Help for couples going through a divorce
Reunification therapy is a form of family therapy often court-ordered when a parent-child contact problem has culminated in the child refusing to spend time with one parent. This type of refusal is typically seen in separated or divorced families in which there is a favored parent and a rejected parent.
Separation caused by parental alienation, divorce, custody disputes, or foster placement can wreak havoc on the parent-child bond. Families often need guidance and support to repair and strengthen that bond once they can reunify. Reunification therapy can be useful in situations where a family needs help rebuilding damaged relationships. In reunification therapy, families work together with a therapist to overcome the challenges they face in becoming a whole family again.
- The process of reunification and the role of the reunification therapist are complex:
- 1. First and foremost, the reunification therapist has to build a trusting, therapeutic relationship with the children. That can take time, because children who are in the midst of the reunification process tend to be more frightened, anxious, and mistrusting of adults in their world, particularly new adults.
- 2. It is equally important that both parents trust the reunification therapist’s clinical experience and believe that the reunification therapist has their children’s best interest at heart. Both parents should feel understood and supported by the reunification therapist even though the reunification therapist may be asking both of them to act outside of their current beliefs and comfort zones.
- 3. It is the reunification therapist’s role to hold each parent accountable for the steps each has to take to ensure a successful reunification. It is never appropriate for the reunification therapist to cast blame or promote the notion that one parent is solely responsible for the struggle. Ultimately, both parents must believe that the reunification therapist is not taking sides in the parents’ conflict and is strictly acting on behalf of their children and on behalf of their children’s task of reunification. The past hurts, anger, and failures in the marriage must be released in order to make way for a new beginning as equal co-parents.
- 4. Individual therapy for each parent is necessary to separate out individual challenges that may be impeding the progress of the reunification.
- 5. It is also essential that the professionals involved work in a collaborative spirit giving hope to the family that one plan can evolve to successfully move the family forward.
- 6. Both parents have to have equal trust in all the professionals involved to avoid a split that will only promote ongoing conflict.
The literature consistently reports that alienated children are at risk for emotional distress and adjustment difficulties, and at greater risk than children from litigating families who are not alienated (Bala and Fidler, 2010).
References Bala, N. and Fidler, B.J., (2010). Children resisting post separation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums. Family Court Review, 48, 10-47.