A recent comment to my Facebook page by a parent asked what needs to be done to “keep things moving.” I thought my response might be more broadly of interest, so I am turning my response into a full post on my Facebook and blog pages. 1) Assessment We need to have all mental health […]
Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC is a licensed mental health provider in the state of Washington. She has been providing Reunification Therapy for over ten years, has worked on hundreds of reunification cases, provided expert testimony on recommendations for Reunification Therapy, and has developed a step process guideline to follow in her practice and wants to share with other professionals that want to learn how to provide Reunification Therapy the most ethical, efficient, and how the process works. Reunification Therapy is challenging and rewarding at the same time, and more professionals in this field are needed to help these families gain an understanding about the estrangement from their children and provide the necessary tools to help these families.Learn to work with families that have been estranged from their chid(ren). This training will teach you many of the reasons for estrangement, provide you a step-by-step process how to implement Reunification Therapy into your, ways to work with all parties involved, interventions, and how to get past stone-walling. This RT training provides the basic tools you will need to start RT in your practice and provide realistic goals and expectations. This Reunification Training will go over the ethics of RT, and ways to keep your professional boundaries clear and away from board complaints.
Reunification Therapy is considered forensic because the court system is usually involved and the professionals are seen as ‘experts’ in this field. There is limited seating for this seminar, sign up now, and receive 15% off the registration fee. Groups of ten or more also receive 15% off. This will be recorded and the recording will be offered free to participants or at a reduced fee for those that do not attend or care about CEU’s.
Register at http://www.longcounseling.com. For only $275.00 you will receive six hours of training and CEU credits. The training will be held at 2722 Colby Ave, Everett, WA 98201. Space is very limited, so register Now! Save the date – March 31, 2017 at 10am – 4:30pm.
*once registered more information will be provided to you via email.
Many know Reunification Therapy (RT) as reunifying a child with their ‘estranged’ parent(s). There are many reasons why a child(ren) may be separated or estranged from one parent or both, such as Child Protective Services (CPS) conclude enough evidence for abuse or unsafe environment where the children are placed in foster care for a while until the parents are stabilized. Other reasons may be one parent is deported to their birth country, and the child remains in the United States; one parent suffers from severe mental health issues untreated, extreme substance abuse issues that dampens their parenting abilities, physical/mental/emotional abuse, severe neglect, parental alienation, children and teenagers decide due to the impact of their negative relationship with that parent. Unfortunately, many parents fighting in the U.S. family court systems over child custody; the children eventually align with one parent because they are in the middle and realize it is easier to be on one side rather than in the middle. This article will discuss child custody, reunification therapy, and does it work during high conflict custody cases?
High conflict custody cases result in less than ten percent of all the child custody cases in the United States. Out of these high conflict custody cases, majority, if not all of them result in some type of services recommended by the courts (Guardian Ad Litems, Parenting Coordinators, Reunification Therapy, Parenting Evaluations, etc). Once professionals have been court ordered to provide services to this family, the high conflicted parents begin their journey in seeking the ‘best fit’ for their situation. It is best for high conflict custody (HCC) to name professionals in their legal documents so not too much time goes by and helps alleviate ‘some’ additional conflict.
In some of these HCC one parent is estranged from their children for the reasons stated above. When this happens, reunification therapy may be ordered to help the estranged parent and child(ren) reconcile. Reunification Therapy (RT) is specialized, and should be trained in this area in order to help the family. Reunification Therapist’s (RT) take the role as helping the family, educating the family, providing co-parenting training, case-management, knowing the basics of family law, and working with both parents. RT is not confidential to the parties because their role is to assist the family to reunify, and this may include reports to the courts, conference calls with attorneys, and speaking with other professionals involved on this case.
Reunification Therapy sounds fairly straight forward. However, this is far from the reality. Majority of these parents are highly emotional, and have difficulty separating what is ‘truly’ best for the children, and what they feel is in the child’s best interests. The RT assigned to work with these families must remain neutral and professional. Majority of the ‘favored’ parents may believe the RT has sided with the ‘non-favored’ parent because the RT spends more time working with the non-favored parent and children. The RT is trying to reunify the child(ren) and the non-favored parent, and is spending time working with this family system. The RT communicates with the favored parent as it relates to communication, coordinating transportation and appointments, and behaviors that may be causing the children to react this way toward their non-favored parent. Favored parents may take the RT as ‘siding’ when the RT is working for the entire family system. Remember, these HCC are highly emotional, and have difficulty being logical during these challenging times. The RT is able to be an objective party to this family, and can hopefully help this family without incurring more legal costs (emotionally and physically).
