What is Reunification Therapy?
Reunification therapy is becoming more widely used in divorce cases. It is not a legal term nor is it a psychological term and depending on the circumstances, the purpose and goals vary. In most case a court order is necessary whereby the purpose of reunification therapy is an attempt to identify the relationship between the child and the reunifying parent while identifying the stressors which have impacted the relationship. The goals of reunification therapy are determined after identifying the factors contributing to the estranged relationship and by working on communication, trust and residual feelings contributing to the estrangement.
When to Seek Reunification Therapy
Consider the high conflict divorce cases where one parent is not seeing the child. What can the non-custodial/reunifying parent do? The first step is to go to mediation to try and work an agreement out with the other parent and request reunification therapy in order to facilitate your contact with the child. Then, with the Court Order appointing a qualified therapist who has knowledge and experience in these type of cases, 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 and what interventions will be used, parameters for extended family involvement, discretion to the therapist to set arrangements for treatment, payment arrangements for the therapist, and contingencies in the event of relitigation.
In the event that there is substance abuse and alcohol issues, allegations of abuse or past domestic violence that the child has witnessed or been victim to then reunification therapy begins the process of safe contact for the child and that parent. All pertinent records and contact with collateral professionals and governing agencies will need to be available to the reunification therapist and the Court Order should include the expectations of cooperation by both parents, the Court’s concerns and treatment goals and what interventions will be used, parameters for extended family involvement, discretion to the therapist to set arrangements for treatment, payment arrangements for the therapist, and contingencies in the event of relitigation.
How It Works
It is important that everyone has a clear understanding of the expectations and parameters of reunification therapy before the process begins. The reunification therapist’s role is to work with the reunifying parent and child and the information is not confidential as she will be responsible to report back to the court any significant findings and/or obstacles encountered. Therefore, it is recommended that individual therapists for the child, the reunifying parent and the custodial parent be utilized during this process. One of the most common mistakes that people make is assuming that reunification therapy is client centered, that is, that the child or parent gets to determine the goals of treatment and that confidentiality is maintained. This is not the case for reunification therapy as a result of the Court Order.
The reunification therapist spends time individually with the child and with the reunifying parent before meeting with both of them together. Moreover, the therapist acts as a container for the reunifying parent and child to safely address their relationship and makes contact with the individual therapists as needed to coordinate treatment. As mentioned above, adjunct individual therapy is useful as illustrated by a couple of examples: 1) when the custodial parent may feel left out of the process and question the child and impose his/her feelings on the child which undermines the reunification process then that parent could use his/her therapy to work on these issues 2)if the child has significant concerns about seeing the reunifying parent then in addition to the individual sessions with the reunification therapist, an individual therapist for the child is recommended
Generally speaking, there is a minimum of eight to twelve weekly sessions with outside visitation depending on the circumstances of the case and at the discretion of the therapist. The therapist may keep the court apprised of any information she deems necessary at any time during the process in addition to a written or verbal report at the conclusion of reunification therapy.
If you would like a copy of my stipulation and order for counseling please click here to request it.
.Deborah Huang, LCSW/April 2008