Parental separation, alienation and splitting: Healing beyond reunification

Lead story

The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners' 2020 conference was due be held in the beautiful city of Zagreb, capital of Croatia in June of this year. However, after careful evaluation of the Coronavirus epidemic and maximum gathering guidelines that are currently in place, together with the wish to enable all those registered to be able to participate at the conference, the organisers have decided to hold the conference online as a LIVE WEBINAR.


This year’s conference will  focus on trauma and the harm that induced psychological splitting causes to children. It will bring together practitioners and specialists in the field of child abuse, trauma and attachment to explore the ways in which existing therapies and models of understanding of abuse and trauma can be translated into work with abused children of divorce and separation.


We are, therefore, particularly delighted to welcome, as our special guest speaker, Jill Salberg, PhD, ABPP, Associate Professor of Psychology, faculty member and clinical supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, who will present a paper titled The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures.

 Jill Salberg, PhD
Jill Salberg, PhD


The dynamic referred to as parental alienation is typically described as a child’s rejection of a parent. However, whilst the problem appears to be the child’s rejection of one of their parents, in reality, the rejection is not the cause of the problem but is, rather, a symptom of the child’s pathological alignment to the other parent. Similarly, many papers on the subject refer to the alienating ‘strategies’ of aligned parents.


Whilst it is true that some cases are driven by the deliberate and conscious actions of a one parent seeking to remove the other, many more feature dysfunction in the inter-psychic relationship between the aligned parent and the child. Such cases feature high levels of psychopathology and maladaptive defences which are often rooted in the transgenerational transmission of unresolved trauma of the aligned parent.


Dr Salberg argues that children of parents who have unresolved trauma inherit altered biochemistry that can leave them more vulnerable to registering fearful and anxious situations and to being more fearful and anxious themselves. She writes that the legacy of transgenerational transmission of traumatic forms of attachment is an alteration in both the biology and the attachment systems and suggests that, whilst some of these parents will be able to transmit safety and provide for consistent attachment, others will transmit a confusing mix of messages of fearfulness and safety.  


For clinicians working with post divorce splitting in children, the patterns and disruptions of attachment are of vital importance as what often appears, on the surface, to be warm and attentive parenting can be charged with the projection of unresolved trauma, enmeshment and the child’s unconscious, existential terror of abandonment. This area of research is one that is opening up new ways of understanding children’s experiences and new approaches to treatment. The work of Dr Salberg is, therefore, something that will be of great interest to anyone working in this field.


We are honoured to be able to welcome Dr Salberg Dr Salberg, who is a world leading expert in transgenerational trauma and the effect that it has on children’s relational self, to speak at our third international conference which, this year, is to be hosted online by the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb.


The conference will build on work undertaken by the Centre to raise the issue of alienation, both in Croatia and the wider region. Prior to the conference being moved online, almost 400 psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers and other family practitioners had booked to attend. This follows the publishing of the Centre’s protocol ‘Experts Protecting Children From Emotional Abuse In Divorce: Establishing Good Practice In Croatia’ which was signed by over 800 practitioners.