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.

How to Talk to Your Teenager about Hard Things

Many parents bring their child in for therapy and express that they don’t know how to talk to them about things that are happening with their family (ex. divorce, depression of a family member). Also, I’ve heard from many teenagers that their parents haven’t talked to them about “awkward” topics, such as sex, pornography, dating, or even emotions. However, I have found that when parents have open communication with their children, children tend to be more emotionally healthy.  

First, when it comes to talking about sex, pornography, or dating, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do I know what is age-appropriate?” The simple answer to that question is to start with the basics. If the child asks more questions than answer those questions. I have found that if parents are unwilling to answer or feel awkward answering, their children will turn to other sources to get answers. Further, if the children see that the parents feel awkward talking about the subject, then the subject becomes taboo and they feel like they can’t talk with their parents in the future when they have questions.  

Another thing to keep in mind when talking with your teenagers about sex is to use correct terms. The terms they usually hear are slang, but it is important for them to understand exactly what you are talking about and the easiest way to avoid confusion is to avoid slang. Further, if you start to get uncomfortable, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that its important for them to know from you. Some parents, mine included, have used books to help when talking to their child/teenager about maturation. Just make sure that you know what’s in the book. Read the book with them and answer their questions.  

Second, when it comes to feelings, teenagers tend to have a lot of them. I have heard from parents that they are burnt out listening to the emotional rollercoaster, or that they don’t know how to react when they feel like their teenager’s emotions are silly, or they simply do not understand what their child is feeling because they, the parent, are not good with emotions. It’s important to listen to teenagers and help them learn to regulate their own emotions. I’ve found that most parents feel pressure to fix their teenager’s problems or to make their children happy. However, sometimes the best way to help them is to listen and then help them problem solve their own problems. For example, if they come to you emotionally distraught over being left out, it can be helpful to listen to their feelings, let them know that you are listening by repeating back a part of what they said, then ask them what they can do in the future when this happens (or ask what they need to do to feel better in this moment). 

As a parent, many difficult conversations need to be had with your teenagers. It can feel overwhelming at times if you don’t know what to say or how to say it; but if you can push through, you will help your children learn valuable skills they need later in life. You can help develop a relationship with your teenager of trust and openness that can help them safely navigate their way through those challenging teenage years.  

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine 

A New Start. A New Journey. A New You. How the right therapy, and the right therapist can help get you there by David Nutter, MA, LAMFT

New starts in life often happen when people decide to engage therapy. Whenever I meet new clients as individuals, couples, or even families, I ask them what their goals are in therapy. For some, they have not been asked about what they need, want, or even prefer in their lives for a long time. For others, it often feels that they have never been heard at all, let alone asked. What happens when you go to therapy? What type of model and style of therapy will the person you see provide? What is their level of formal training, how well attuned are they to meet your needs and do they rely on any other resources other than their self-perceived competency? Understanding how much someone knows about your particular issue(s) is a critical step in selecting the type of therapist and style of therapy you will engage.

For example, as I write this article I am thinking of the many different styles of therapy available. I can immediately think of 11 different styles: structural family therapy, strategic therapy, the Milan systemic approach, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach, Satir’s communication approach, symbolic-experiential family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. That’s a lot of different styles of therapy, all with empirical research associated with their model and experts in each field.

Added to this list of styles of therapy are the therapists themselves. Who are you going to see and what you are likely to experience is largely dependent on the type of education they have and the experience they have with others. There is a vast difference in the education requirements to become a life coach, mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). There are differences in approaches and emphasis, even within the same style/model of therapy. You and the particular issues you bring to therapy may be weighing on you. The therapist fortunate enough to have you as a client should work as hard on your issues as you do.

