The Spanish Pyrenees

I’m home.  From the Pyrenees, from Barcelona, from an interesting adventure, a journey of note.  Since returning home, I’ve slept for most of two days straight.  The physical exhaustion of travel and jet lag are components, and sleep has helped integrate information, lots and lots of information.  Travel and 15-hour plane flights are in themselves exhausting, but my journey also moved at a deeper level, opening and organizing things within me.

You are not an easy clientele to work with.  You hold a great deal of suffering, grief, and loss within you… immense suffering.  We are entering a new phase of solution.  It is time to begin moving forward on the processing and resolution of immense sadness and suffering.

The phase of solution is shifting which means my relationship with your suffering is shifting.  I am a clinical psychologist.  I am a resonant instrument.  I experience my clients, they live within me.

There are four primary schools of psychotherapy; psychoanalytic, humanistic-existential, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems.  The doctoral program at Pepperdine University offered year-long specialty training tracks in each of four possible schools, one for each school of psychotherapy.  But, with the first year of entry and the last year of internship, we were limited.   We could only choose two of the four for our specializations. 

I chose the humanistic-existential track and the family systems track.

A PsyD degree is the best-of-the-best in clinical psychology.  We sacrifice coursework in research methodology (and therefore our careers in university-based academic settings) in order to obtain greater specialization training and expertise in psychopathology and psychotherapy.  I’m a PsyD clincal psychologist, I’m the best at what I do; psychopathology and psychotherapy.  My core expertise is in humanistic-existential psychotherapy and family systems therapy.

You’ve seen what my specialty in family systems therapy can produce – Minuchin, Bowen, Haley, Madanes, Satir, Whitaker, Framo, Boszormenyi-Nagy.  Family systems therapy can and will solve this entire court-involved family conflict pathology.  Add attachment, add trauma, add the neuro-development of the brain in childhood for even greater and more complete solutions. 

You are not aware of what the humanistic-existential side of my knowledge is doing.  I am a resonant instrument.  A humanistic-existential psychotherapist is an active participant in the change process; Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, Irving Yalom, Victor Frankel, Martin Buber and the I-thou relationship. 

We are active participants in the therapeutic process, we are the instruments of change.  Enter a weekly therapy relationship with me and in a year to a year-and-a-half your life will be different.  Not because I do something, but because I am something.  The relationship with me, in itself, will create growth and change.  It will free you from your fears, free you from your past, and you will embrace your authenticity with excitement and vitality.  Not because of something I do, but because of who I am.

That is a humanistic-existential psychologist.  We are the instruments of the change process.  Rogers; empathy, authenticity, freedom from our “conditions of worth.”  Perls; freedom born from responsibility, contact with life in the here-and-now.  Frankel; meaning, our freedom and our choices.

Empathy is my link into my work.  I understand, I see the client’s authenticity, and fears, and suffering.  In my empathy then, the client also sees their authenticity, their fears, and the origins of their suffering.  I must go there first. 

If I am personally uncomfortable with sadness, I won’t go there in my empathy… and the client will not grow into this area because of my limitations.  If I am uncomfortable with anxiety, or anger, or love, or joy, or any of a thousand experiences, I won’t go there in my empathy… and the client will not grow into this area because of my limitations.

Your world is one of suffering.  Immense suffering, grief, and loss.  It has an impact on the resonant instrument, empathy for your world is challenging.  It’s not something to be “cleansed” or “processed” – because it is real, it is authentic.  It needs to end, not be “healed” or “adjusted to.”  I carry it, your suffering.  Not to your degree, my limit is my empathy.  I share, I don’t become.  Yet sharing your world of suffering and loss is immensely painful, as you know.

It is difficult to hold empathy for you because your suffering is so deep, your pain is so immense, your grief is so heartbreaking… it moves beyond endurance.  You know.  It is your world.  I know, because I have empathy. 

Yet my empathy without boundaries of separation would prevent my work on your behalf, I would become a ball of deep-sadness, unable to do anything but cry for the suffering… cry for a long-long time because your grief and loss is so immense.  I don’t mind.  It’s what I do, empathy.  I’d rather have empathy and share grief and loss in suffering, than to be without empathy for the suffering and loss.

I’d rather love, even though love is painful.  We will lose everything we hold dear in life. That is a fact of time.  I was once a young man, now I’m an old man, soon I will die and leave.  My children were once children, now they are fine young adults, and yet, my children are gone.  I love my two dogs very much, we’re a pack the three of us.  They’re getting older, I see it.  Soon one will die, then the other, and my grief will be immense.  Sadness is woven into the fabric of love.

