too simplistic and do not begin to cover the complexity of family dynamics. Instead, the terms ‘high conflict separation, ‘preferred’ parent and ‘rejected’ parent are preferred.
Dr Neoh asserted that children faced with a ‘high conflict separation’ may act in the following manner:
Strong rejection of a once loved parent
Frivolous, absurd or irrational reasons for rejection
High levels of anxiety
Strident, self-righteous attitude
Borrowed reasons for rejection, the same as or very similar to the preferred parents reasons
However, Dr Neoh emphasised that not all children who experience high conflict separation will act the same. Children can have varied responses to parental conflict, including to ‘split’ and to ‘flip-flop’. Children who ‘split’ alternate between different ‘truths’ (e.g. subscribe to one truth with mum and a different truth with dad), whereas some children hopelessly ‘flip-flop’ between these truths. Other children will determinatively choose one truth over the other. There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of children exhibiting these behaviours, including the child’s age, increased exposure to high conflict environments and existing behavioural or emotional problems.
Dr Neoh identified her therapeutic method ‘RIFT’ as an alternative to traditional clinic-based work. RIFT is an intensive family therapy over four days within the family home. It is intended to give all participants positive interactions by facilitating spontaneous moments that build new memories. These moments aim to reignite or commence relationships and help family members get past trauma.
Through RIFT, Dr. Neoh claims, children can rediscover the ‘rejected’ parent - the reasons for rejection disappear or are agreed to be put aside. New potentials in relationships are explored, and extended family members can be rediscovered. Alternatively, children can continue to resist the ‘rejected’ parent as underlying issues emerge, or as the ‘preferred’ parent sabotages the effort. The main goal of RIFT is for children to have the best possible relationship with both parents, and/or an emotional satisfaction with the outcome.
Dr Neoh asserted that RIFT, along with all high conflict family therapy must be reportable. In the case of parents not being able to resolve problems, the court must be informed. Otherwise, it is possible that parents will continue on an endless round of referrals to different therapists, claiming they ‘just had a bad psychologist’. She advocated that it is important for therapy to be reportable so that the court is fully aware of the reality of the situation.
Overall, Dr Neoh provided valuable insight into the clinical side of parental alienation cases. She identified some common clinical issues that can arise, the potential outcomes of utilising RIFT and the reason why RIFT and other methods of family therapy should be reportable.
Jacky Campbell discussed the legal perspective of parental alienation. She drew from a variety of case law to show the unpredictability of court decisions involving parental alienation, the possible warning signs of parental alienation, and to demonstrate possible strategies to help navigate these cases. Jacky provided practical advice as to the role of solicitor’s who are experiencing these issues with their clients, and suggested useful tips to give the preferred and rejected parent.
Jacky noted that solicitors are usually the first person that clients see, often even before parental alienation begins. This provides solicitors with the chance to accurately assess the client and the situation (e.g. knowing the type of behaviour that would indicate whether they are the ‘preferred’/’rejected’ parent). Jacky suggested that above all, the advice solicitors give to their clients’ needs to be practical. The action they take should incorporate psychological intervention, reportable therapy, negotiations and alternative strategies (such as organising supervised time with the ‘rejected’ parent). Sensible advice and early intervention can achieve a great deal.
Jacky then offered some practical strategies for solicitors to give to the ‘preferred’ and the ‘rejected’ parent in these circumstances:
Tips for ‘Rejected’ Parents:
Don’t criticise the ‘preferred’ parent in front of child
Engage with children’s schools/other activities and communicate with children (if permitted)
Don’t make accusations to the ‘preferred parent’ – be polite & respectful
Encourage relationships with ‘preferred’ parents family and friends, don’t undermine them
Tips for ‘Preferred’ Parents:
Don’t criticise the ‘rejected’ parent in front of child – this is particularly important as children may recognise the qualities the parent is criticising as qualities they also possess
Be aware of own behaviour – be open-minded to recommended strategies
Encourage friends and family to respectfully communicate with ‘rejected’ parent
Learn about the long-term consequences of your behaviour for the children – obtain specialist advice if necessary
Overall the ‘Parental Alienation: Clinical and Legal Perspectives’ event was an informative and interesting event. Hearing different perspectives from clinical and legal perspectives helped those in attendance to consider other point of views outside of their usual line of work, which provided for a lively discussion during the Q&A.
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