Let’s face it though, these parent’s are in high conflict, and thinking emotionally. Regardless of the RT’s effort, one or both of the parent’s will not be happy with the treatment plan, outcome, and/or recommendations. The ‘favored’ parent typically does not want the ‘non-favored (targeted) parent’ to have anything to do with the children, so how is this helping the ‘favored’ parent? Additionally, when RT is done correctly, the RT will be able to identify the problems in the child-parent relationship, and when this is exposed, one or both of the parents will not be happy and may cause more conflict. The RT must walk the line carefully when working with these HCC because of their emotions and belief systems. Unfortunately, the ‘favored’ parent begins to feel ‘left out’, and begin to show the children sadness. Although this is the is the ‘favored’ parent issue, the children feel a sense of devotion toward their ‘favored’ parent, and begin to blame the ‘targeted’ parent for their ‘favored’ parents emotional grief.
When the child(ren) experience a remotely positive experience with their ‘targeted’ parent, the child(ren)’s emotional attachment begins to form until they return home to their ‘favored’ parent. In order to live peacefully and not feel guilty, the child understands (unconsciously) they must disengage their feelings from their ‘targeted’ parent, and focus on their ‘favored’ parent. Eventually the ‘favored’ parent emotions show the children that their ‘other/targeted’ parent is abusive and does not want to really see them, the ‘targeted parent’ is just trying to get in the way of their everyday lives. Since the children lives majority (usually, not always) of the time with the ‘favored parent,’ this parent can convince them prior to seeing their ‘targeted’ parent. Although the ‘targeted’ parent is nice and kind when they spend time together, the children can become more rejecting and hostile of their ‘targeted’ parent. This is because of the kindness of the targeted parent increases the children’s confusion, and increase emotional pain for them, and the child misinterprets this ‘kindness’ as abuse from the ‘targeted’ parent (Childress, C. 2013).
Although the above sounds ‘crazy making’ this happens. Targeted parents and RT professionals that are trained in this area can identify with this. Qualified RT’s are aware of the process above, and the inner turmoil going on inside the child(ren), and can work with the child(ren) to have their own authentic feelings, and teach the child(ren) the difference between adult stuff and children/teenager stuff. The RT will also train the child(ren) to learn their own feelings, and that they are in charge of their own feelings, just as both their parents are in charge of their own feelings.
RT: “You don’t hate your mom/dad, you actually love him/her very much. You have not allowed yourself to love him/her because of all the craziness going on in the family. Now that you are free to form your own feelings and opinions, and have done your research, you are now able to freely love both parents. Once you let yourself express and receive love from your mom/dad, the pain you are experiencing will go away.”
The RT will also assist the ‘target’ parent in learning ways to be patient, and how to communicate with their resistant child. The RT will educate the ‘target’ parent about the turmoil their child is going through, and help them show their child compassion through the process of RT. The RT will help the child hear the ‘targeted’ parent’s story in a productive way, without blaming the ‘favored’ parent. Although this may confuse the child further, the RT will be able to go back to having the child be their own authentic person and to remind them they can form their own opinions. Once the child begins to see their truth and formulate their own opinions of the truth, they can usually let their guard down and allow their ‘targeted’ parent into their world. This may take many months (or not).
The RT will work with the ‘favored’ parent as well, and offer compassion with firm boundaries. The RT will educate the ‘favored’ parent about what is going on, and try to separate the alignment that has been going on.
RT is a specified field, and only qualified RT’s should perform this type of work. There are various reasons for reunification therapy, however, when the situation is involving a high conflict custody case, the situation above mostly applies. RT can work as long as the RT is trained, and able to work with the entire family system in a productive manner. The RT must set boundaries, and be prepared for the ‘favored’ parent to get upset with them. The RT’s main goal is to reunify the child and ‘targeted’ parent, and not get into the middle of the custody battle.
For those going through RT at this time, or attempting to, review the qualifications of the RT, and make a decision based on experience and qualifications. Do your homework, and be proactive in seeing your children. Time is essential when reunifying with your children, the more time that goes by, the more challenges it presents.