Should we not love to avoid sadness and grief at loss?  That is a choice some make.  That is not a choice I make, I choose to love, knowing full well the depth of grief and sadness this entails.

That is the Western spiritual choice, exemplified in the Christian story of Jesus, suffering immensely on the cross because he loves.  A choice to love becomes an equal choice to embrace the suffering and sadness of that love, for everything we hold dear will be taken from us.  That is the nature of life, and death.  That is the truth made actual in existential psychology.

The Eastern approach to spiritual choice is exemplified in Zen Buddhism.  It is locating the shifting flow of change and our flow within it.  In this choice, we detach from the illusions of existent reality and move more completely into our flow within a broader flow, the Tao.  We escape suffering by detaching from the illusion and finding our truth of being within the larger flow.  Buddha said there were four noble truths, 1) life is suffering, 2) we suffer because we are attached, 3) we escape suffering by detaching, 4) we detach by following an 8-fold path to enlightenment.

Choice.  Love and suffer, or detach and achieve enlightenment.  I choose to love.  You suffer because you love.  You love your children so much, with all your hearts and souls.  Your suffering is immense.  I know.  I have empathy.

The solution is not to heal, or cope, or fight.  The solution is to end your loss, to return your children to you.  That is the only acceptable solution.  This suffering needs to end.

So I have defenses in working with you, personal defenses that keep your suffering from becoming my suffering through empathy.  All humanistic-existential psychologists must finely hone our defense structures, knowing exactly how and when they are active, knowing what’s me and what’s you.  I must be able to enter your world, and the world of the child, and the world of the other parent, with empathy, to understand. 

It is this line of empathy that will heal.  I am a resonant instrument.  To be in relationship with me is to grow.  Forensic psychology will be entering into relationship with me.  The fire I bring is obvious, but it will be the empathy line that brings change.  I will expose the depth of your suffering and loss, and I will expose the depth of your suffering simply because I will live it in my truth and authenticity.  It lives in me.

To know me is to know your loss, your deep-deep sadness and grief, unendurable grief.  Forensic psychology will come to know me, and through me they will see themselves, and when they see themselves they will recover their empathy for suffering, for your suffering, and for your child’s grief and loss.

The absence of empathy creates the capacity for human cruelty (Baron-Cohen; the origins of evil).  This is a pathology of immense cruelty.  We are going to recover empathy.  I am the resonant instrument in that.

My Journey to the Spanish Pyrenees

Let me tell you of my journey to Barcelona and the Spanish Pyrenees.

I met with a group of wonderful parents for the first two days upon arrival.  They had so many questions, they were so desperately seeking solutions for their pain and grief and loss.  I enjoy being with the parents, all of you.  It helps my shared-suffering of empathy if I can help you find a path or way to recovering your children. 

We met the first day in a medieval town of Ordino in the Pyrenees nation of Andorra, about three hours north of Barcelona.   I had just flown in, it was my first day of crazy-eyed jet lag recovery.  I offered to meet with any parents who were willing to make the three hour drive to Ordino, and three parents came to meet with me.  We talked about their situations, we talked about bringing change to Spain (to Europe generally, to Spanish language countries in Central and South America – to all children and families everywhere).

I discussed a potential approach of replicating what happened in the Netherlands.  Parent advocates there arranged with a local university, the Erasmus Medical Center, to host a conference of family attachment trauma in the courts.  In arranging this conference symposium, I recommended including local-area Dutch experts in attachment and trauma pathology, and I strongly recommended against including any “parental alienation” speakers… we are returning to the application of real knowledge, established knowledge – no new form of pathology proposals, only the application of knowledge.

I presented in the morning at the Rotterdam conference, followed by Dutch psychologists presenting on attachment, trauma, and family conflict in the courts.  The symposium ended with a panel Q&A and Dorcy was invited to sit on this panel to answer questions.

What I suggested to the Spanish parents would also be my suggestion to all parents everywhere, the Netherlands model is how to bring change.  Start with persuading a local area university to hold a conference symposium on Attachment Trauma in the Family Courts, with Dr. Childress presenting in the morning followed by local area psychologist expertise in attachment, in trauma, and in IPV (Intimate Partner Violence; domestic violence).

No Gardnerian PAS.  I will not speak at a conference or symposium event with Gardernian PAS “experts.”  If I ever find myself in a position where I’m on the bill with a Gardnerian PAS “expert” or “researcher,” I will likely spend my entire presentation time attacking Gardnerian PAS in detail.  The construct of “parental alienation” is beneath professional standards of practice to use in a professional capacity, and represents a violation of Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code.

