Reunification Therapy is a specialized type of therapy that addresses parent/child contact problems following a separation or divorce. This is complex and involves regular participation from the whole family. There are many reasons why a parent may become estranged from their child/ren. Perhaps the divorce was high conflict, or the previous spouse is making conflict difficult, or perhaps the child is making excuses as to why they don’t want to see their parent. Whatever the reason, reunification therapy is specifically about reunifying parents and their children and improving the relationship between them.
In cases where there is alienation between parent and child, a court may order reunification therapy. Generally, reunification therapy is ordered when there has been alienation by one parent or where a child indicates an extreme preference to be with one parent and has aligned their feelings to be consistent with that parent’s.
While each parent may disagree on the reasons for the disconnect, they must agree that the common goal is to improve and repair the relationship between parents and children. It is about moving the family forward and not rehashing past issues. Children who have parents who fight, manipulate and undermine each other often experience anxiety, depression and oppositional behavior.
The goals of the reunification therapist are as follows:
- To minimize a child’s alignment with one parent over the other
- To help parents understand the needs of each child
- To educate and support parents in learning new communication and parenting skills
- To help each parent individually to understand the difference between valid concerns and negative views relating to the other parent
- To put plans in place to manage difficult co-parenting situations in the future
- To facilitate parenting time when appropriate
The process of Reunification Therapy:
This type of therapy involves the whole family; both caregivers and the child/ren are expected to participate. It can take several months of in-depth therapeutic work and your family needs to commit to the process.
During this phase parents agree to work towards a common goal and agree to collaboration instead of confrontation. All parties must agree to work towards what is in the best interest of the child. By doing so, parents agree to put their differences aside so they can work together as parents and help the child/ren thrive. Each parent must agree to:
- Fully understand the need of the child/ren
- Facilitate a relationship between the estranged parent and the child/ren
- Attempt to resolve the reasons for resistance to visitation
- Improve parenting and communication skills with respect
Facilitate opportunities for parenting time where appropriate
Your children need to give their permission to begin therapy. Therapy needs to be voluntary for the children in order for it to work. This might take some encouraging and empathetic listening. During this time, there are no joint sessions. Each party involved needs the opportunity found in private sessions to discuss their concerns, hopes and goals. This can take one or several individual sessions per person depending on past trauma, attachment issues and mental health issues.
It usually takes three individual sessions of the child and estranged parent before the joint sessions can begin. Individually, the parent and child will discuss what the first and subsequent joint sessions will include. There should be no surprises about the first joint session conversation.
Topics discussed in individual sessions:
- The rules and boundaries of joint sessions. There should be a list of what will and won’t be discussed in the session. Most of the rules and boundaries are for the child. This helps the child feel as though they have control within the process.
- The parent will receive instructions as to how best to communicate with their children so they feel safe at all times
- If this is a court-ordered therapeutic process, the therapy is catered to whatever was ordered. This might dictate the number of sessions, the involvement of each party and/or reporting back to the court regarding progress.
Expectations of therapy. Each party will discuss what their expectations are and what they hope to accomplish.
During the first joint session is an introduction. The goal is to introduce and demonstrate a willingness to maintain boundaries and a safe environment. During this first session, the groundwork of trust is laid without the fear of negative consequences.
The next sessions are more therapeutic in nature and allow the children to confront the estranged parent and talk about the things that they are angry about. The parent is to actively listen, hear the child, acknowledge any wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. The number of these sessions is dependent on how extensive the children’s issues are.
After the anger, fear and guilt has been addressed, the last joint session helps the parent and child/ren discuss how to move forward. Ideally, the child and formerly estranged parent have come to resolution that satisfies them both. Hopefully this is mutually agreed upon with the other parent; in which case, it can be signed off by therapist and/or the court.
Follow up sessions
Once the process is complete, it is beneficial for all parties to do a therapeutic check-in periodically to ensure that everyone is still doing well. By neglecting this next step, old habits and behaviors tend to arise that can harm the relationship moving forward.
Reunification Therapy fees are billed at an hourly rate of $200.00. Additional fees may include travel, mileage and administrative costs.