Article written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Long Counseling and Evaluation Services, PLLC/www.longcounseling.com
Baker, AJL (2014). The High-Conflict Custody Battle: Protect Yourself and Your Kids from a Toxic Divorce, False Accusations, and Parental Alienation. Oakland, USA: New Harbinger.
Kay, B. (2013). Barbara Kay: Teaching children to hate the ex. National Post, May 23, 2013.
Pingitore, Marco. “Parental Alienation, Interview with Craig Childress”. Italian Society of Forensic Science. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
Warshak, R. A. (2010). Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing. New York: Harper Collins.
Parents listen up…just because you and your ex-partner can not, do not, will not agree on most things…THINK OF YOUR CHILD FIRST! What is in the best interests of the child? Are you able to think about your child(ren) or are you wrapped up in your emotions about “my time” versus the “kids time?” Do you believe “your time” is spending quantity time versus quality time? Are you able to identify what is important to your child(ren) and separate what is important to you? Parents are blessed with a special gift…children…they are not yours to keep; children are small for a short while and ‘should’ blossom into healthy, social, respectful young adults.
For the longest time, children were to ‘be seen and not heard.’ Father’s treated their children as property, and mother’s acted as if they were all alone to raise the children. As the pendulum swings, we must find a middle ground when it relates to custody of children. Children do not have a choice, children do not have a say where they will live, activities they want to do, and how they will spend their time. Sure, parents may ask their children about their thoughts and ideas, but ultimately parents have the final say (as they should within reason).
Most parents that are sharing custody with their child(ren) are able to separate their feelings from their child(ren)s feelings; and make informed decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. Parents that live in conflict with one another seem to forget about their child’s wishes, and focus on hurting the other parent instead. Many children have came to me and said, “I feel my parents don’t care what I say, it seems they are too concerned about hurting me.” Recently, a 10 year old boy was referred to me because he was ‘sad’ that he can only play sports half time. He has been playing Lacrosse for four years (prior to his parents divorce), and since the separation, his mom refuses to take him during ‘her time’ because she ‘only’ has him fifty percent of the time now and Lacrosse is not as important as it used to be to her. However, he feels that it is not fair, and ‘why should I have to lose out just because my parents divorced.’ His dad still takes him, however, only 50% of the time. This boy has suffered great consequences that are important to him, and feels ‘it is not important, no one cares.’ The players no longer speak to him as much, and his playing time decreased. Although this is a recreational team, this child is feeling the negative impacts about his parents divorce. His outlet is sports, and now only plays fifty percent of the time. Is this fair, one may ask? Why should the child have to miss out?
Too many families have similar situations and too many children are left by the wayside. Children do not have legal rights to make decisions until they are 18 years old. In some states, children may receive legal counsel, so their voice is heard. When parents separate and/or divorce, their time with their child(red) decrease and they want to hold onto their child(red). Regardless who has more time, and/or less time, parents (and children) go through loss of the intact family. When parents are unable to resolve issues as their child(red) develop, the children remain in the middle, and parents continue to have conflict around them. Regardless of ‘my time’, what about your ‘child’s time’ and what is in their ‘best interests?’ This question remains a mystery to many parents and children out there because our family courts do not see it as the ‘child’s time’ the family courts see it as ‘parenting time.’ Parents, if you are one of those parents that feel it is ‘your time’ and refuse to allow your children to play sports, participate in theater, dance, gymnastics, art, friends sleepovers (within reason), and maintain a healthy lifestyle, please reach out to a therapist trained in this area to help sort out what is truly important. Let’s begin to think about the “best interests of children.” Children love when their parents are involved in activities they like, and want to share these experiences. This does not have to be about your ex-spouse, and can be about the relationship with your child(red). Children that play sports, do extra-curricular activities, etc. has proven to have better self-confidence, feel a sense of belonging, can deal with problems better, and have self-worth. Parents, try not to limit their activities that are healthy for them, try to work with the other parent and make arrangements so your children can have a well-balanced life and ‘stay out of the middle.’ Listen to your children! Hear what they say, and communicate with the other parent!
Article written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
There are many times in our lives when we encounter stressful events, and our emotions drive our decisions. Emotion-based decisions can potentially cause us more stress in the long-term even though there may have been good intentions behind the decisions made. Emotions is not a bad thing, and having emotions is a positive, natural reaction to the people we love, things we are passionate about, etc. Making decisions from pure emotions may not be a positive outcome, and learning how to make decisions by using a ‘logical’ mind is most likely to help promote better decision making.
