About our Reunification Therapy Program
Our Reunification Therapy Program is unique and more effective than the typical therapy that families participate in for reunification. Reunification Therapy typically focuses on the non-custodial parent and children, this leaves out a very important part of the equation…. the custodial parent.
The goal of a whole-family intervention is to improve individual and family functioning that is contributing the parent-child contact problem. In order for Reunification Therapy to be successful, the entire family needs to actively participate with Interventions that can improve family systemic factors relevant to the parent–child contact problem. The interventions used is not just therapy, we educate parents about identifying and correcting alignments to repair or re-establish a functioning relationship between a parent and child. We use a family systems framework for family intervention approaches and models, we identify the fracture and start there.
The Reunification Therapy and coaching will include interventions with a combination of family members which include: individual family members, one parent and the children, the other parent and the children, the parents together, the whole family. Education or therapy alone is unlikely to repair the child’s relationship it may even worsen the presenting problem. The goal of a healthy and functional relationship will include teaching the parent and child to accept and integrate each parent, coupled create more flexible thinking and to see other perspectives than their own, good communication and problem-solving skills.
We use a coordinated team approach to the family interventions which means that the family is assigned individual therapists and a family therapist who will provide therapy mixed with coaching and education. When a personality disorder is present, we treat the personality disorder concurrently with the reunification therapy. In rare cases, the person with the personality disorder is treated separately while the rest of the family participate with interventions on how to cope with a parent with a personality disorder, so this does not become a barrier to overcoming the parent-child contact problem.
What is Reunification Therapy?
Reunification therapy is becoming more widely used in divorce cases. Reunification Therapy is necessary when one parent loses contact or communication with a child. It is the process when a parent is being reintroduced into the child’s life is. In most cases a court order is necessary. Reunification therapy attempts to identify the relationship dynamics between the child and the reunifying parent while identifying and repairing the stressors which have impacted the relationship. The individual goals of reunification therapy are determined after identifying the factors that contributed to the estranged relationship and by working on communication, trust and residual feelings hindering the relationship.
The process for Reunification Therapy is as follows:
Identify the therapist who will be conducting the Reunification Therapy
Review the Court Order with the therapist name in the Court Order
Therapist interview with the residential parent
Therapist interview with the non-residential parent
Therapist interview with the child(ren)
Obtain collateral input from any third parties if any are pertinent in the case
Begin the therapy process
Aspects of Treatment Assessed by the Reunification Therapist
Risk and safety of the process
Nonresidential parent’s willingness to follow directions, accept responsibility and be patient
Residential parent’s level of cooperation
Willingness to support the process
The child’s emotional reaction to reunification (e.g. anxiety, anger, disinterest)
Identification of what the challenges will be for parents and children.
Typical Parental Reunification Therapy Session Protocol
- Intake session(s) with the parent seeking reunification – 1-4 hours
- Intake session(s) with the custodial parent – 1-4 hours
- Intake sessions (1 hour) with the child/ren in preparation for the joint reunification sessions: 2-4 sessions
- Individual and whole family interventions to treat the contributions to the parent-child problems
- Reunification sessions with parent and child (1 hour) – 4-8 sessions or more
- At least one (1) session is conducted in the home of the parent seeking reunification
What is involved in Reunification Therapy?
When to Seek Reunification Therapy
When one parent is not spending time with a child reunification Therapy can be helpful. Reunification Therapy has mild, moderate and severe cases of parent/child relationships; Parent Alienation is not always the case. Reunification Therapy can aid in the regaining a healthy emotional bond between parent and child from the long-term consequences of unhealthy parent child relationships, for example: Self-esteem issues; may internalize concept of “good” and “bad” self; Difficulty with individuation; over-reliance on parental support; Tendency to project black & white thinking style in other situations as well, being judgmental of others; Difficulty tolerating ambiguity and conflicting emotions which interferes with problem-solving; Social difficulties with peers and often the opposite sex, if alliance is with the same sex parents.
The four primary types of rejecting type relationships are Rejection of a parent; The allied parent; The rejecting child:
- History of marginal contact
- May be a history of serious physical abuse or neglect
- Child may have witnessed recurrent domestic violence
- Lack of attachment due to parental absence/impairment
- Lack of contact due to parental interference. (These cases readily respond to treatment with reunification therapy.)
