Rejection from a child is one of the most devastating things a parent can experience. When your child chooses not to be a part of your life, it is incredibly challenging not to become overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. Far too often, parents feel as though they’ve lost all control over their situation, feeling “stuck” in a state of hopelessness and powerlessness.
“Reunification therapy” is an emerging form of family therapy employed when issues stemming from a high-conflict separation or divorce culminate in the child refusing to see one parent. This type of therapy can be ordered by courts to remedy parental alienation and restore balance in a co-parenting situation. Historically, this type of court order is more prevalent in the United States, although Canadian courts have begun ordering forms of reunification therapy in recent years.
If reunification is on the horizon, it is normal to feel nervous and intimidated. To help you navigate these challenges, Pathways Family Coaching is proud to present a guide to what you can expect from and how to prepare for “reunification therapy.”
What You Should Expect
It is critical to note that there is no standard protocol for “reunification therapy.” Although it can be ordered by the courts, each individual therapist will have a unique approach to the reunification process, with widely varying degrees of effectiveness. Unfortunately, this lack of standardization means that “reunification therapy” can be a lot like rolling the dice with your parent-child relationship. If you are entering into or considering any legal action in support of reunification, we strongly recommend additional consultation to ensure the process stays on-track, your co-parent remains compliant, and the process does not negatively impact your child.
Although not standardized, “reunification therapy” generally consists of several stages. Assessment, commitment and preparation, and integration are common terms used by therapists purporting to deliver reunification therapy. While different practitioners may use different terms, parents and children should expect (at an absolute minimum) to enter into a structured program designed to facilitate reunification.
The assessment stage is where the therapist will evaluate the entire family to (hopefully) determine the unique nuances of your situation. They often request a great deal of information from family members to understand the situation better, including:
- How long it has been since the children have seen their parent.
- How the child-parent relationship has deteriorated over time.
- How communication patterns have changed or deteriorated.
- The current parenting schedule.
- Other relevant medical information.
Any self-described reunification therapist should talk to both parents in order get all sides of the story. Displayed bias towards either parent should be considered a serious “red flag.”
The commitment and preparation stage is something of a misnomer compared to other reunification solutions; this phase roughly corresponds to diagnosis and treatment phases of other treatments. This stage involves both parents and children taking steps towards reunification. Obviously, this is a crucial step in the reunification process; therapists should be taking care to let all parties know what to expect throughout the upcoming therapy. Both parents (including the favoured one) must be engaged throughout the therapy process, to ensure the understanding of the importance of effective co-parenting.
During this stage, the therapist may continue individual meetings with the parents and children, or conduct group sessions. If the children are aware of the parental alienation, they may begin to feel guilt over not making an effort to see their other parent. If not adequately addressed by both therapists and parents, this guilt can have lasting consequences throughout the child’s life; it is critical to deal with these emotions effectively. Therapists should aim to create an environment of openness and honesty, allowing all parties to express their feelings and address them accordingly.
Lastly, the integration stage seeks to bring together the children and parents to become more cohesive and strive towards the same goal: reunification. While therapists should continue to make recommendations to the parties and guide the discussions, the focus often shifts to children and parents working together to achieve solutions and establish lasting reunification. A highly-trained, perceptive therapist is required to navigate this stage successfully.
How You Can Prepare
Reunification therapy can be a challenging process for all parties involved. The reality is that many participants (especially children) do not enter into therapy by their own choosing. As a parent, it is vital to approach any type of reunification with an open mind and heart throughout the entire process.
The first step in preparation is understanding your own emotional state. Coping with the rejection of a child is tough; it can be difficult to navigate the flood of emotions stemming from this traumatic experience. It is all too easy to view the entire situation through the “lens” of your own trauma. While this is certainly understandable, it is seldom the path to emotional healing and reunification with your child. If you (like many parents we have worked with in the past) are struggling to manage unresolved emotions and the general volatility of your circumstances, it is imperative to use additional resources to prepare yourself for reunification.
In addition to your own emotional state, parents should also seek to understand their child’s frame of mind. Again, it is probable that your child has not entered reunification therapy on their own accord. There may be numerous factors contributing to their alienation, including the traumatic circumstances of your separation, the behaviour of your co-parent, and your child’s perceived obligation to be one or both parents’ emotional caretaker. While you should avoid projecting or speculating on the detailed nuances of your child’s mental state, you should prepare yourself to be open to listening to and understanding your child’s emotional needs throughout the therapy process.
Lastly, you may be wondering what will happen if reunification therapy doesn’t work. This is something we have seen all too often; whether it’s unwilling participants, inept therapists, or the overall lack of formalized structure, the success rate of reunification therapy is not as high as the legal system may have you believe. However, even if therapy is unsuccessful, there is still hope. Whether it’s one-on-one coaching or online courses, there are many tools at your disposal to transform your mindset and prepare for the challenges ahead.
How Pathways Family Coaching Can Help
Pathways Family Coaching offers a wide variety of online courses, consultation, one-on-one professional coaching, collaboration with other professionals, and other valuable resources to help prepare you for reunification. Our expert coaches and comprehensive resources are ready to integrate with your existing legal and therapeutic teams throughout the entire unification process, including obtaining court orders for therapy, enacting clauses ensuring participation, and assisting in finding qualified therapists who will support your family through every phase of reunification.
Our one-on-one online coaching services are aimed at helping you move effectively and efficiently through the reunification process. Because there is no standard protocol for reunification therapy, it can be extremely valuable to seek additional coaching to ensure the process remains on-track. Our expert coaches assist you in developing the skills to help you guide and support your children through the transition with confidence. Further, our coaches work on your schedule and respect your process with openness, acceptance and care.
In addition to coaching, we offer a variety of online courses to give you the tools to manage every aspect of your high-conflict separation or divorce. Ready to Reconnect is an online course specifically designed to provide you with the tools to make the most of the reunification process. It gives you knowledge and insight into the emotional processes behind parental rejection in the wake of high-conflict separation and divorce. Consisting of 12 customized online modules, Ready to Reconnect sets you up for a transformational mindset shift that will prepare you for healing your family, leaving you empowered to rebuild your relationship with your child.
Pathways Through Conflict is our flagship online course, focusing on building essential conflict management skills to help you (and your co-parent) navigate the challenges of separation and divorce with effective communication, including dedicated material on reunification options (including those outside of “reunification therapy”). Consisting of an eight-module online course with 12 one-on-one coaching sessions, Pathways Through Conflict gives you all the tools to manage conflict while providing a nurturing environment in which your children will flourish.
Parents are best equipped to combat alienation when they understand how it works. The Alienation Code online course gives you knowledge and insight into the processes behind alienation amidst the challenges of high-conflict separation and divorce. Consisting of six fully-customized online modules, The Alienation Code will give you a comprehensive understanding of the forces at play in your high-conflict separation, allowing you to apply your knowledge throughout your reunification journey.
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