Emotions drive how most people respond to a situation. For example, when driver 1 is cut off by driver 2; driver 1 may have a negative reaction based on negative emotions by driver 2 cutting them off. Driver 1 may have had a bad day, in a hurry, have children or loved ones in the vehicle with them, and scared there may be a accident. Driver 1 may be afraid to drive, and this sets off their anxiety. Driver 2 may not have even noticed cutting off driver 1, been in a hurry themselves, moved over quickly due to another car, etc. However, driver 1 is now upset, using the middle finger toward driver 2, speeding up to be close th driver 2, and allowing their emotions to drive their decisions. Driver 2 is also getting upset because driver 1 is driving closely behind, and flipping them off with their middle finger. Both drivers can continue to allow their negative emotions drive their behavior, and in the end get into a fight, an accident, their mood may change and be unpleasant, etc. This does not need to be the case, and it takes only one driver to realize ‘logically’ that reacting with emotions may cause more damage. Driver 1 may think to themselves when driver 2 cuts them off, “that driver scared me, however, we are safe now.” There was an emotion identified, and then a logical response connected afterwards ‘we are safe now.’ This reaction most likely would keep both drivers safe, and both drivers can move forward with their day.
Example 2: Mindy and Matt are getting divorced and have three children, 6, 9, 12. Mindy is very upset because Matt is saying he wants to have the children half time; and Mindy is saying ‘no way’ because she has stayed home for the past twelve years and raised the children while Matt was working, traveling, and having an affair. Although Matt states his work is accommodating his personal life, Mindy does not believe this and says ‘no babysitter or extended family will raise our children if I’m available while you are working.’ Matt becomes upset by this, and responds in emotion that he will go for full custody of the children, and hires an attorney to begin the process. Mindy hires an attorney too, and the custody dispute begins. Both Matt and Mindy are responding from emotions. Mindy is feeling threatened and scared that Matt is going to ‘take the kids away, and that has been Mindy’s life for the past twelve years.’ Matt is angry that Mindy is threatening him, and knows he has rights as a father to their children. Instead of Matt and Mindy seeking a co-parent counselor, pastoral counselor, etc., they go right into court with ugly declarations trying to paint the other parent ‘bad’ and not a ‘good parent.’ This causes more splitting of the family, and the children are placed in the middle regardless if the parents intended for this to happen (most likely not). Possibly Mindy and Matt may have been able to work this out if both of them had thought about their responses to each other prior to saying them, and thinking solely of the children. Instead their emotions drove their behavior, and now these behaviors have become their new reality or perception of the other parent. Logical thinking is most likely gone, and most of their decisions are being made by emotion.
Both of these examples show how our emotions can drive our behavior. Emotions may get in the way of making good, solid decisions because of our fears, anger, worries, etc. Most people are not evil, and do not mean to punish other people; their emotions dictate their reactions, and in the end may cost them more (financially, emotionally, physically) than necessary. Negative emotions not only cause us to make poor decisions, it also causes us negative physiological responses (muscle tension, heart racing, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia, depression, moodiness, etc.) to our bodies and well-being.
There are positive emotions as well that may dictate our decisions, and cause us to make irrational decisions as well. For example, Carl won $3,000.00. Carl and his family were financially not doing well, and had bills that were overdue. Instead of Carl paying bills with the money he won, he went out and bought a new kayak for the family. He justified spending this money on a kayak so the family could have quality time together, and finally have something fun to do. Carl did not take into account (logical side) that by paying off their bills, and helping the family budget their spending, he may have been able to purchase the kayak later once the obligatory finances were caught up. Carl may have been able to set aside $100 of his winnings, and placed in savings so he could save for the kayak purchase. Additionally, Carl may not have wanted the kayak or may have realized this was not a wise purchase if we would have had more time to think about how to spend the money. Instead, Carl went to the store, and purchased the kayak without giving much thought into this large expense. Again his emotions, although positive, drove his decision to make a hurried decision rather than thinking about all the pros/cons prior to his purchase. By spending all the money on the kayak, and not applying the money toward bills and other needs, he may have unintentionally placed his family at more risk of financial burden and stress.
