Skip to content

A Direct Approach to Couple Therapy

Marital therapy is about uncovering issues that intrude upon and undermine the relationship. Once discovered, the challenge is to alter either how one or both thinks, feels or acts, in order to improve upon that relationship.

Depending on the approach of the therapist, how one goes about achieving those objectives and the length of time involved will vary greatly. However, there are four immutable beliefs when it comes to therapy: Don’t ask direct questions; don’t share your hypothesis; don’t tell anyone what to do; and therapy is scheduled for 50 minute sessions, week after week.

I shake up those immutable beliefs. In my approach to therapy I ask questions, lots of questions and rather than the standard 50 minute session, I schedule a good three hours for the first meeting and meetings rarely occur weekly. Three hours is necessary because after asking lots of questions, I then share my hypothesis – my opinions on the matters at issue and what drives them and then I give advice; I tell people directly what they can do differently to improve upon the relationship. It remains the couples’ discretion what they chose to do with guidance provided.

The questions asked are related to an extensive individual and family history taking procedure, trans-generational in nature and probing for issues related to mental health, physical health, addictions, violence/abuse, quality of relationships, developmental histories, personality styles, etc. I am looking for or assessing issues that may be either contributory or intervening variables, past or present, to the current problem. In this approach it is my experience that couples come to learn things about themselves and each other that were largely unrealized.

When Jane called to set an appointment for couple therapy in their 8th year of marriage, she explained that while their relationship had been by and large peaceful, her husband Jason retained resentment towards her mother and this flared a few days earlier resulting in pushing and shoving between them with police intervention and child protective services called to investigate. They were at their wits end with each other.

In therapy it was revealed that her parents separated when she was about 9 years of age, the result of her father having beaten her mother for the umpteenth time. She witnessed the attacks and remembered having never felt safe in her father’s company. Her mother continued to reinforce the view that men were not to be trusted and in the mother’s next relationship although not physically abusive, her partner, now stepfather, was verbally abusive to the mother reinforcing the view that men were not to be trusted.

Jason hailed from a family where father was alcoholic and unavailable although not otherwise abusive.  Jason lived a life continuing to crave closeness to an intangible ghost of a father. He forever sought to feel connected to Jane in lieu of his father and she was forever suspicions of his motives and hence remained distant. She and her mother formed more of an intimate relationship, her place of emotional and physical safety, than did the relationship with Jason. This in turn triggered Jason’s loss for his father’s availability and the closeness he sought. Notwithstanding this dynamic, decisions favored Jane’s preferences and while Jason did not begrudge that whatsoever, what upset him was that Jane’s preferences were more influenced by the opinion of her mother than him.

Surfacing their past and the impact upon them and the dynamic it created was enough to produce a new and more compassionate view of each other. Direct guidance was provided to help Jane shift her boundaries to be more inclusive of her husband and less dependent upon her mother. Jason was helped to understand the importance of his demonstrating both emotional support for Jane’s shifting boundary as well as appreciation for doing so.

As the session unfolded, the couple spontaneously drew closer together upon the couch. With little prompting to start, Jason put his arm around Jane when she appeared distraught, surfacing painful memories. Thereafter he continued to  provide tangible support when Jane was upset throughout the remainder of the session. Jane was able to apologize for having triggered his feelings about his father’s unavailability and craving for their relationship by having gone to discuss matters first with her mother over him. This in turn touched Jason who welled up with tears for having been both understood and appreciated. He openly mourned the loss of the relationship with his father he had always sought yet was never available. The couple achieved a sense of emotional intimacy that had previously eluded them.

The couple were satisfied with this one meeting and felt they could work with the new information and guidance provided. While another session was not scheduled, they were informed that they could return should the need arise. They expressed their gratitude for the meeting. They got what they needed to alter the trajectory of their relationship.