There are resources such as books, workbooks, films, music and other sources that might resonate with you that are not particularly useful or preferred by others. You have decided to make a new start and that new start needs the support of the developing relationship of trust you are building with your therapist of choice. That relationship is essential for discussing what you want to achieve and the ways you plan to address the changes or goals you want for yourself and your relationships. Your new journey starts with a decision about what you want to experience in the future. Often this gets accomplished by a review of the past and current life experiences you have survived or thrived from. The therapist caring deeply about your experiences and your strengths will celebrate what you have achieved and where you are going. Aspects that you bring to the therapy effort are elements of the way you might describe yourself—the many facets of who you are. When people describe their experiences in therapy, I hope they include feeling heard, challenged, respected, validated, encouraged and celebrated. Their experience should feel welcomed like a friend, with a serious focus in a nurturing manner. Sometimes people cry, reflect and reconsider critical directions or attitudes they have adopted. Sometimes they laugh and release tension in a light-hearted way. New beginnings are often encouraged by a therapist going the extra mile along side of you, so you can keep going more miles, confidently forward. Welcome to your new start.

 

About the Author:

David Nutter is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center For Couples & Families. His career experience includes military service, management and executive positions and international business consulting. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University, a COAMFTE approved program. David was inducted into two honor societies for academic and clinical excellence and is enrolled in NCU’s PhD/ MFT program. During his Master’s program he was mentored by Steve Allred, with a broad range of client ages and issues. He served as the SGPD Chaplain (board certified) to reduce the impact to personnel and citizens from significant trauma experiences. He is adjunct faculty at DSU. He has lived in every U.S. time zone and abroad, and appreciates diversity. David is married to his “girlfriend” Diane. Together, they call their 7 children, their spouses/partners and 5 grandchildren their immediate family.

Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

An Ethic to Live: Building Barriers to Suicide Around Ourselves & Those We Love by Laura Skaggs-Dulin

In cities throughout the world, notable high buildings and bridges increasingly have additional fencing built atop of them with the specific purpose of preventing suicides. Suicide fences tend to work because research has shown that suicidal actions are frequently impulsive, hence such fences serve to forestall that impulse and buy individuals precious time to further think about their decisions. In studies of suicide fences, it appears that individuals don’t leave such barriers to go look for another bridge or tall building to end their lives from, but instead return to the business of living for yet another day.  

Presently suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-17 here in Utah, and over the last decade, it’s also doubled amongst adults in our state. As concerned friends, neighbors and parents, how do we help our community build more barriers to suicide; protecting and empowering those we love? Over the next year, I’ll be writing a series of articles in answer to this question; offering my perspective as both a therapist, who has stood on sacred ground in helping others walk back from suicidal thinking, and as one who’s felt and ultimately rejected the dark pull to end my life amidst heavy times.   

Perhaps you’ve already noted that there’s no way to build suicide fences everywhere or to somehow block all of the endless ways in which someone might consider ending their life. Sound public policies on prevention and physical barriers like suicide fences are only some of the important ways to help. So in addition to these forms of prevention, the focus of my writing will be on how to build barriers to suicide directly into the thinking and values of individuals, and into the culture of our community as a whole. In this first article, I want to introduce how we help foster an ethic to live within ourselves and in others as a key barrier to suicide.  

An ethic to live means valuing our lives and holding a commitment within ourselves to continue living — even when we’re unsure of how we’ll cope or move forward. In my experience, helpful conversations about consciously building an ethic to live, begin by first taking care to turn our attention to the reality that to live is to be vulnerable to an array of difficult life experiences, with the potential to evoke within us the thought to end one’s life to escape them. Throughout human history, individuals and peoples have had to confront extremely painful and unjust challenges which have overwhelmed their sense of being able to continue on, and it’s important to acknowledge that when we confront such considerable pain, it is the most human thing in the world to want relief from it. This is real; excruciating human suffering beyond one’s current sense of how to reduce or stop it is real, and in these concentrations of pain, we may find ourselves having suicidal thoughts.  

When we acknowledge and honor that such excruciating life experiences do show up for many of us, it’s then that we can locate where we need to begin building internal fences to prevent suicide. It’s here that we recognize the need to develop a strong ethic to live even though there are times that we might not yet fully know how we’ll cope or be able to see brighter ways forward. It’s also here that we find the need to define as individuals what makes life worth living with specificity to our own life experiences, as well as the need to find a listener who we can turn to and voice what’s going on inside of us. 