The big question is how are people to know when they are making a decision based off emotions or logic? This is a great question and sometimes a hard one to notice. The biggest clue if this is an emotional based response versus a logical response is whether emotion is attached to the response and/or reaction. If there is an emotion (which there usually is especially when loved ones are involved, money, things that we are passionate about, etc.) attached to the situation. Look at the three examples above, and each one has an emotionally driven reaction versus a logical one. This is not to say they are wrong, it is to say the examples above did not think out their decisions, and wait until their emotions calmed down some and they could think more logically.
Here are some ways to make logical decisions and move forward without thinking back and wishing “if only…”, seconds guessing yourself, or looking at the all or nothing.
1. Allow 24-48 hours after the incident, argument, winning, etc. before making a decision or response.
2. If a decision must be made sooner than 24 hours, check your emotional scale and see if you are having physiological signs. If the emotional scale is high, ask a friend, colleague, family member, counselor to help talk you through your decisions. These people are here to help you, not hinder you. Some people get upset when their friend, family, or therapist may ask additional questions because the person making the decision wants you to agree with them. However, if you seek help from a trusted person, they may not give you the advice you want to hear. They are in their logical mind.
3. Ask for an extension on time if possible, go through your thought process, and connect your thoughts to your feelings to your behaviors. Write these down, and see whether your behaviors are congruent with your thoughts and feelings. Also look for the rational behaviors versus the irrational ones. Be true to yourself, allow yourself to have emotions, and then put your logical hat on and make a sound decision that you can live with (and have no regrets).
4. If you are unable to do this on your own, and continue to find this cycle repeating itself, seek professional help with a licensed counselor that can help you learn ways to avoid making emotionally driven behaviors.
In the end, this is your life. You may chose to move forward, learn from the past, and make solid choices based on your logical mind. Or you may chose to live in chaos, live in the past, make emotional decisions, and stay stuck. Remember we have no control over others, we only have control over our behaviors and actions. Learn from the past, heal from the past, do not stay victim to the past, and no longer allow the past to dictate our decisions.
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Click here for more information: Long Counseling
FAILIRE IS NOT THE PROBLEM, IT IS OKAY TO FAIL AS LONG AS YOU GET BACK UP AND KEEP GOING UNTIL YOU HAVE PREVAILED. FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND IF YOU ALLOW IT!
The ‘Rejected Parent’…does this really happen?
By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Dr. Richard Gardner is the founder of the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS). His original definition of PAS in 1987: “a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated.” Richard Darnell, Ph.D. is placing more emphasis on the brainwashing process while Dr. Gardner’s definition goes one step further to explain that the term is similar in meaning to brainwashing except that he adds the additional component of the child becoming active participant in discrediting the targeted parent and aligning with the favored parent. In effect, the child has been successfully brainwashed (Gardner, 1987; Darnell, 1997). “With either definition, the motivation for the alienating parent has both a conscious as well as “a subconscious or unconscious” component (Darnell, 2009).”
The children themselves may have their own motivations that will make the alienation worse. Their need for immediate gratification or their desire to avoid discomfort from the alienating parent makes them vulnerable allies for aligning with the alienating parent. “The children become an advocate for the alienating parent by becoming the spokesperson for their parent’s hatred. They become the soldiers while the alienating parent is the general directing the action in the background against the targeted parent. The children are frequently unaware of how they are being used. It is most important to understand that if the child is angry and refuses to visit the targeted parent because of actual abuse or neglect, the child’s behavior is not a manifestation of PAS. This is why the issue of false allegations is so important (Darnell, 2008, 2009).”
Not all children are being alienated by one parent when the children claim they ‘do not want to see rejected parent’’; there are few children and adolescents that may have good reasons as to why they don’t want to see the rejected parent, and the ‘favored’ parent has nothing to do with the child’s decisions. In fact, most of these parents encourage their children to see the ‘rejected’ parent and may be blamed for alienating their children/teenagers for ‘keeping’ the rejected parent from seeing their children/teenagers. Dr. Darnell points out that not ‘ALL’ children are victims of parental alienation, in fact, some children have decided to ‘reject’ one parent due to some of the reasons below. Professionals must be aware of what is the difference between parental alienation and children deciding they do not want to see their own parent for reasons explained below. Parent Alienation is real and a form of emotional child abuse from the alienating parent that can be very severe and result in your children being alienated from the ‘target’ or ‘rejected’ parent.
