Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Procrastinating ....... evaluating the role of research in counselling psychology

It's been a while since I've posted.  For those of you like me - with a family; training full time (two days at University, three on clinical placement); fitting in part-time work in evenings and weekends - you will appreciate the lack of any free time and the levels of exhaustion.  To exacerbate the situation - my inability to say "no" appears to have re-surfaced.  In recent months I have taken on a role as Counselling Psychology representative on the PsyPAG committee, launched a Facebook group for my University course  and taken on the administration role of my daughter's rugby team.  It was not without some difficulty that I managed to restrain myself from standing as Parent Governor for my daughter's school.  The next month looks positively overloaded with two presentations; rugby training and festival; two focus groups for my research; a Golden Wedding celebration - oh yes, and the small matter of Christmas.

So given my crowded schedule and commitments - why have I chosen today to write?  One word - procrastination.  Faced with a 3000 word assignment critiquing the role of research in counselling psychology, I am destined to seek out all manner of activities which delay the inevitable.  Having set aside three whole days to break the back of the assignment (daughter at her dad's and reading week at University), to read the necessary journal articles and commit my evidentially supported points to paper, I have absolutely nothing to show.  Well, not in terms of an assignment.  I made a lovely soup, three loaves of banana bread, a superb excel spreadsheet for the rugby team - oh yes, and a blog post.  At least I'm writing :)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Parental Alienation: name it; deal with it.

Last week, I sat in a small invited audience at a Family Law Seminar in the House of Commons, entitled "Managing Cases of Children Resistant to Parental Contact & Alienated Children – International & UK Experiences". It was refreshing to hear this important issue being so openly acknowledged and debated.  Having recently conducted an initial literature review for my own research, the paucity of British research is dismaying.

High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge's strident assertion that Parental Alienation is now at least acknowledged by the judiciary was welcome.  This seemed to be corroborated by Professor Nick Bala's research which identified 43 cases of alleged alienation during the period 2000-2011. But - 43 cases in 11 years?  I think I personally know of more alleged parental alienation cases.  I'm presuming here, having looked at Professor Bala's search strategy, that these are judgements made public in the higher courts: judgements typically arrived at after many, many years of legal proceedings.  The tired phrase "tip of the iceberg" jumps to mind.  Quite simply we do not know the scale of Parental Alienation or "intractable contact disputes", the term which seems favoured by the judiciary.  We do not know because judgements and proceedings in the family courts - those courts where parents daily submit their C1 to seek contact or residence or judgement on a specific issue - remain unpublished and undisclosed.  There is no analysis of the cases; no public record of the judgement; no accountability.  As for these courts’ acknowledgement of Parental Alienation - your guess is as good as Sir Paul's assertion.  We are left with anecdotal evidence of many disheartened and distressed parents - the majority of whom would suggest that you raise the spectre of Parental Alienation at your peril.  The reality, in the country as a whole, is that Parental Alienation is barely acknowledged, minimally understood, and frequently disregarded.  Let's just name this disease - at least we can then start investigating remedies.

Thankfully, Karen Woodall is not idly sitting by waiting for the debate on whether or not Parental Alienation exists to be resolved.  I was deeply heartened by Karen's presentation of the work she is piloting at the Centre for Separated Families.  In agreement with everyone at the seminar, Karen acknowledged the complexity of the cases she is working with.  But just because something is complex, this is no reason for failing to address it.  In far too many cases the courts err on the side of caution - cease contact pending further investigations thus contributing to the alienation process.  Karen's work begins with a thorough exploration of the complex factors in each case, a differentiated approach based on the findings and crucially - immediately restoring direct contact.  As someone who has worked with children and young people for the past 15 years, it was reassuring to witness someone who truly understands children, their psychological development and the defences they employ to manage their emotional distress.  I struggle to understand why everyone who works with young people in these traumatic cases is not required to have the same level of understanding.  Attachment theory is just that - a theory, which has its uses and applications, but also fails to explain much more.  Karen's approach smacks of common sense.  The sooner it is researched and validated, disseminated and made more widely available, the better – a real hope at last for children and conflicting families.
All in all, I found the seminar to be informative, thought provoking and encouraging.  But please, please, please - this needs to be out there, in the open, researched, debated.  Parental Alienation: name it; understand it; deal with it.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

21st June 2012 - the day I lost my virginity .......

