It is an unfortunate part of divorce and separation that sometimes parents can, either intentionally or sometimes even unintentionally, behave in such ways that work to create divisions between a child and their other parent. Sometimes this will rise to the level of parental alienation, which is a very serious issue in our business as it can have long-lasting implications on the relationship between the parent and child. Alienation generally occurs when one parent does not fully engage in co-parenting with the other parent, usually including such actions as leaving the other parent out of the decision-making process, talking negatively about the other parent or even denying access and contact between the child and the other parent.
Not surprisingly, as a result, a physical, emotional and many times psychological divide is created between that parent on the outside and their child. Once this occurs, it not unusual for a child to not want to communicate with, see or spend time with that other parent. When a child refuses to talk with or spend time with the other parent, then in many cases, the use of a child psychologist or counselor would be necessary in order to assist in redeveloping that parent-child relationship, something known as reunification therapy.
Reunification therapy can be used as an intervention for divorcing or separated families, particularly where children are finding difficulty, for whatever reason, with visiting with the noncustodial parent. In the initial assessment and follow-up sessions, the counselor or therapist will identity the issues that are contributing to the estrangement between the parent and the child, and then work to develop an appropriate treatment plan for all affected family members. Through counseling, the child and parent will try to repair their relationship, usually by working on effective communication techniques and rebuilding the trust between parent and child that has been fractured by the divorce or separation.
Many times, due to the conflicts already existing between the parents, a Court order may be required in order to initiate this type of counseling. If the parents cannot agree on the counseling itself or a specific counselor, then either party may motion the Court to appoint an appropriate therapist with the underlying goal being to reunify the child and that other parent. Any such court order would detail the expectation that each parent cooperate with the therapy and also set parameters for extended family involvement, while providing discretion to the therapist to set the specifics for treatment, payment arrangements, and all other related issues.
In some cases, depending on the severity of the issues and the levels of distrust between the parties and/or the child, it can be beneficial for each party to have their own individual therapists, including one for the child and one for each of the parents. In these cases the therapists would work together to ensure the family reunification issues are being addressed. In other cases, however, the reunification therapist would likely spend time meeting individually with the children and then with the parents separately before meeting with both the child and the reunifying parent together.