Some may ask, ‘what are good reasons’ for children to decide not to see their ‘rejected parent?’ Good reasons children ‘may’ chose not to see one parent may be due to witnessing recent (not coached or here say) violence in the home, witnessed substance abuse, child abuse to the child (physical, sexual, and/or emotional), the rejected parent has a mental illness that has been professionally diagnosed, may be not be supportive in their daily lives routine such as after school activities, and/or sports, etc. Other reasons children may ‘reject’ a parent may be due to emotional and physical neglect. This is different than PAS, and professionals must treat these issues differently. Parental Alienation is real, and is another form of emotional abuse inflicted from one parent onto the child toward the ‘rejected’ parent. In the past, PAS has focused on the custodial parent, however, non custodial parents are equally guilty in alienating their children. These children fear the alienating parent by not wanting to hurt their feelings, being manipulated by the alienated parent, that this parent will no longer love them if they show love towards the ‘rejected’ parent, or possible fear they will take them away from the ‘rejected’ parent if the child doesn’t show they love the alienated parent more. This fear is real to the child, and most children do not know how to voice these fears (unconscious), or want to tell a professional in fear their alienating parent may find out. After time, children defer to the alienating parent because it is ‘easier’ and after time these children begin to believe the ‘alienated parent.’ This cycle of PAS is detrimental to children and families.
Let’s face it, majority of the parents that either separate and/or divorce with children, are good parents and love their children. Unfortunately, the approximate ten percent of parents that are in the high conflict category attempt to alienate their children from the ‘rejected’ parent. This may cause long-term serious emotional trauma to these children. Most parents that alienate their children from the ‘rejected’ parent truly believe they are the ‘best’ parent and the children do not need the ‘rejected’ parent in the children’s lives. The ‘good’p or alienating’ parent usually justifies in their mind that the children are better without the other parent, and look at the ‘rejected’ parent as the ’cause’ of their children’s emotional issues. However, this is not usually the case in these situations. The emotional issues the children display are most likely due to the high conflict situation, not having the ‘rejected’ parent a part of their lives, and feeling in the middle of the conflict.
The ‘alienating’ parent has been able to persuade (brainwash) the children into believing the ‘rejected’ parent is bad, and eventually the children will believe what the ‘good’ parent is saying. For example, the ‘good’ parent may say “when you were 9 months old, your mother threw you down the stairs and always yelled at me.” The child will believe this story because this is a true story coming from the ‘good’ parent. This child will repeat this story over and over to friends, professionals, etc. in a matter of fact way, and believe what they are saying. This child will not realize that it is impossible to remember these detailed events at 9 months old. Nine month old babies developmentally do not recall their infancy, nor would they remember such details.
Here is an example of an 8 year old boy that believed his dad ‘good’ parent that his mom was ‘bad.’ (Names and all identities are changed for privacy purposes):
Kevin, 8 years old, lived half-time with dad and half-time with mom. Mom divorced dad two years ago because of the dad’s lying and infidelity. Dad was very bitter about mom leaving and he felt abandoned. They had one child, and his name was Kevin. For the first five years of Kevin’s life, his parents cared for him and equally shared responsibilities. Although, his mom divorced dad did not mean she divorced their son, Kevin. Mom and dad were able to agree on a parenting plan, and had a civil divorce. Kevin was a happy kid, no problems at daycare or school, and was attached to both parents. About one year ago, mom met another man, and recently got married. Kevin was excited for his new stepdad, however his dad was not. Kevin’s dad began to ignore the mom’s phone calls when she called Kevin during dad’s residential time. Kevin had a routine where he would speak to both parents on the phone before bed. During dad’s time, this routine was going away. Kevin would ask to call his mom, and dad would say “she must be busy since she didn’t call you,” or pretend to call her phone and tell Kevin she wasn’t answering. When Kevin would see mom, he would ask ‘why didn’t you call?’ Mom would answer, “I did call.” Kevin was confused because his dad said she didn’t and mom said she did. Who was telling the truth? As time went on, Kevin started to play sports. Kevin loved sports, and enjoyed playing. On dad’s time, dad would tell Mom that the sport event changed times, so she didn’t show up until that time. Kevin wondered why his mom was not coming to his events. Dad told Kevin, “your mom probably forgot.” Kevin would cry, and his dad would say, “it’s okay, I will always be here and never forget about you.” These subtle messages continued until Kevin was very mad at his mom, and by the time mom realized what was happening, Kevin was rejecting her. Kevin starting acting out with mom, and telling her he hated her and she was mean. Although mom continued to be there for him, Kevin distanced himself and sided with his dad. Kevin began to see his dad as all good, and wanted to be with him more. Kevin’s dad began to attend separate school conferences, etc. so he could tell professionals how terrible Kevin’s mom was. Mom was involved in Kevin’s school, such as PTA and volunteered in the class, and mom began to feel the ‘cold’ shoulder from the school and PTA. Mom didn’t realize what was going on, until Kevin’s dad filed for a modification of the parenting plan. In the dad’s declaration, he clearly stated mom’s home was unsafe because of the abuse she received from her new husband, and how this impaired her ability to parent Kevin. There were also declarations from teachers, and other people stating how she was neglecting Kevin. Although the mom thought this was ‘crazy’ people believed Kevin’s dad, including Kevin. Kevin told the Guardian Ad Litem he hated his mom, and didn’t want to see her anymore. The GAL issued Kevin to live primarily with dad, and that mom attend counseling and parenting classes. Mom was obviously shocked, and could not believe this was happening. Every other weekend when Kevin would come over for his residential time, he was distant and played video games. Mom would have planned activities and he would act out or tell her he didn’t want to do it. The mom was looking for help and kept meeting dead ends. She could see what was happening and the dad would block the attempts to get help for her son, and herself the professional help that was necessary. The father denied they needed help, and said ‘she needed the help.’ Eventually, as time went on, Kevin didn’t want to spend time with his mom any longer, and mom continued to force her residential time to spend time with her son; and their relationship became more estranged. Eventually mom won a motion in court for Reunification Therapy (RT), and Reunification Therapist recommended a change in custody because through the assessment phase, the RT found apparent parent alienation from the dad, and Kevin needed time with his mom to heal and move forward.
This is an example of many where parent alienation is witnessed. The family court system continues to struggle with this term, and fails to see this form of abuse happening. This includes the court appointed Guadian Ad Litems (GAL), family attorneys, family judges/commissioners, and court personnel. The only way this form of abuse is going to be recognized in our courts, is when the judges are fully educated on parent alienation, and what it looks like. Parent alienation is direct, and powerful. Research has proven the only way to ‘reverse’ the alienation is for the alienating parent does not have custody of the children. The child may not wish to have contact with their ‘rejected’ parent, and the only way for the child’s mindset to change is when the child is placed in the care of this parent. The child must be educated about the ‘rejected’ parent in a loving parent that cares about the child and not about alienating them from the other parent. The child must be made aware that the alienating parent that spoke negatively about the ‘rejected’ parent, or made it clear the ‘rejected’ parent didn’t care about the child is a form of abuse, and in fact the opposite is true. The child must be aware that both parents love the child, and that it is okay for the child to love both of their parents. The Reunification Therapist must go back in time with the child when the relationship between the ‘rejected’ parent, and child was positive, and reinstate those memories and bring them to the present. Finally, the Reunification Therapist has to ‘un-brainwash’ the child, and place the child in a neutral location with the ‘rejected’ parent where the hostility of the alienating parent is not present, and the parent and child can re-establish a positive relationship again. Additionally, the Reunification Therapist or another highly trained Therapist will also work with the alienated parent about the abusive nature, and help this parent see the wrongdoing toward the child. The RT will help the entire family heal, and move forward with the family on reintegrating in a healthy manner.
If this cannot be achieved, and the alienating parent continues to ‘brainwash’ the child, or attempts to, this parent should not have contact with the child. Although this is not what is ideal, it may preserve the child from more abuse, and negative repercussions. It is always best for professionals to focus on what is truly best interest of the child and be guided by these basic principles.
This type of therapy is non-traditional, and takes special training, resilience, courage, and integrity to be able to provide Reunification Therapy. Reunification Therapy (RT) is a specialized therapy, and only trained Reunification Therapists should provide therapy to these cases. Additionally, family court judges and commissioners must court order Reunification Therapy to provide the opportunity for a successful reintegration.
Darnall, D.C. (2008) Second Edition, Divorce Casualties: Understanding Parental Alienation. Roman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, Maryland.
Darnall, D.C. ( Fall, 2009) Beyond Divorce Casualties: Reunifying the Alienated Family. Roman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, Maryland.
Gardner, R. A. (1998), Recommendations for Dealing with Parents Who Induce a Parental Alienation Syndrome in Their Children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage , 28 (3/4):1-23.
Warshak, R (2010). Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing (updated edition).