From my perspective, people need time to unpack their story in therapy. Fifty minutes is just not enough for people to feel satisfied and indeed, the biggest argument against the 50-minute session I hear from people I serve is that in their work with prior therapists, while they may just start getting somewhere, they run out of time and the moment is lost. In follow up meetings the lost moment is not recaptured. To add, they complain to me that with prior therapists, they are not provided guidance and leave feeling aimless.

I wouldn’t want my surgeon asking me off the table for having run out of time, saying the scalpel would be removed next week. I am of the view that we need to provide ample time in every therapeutic meeting so that the meeting can conclude at a point in time where it makes sense as opposed to arbitrarily for having run out of time. As such, I always set aside three hours for all my sessions yet I bill for actual time used. I also wouldn’t want my physician to lay silent on the connection between my smoking and my lung cancer so similarly, I provide education as to the impact of things like domestic violence, drug and/or alcohol abuse, parental conflict, etc. My approach is active, informative, educational and directive. Hence brief.

This is the result of not only 33 years of practice, but in training in multiple treatment moralities, continuing education, ongoing familiarity with social science research, but most of all listening to people about what is most helpful to them.

Admittedly, this approach is not helpful to everyone, but it is an informed approach.

Ask the people you serve if they found your session helpful and if so, why or why not. Ask them what they might prefer for you to do differently and consider their input. Let the people you serve guide the approach and development of your practice and see how it evolves.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Coping With The Ugly Truth about Parental Alienation Syndrome – PAS

Few issues gather as much heated debate than the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Briefly stated, PAS refers to the child of separated parents who comes to reject a parent and/or that parent’s family and/or anything or anyone associated with that parent on the basis of undermining behavior by the other parent.

Although not a true diagnostic label in the context of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is an issue hotly contested in the most fractious of child custody/access battles. Unresolved, the child outright rejects a relationship with one parent in favor of continuing an exclusive relationship with the other parent. Whereas the rejected parent will advise the outcome is the result of the manipulations by the favored parent, the child in time comes to present the preference as their own choice.

Courts have struggled with this matter for years as have mental health professionals who seek to reverse the disastrous effects of a maligning parent to restore reasonable relationships all around.

The pain and anguish felt by the rejected parent is tremendous to say the least for they are experiencing the loss of a child who otherwise appears available. To boot, in the process, this parent is typically vilified, made out to be a monster as the alienation process unfolds. To say this is crazy making is an understatement.

While Courts do wade in to try and right these wrongs, they are challenged to not next ruin the relationship with the preferred parent over that of the rejected parent although at times courts will make orders requiring; reversal of residence; supervised access to no access; and mandatory attendance at treatment.

To understand these intrusive interventions, one has to consider PAS as the family equivalent of an aggressive cancer.

Imagine a cancer so aggressive so as to threaten life and limb. The treatment regime may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are all known to be devastating in and of themselves, but if to survive, they become a necessity. So it is with PAS and intrusive family interventions.

The ugly truth though remains. Not all cancers can be successfully treated and patients die. So too of PAS. Not all relationships are restored and indeed some lives are given way to anger, depression and suicide.

Like any form of aggressive cancer, be it physical or social, early intervention is key. Also key is the role of legal counsel. It is unfortunately too easy to ratchet up parental conflict through zealous litigation in these cases.

Better outcomes may prevail if legal counsel would recognize the deleterious effects of litigation in favor of seeking clinical and conciliatory approaches. Unfortunately however, it is all too common that those parents bent on destroying their child’s relationship with the other parent somehow or other find very litigious lawyers who buy into their one-sided accounts of the other parent’s shortcomings to fight tooth and nail on behalf of the maligning parent.

Despite all our great efforts, then, at times there is no way out of these situations. As in medicine, not all diseases are treatable.

When all seems but lost, the challenge becomes one of coping in the face of great adversity. To have any sense of hope that a future relationship may transpire, one has to survive to that future. Resist alcohol; resist drugs; resist self defeating behavior. Engage in a healthy lifestyle; form friendships; seek entertainment; take care of your health.