If Dr. Childress is going to speak at your event, I will not speak as part of a PAS panel of speakers.  If I do speak at an event with a Gardnerian PAS speaker, it’s likely that I will be using my time to describe in detail how the other speaker is violating the APA ethics code by using the construct of “parental alienation” in a professional capacity, and I will spend my entire time destroying Gardnerian PAS as a professional-level construct.  Probably not a productive use of my time.

I will speak at events with attachment psychologists, with trauma psychologists, and with domestic violence (IPV) psychologists.  I will describe this court-involved family conflict pathology using established constructs and principles of attachment, complex trauma, family systems therapy, personality pathology, and the neuro-development of the brain – which is exactly what I did in the Netherlands at Erasmus Medical Center.

That’s day 1; Dr. Childress framing the issue followed by speakers in attachment, in complex trauma, and IPV (domestic violence).

Day 2 would be a separate seminar from Dr. Childress and Dorcy Pruter on solutions.  This would be separate from, but associated to the university symposium event the day before on attachment trauma in the family courts.  In our Day 2 seminar, Dr. Childress would present in the morning on diagnosis and treatment of complex family conflict surrounding divorce, and Dorcy Pruter would present in the afternoon on recovering the authentic child from family conflict and stabilizing a healthy family that includes both parents actively involved in the child’s life.

That is an excellent weekend of information.  That is what I suggested to the parents in Spain.  One of the parents suggested the University of Granada as a possible host for a one-day symposium on Attachment Trauma in the Family Courts.  I thought that was an excellent idea.  Universities of Barcelona and Madrid would work equally well.  Whatever doors the universe opens.

I would present in the morning, followed by Spanish psychologists in attachment, complex trauma, and domestic violence (IPV), concluding in a Q&A panel.  Following that, Dorcy and I will then present a seminar on the second day, Solutions for Complex Family Conflict in the Family Courts.  That would be my suggestion, and that’s what we discussed in Ordino. 

Of note is that in the Netherlands solution, Dorcy and I also attended an invited meeting with the Dutch Ministry of Justice.  We suggested at that meeting that the Dutch courts and government conduct pilot programs of potential solutions.  Develop three pilot program models (AB-PA/High Road provides one, develop two more).  Recruit university involvement for outcome data research.  Implement the comparative pilot programs, see what works, and do that.

That would be my similar suggestion in Spain, in Israel, in Sweden, in England, in Australia, in New York, in Boston, in Seattle.  Develop three pilot program models (AB-PA/High Road provides one, develop two more).  Recruit university involvement for outcome research.  Implement the comparative pilot programs, see what works, do that.

On my second day in Spain I drove down to Barcelona to then meet with a larger group of Spanish parents.  I spent the day answering their questions, from 11 am to 8 pm.  I loved every second of it.  They had so many questions.

They filmed the whole thing for Facebook.  I’m fine with that, everything I say is on the record.  It was apparently watched in Mexico and South America and is probably floating around the Internet somewhere.  I want to get Spanish language translations of my essays and work, that will be an upcoming focus of mine.  The parents were wonderful humans, and the opportunity to answer their questions that are of such deep significance and importance for their lives was wonderful.

There Are No Maps, There are Journeys

Then I traveled into the Pyrenees.  I hadn’t come to meet with parents.  The universe arranged that.  I came for the mountains. 

An adventure began when I abruptly learned that my cell phone company doesn’t cover the micro-nation of Andorra in the Spanish Pyrenees in their roaming data plan.  It seems that whenever I was in Andorra my data cost was massively heavy, and the end result was that I ran out of data and was blocked from further data.  I learned via text from the phone carrier that I was being cut off from further data just as I was driving out of Ordino into the Spanish Pyrenees… meaning I lost my GPS map… and I had no other map.

Of course.

I’m alone, in a foreign country, in the mountains, without a map, and no phone.  Okay.  I hate adventures, they make you late for second breakfasts.  I had no GPS map for the rest of my trip.  That’s the way of these things, these journeys.  They have a life of their own and abundance comes from following that life.  I was alone in a foreign country, in the mountains, on an adventure.  Works for me, let’s see what happens.

I traveled with friendly mountain trolls and a magical goat to the small town of Torla-Ordesa near a national park in the Pyrenees – magnificent, the National Parque was magnificent.  The universe will provide me with a great gift if it allows me to return to the Parque Nacional de Ordesa in the Pyrenees.

I’m home in the mountains.  For most of my life I’ve traveled to the mountains.  In my childhood it was yearly family vacations to Yosemite, in my adult life I would backpack every summer in the Sierras.  Occasionally I took friends with me, mostly I went alone.  It’s dangerous to backpack weeks into the wilderness alone.  If something bad happens… sucks for you, you’re dead.  But I found the benefits of being solitary in the mountains to be well worth any danger.  We die, everything’s a risk, there’s always a price to pay for adventures.

