Reunification therapy (RT) 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. Reunification therapy can be ordered when the child is alienated from the rejected parent (that has a strained relationship with the child) by the favored parent (parent the child has a good relationship with).
It is essential that the reunification order includes requesting both parents to participate in the process, because it encourages everyone in the child’s family structure to engage in healthy, honest behaviors, and create a supportive environment for the child. The reunification therapist works with the favored parent to manage emotional triggers, anxiety, and/or anger. The therapist also helps the favored parent challenge cognitive distortions as well as rigid thinking and acting. Work is done with the rejected parent on not externalizing blame, having an accurate perception of the child, having an accurate perception of their own past parenting style, and helping the rejected parent take responsibility of their role in the parent-child contact problem. All parties are coached by the reunification therapist to learn how to listen without reacting, respond in a welcoming way, accept small steps, engage in negotiation, and not focus on the court order. The reunification therapist helps both parents reduce their stress in response to the child’s often anxious, fearful and/or angry response to spending time with the rejected parent.
Below are components of a good reunification order:
- The child and both parents (rejected parent and favored parent) should attend reunification therapy as long as the reunification therapist determines that it is productive and in the child’s best interest.
- The parties shall attend all requested dates/sessions as recommended by the reunification therapist and shall ensure the child attends sessions.
- Sessions may include, at the therapist’s discretion, individual sessions with each parent, individual sessions with the child, and family sessions of any arrangement as determined by the therapist. Parties should expect both parents to be involved in the therapy process, to aid in being part of the solution to the current problem.
- Parties should understand sometimes reunification therapy is a long process, and sometimes it is not; families differ greatly in this aspect. The goal of therapy is to create healthy parent-child relationships as soon as possible.
- Both parents should sign all releases for information from any health care providers the reunification therapist wants to review or consult, past or current, having treated either parent or the child.
- The therapist should be authorized to speak with counsel for both parents.
- It should be clearly stated who will handle costs of reunification therapy, to include each parents’ individual sessions with the reunification therapist, the child’s individual sessions, family sessions, co-parenting sessions, and any collateral work such as contacting other professionals.
- Both parents should follow recommendations of the reunification therapy process as directed by the reunification therapist.
- IMPORTANTLY a reunification order should not include putting the therapist in the role to make custody recommendations or create visitation schedules, because that hinders the therapeutic process by interfering with the therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic relationship, which is very important, is strained when a therapist is asked to create visitation schedules or recommendations regarding visitation outside of therapy, because parents and children seek to convince the therapist that the schedule they want is ideal versus focusing on truly engaging in the therapeutic process. This almost always impedes in some ways on therapeutic rapport and directly hinders progress in therapy. When RT participants see the therapist as the person who determines the custody/visitation schedule, it serves to keep them entrenched in their positions and closed to emotional healing and positive change, as they consciously or unconsciously focus more on persuading the therapist to support their preferred custody/visitation schedule than they focus on the therapeutic work of improving family relationships and mental health.
Click this SAMPLE REUNIFICATION THERAPY ORDER for more specific language to add to an Order!