...... and it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as I had been anticipating! I'm assured too, that the more I do it - the more pleasurable it is. Now I appreciate that from a rather mature woman, this may seem slightly bemusing, but the fact is I've never had the right combination of self confidence, opportunity and material until now. The First Conference on Applied Qualitative Research in Psychology at the University of Derby proved an ideal occasion for me to pop my conference presentation cherry as it were.
The weeks leading up to the event found me riddled with doubts and nerves, and more worryingly - plagued by images of a recent Rocky Horror Picture Show event where Rocky Horror "virgins" were ceremoniously debased and humiliated! I lost count of the number of times I considered withdrawing ..... and this still seemed a good option for me even on the morning of the conference. Somehow, from somewhere not often previously encountered, I managed to find the resolve required.

I bucked my trend - and on arrival did, in fact, actually manage to make eye contact with someone and initiate a conversation. For those who know me, they will appreciate the enormity of this achievement. Thank you Kirsty - you did not appear to be aware of the hurdle that I had overcome, and I enjoyed hearing about your proposed PhD. My enjoyment continued throughout the morning, quelling the nerves and settling the butterflies a little, as I absorbed myself in the presentations. Some interesting and thought provoking research - the sort that you want to rush home and share with colleagues, well, with anyone who will listen really. And from my perspective, great application of methodology which has firmly re-fuelled my enthusiasm and sparked the grey matter to generate further research ideas.

As for my presentation - "Mad, Bad and Not My Problem: A Q Methodology Exploration of Teachers’ Negative Attitudes Towards Students with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties" (here)? It was "ok" - better than I had anticipated, with plenty of room for improvement - a "satisfactory" first attempt. For me, a relieved sense of "I did it!" - one to be ticked off the list.

A special thanks to Donna and Helen, who distracted me from my nervous physiological symptoms by engaging me in interesting dialogue about their research and experiences. It was great to meet you - and I hope our paths cross again.

My advice to friends and collegues who keep putting it off - go for it! It's never too late - and life is about new experiences. Grab an opportunity, take on a challenge - grow.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Happy Fathers' Day?

For quite a while now I've been contemplating blogging. On Saturday 16 June 2012, the eve of Fathers' Day, the impetus I needed to start writing happened upon me.  It was a poignant, tear-pricking, chord-striking moment.

I was on a pre-planned visit to London with a dear friend, unaware that it was Trooping of the Colour in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year.  I was aware, however, of the Fathers4Justice march from the Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square to Downing Street.  I cannot put hand on heart and say I support everything that Fathers4Justice do, but I can state that  I follow news of their campaigns closely.  I may not agree with all of their statements and all of their actions - but I firmly believe in a child's right to a close, loving, appropriate relationship with both parents and their wider families - irrespective of the relationship between those parents.

I count myself as fortunate and lucky: I have an amicable separation with my former partner - and my children enjoy a "normal" relationship with us both.  Neither of us would contemplate frustrating any contact with the other.  Our children can be with each of us, as and when they wish - they can talk to us, telephone us, email and text us whenever they choose.  We both share daily routines and special occasions with our children.  We both share their excitement, their disappointments, their normalities and their out-of-the-ordinaries.  It wasn't until I met my dear friend and his daughter that I realised this isn't always so.

I witnessed at first-hand a young girl who enjoyed her dad, who openly showed her affection and love towards him, who laughed and cried with him, who hugged him.  A young girl who was manipulated, taught to hate, to denigrate, to deny - to ultimately reject her loving father and become estranged.  A young girl, I can only presume, who could no longer manage the emotional stress involved in trying to maintain both relationships in the face of such hostility. 

When my friend expressed his wish to witness the F4J march - I was happy to accompany him.  When he decided to join the march, I walked the route and waited for him.  To be truthful - few people I passed along the way showed any interest in the rally.  Few seemed to question the purpose, the cause, the issues at play.  Most people just went about their day, enjoying their visit to Whitehall on this day of celebration.

As I walked ahead of the march, returning from Downing Street to Trafalgar Square, there was one man however, who was in clear distress.  His distress had nothing whatsoever to do with the F4J march.  This poor man was rapidly scurrying along a crowded Whitehall, clearly anxious and concerned, fretfully shouting "Harry! Harry!"  and again "Harry! Harry!" - again and again.  Much the same as the march, most people ignored him, showed no interest.  Whatever his problem, his issue, it was nothing to do with them.  Just one woman pushed forward and asked - "Are you looking for a little boy?" I could not keep back my tears.

In that one brief moment I was acutely aware of this dad's distress at losing his young son for just a few minutes - and profoundly aware of how magnified the distress, the loss, the grief of all those people taking part in that march.  All of them who had lost their child not just for a few moments - but for months, for years, for some - forever. Unlike that fretful dad so quickly re-united with his son - so many dads, including many on this march, faced yet another Fathers' Day full of sorrow, not joy.