As you navigate life’s difficulties, no matter how hard things may get, make the commitment now to live and identify your personal reasons to do so. Additionally, identify suicidal thoughts as a  sign to find a listener who you feel safe enough to talk to. It’s worth thinking about right now who it is you might feel comfortable turning to during your hardest times. By doing so, you’ll begin to build your own internal fence between you and suicide as well as have greater insight as to how to help others you care about to do the same.  

 * If you or someone you care about is currently having thoughts of ending their life, caring help is available 24/7 by texting 741741 from anywhere in the USA or you can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak directly with a Counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

About the Author: Laura Skaggs-Dulin holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from San Diego State University. She currently sees clients at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families and at Encircle LGBT Youth and Family Resource Center in Provo

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

 

Coming Out – Part 2 Parental Self-Care

When he told me he only had crushes on boys and thats why he never dated, I started crying. 

My son told me not to tell his father that he really feels like a girl. Did I let him play with girls too much? 

I asked my daughter why her best friend identifies as lesbian, and she told me she thinks she may be one too. Im sure she is not. 

When teens come out, the world shifts. Some parents respond with denial, wanting to diminish the news. Others feel anger and want to find out who is responsible. Some parents feel sadness, anticipating a loss of shared values, a loss of future. Denial, anger and sadness are all important aspects of grief processing, and for many parents, responding to a child’s coming out is a grief experience. 

Most children talk with their parents only after years of trying to figure out what is really happening inside, and when they finally tell parents, those years are condensed into a moment that – to a parent – may feel like a dropped bomb. 

After listening to hundreds of stories of parents responding to their children’s expressions of attraction and identity, I’ve seen how important it is for parents to take care of their own emotional health afterward.*  

Here are some valuable principles to keep in mind: 

  1. Take a break to figure yourself out. Denial, anger, and grief are expected. However, if your child feels overwhelmed by your denial, anger, and grief, then healthy connecting may be more difficult. Many children “take on” their parents’ reactions and become more isolated. You may want to find another place and time to express and explore your genuine reactions. One mother told her child she loved him and needed some time to figure out her own feelings, and then she spent the afternoon at her sister’s home. Another father immediately called a counselor, reassuring his son that the counseling was intended to help the father provide healthy support for his son.  
  2. Remind yourself, “This is not a crisis.” One mother described feeling completely numb. Because Christmas was only a few days away, she felt both the pressure of the family’s expectation and the heaviness of the news. She found that repeating aloud the words, “This is not a crisis” reminded her that their family would still survive despite the new information.
  3. It’s normal to feel more upset, even though your child may seem happier. While children often feel relief after sharing feelings with parents, your feelings may begin to resemble a roller-coaster. It may seem unfair that your child has just given you the burden to carry. Breathe through these feelings and recognize that this is normal.  
  4. Find safe people to share what you are feeling. Your child may insist that you tell no one. And although it’s important to honor your child’s sense of privacy, it’s OK to let your child know that you need to talk with someone. Perhaps you and your child can agree on a trusted family member, friend, or counselor. 
  5. Limit your contact with others who are uninformed. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family have advice that is not helpful, or that undermines your confidence in yourself and your child. It’s OK to limit your contact with these people for a period of time. Plan what you will say. “We are working hard to support each other right now and I need to focus on that,” may be helpful to repeat.
  6. And finally, when you ask “Why me?” try switching to the question, “Why not me?” and see what strengths you find in yourself. Chances are you are being called to a deeper way of loving your child and yourself. 

SIDEBAR MATERIAL — Find a Parent Support Group in Utah County 

Find a parent support group. Meeting with other parents in similar situations has been a positive emotional turning point for many. Here are a few in Utah Valley: 

  1. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meets weekly at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Provo (provopflag@gmail.com) 
  2. Encircle Parents’ Meeting (Third Sunday of each month at Encircle in Provo) https://encircletogether.org/supportgroups 
  3. Northstar Parents’ Meeting (Quarterly meeting at a parent’s home in Lehi) 

https://www.lds.org/blog/navigating-family-differences-with-love-and-trust?lang=eng  

 Next time:  Coming Out Part 3 – What do we do now? 

 

Utah Valley Health and Wellness magazine September/October 2017

Check out articles on health and wellness from our therapists!