The only thing known for sure in the heat of battle and terrible discontent is that it is awful and hurts terribly. The future though, remains uncertain.

The best one can do is be prepared to greet it, however it presents itself. Therein while tragedy may strike, we strive to overcome. We seek to remain resilient and if a relationship at one stage of life is lost, we hope to be there to pick up at another stage of life. Learning to live with patience in the midst of adversity is key. Ask any cancer patient.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Think Twice about that Custody/Access Assessment. I did.

I continue to decline referrals for child custody/access assessments with court involved separated parents as I have since January 2015.

So far I have turned away about $30,000.00 worth of work. I think that speaks to my commitment to peacekeeping settlement services such as mediation and collaborative law.

As can be imagined, for the first part of the year I saw quite a reduction in my revenues, but then something great started to happen. Those early referrals for assessments were coming back as requests for mediation and I was receiving more referrals for my other creative settlement services. Now my revenues are about the same as they were last year at this time.

Today I received yet another email request for information about a child custody/access assessment. Here was my reply:

Dear _____,

Thank you for your interest in my service.

In January 2015, I decided I was no longer going to provide court involved service. This includes custody/access assessments.

I have long since learned that court involvement to resolve these matters typically results in an escalation of parental conflict, which in turn is toxic to the well being of children. Further and whereas in the past, this service did prompt some parents to resolve their issues, in more recent years, it seems that as one parent is dissatisfied, it only serves as the stepping stone to the next round of conflict. In other words, court involvement and those services directed for court use are contributory to the very parental conflict from which parents seek relief.

Since January 2015, I have retooled my services towards only peacekeeping.

I do provide a suite of services that are directed to helping separated parents resolve their issues outside of the court arena.

If I may be helpful with any of those services, it would be my pleasure to do so.

Here you will find a listing of my settlement services with complete explanations of each;
http://www.yoursocialworker.com/contact.htm

Parents are so convinced that custody/access assessments and court are going to save the day and provide a good outcome.

It only seems that that approach contributes the the agony experienced by all.

Parents, please reconsider. Please also know that at any time during the litigation process, you can always withdraw and redirect to peacekeeping services such as mediation, collaborative law or any of my other creative services.

In the end, parents want and need parenting agreements that are most likely to be followed and are durable. Agreements determined between the parents themselves are most likely to provide for that and that is what I strive to provide.

Think twice about that custody/access assessment. I did.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Separated Parents: Step away from the “C” word!

The quickest way to start conflict between separated parents is to talk to them about child custody. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of one parent winning the kids with the other parent losing.

Traditional thinking has it that custody must be specified, particularly when parents are in conflict and cannot resolve parenting decisions reasonably. This thinking only intensifies an already acrimonious situation. It bears mentioning that in the throws and newness of a separation, parents are at odds with each other and in the midst of the fear of loosing their kids, they are apt to be in conflict. This however, does not necessarily mean they do not hold the same values or interests with regard to the care and development of their children. It also doesn’t mean that they would not exercise reasonable judgment with regard to their children’s needs. Teasing out the couple issues from the parent issues, there just may be reasonable ground to let both parents carry on with meaningful roles.

There is a way out of the quagmire for some parents in conflict to resolve parenting issues without the all or none consequences of awarding custody to one. In some situations they can both continue to feel equal in terms of being a parent, fully able to maintain their relationship and assert a meaningful role with their children. The process entails stepping away from the “C” word in favour of developing a parenting plan, discerning the scope of authority on specific issues, and specifying a means of dispute resolution.

Parents can be helped to determine their mutual interests and areas of agreement. Authority can be vested in one parent or the other for specific issues. Through the vesting of authority, each parent is assigned a span of control for the specific issue. Where parents cannot reach consensus, they can then agree on less expensive processes of dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration through the services of a Parenting Coordinator. While parents may fear they will always be running back to mediation, this is rarely the case, particularly if there is a rule that the one who calls for mediation pays for the service, this to cut down on frivolous actions.

