State of Plutoverse – 2010

This is the first of what I hope will be an annual column recapping significant professional events of the year.

2010 was unusual in the number of major milestones that occurred. I do not expect to have another banner year like this any time in the near future. Here are the top dozen events (arranged by date, not importance).

January — Building Family Bridges Website

The year began with the launch of Building Family Bridges, replacing the old website at warshak.com that was my embarrassingly inadequate attempt to meet the demand for information about my articles, activities, and advice for parents.

I chose a professional website designer/producer, Monique van Gent Sidy, with huge talent, a passionate concern for children, a quick understanding of my life’s work, and a vision for how a website could bring together my many efforts, past and present, to help families. The difference between my old website and the new one, in appearance and content, is the difference between a Kindergartener’s Tinkertoy structure and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. (Monique, not coincidentally, designed the website for Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.)

Under the creative direction of Monique, the website blossomed into a user-friendly destination where parents and professionals find plenty of resources to promote healthier families and alleviate unnecessary suffering.

January — Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family From Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing

I am exceedingly grateful to my editor at HarperCollins that, after eight years and 20 printings, the decision was made to publish a revised edition of my classic guide to preventing and overcoming parental alienation. With a new cover, new subtitle, new Introduction, and new Afterword, this edition gave me the chance to address new developments and to incorporate what my clients and colleagues taught me since the book’s first release.

January — Trilogy of Articles on Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships

One of the new developments described in the Afterword to the revised edition of Divorce Poison is the Family Bridges workshop. One of the most important professional articles of my career, if not the most important, was published in January 2010: Family Bridges: Using Insights from Social Science to Reconnect Parents and Alienated Children. The article spearheaded a decision by the journal editor to devote the entire January issue to different approaches to the problem of alienation, with my article serving as the centerpiece and only article in the issue to have passed a rigorous peer-review process.

What became known among my colleagues as the “Bridges” article presents the first detailed account of Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships™. My aim in preparing this manuscript went beyond acquainting professionals with Family Bridges. In addition to the detailed description of the program and a study of its effectiveness, the article’s in-depth description of the principles and procedures of this intervention provides a foundation for colleagues to develop effective programs to help families with irrationally alienated children. One section of the article, that is proving enormously useful to judges and legal and mental health professionals, is the examination of the benefits, drawbacks, controversies, and ethical issues regarding various options available to courts and parents in responding to alienated children. These options include reunification therapy, custodial transfers, boarding schools, and suspending attempts to repair damaged parent-child relationships.

The same journal issue includes two additional articles that I wrote to clarify and respond to various issues raised regarding Family Bridges. The article, Alienating Audiences From Innovation, stresses the importance of prevention and individualized approaches to the problem of parental alienation. The article beseeches my colleagues to confront new ideas with a healthy balance of openness to new ideas and skeptical scrutiny, and to avoid polemics, rigid ideology, and rumors when grappling with new ideas.

The Bridge article has had considerable impact. It stimulated a renewed dialogue among professionals who earn their living working in the interface between mental health and family law. In the weeks leading up to its publication, requests for copies poured in from across the globe. The dialogue expanded to become the theme of the annual international conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. With the journal’s publication and the international conference, it has become exceedingly difficult for reasonable people to deny the existence of parental alienating processes and irrationally alienated children, or to promulgate the misleading claim that respected professional associations reject the concept. One measure of the Bridges article’s impact is the growing number of child custody cases in the U.S. and other countries in which the article is cited by mental health experts and attorneys appointed to represent the children’s interests. In a United Kingdom higher court case, an expert witness brought my articles to the judge’s attention; the judge’s subsequent decision explicitly mentions the journal’s articles. Click here for a detailed description of all three Bridges articles.

January — Op-ed Column on Children’s Role in Custody Disputes

The David and Sean Goldman case introduced a large audience to the issues of divorce poison and alienated children. My Op-ed column on the case describes the pitfalls of allowing a child’s programmed statements to rule the outcome of a custody dispute.

February — National Judicial Institute

I had the opportunity to address Canadian judges at the annual meeting of the prestigious National Judicial Institute. I spoke about the difficult issue of managing cases in which the court determines that a child is unreasonably rejecting a parent. The title of my remarks: “Court to Children: You Can’t Always Get What You Say You Want, But You Might Get What You Need.”

Major Canadian newspapers reported on my speech, including this well-written article in the Toronto Star.