The Parque Nacional in the Pyrenees is the same as my mountains, and yet different.  The similarity relaxed my being, the difference sparkled my senses, same, but somehow different, and magnificent.  There’s a reason places are designated as National Parks.  I’m home there, in the mountains, among the trees and stones and stars.

I’m an experienced traveler on these journeys.  I know to begin with a couple of days to clear civilization and the self-of-the-world, it typically takes about three days to shut down verbal mind.  On this journey, that function was served by the medieval town of Ordino, it was the transition time.  Meeting with parents was part of that process, a transitioning away, yet also the opening theme for my journey.

The next phase is to travel to the gateway, the opening of being phase.  This is where being relaxes into its authenticity.  In the Sierras, it was when I reached tree-line and the lakes.  In Spain, that was Torla and the Parque Nacional.  I hiked up the trail, then left the trail to enter the forest, found a spot, sat and opened to where I was.  I spent several days in The Parque Nacional de Ordesa, with the trees, with the mountains.

This is often the end for many adventures, leading then to the transition home.  But this was a more complex journey, it had a second phase, something to be done.  Who knows what has to be done, that’s what makes it an adventure, a journey without a map, into the unknown.  Following, not leading.

From Ordesa, I drove through the mountains into France, and then along the foot of the Pyrenees toward the coast, into the Basque region, another delightful region, shifting cultures, shifting familiar into unknown.  I drove to the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southwest France.  It sits at the base of a pass from France to Spain, and the town has served as the starting point for an important pilgrimage from the middle ages til now, the Way of St. James to the Spanish church the Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. 

Since medieval times to present, pilgrims have walked the Way of St. James across the Pyrenees, starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, to worship at a symbol of their faith, a relic from a history they revere, the bones of St. James the Apostle which were brought to Spain after his death because, according to the legend, he had preached in Spain during his lifetime.

The medieval village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is one primary street, and a small river that intriguingly unites the village by dividing it.  The bridge across the Nive saint-jean-pied-de-port-bords-de-niveriver is the town’s principle dramatic view.  Most of the historic village are the homes and shops along this single street, built in 16-1700 they are warmly picturesque.  Some areas of the village were older, such as the church in the center of town and the fortress rising above the village, which were from the 14th century. 

The entire village street can be leisurely strolled in less than two hours.  I did that on my arrival day, then had dinner at the café overlooking the river with a view of the bridge.  I spent three days in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

The village street is entirely a tourist mecca, offering the primary pastime of eating and drinking.  Eating in Spain and France is interestingly restricted to certain hours of the day, and in-between the specified eating times it appears drinking wine or beer is the preferred pastime.  I didn’t quite adjust to the eating rhythm, I always wanted to eat during drinking time, and I’m not all that interested in drinking as an activity.  So this overall routine did not adjust to me at all.  Instead, I found a different way to spend my time.

The medieval city street of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port hosts about five hostels along it, providing lodging for the travelers on the Way of St. James to the Santiago de Compostela in Spain, to the relic, the symbol of their faith in a larger source.  I was surprised at the number of people lining up outside these hostels to register for a bed, starting at about three in the afternoon.  During the middle ages, the pilgrimage of the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela apparently ranked alongside pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem in importance.  In 2017, over 300,000 pilgrims made the pilgrimage of St. James to Santiago de Compostela.

The village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is not a town, it is a point, an anchor on a journey, the doorway to pilgrimage.  The location today is simply a picturesque street, a river’s bridge, and a church… a medieval 14th century church.  That’s where I found myself.  It was to this medieval church that I kept returning, sitting with the ghosts of time, drinking of life’s journey, our pilgrimage of faith, our journey through a life embedded in a larger essence, a larger source that leads and guides our journey.

It’s a small Gothic church with three beautiful stained glass windows behind the glassalter.  The light from stained glass in a 14th century medieval church is impactful.  It’s meant to be.  To the left of the central alter are many lighted candles.  I kept returning to this church to sit.  Empty of thought, but not of being.  During my time in that church I had very few actual thoughts, but I was in an evolving state of being, rich in an inner dialogue.

I brought you.  Much of the being state was your sadness and grief.  It is so immense.  My professional background is from Children’s Hospitals and the foster care system.  Tragedy and suffering are nothing new to me.  My defenses against allowing difficult emotional material to enter me are pretty good.  But your grief and loss is so immense and so profound, that it moves through any possible defenses.

I brought your grief and loss to that church, because it lives in me, through empathy.

