Many parents who find themselves wrapped up in child custody cases wonder how their relationship with their children will be affected by the dissolution of the marriage and the fact that they may not be living under the same roof as them anymore.
For some, there is no worry there, but for others, they have cause for concern, due to the potential of parental alienation.
With countless amounts of research and studies that support how damaging parental alienation is to both the child and the parent, it is important, as a divorcing parent dealing with a custody battle, to recognize the symptoms. If you do not recognize them, and you, as the noncustodial parent, become the target of alienation, it may require therapeutic measures, in order to reestablish a healthy and functional relationship with your child.
What it is
One of the therapeutic measures that professionals have begun exploring in moderate to severe cases of parental alienation is reintegration therapy. Also known as reunification therapy, reintegration therapy is a way to improve parent-child contact through the aid of a mental health professional.
Often referred to as a reunification therapist, the mental health professional’s role in the reintegration process requires them to build a trusting therapeutic relationship with the child, according to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Social Worker Priscilla Singleton. Given that a child who has been subjected to parental alienation may be mistrusting of adults, that can be difficult.
The therapist also is not there to place blame on any single parent. They are there, acting in the best interests of the child. Their hope is to facilitate a comfortable, safe, open, and inviting atmosphere for the child and the parents.
According to Elizabeth M. Ellis, of The American Journal of Family Therapy, the strategies of the therapists are to erode the negative image by providing incongruent information, refrain from actions that put the child in the middle of the conflict, consider ways to pacify the hurt and anguish of the alienating parent, look for ways to dismantle the coalition and convert enemies to allies, and never give up contact.
The method of forging that bridge between parent and child is one that many question. Some still foster skepticism about the effectiveness of seeking mental health care services, and others simply see their child’s feelings regarding them as a permanent fixture that cannot be changed.
A recent phenomenological study was conducted by the University of Toronto examining reintegration therapy and how mental health professionals practice it in situations of alienation.
Out of a sample of 14 reintegration therapy practitioners, the study found a variance in their training, clinical approaches, underlying theoretical frameworks, and service delivery models utilized.
Results from the respondents of the study showed that reintegration therapy is generally viewed as a therapeutic process to help improve family relationships as a whole. The participants of the study identified frequently and clinically used assessment criteria necessary for determining if a parental alienation situation was suitable for reintegration therapy. The study also showed that families participating in reintegration therapy were in agreement on the overall treatment goals of the process.
While the intent behind the therapeutic process of reintegration therapy is to bring the family members closer together, many mental health professionals are not offered a uniformed method of training in the field. They may not feel comfortable offering it as a service and may not be able to help parents seeking that type of treatment.
With the focus of the therapeutic experience being placed on the well-being of the child, it can feel like the alienated parent is not given their focus, but it is important for that parent to remember that their child is their world. The restoration of that relationship will not only give them the opportunity to be the parent that they want to be, but it will help them move forward in their life after a divorce and after a custody battle.