A family therapy approach is sometimes preferred for mild and moderate cases of strained parent-child relationships. This therapy, also known as reunification/reconciliation therapy, can address parent-child contact problems after separation or divorce when the child may have a good reason to reject or resist a parent, when the reason may be unjustified or disproportionate, or in cases with elements of both. Generally speaking, this form of family therapy is intended to improve the current difficulties within the family system, including those related to the parent-child relationships and contact, along with parenting and co-parenting issues.
While the following is a general rough plan of the steps, it is important to recognize every family is different, situations are often unpredictable, and plans can change quickly.
- Parents agree to participate in the process
- Intake sessions, review court material (if submitted), court orders etc..
- Beginning to understand each parents’ positions, hopes and concerns
- Meet with the child and begin to rapport-build
Phase 2 - Buy-In/Perspectives
* The child must agree to begin therapy
- Formation of the therapeutic alliance with the child
- Identifying underlying issues, how the child explains their reasons for the breakdown in the relationship
Phase 3 – Preparation for Joint meetings
- Once the child is ready to move towards joint meetings, preparation work will be completed (identifying key issues, struggles, challenges and strengths)
- Preparation for the first session (individually with the child and with the parent(s))
- In preparation for the first session, we would establish a list of rules and boundaries, topics, activity if any.
Phase 4 - Joint sessions
-The first meet is going to be well planned so the parent(s)/child know how it will proceed. This will alleviate some stressors around the “unknowns”.
-If not already done, this is where the parent would express to the child mistakes they may have made, acknowledge them and commit to working through them with the child. Preparation would be done with parent(s) before this takes place
-Further sessions will focus allowing the child to bring their concerns forward and to talk about the things they are angry about. It is the parent’s role to hear the child, acknowledge wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness. There are times when the parent is not in a position to own all the concerns identified by the child, planning for this will also have been completed.
Phase 5 -Completion
Ideally both the child and the estranged parent have come to resolution. After the main issues have been addressed, as time moves forward, further issues may emerge; follow up sessions can take place.
Should the court implement either a schedule and/or items to address in therapy, these will take precedence over the above plan. As a caveat, while this is the proposed plan, unanticipated happenings may occur which can alter, halt, or alternatively, speed up the process.