The Family Separation Clinic specialises in cases of emotional harm to children in the context of divorce or family separation, which often come to light through children rejecting a relationship with one of their parents. This dynamic is often referred to as alienation.
The Clinic accepts referrals to carry out assessment for treatment where complex or fractured attachment dynamics appear to be present and delivers therapeutic interventions that focus on healing the underlying defences in the child. Cases are assessed using a differentiation framework.
In cases where emotional harm has been assessed to have caused the child’s rejection of an attachment figure, combined treatment routes are employed to free the child from the splitting defence that underpins the dynamic.
The Clinic also delivers psychotherapy and therapeutic coaching to parents and provides training and consultancy services to professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and social workers.
The Family Separation Clinic is based in London, UK, but delivers services to clients around the world.
In our work with alienated children, we adhere to the following principles:
Conceptualisation of alienation
We conceptualise alienation in children, first and foremost, as an alienation from the self as a consequence of defensive splitting in the child.
Primacy of the child
Whilst we seek to re-establish the psychological health of the whole family, the primary focus of all clinical work is the psychological health of the child.
We never regard the child as an object of a parental dispute but always as a subject of their own lived experience and it is the child’s lived experience that is the focus of all work.
The primary aim of all clinical work is the resolution of the splitting defence in the child.
Alienation is a relational problem
We do not regard alienation to be a problem in the child but recognise it as an induced splitting defence in response to the inter and intra-psychological pressures experienced by the child in its attempt to maintain attachment unity after family separation.
Whilst acknowledging the common clinical markers of alienation in children, we do not utilise or support quasi-diagnostic approaches such as ‘eight signs’ and ‘the five factor model’.
Restoration of integration
Any intervention that restores the child’s relationship with the previously rejected parent but does not honour and attend to the child’s attachment relationship to the previously favoured parent may be considered to be a failed intervention.
Whilst a child may need to be protected from the harmful behaviours of a parent, a successful intervention allows and supports a child to retain a positive relationship with their internalised object relationship to that parent.
The Clinic does not base its work in what has become known as Parental Alienation Theory (including the so-called Five Factor Model) but within standard psychodynamic, psychotherapeutic, and child development theory and practice. As such, the Clinic recognises alienation as a relational problem in which a child unconsciously utilises the maladaptive defence of psychological splitting in response to a relational landscape that has become frightening and overwhelming. Such an approach recognises each case as having its own unique dynamics and employs a differential assessment process to identify the specific and particular causes of the child’s rejection together with a treatment route that responds to the individual needs of the child.
Children who are being harmed by, or are at risk from, the parent they are rejecting cannot be said to be alienated and, although children who are rejecting a parent are also unlikely to be spending time with them, simply not spending or being prevented from spending time with a parent, also does not mean that the child is alienated. Alienation, in the way that we recognise it at the Clinic, is rooted in a pathological splitting defense that emerges in the child as a result of the psychological pressure that they are experiencing within the family system.
Recognising alienation as a maladaptive response in the child to unmanageable psychological pressure in the post-separation landscape requires those charged with determining the best interests of the child with looking beyond the narrow confines of
'care and contact' and, instead, treats alienation as a child protection issue. Whilst alienation may, on the surface, look like a problem of a child not spending time with one of their parents, the more serious problem for the child is the unconscious mechanism that enables a child to act counter to the evolutionary imperative to remain in relationship with, and in proximity to, their attachment figures.
The Family Separation Clinic does not use or support quasi-diagnostic approaches such as 'eight signs' or what is referred to as the 'Five Factor Model.'