April — Divorce Poison: Japanese Edition

Foreign rights to publish the revised edition of Divorce Poison were purchased by a publisher in Japan.

May — Welcome Back, Pluto DVD

Ever since Divorce Poison was published in 2002 I have fielded many requests from parents looking for an equivalent book for their children to read. I am a big fan of self-help books for children. But I also know that video is the preferred mode for today’s generation of kids. Hence the DVD: Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation.

The result of more than two years of work on the script and production, Pluto is an educational video that translates the ideas from Divorce Poison into a format accessible to children, teens, and their parents, favored parents and rejected parents. The program has been praised for its even-handed and compassionate treatment of the problem. The American Journal of Family Therapy calls it “moving and trail-blazing.” Feedback from parents and children shows that the program reaches children, even those whose alienation is severely entrenched.

Pluto’s main goal is to prevent the development of ruptured parent-child relationships, to prevent parents from being “plutoed.” So I am especially gratified by this impression from Kevin Fuller, the Chair of the Collaborative Law Section of the State Bar of Texas: “A powerful tool to help parents and their children avoid the heart breaking unnecessary pain and suffering I have witnessed for years. Absolutely outstanding, moving, helpful, and hopeful.”

Pluto has been shipped to 14 countries and plans are under way for foreign subtitle editions.

June — AFCC Annual International Conference

Welcome Back, Pluto made its professional debut at the annual conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. More than 1000 participants from 17 countries attended. I was privileged to be invited to address a plenary session (attended by all participants) as well as conduct a separate workshop on Family Bridges. The workshop drew a capacity, standing-room-only crowd of professionals eager to learn more about this intervention for families with irrationally alienated children. Afterwards, many psychotherapists asked to be trained in our methods.

For a problem that some people claim is bogus, the topic of parental alienation drew quite a large crowd to Denver in difficult economic times. I met judges, lawyers, and mental health professionals from several countries and I was gratified at their positive response to my work.

June — American Bar Association’s Families Matter Symposium

I have held a long-standing interest in family law reform and thus was pleased to be included in a select group of about 60 leaders in the field who were invited to participate in this symposium, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Family Law Section and the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Families, Children and the Courts. Most participants were judges or lawyers, with just a few mental health professionals attending. The goal of this exciting project is to develop recommendations for family law process reform in order to make the system more constructive for families.

November — Plutoverse

Publishing a blog has been more fun than I anticipated. This is the 21st post since Plutoverse was launched at the beginning of November. Thanks, again, to web designer Monique for Plutoverse’s banner.  I spend roughly 8-10 hours each week giving advice in response to email requests for help. Many of the issues addressed are those that would interest a much larger audience of parents, so one of my goals for 2011 is to publish this advice in blog format.

November — The Huffington Post

Exactly a week after my blog, Plutoverse, was launched, the Huffington Post published my article, Stop Divorce Poison. The column ignited a firestorm of controversy that brought more attention to the plight of alienated children and plutoed (i. e., rejected) parents.

December — Divorce Poison: Finnish Edition

Foreign rights to publish the revised edition of Divorce Poison were purchased by one of the largest publishers in Finland.

Wrap-up

A new website, new book, new educational DVD, and new blog. Not bad for one year.

* * *

2010 was a year of innovation and creation. By contrast, I expect 2011 to be a quieter year with more linear growth, expansion, and consolidation. Time permitting, new materials will be added to Building Family Bridges, perhaps some website pages currently marked Under Construction will show progress, Welcome Back, Pluto may see editions with foreign language subtitles, and translations of Divorce Poison will appear in Japan, Finland, and other countries.

I will be working on new projects that will probably reach completion in 2012. Rather than contribute articles to the professional literature, I expect my main public written contributions to be found in Plutoverse and, perhaps, The Huffington Post. In coming months visitors to Plutoverse can expect to find articles on topics that arise often in cases with allegations of alienation, such as:

  • what judges need to know in parental alienation cases
  • why a pro-active response to alienated children is needed regardless of how well they appear to function in other areas of their lives
  • how to respond to the argument that a child’s wish to avoid a parent should be granted if the rejection is the child’s way of coping with feelings associated with the parents’ divorce
  • a new test to help ascertain a rational response to a child’s avoidance of a parent.

Check the Events page on Building Family Bridges to keep track of my speaking engagements (2011 list will be updated in January), which may include, for the first time, a lecture and discussion session specifically for parents.

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