- Child’s rejection of the parent is out or proportion to actual parent behaviors of the rejected parent
- Child over-reacts &/or is extremely critical of normal parenting behavior
- Children have too many details about legal aspects of separation, finances
- False allegations of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use or other illegal activities by the other parent
- Parent-Child Relationship
- Tends to be overtly angry or enmeshed & overprotective
- May make superficial effort to support the child’s relation-ship with the other parent.
- Openly or subtly fearful or disapproving when contact occurs.
- Offers affection & approval in response to loyalty.
- Emotional Enmeshment
- Insecure Attachment
- Child shows loyalty and idealizes parent
- May view parent as a victim
- Child is often parentified (taking care of the other parent)
- Often passive or absent during the marriage.
- May become hurt, angry, or frustrated in response to rejection by their child, adding to conflict.
- May be overly accommodating in response to the other parent’s unwillingness to allow parent-time, especially during & shortly after divorce.
- Child tends to be in control of communication.
- Child displays anger, rejection, open disapproval of other parent .
- May be disrespectful to other parent.
- Actively resists spending time with or talking to the rejected parent.
- Tend to display emotional issues prior to divorce; often a psychologically vulnerable child.
- Health problems, academic, or anxiety/mood disorder symptoms are often present. Reinforces the alienating parent’s belief about the child’s need for protection.
- Rigid “black & white” thinking and world view.
- Tend to be bright, verbal children who often function extremely well in school and other structured settings.
- Precocious sense of empowerment.
- “Independent thinker” phenomenon.
The first thing the non-custodial or reunifying parent can do is to participate in a mediation with the other parent in attempt to try and work an agreement out with the other parent and request reunification therapy in order to facilitate your contact with the child. Once you have Court Order that appoints a qualified therapist who has knowledge and experience this area, that therapist can provide the service of reunification therapy to the child and the reunifying parent.
The Court Order should include:
- The expectations of cooperation by both parents.
- The Court’s concerns and treatment goals.
- What limitations for extended family involvement.
- Discretion to the therapist to set arrangements for treatment, payment arrangements for the therapist.
- Contingencies in the event of re-litigation.
How does Reunification Therapy work?
Success in the reunification process will be achieved if both parents place equal importance in the process. It is important that parents:
- Engage a reunification therapist that they both feel is qualified and believe will work well with their children;
- Support each others role as parent to the children in words and actions;
- Make decisions about the children in meetings with other professionals who are not involved in ongoing reunification.
- Refrain from contacting the reunification therapist to change an already agreed upon schedule.
Most importantly in some cases, individual counseling for both parents is vital. Each parent will need individual support to deal with the emotional stressors inherent in the reunification process. If those parents who need individual counseling parents are not getting support or clinical treatment they are more likely to engage their children, and or the professionals involved, in ways that are counterproductive or destructive to the reunification process. It is essential that the professionals involved have expertise in working with families experiencing high-conflict divorce, otherwise, they too can engage this complex process in ways that are counterproductive, and at times, destructive.
An assessment of the family dynamics must be completed by the qualified therapist before reunification therapy can begin. The therapist begins by meeting with each parent separately and reviewing any existing court orders and evaluations related to custody, parenting and therapy. If there are other professionals involved, such as a parent coordinator, they are contacted. It is typical that one parent is usually not supportive of the reunification process; this issue can be addressed when the court orders both parents to cooperate with listed reunification therapist. Usually this is the case which means that the parent who resists cooperation may be held in contempt of court by not cooperating. The therapist must assess the degree of resistance, and attempt to coerce the uncooperative parent to participate. This sometimes involves threats to refer the matter to the court for intervention or contempt of court. The therapist provides education regarding alienation issues, parent-child alliances, and other issues that interfere with the child feeling free to have a positive relationship with both parents. It is common that both parents provide exaggerated information about the other parent that provides a basis for their resistance. There is usually partial truth to the presentation by both parents and it is the therapists job to determine the actual dynamics of each parent in relation to the child.
