What is Reunification Therapy?

There are many reasons why a parent-child relationship could be damaged during a divorce. If there was a prior history of child abuse or lack of parental involvement with the child before the divorce, it would make sense that the child may feel estranged from that parent. The term estrangement is most often used by professionals to describe a warranted rejection of a parent.  But, if the currently rejected parent had years of a loving, bonded relationship with the child (in the absence of abuse) and suddenly the relationship becomes conflicted after a divorce, then the rejection is most likely unwarranted and may be rooted in an attack by one parent on the relationship the child has with the other parent.

Reunification therapy usually starts with one parent seeking relief from the court by asking for help to reestablish contact and emotional connection with his or her child.  In many cases the other parent may resist rebuilding the relationship, so reunification therapy works best when it is court-ordered. The court order should support the recommendations and service agreement of the treating therapist and should include the expectations of cooperation by both parents, with sanctions for noncompliance. Treatment goals should be clearly defined with the intent to improve the damaged relationship and to progressively increase contact. Since it is sometimes difficult to assess at first glance what is causing the rejection, it’s important for the reunification therapist to conduct a thorough assessment to determine the cause of the relationship disruption.

The reunification therapist should start by gathering important information from both parents in order to make a proper, balanced assessment. Both parents and children should be interviewed.  Although the experiences and feelings of the child are very important, an experienced reunification therapist will look at the overall functioning of the entire family, and not just the symptoms of the child. The treatment usually focuses on changing the family interaction patterns, rather than any one individual as the identified patient. The therapist should get both parents involved, and then work to restructure unhealthy alignments and interaction patterns.

It is important to note that a child who is being pressured to reject a once-loved parent in order to please the other parent is being emotionally abused.  Children naturally love, need, and identify with both parents, as each parent has literally contributed to half of who they are. In order for children to have a healthy development and identity formation, they need to feel free to love both parents. Helping parents recognize this basic need is a major goal of reunification therapy.

When seeking reunification therapy, a therapist should be chosen very carefully, as many have no training in family systems or in the specialty of high-conflict divorce. These therapists are not qualified to make proper assessments or give the needed interventions in these cases. Further, therapists who lack specialized training in reunification therapy can actually cause more harm than good by misdiagnosing or reinforcing unhealthy alignments. Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) are highly recommended, as they receive the most extensive training in Family Systems Theory and are the most qualified and specially trained to intervene when there is a disruption in family relationships.

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by: Michelle Jones, LCSW

Michelle is the director for reunification therapy services at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

Now That My Teen Has Come Out – WHAT DO I DO NOW?

Ive told my son that nothing changes, that I still love him, but I expect him to live the same standards as the rest of the family, and yet he seems more and more depressed. Why isnt this working? 

I dont want my daughters ideas about being lesbian to influence the younger kids in the family, so Ive told her not to talk about it at home. 

I think if my son is going to wear makeup, hes going to get made fun of at school. I cant stop that. 

In the September/October issue of Utah Valley Health and Wellness, I talked about parental self-care. It’s important for parents to have people to talk with who understand and don’t blame them for what they are feeling and experiencing. In the July/August issue, I talked about how to keep lines of communication open when a child “comes out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.  In this issue, we’re going to talk about how to keep you and your teen connected. 

Some families consider that their main responsibility to a child that comes out is to continue to teach truths about sexuality and gender, and to make sure their teen does not misunderstand or ignore these teachings. In my experience with hundreds of teens from good homes, this emphasis generally results in a disconnection that makes communication feel tense and difficult. Because teens need a good relationship with parents in order to navigate the experiences of being a healthy teen, I recommend that parents: 

  1. Consider that your child may not be choosing to rebel against your teachings and beliefs as they learn new things about themselves and want to share them with you. 
  1. Recognize that your child knows where you stand with regard to teachings about sexuality and gender. 
  1. Learn to be open to hearing from your child what internalizing these ideas has been like (both recently and in the past). 
  1. Find out what your child’s hopes and dreams for themselves are, and how they may be changing. 
  1. Show respect for your child, especially as your child’s experiences are different from yours. 

