Parental alienation can be a devastating and emotional experience for both parents and children to navigate. “Losing” a child due to high conflict, broken relationships, or manipulation by a narcissistic ex can make the alienated parent feel broken, stuck, and helpless to turn the situation around. In this article, we discuss how to prepare for reunification therapy and what to expect.
What is reunification therapy?
Reunification therapy is an evolving form of family coaching and counseling that focuses on mending the divide between a parent and child(ren) to create a stable foundation for all parties to move forward confidently. Though the practice is more commonplace in the United States, reunification therapy has become increasingly popular in Canada / Europe and the UK and is often implemented as part of a court order. For those looking to restore healthy familial bonds and end alienation through reunification, Pathways Family Coaching is here to help.
How to Prepare for Reunification Therapy
Handling the hurt of being alienated from those we love is never easy, but in order to have the best chance of reconnecting with your child, it is essential that you approach reunification therapy openly, and with an understanding of what to expect going in.
Prepare yourself by taking the time to understand your emotional state and your child’s frame of mind, and understand that reunification may not be possible at this point in time. Remember: even if it’s not viable now, consistency, respect, and continued transparency may open that door in the future, meaning the work you put in now is never “pointless”.
Pathways Family Coaching is here to help families navigate reunification with peace of mind and empathy. We offer a variety of online courses tailored to help parents make the most of reunification therapy, including:
- Ready to Reconnect is specifically designed to prepare you for reunification therapy, empower you to understand your role in reunification and support your child’s journey.
- The Alienation Code can help you understand why you are being disconnected from your child so you can better combat it.
- Pathways Through Conflict will help you develop the conflict management skills you need to handle your divorce well. It includes additional information on reunification therapy options.
What to Expect in Reunification Therapy
Before you begin reunification therapy, it is crucial to be aware that, at present, there is no standardized template or protocol for therapists to follow. This means that every individual therapist will have a unique approach. While this can be beneficial in some cases, it also means that you run the risk of a subpar experience if your coach/therapist is inexperienced.
To avoid this unfortunate pitfall, we highly recommend additional consultation to ensure the process stays on track and to ensure your program addresses the need for any current or potential legal action that may be involved in your divorce/separation proceedings.
There are three main stages that typically embody reunification therapy: Assessment, commitment and preparation, and integration (bear in mind, different professionals may use different terminology, but the intent is usually the same).
Reunification should always start with some form of detailed assessment, wherein the therapist will spend time individually and collaboratively with family members to understand the ins and outs of your family life and gain a deeper understanding of the factors at hand. Core details that will be considered during the assessment phase include:
- How long the period of child rejection has been.
- The degree of relationship deterioration, as well as how communication patterns between parent/child and both parental figures have degraded
- Current parenting arrangement (whether formalized or not)
- Other relevant information
When partnering with a reunification therapist, it is essential to ensure they speak to both parents to avoid any bias and are prepared to work in conjunction with the needs of any court orders where necessary.
Once assessment has been completed, families in reunification can move on to the commitment and preparation phase, or in other words, diagnosis and move towards treatment of their current pain points. At this point, both parents and the child(ren) involved will begin to take lasting steps towards reunification. At this stage, it’s vital to understand that reunification is not a process that can be rushed, and all parties MUST be committed for it to be successful.
During this phase, the therapist may continue individual meetings with the parents and children, or conduct group sessions depending on the family’s needs directly. This stage can also bring out feelings of guilt in the child(ren) as they begin to understand alienation, and it is essential that both the therapists and the parents strive to address this as quickly as possible by creating a safe, open space where feelings are accepted rather than criticized. Adult parties must remember that their child’s emotions will likely be complex and confusing, and this may lead to occasional periods of heightened conflict that can continue to be addressed during therapy.
Finally, the integration phase attempts to unite everyone and create a long-term foundation for reunification and reintegration. At this point, the focus often shifts more intimately towards parents and children working together to achieve solutions and reconnect. Be aware, that, depending on the level and longevity of damage, the unfortunate reality is that reunification may not always be viable. To have the best odds of healing and reunion, it is crucial to partner with an experienced team like Pathways.