Essentially what needs to be determined is a set of rules for the management and care of the kids. To the degree this is achieved and in particular, out of court, the parents retain overall control of their lives. They remain free from the loss of control court imposed solutions may bring. Their conflict is in part reduced knowing both can have an ongoing and active role in parenting decisions even if some decisions are circumscribed.

As parents retain a meaningful role by agreeing to abide by their mutually established rules, responsibilities and span of authority, they can then ease into their separation with a growing sense of security that their attachments to the children will remain intact.

In the end, this is what both parents want post-separation. It is not just a say in the school they attend, but that each parent feels important and active in their children’s life. This is in the children’s interest. Even if one parent complains that the other never showed such interest before, the fact may be that they are now. An active and interested parent is good for any child whenever it comes. Step away from the “C” word and seek an agreement. Your kids will thank you for it.

Achieving this kind of parenting agreement can be difficult but difficult does not mean impossible. It requires a commitment from the parents and the support of a highly qualified support system. The support necessary may be found in a very experienced mediator or through lawyers practicing Collaborative Law. The Parenting Pan Worksheet can be a vital tool in the process of negotiating the agreement.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

What a Poem Teaches About Coparenting….

Separated parents in dispute as to the care and residence of their children could do well to remember the words of the poet, Kahlil Gibran. He wrote: 

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Please consider yourself as the bow from which your children are set forth. Examine yourself, your issues, your behavior, your emotions and your values. You are the bow and your child the arrow.  Think less about the target, but the bow from which the arrow flies. The bow determines the course and the trajectory of the arrow. While you cannot control the target, you create and manage the bow.  You as the bow, remain your responsibility to manage appropriately on behalf of your child. If you set your child forth form a place of anger, resentment, retribution, withholding, what then of your child’s trajectory?

The flexible bow provides the most impact upon the arrow.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Moving Beyond the Limits of Family Law Court

Let’s start by remembering the story of Solomon.

As seen in Family Law News

King Solomon was faced with the dilemma of sorting out the parentage of two women who each laid claim to an infant. Upon hearing both women’s point of view and still undecided, King Solomon withdrew his sword from its scabbard and asked that the infant be brought forward. His intention was to cut the infant in two equal pieces to satisfy both claimants. He would provide a fair and equitable outcome. They would each have half. However, one of the would-be mothers stepped forward to renounce her claim uttering, “But to cut the child in two, he would surely die.” With that parental sacrifice King Solomon recognized her as the rightful mother, placing the well-being of the child above her own and she was rewarded with the care of the child.

This biblical story holds so much weight when we consider the limits of family law and family court in particular for the settling of parenting disputes. It’s long been said that the court is a blunt instrument, but how blunt?

Now more-so than ever, parents are fighting over equal parenting time, particularly with fathers seeking a 50/50 parenting arrangement over the mother’s preference that the children be in her care a disproportionate amount of time. Whether this is to address child support issues that in many jurisdictions has the quantum of child support connected to the percentage of time a child is in each parent’s care or an outcome of the women’s movement that men are catching up to and applying to themselves in the name of equality. Courts more than ever are being asked to cut children in two.

There is a concept known in medicine as an iatrogenic effect. This concept is defined as essentially an unintended negative consequence by a healer from a well intentioned act.

With an eye to fairness and equity, it is relatively easy to subdivide and apportion time between parents, but at what cost to the child. What are the iatrogenic effects of court involvement for settling family disputes?

The Honorable Judge Jaime R. Román in this year’s first edition of the Family Law News, lamented the fact that he counted 17 attempted suicides of children embroiled in family law matters over the course of his 3 1/2 year tenure as a family court judge. Clearly as an iatrogenic effect, the cure of family court and unremitting parental conflict carries considerable risk. Suicide and homicide are the ultimate risks and in pointing out those, there are many others that do not necessarily make the threshold of attention yet spell poor to disastrous outcomes for the children we purport to serve.