I emptied myself of my self in the mountains of the Pyrenees.  At a church, at the start of a path of pilgrimage, the Way of St. James, I brought your sadness, your loss, you suffering, your grief, through me.  Not for resolution, not for solution, not for purpose.  Simply because it lives in me.

Such is the nature of adventures, never know what’s going to happen, until we find out.

Over the days, as I watched the flickering lights from the candles in the special light created by stained glass in a medieval church, a movement took place within me.  A motivation to light a candle for you, for your suffering, for your loss and grief.  I offered no words of prayer, nor even a thought beyond the movement within me.  Just your pain, your loss, your suffering, shared through a link of empathy and compassion. 

After I lit the candle, I looked up at the alter figure.  Who the icon statue at the alter was hadn’t been important before, it was the candle, the moment of being, of candlebringing your suffering to a source of larger being, that was the focus of my action.  When I looked up, it was the Madonna and child, with the child reaching out in embrace.

In that moment, the universe wove itself as my core collapsed into my complete humility.  No words, but recognition.  Emptiness into being.

Of course.  Of course it is the Madonna and child.

There is not a doubt in my mind, the universe has this.  I remained until the movement shifted, we move forward.

We are on a journey, walking a path to recover your children and families, to recover love in the parent-child bond, to recover ourselves and our capacity for human empathy.  No one should ever have to go through what you are being made to go through.  We are bringing an end to suffering, grief, and loss, for all parents and for all children, everywhere. 

If anybody asks, we have a patron saint now, St. James the Greater.  There is not a doubt in my heart or mind – the universe absolutely has this.  We each have our role, yours, as the parent, is the most important one of all.  Act with integrity, show your character.  Speak the truth and with kindness.  Your strength is in your suffering, not your anger.

Time takes from us everything we hold dear.  My father is dead, my mother is dead, both of my older brothers are dead.  My family of origin is at an end, I am the last.  Soon I will leave.  What makes everyone think we have time?  We have no time except now.  The best time to restore love is now.  The second best time is now….

I have two magnificent children, a son and daughter.  We have many-many magnificent children, they belong to all of us, because we understand.  It’s called empathy.  My children have started their lives of adulthood and have flown the nest.  It is the way of things, it is the flow of life.  I am happy and I am sad.  Joy for the lives that are, sadness for the lives of childhood now gone.  It is the way of life, it is the flow.

Our journey for your children is not one of healing, for your grief and loss are real, the loss and sadness are authentic of life born from your love.  Your sadness, grief, and loss are not distortions to be healed – it is suffering to be ended by love restored.

The brutal acts of a distorted parent who is using the child as a weapon to create immense suffering, supported by the cruelty born in an absence of empathy from professional psychology and the courts, needs to end.  The healing is to end the suffering, end the loss, and to restore love and bonding.  Life’s suffering imposed by the flow of time is within the flow of life, death is within the flow of life, but the cruel and brutal suffering inflicted on each other is beyond unnecessary, it is savage and cruel, and it needs to stop.  Our trauma, our collective human trauma, needs to end.

There is a deeper path we are walking, a pilgrimage of restoring love and bonding to the family, because that is healthy, and because it is the right thing to do.  I brought candle 2you with me to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.  I thought you should know.  And I lit a candle for you and your children.  No words of prayer, just your suffering and grief, as it lives in me. 

We will bring your suffering to an end, and we will return childhoods to your children.  We will end the rippling of trauma from one generation to the next, and we will free your children, our children, into their own authentic destinies, free from our traumas and with our abundant love and our empathy for the authenticity of their own unique journey through life.

Returning Home

I left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at eight in the morning, with a six-hour drive ahead of me to Barcelona.  In the early morning of the Pyrenees, I drove past the intrepid pilgrims walking the way with their backpacks and walking sticks, trekking across the Pyrenees in their act of faith, an act linked across centuries to all who came before.   A trans-generational flow of being, lives lived now gone, struggles endured so that new lives can come forth, our lives, moving toward solutions, moving toward love.

I spent a day in Barcelona before my flight home.  I walked and walked and walked.  Barcelona is the most beautiful city in the world, not a doubt.  I’ve seen Paris and Rome, New York and San Francisco.  Barcelona is the most beautiful city on the planet.  I would have no problem relocating to Barcelona, or Ordino, or Torla for my end of days, which, for my part, was what I wanted to know from this journey.  We’ll see what the universe brings into my life’s adventure.

The rest, all of that was a surprise.  It was an adventure after all, one never knows what’s going to happen on an adventure.  There is no map, it’s an adventure. 

I’ve slept for the past two days.  Time to get back to work.  Lots to do, we gotta get your kids back… all of them.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857



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