Friday, 29 March 2013

Let’s talk about it - bringing Parental Alienation to a wider audience

I’ve been immersing myself in the literature around Parental Alienation for over 2 years now – hungrily devouring every journal article, magazine posting, book chapter, seminar and blog that deals with the issue from one perspective or another.  I have met with so many people who have lived with Parental Alienation on a daily basis – who deal with pain, loss, shame, guilt, anger, rejection, disbelief, depression, sadness, ignorance and judgement.  I have met so many more people, professionals such as counsellors, psychologists, academics, teachers, social workers and lawyers, who have never heard of Parental Alienation.  And then there are those people that happenstance dictates I bump into.  In polite conversation, they ask – “why are you going to a conference?” or “what are you researching?”  After checking out – “do you really want to know?”, I explain to them what Parental Alienation is, and what my research is about.  It never ceases to surprise, and dismay, me the number of times I hear “that happened to my son/partner/daughter/friend/colleague”.

I guess many may see me as a passionate bore.  My research is extremely important to me.  But it is driven by seeing the traumatic effect it has on the lives of the people I love and care about.  And it is this personal encounter with Parental Alienation which drives me on.  I feel driven to raise awareness of Parental Alienation in those professionals who work with people on a daily basis whose lives are damaged by this tragedy.  I feel driven to raise awareness in the general public – so that Parental Alienation can no longer be denied or swept under the carpet in the same way as childhood sex abuse used to be. 

I guess it is this passion and drive which took me to the recent conference of the BPS History and Philosophy of Psychology section. My passion and drive and one of my all too frequent moments of madness that is!!  History and Philosophy of Psychology?  Me?  I am no theoretical academic.  I am firmly rooted in applied psychology.  I am very clear that I am here to help people – not to theorise or speculate.  What drove me was the topic of the conference  “DSM: The History, Theory, and Politics of Diagnosis”.  In devouring all those journal articles I had become aware of the debate around the inclusion of Parental Alienation in the upcoming latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM5.  The debate around whether we label a child with a mental disorder; the debate around the symptoms and behaviour manifested in a child due to the alienation process; the debate surrounding the alienation behaviours of the parent; the debate around prevention and intervention – and whether a “label” is a pre-requisite for resources to be made available.

So, I submitted an abstract, which was accepted.  I arrived at the conference on 26th March, and immediately felt that I had made an error of judgement.  This was NOT the place for my presentation. It was the WRONG audience. I felt like a fish out of water, in need of a parachute to bail out – and probably many other mixed metaphors and similies too.  Oh well, I was here now, and thankfully there was a colleague here who was very re-assuring and supportive.  It was with some angst and apprehension that I delivered my “paper”.  I had never been to a conference where a “paper” meant an actual written paper which was delivered verbatim.  I had prepared my usual PowerPoint presentation backed up by a few scribbled notes – though I have to admit that nerves took over and I didn’t “engage” with the audience as much as I would have liked.  I ran a little over the allocated time, not allowing time for questions and felt I had rushed things, hadn’t been clear enough or got my points across.  I was relieved when it was over.  With some surprise, my relief quickly turned to satisfaction, a sense of fulfilment, and I can say I even felt a wee bit proud when 2 of the delegates rushed up to me at the end.  One of them was very excited, and felt that my paper validated her own theoretical research and she would like to use it as an example when she presented her paper the following day.  The second was a young woman, who put her arm on mine and said  “Thank you.  That happened to me as a child, and now I know it has a name.  Now I know it was real.”  

I want to give my personal thanks to that delegate.   Thank you for validating my decision to present in this strange arena.  Thank you for re-enthusing my drive and commitment to raise awareness of Parental Alienation.  And thank you for sharing your experience with me.

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