When we cut children in two with the blunt instrument of court, indelicately we place children in untenable situations.

The child not yet ready for a week-about parenting plan (or any other 50/50 carving of parental time), experiences an escalation of anxiety and loss as the week plays out. When eased by the re-introduction of the week-long absent parent, that child then begins the process of escalating anxiety and loss again as the next week plays out. Is there any wonder this young child surfaces with eating, sleep, toileting and separation issues? Although each parent blames the other for the distress of the child, wondering what transpired in the others’ home, the real culprit is a parenting plan mismatched to the developmental needs of the child. While this will not kill the child in infancy, toddler-hood or as a preschooler, imagine the developmental trajectory for that child come adolescence. Early onset sexual behavior, drugs, alcohol, truancy delinquency and suicide are the teenager’s solution to life’s relentless distress. The seeds of this child’s destruction are sown from as young as infancy.

Given the court as a blunt instrument and as parents engage in the win/lose cycle with each trying to reset the wrong of the previously perceived poor judgment, the child is subject to the unremitting parental distress and turmoil. The child carries the weight of that distress and turmoil to school as a distraction to their studies. To the degree the children are distracted by the parental distress and turmoil, these children, unable to concentrate, next act out their anxiety or despondency with poorly controlled behavior to outright egregious behavior. What had been known as Attention Deficit Disorder, a colleague (Paul Ricketts) has more aptly called Attention Divided by Divorce. The call of the child’s inattention up to and including serious misbehavior and/or mental health issues, serves as both the distraction from and grist for more parental conflict and further court involvement.

Court carries it’s own iatrogenic effects. The social science literature tells us that court (or third party) imposed outcomes are less durable and more poorly followed than those outcome achieved between the parties themselves. In other words, while a court may impose a solution to any given problem on any given day, this in and of itself does not necessarily lend itself to peace between litigants who by necessity must continue to maintain an ongoing relationship by virtue of their connectedness as parents.

When we consider the outcome of children between separated parents and ask, why do some children do well and others not so, the salient difference has less to do with decisions of faith, school, residence or extra-curricular activities and singularly more-so with parental conflict. The greater the parental conflict, the greater the risk of a poor outcome. Imposed decisions while providing respite from a dispute typically only serve to escalate conflict when one is pleased and the other resentful with the outcome. The displeasure surfaces in the form of a new dispute for another round of court action.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) teaches us that the greater the exposure or number of negative childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and exposure to traumatic stressors, the greater the likelihood of poor outcomes, up to and including “early death”. The other major poor outcomes include:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

As one can imagine, any of those issues would wreak havoc on school attendance, vocational participation and intimate relationships – all of which are an outcome of oftentimes, preventable parental behavior.

If court is not the answer, but indeed, part of the problem in creating adverse childhood experiences, then how do separating parents sort out the care of children between them?

Those answers lay in the alternatives to court or at least a different kind of court. Again, as per The Honorable Judge Jaime R. Román’s article in this year’s first edition of the Family Law News, he points to his contrasting experience between Family Court and Criminal Domestic Violence Court:

There is however a stark difference between family law (court) and criminal domestic violence (court). The former is an environment rich in adversarial practice; the latter is an environment that leans toward collaboration. The difference, cognizant of the relation extant between the victim and the dependent, is palpable.3

He concludes:

I am increasingly convinced that the process of relational dissolution needs improvement. Collaboration and civility should be touchstones in a process rife with emotion but with significant consequences on both the parties and, in particular, their children.4

These processes are already available. They include Collaborative Practice and Mediation to name but two.