These five things will make a dramatic difference in your child’s interest in re-opening a relationship with you. The most important thing is that you – as a parent – remain a steadfast connection with the world of respectful and loving relationship with your child. Children who do well – that is – avoid risky sex, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicidal behaviors – have parents who show respect for their childrens sense of what is true about them. (For details about the retrospective studies of families who demonstrate accepting and rejecting behaviors and the outcomes for teens, see http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/) 

If you want help navigating how to support your teen while making sure they are safe and mentally healthy (especially if identifying as a gender or sexual minority goes against your beliefs), you may want to:  

  1. Meet with other parents who have found peace in this journey (last issue listed several groups that meet in Utah County) 
  1. Meet with a therapist who can help you and your teen navigate issues of safety and mental health. 

 

Many families have found their way through this journey with greater love and appreciation for each other and for their relationships, which strengthens everyone, including parents and the younger children in the family. 

How do I Get My Husband to Come to Counseling?

Counseling, if done right, is husband friendly! Find the right therapist and you’ll understand. The problem is that many husbands worry that the therapist is going to take their wife’s side and gang up on him, or that therapy will be uncomfortable. While the latter may be true, the former isn’t. A good therapist doesn’t take sides or act as a referee. I have had many couples want to hash out an argument in front of me in counseling so that I can tell them who is right. I stop them, and explain that even if one of them ended up right, that they would be so wrong in their rightness – their marriage would suffer because they insisted on being right instead of compassionate and forgiving. A good therapist, rather, is able to foster healthy interactions between spouses so that they both feel safe and are able to be vulnerable and genuine with each other. When husbands understand that what they feel and think is important, then they are more willing to make this uncomfortable leap with their spouse. Women are more likely than men to initiate therapy, but without buy-in from the man, it is difficult to be successful in therapy. My suggestion to women who want to initiate counseling, but have a reluctant spouse is to recognize that this is scary for your spouse. They may feel as if they will be attacked, or worse yet, that they will lose you. Help them understand that your desire for counseling is because you love him and because you want this to work – but aren’t sure how to make fix it. Ask him to give therapy at least 3 sessions – after that, if he still feels reluctant there might be another counselor or approach that you could try. Most men feel better about therapy after at least 3 sessions if you have the right therapist for you.

 

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

The Secret of Pornography

Secrets fuel addiction. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, addictions, such as pornography addictions, are a shame-based experience. This means that when someone uses pornography they feel as if they are a bad person, rather than feeling that they are a good person despite making a mistake. When someone feels shame, they often compartmentalize what they have done – they hid it and separate it from who they think they really are, or, think that that mistake totally defines who they really are.

This is where secrets come into play. Over time, a man (or woman – I’ve worked with both in therapy for pornography issues) who has been using pornography and feeling shame because of it will gather many secrets. He won’t want to tell anyone what he is doing, or won’t want to tell them all that he is doing. He might only present the best parts of himself or just tell enough about his mistakes to others to appease them or to feel like he is being open. But, in fact, he is keeping secrets. These secrets start to bury him and make him feel more shame. They take an effort to maintain and keep hidden. They cause him stress and to feel disconnected from others. All of these things can lead to more addictive acting out.

Being transparent is key. This, in part, is why in the 12-step model of recovery (for alcohol, sexual addiction or substance addiction) addicts are asked to write a fearless moral inventory and to share it. Being open with others can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. Many would say, “It’s in the past – let it stay there” or, “I don’t want to hurt her, so I’m not going to tell her about it”. These mindsets only make things worse for someone using pornography and their spouse/family. Telling others and being transparent is on the path towards recovery.

Pornography counseling offers a venue to be transparent and honest with yourself and with your loved ones. A good therapist will help you through this process in a way that might be painful, but certainly not shameful.

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com