One parent usually identifies the other parent as responsible for the lack of contact with the child. Sometimes one parent will project their own hurt and manifest harmful parenting behaviors from parent based on their feelings such as feeling abandoned by the other parent from an affair that led to the marital break-up. Each child is also interviewed separately because children will express differing positions in regards resistance of parental contact. Older children have more influence over younger children and typically encourage resistance to the one parent. During the separate child interviews issues with both parents are identified. Sometimes the child needs encouragement to cooperate with the therapy process as they feel unspoken loyalty to one of the parents of maintaining the rejection. Many times, the child does identify legitimate minor complaints about a parent but the complaints do not justify eliminating parental contact. Interactions with the child often emphasize the impact on the child, and the long-term benefit of having a positive relationship with both parents.
Each child is then interviewed and overserved with the non-custodial parent. This provides another measure of the parent-child relationship, child’s resistance, and the parent’s motivation to cooperate and change. Among other topics, parent-child sessions will address cognitive distortions by the child and/or parent, training the parent to interact in a healthy manner and to avoid blaming the child for their behavior, and to stop put-downs of the other parent. Joint sessions also plan and schedule time for the parent and child to spend time together outside of therapy, to reestablish the bonding and a change in dynamics. Additional individual sessions with each parent focus on addressing their behavior and how they need to support the process. Over time, the amount of time the child spends with the non-custodial parent increases until a normal relationship is observed and reestablished.
Because reunification therapy sessions are forensic services and take place in a legal arena, under the scrutiny of the judge and/or the parties’ attorneys, this process is NOT reimbursable via major medical insurance. These services are not medically necessary.
How Children Benefit from Reunification Therapy
Aside from abuse, children generally benefit from a relationship with both mom and dad. During reunification therapy, providing that the family is participating as recommended by the therapist the interactions outside the therapy office are being monitored to assist children are spared the trauma of the favored parent encouragement. The therapist will monitor the child for reporting details relating to their interaction with the target parent to the favored parent. The children will ultimately build the skill set required to cope with alienating behavior in the future as well as rebuild a damaged parent relationship.
Reunification Therapy is most effective when there are periods of no-contact or supervised contact with the favored parent. A judge can order no-maligning and prohibit any interference with the therapy, and orders that build in as needed sanctions if a parent does interfere with the therapeutic process. Because each family has different issues and needs each therapeutic intervention will be individualized. In some cases it will be recommended to court order that all family members, including extended family participate in therapy.
Timeline and How do I Know When Reunification Therapy Should be Finished?
Each family requires a different plan outline for reunification therapy completion, the following is considered to help determine the number of sessions needed:
- Age of the children
- Length of absence of visiting/estranged parent
- Level of resistance of visitation of children
- Factors that led to the parent-child disengagement
- Level of cooperation of each parent
- Number of children involved in the reunification process
- Limitations and restrictions on your court order
Reunification therapy is not constricted to specific timelines. Each individual of the family and the family as a whole will heal at different rates. Your reunification therapist has a guided program with checks and balances protocol to know when to discharge the family from services. We individualize services to the needs of each family, a plan is outlined after meeting with each participant in the reunification therapy process. Sometimes additional sessions are needed due to noncompliance of a parent or child but Christine Whittaker, LMFT is usually accurate when making the plan outline. Depending on the history of the disengaged parent-child dynamic, some children need individual therapy to work through their feelings related to the disengaged parent or the family dynamic. When this is the case than sessions with the disengaged parent and the child(ren) will not begin until there is a successful outcome with individual therapy.
When the reunification therapy is nearing completion, the therapist will make a comprehensive and detailed aftercare plan with the family to ensure optimal long-term success. The aftercare plan will enable the family members to continue to use the skills they have learned in therapy as well as to monitor the family for the re occurrence of parent or child rejection. There is a step-down aftercare program that consists of a step-down program that will range from therapy or monitoring once a week to once a year basis. The step-down aftercare plan is individualized to your family’s needs.
Why is the legal knowledge and Experience of my Reunification Therapist important?
Successful Reunification Therapy requires that the therapist have legal knowledge and hands on experience with working in the legal aspect of the family law community. Most therapists do not receive this type of training. It is important that your reunification therapist not only feels comfortable working with children, adolescent, and families, but has experience working with the legal system.
Whittaker Family Services will make an agreement and contract for services for each parent to sign, indicating they agree with participation in reunification therapy. We accept health insurance for the therapy aspect of the Reunification Therapy process; there will be minimal additional fees for the legal aspect your therapist must participate in for your reunification therapy process. Please note that reunification therapy does not involve confidentiality privileges due to it being court-ordered.