Collaborative Practice (also known as Collaborative Law) has both parents represented by council who will not go to court and who may work in a team that can include financial and mental health and family/child professionals. Through this team, parents can sort out a plan for the settling of property/finances and the care of the children between them. The parents can sort these matters out in private and on a timetable suited to their needs versus imposed by court process. The outcome or agreement is solely determined by themselves, with the support and guidance offered by whomever is invited to the table. Complex matters can be addressed by investing in ancillary support and services versus the hardening of positions with the investment in litigation.

Mediation, perhaps with less complex matters to be resolved, can help parents craft an agreement with the support of a trained referee who not only maintains and facilitates the rules of engagement but who typically offers and facilitates creative solutions to those whose conflict may have deteriorated to an either/or view of the problem.

Collaborative Practice and Mediation are contrasted to litigation and even the lawyer-assisted negotiation that more often takes place in the shadow of litigation. The latter pits parents in a contest to promote better over worse, winner over loser, all by determining who is the nastier or less deserving. The iatrogenic effects are manifold in litigation and lawyer assisted negotiation in the shadow of litigation and serious to the point of death.

These other processes, whether as a family court, as The Honorable Judge Jaime R. Román may envision or collaborative practice and mediation, aim to see parents as their best version of themselves and if not at their best, then to help them become a better version such that issues and concerns may dispel and tenable solutions emerge. There is a future orientation to these processes that is less dependent upon proving the sins of the past.

Iatrogenic effects? These dispute resolution processes are not necessarily suited to everyone and in cases of serious violence or abuse or mental health issues or power imbalances, may not be suitable at all. If the alternate dispute resolution process fails, this in turn can lead to upset and greater costs. It is prudent to screen for service, particularly as it pertains to domestic violence and power imbalances and in view of positive findings, either consider safety and/or supportive strategies or discontinue.

However, practice wisdom seems to suggest that contrary to iatrogenic effects where there are negative unintended consequences, there tends to be positive unintended consequences or as otherwise called, bonuses to collaborative practice and mediation. Whereas those who engage in litigation tend to harden bad feelings towards each other, those who engage in acts of civility, tend to improve interpersonal behavior with their separated partner. In view of the on-going nature of a parental relationship, this bodes well for the children. The children are less likely to amass more adverse childhood experiences and more likely to be exposed to improved conflict resolution skills and parental civility – behaviors when adopted from parental role models that are well suited for managing at school, the playground and adult intimate life.

Imagine the joy of King Solomon when a child no longer need be cut in two. We speak often of the best interests of children and think of this when choosing outcomes for their care between separated parents. Now the concept of the best interest of the child must be applied to the actual process of dispute resolution.

Justice Román discussed and described that in the context of family court. What though if court was not an option or at least an option of last resort, as in Australia? What if our very processes were not set to ramp up conflict and bad feelings? Could not our children be spared the fallout from the first trauma of parental separation? Perhaps they need not be re-traumatized by on-going litigation.

So much not only rests with the judiciary, but with the training of lawyers old and new. How we train and for what we train sets the course for how lawyers practice.

Hopefully those family law lawyers trained predominantly in processes of litigation can self-reflect and see the inadvertent carnage that litigation can impose on families and children the extreme of which Justice Román lamented in his article. Hopefully those lawyers trained in litigation can avail themselves of training in alternative processes if only to expand their awareness, whether or not they ever practice such. And hopefully law schools can teach at least equally these alternate dispute resolution processes such that they are no longer viewed as alternate, but rather, primary.

Might we then expand beyond the limits of family law? Might not the family law lawyer also be a healer? With an appreciation of the law, we should be able to help parents and families make adjustment to serious life changes that maintain the integrity of all members therein. In so doing, we may elevate the view of lawyers by the general public and offer something greater than a profession, but perhaps a calling. Be greater than the limits of family law. Move beyond its limits and truly serve your client’s highest interests and help them enjoy their child whole.

My father used to tell me, “You can win the battle and lose the war.” An extra day, week or hour or a difference in an extra-curricular activity can be a win for a parent at the expense of the child’s long-term development. That makes it a loss for the child. The higher interest of parents is a lifelong relationship with their then responsible and happy adult children.

Aim for that. Be a fabulous lawyer.

Endnotes

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/ Back

The Adverse Childhood Experiences – Major Findings. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/findings.html Back

The Honorable Judge Jaime R. Román, We Can Make a Difference, Fam. L. News· ISSUE 1, 2015 · VOL. 37 No. 1, pg. 30.Back

ibid. Back

(This article appeared in the Issue 2, 2015 (Volume 37, Number 2) of Family Law News. The journal is sent automatically to all Section members. You are invited to Join the Section!)

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Alcoholic partner? Consider these 4 points:

My partner is alcoholic. Can you help?

Many problem drinkers are unable to admit to this problem. The cry for help may therefore come from someone close who suffers as a result. The cry often comes at a time when he or she is unable to cope any longer with the drinker. As such, the drinker may self-righteously feel they do not have a problem as they had been drinking like this for years. They may resist treatment and often blame others for problems. Many marriages fail at this point. One spouse can no longer tolerate the alcohol and the alcoholic refuses to take responsibility. This makes treatment of alcoholics extremely difficult.

It is important for people to understand the stages of recovery and that each stage carries challenges that some alcoholics will not overcome. Five stages of recovery are discussed: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.1

In the precontemplation stage, the alcohol problem has not yet been identified let alone accepted by the alcoholic. During this stage, their defenses, most notably denial are strong. They actively reject any notion of alcohol problems and show anger towards anyone suggesting a problem. They reject treatment and may rely on the support of their drinking buddies to affirm they do not have a problem.

In the contemplation stage, the alcoholic toys with and finally accepts they have a problem with alcoholism. This acceptance can be overwhelming, at times leading to depression and/or anxiety. These intense feelings must be expected and planned for as part of a treatment process.

In the preparation stage, the alcoholic learns what treatment is necessary in order to recover. Depending on the severity, this can include detoxification, inpatient or outpatient counseling and marital and/or family therapy and even prescribed medications.

The next stage, action, is when the treatment plan is implemented and activities are undertaken to address the alcoholism. The support of family and sober friends is crucial here as alcoholics learn to defend themselves, not from admitting alcoholism, but from being pulled back towards drinking by former drinking buddies. Also crucial at this stage is developing an understanding of one’s own family history that may have been contributory to drinking.

The final stage involves relapse prevention and is referred to as maintenance. This stage can be life-long. One of the best-known maintenance programs is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This program is based upon a self-help, group model. Members meet regularly to manage the challenges of sobriety.

Recovery from alcohol starts with clear, blunt information from friends and family and by trained professionals such as physicians, social workers or psychologists. Some family and even some professionals beat around the bush when confronting an alcoholic. This is music to the alcoholic’s ears. Fuzzy messages allow them to maintain their denial. Thus, one must clearly and fully confront the alcoholic. Clear messages leave no wiggle room.

If you think your spouse has a problem with alcohol:

  1. Confront him or her forthrightly. If you are concerned for your safety, then do so in the company of a friend or professional.
  2. Get help for yourself too. Learn about alcoholism, your role in the recovery process and of the impact on your family’s well-being.
  3. Recognize that it may take some time if your spouse is in the first stage of recovery. He or she has yet to even acknowledge a problem. This can be an insurmountable challenge for some people.
  4. Recognize that alcoholism can pose a risk not only to the alcoholic but also to those around him or her. At all times, make sure children are appropriately supervised and cared for. Alcohol related problems are a major cause for referrals to child protective services.

Lastly, can a therapist help? Yes, but not in all cases. Much will depend on the stage of recovery, the willingness of the alcoholic to change, the social supports available and a good treatment plan.

(1DiClemente, C.C., Bellino, L.E. and Neavins, T.M. Motivation for Change and Alcoholism Treatment. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Research and Health .23:2. 1999.)

Print this as a one-page article to hand out freely.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,611 other followers