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Counseling the Child May Make it Worse!

August 15, 2016

It is not uncommon for me to receive counseling requests for children whose parents are in the midst of a separation.

In so doing, the parent who calls often advises of how distraught the child is and how the child’s behavior is out of control. I am then told how the other parent is brainwashing the child against the parent calling.

Assuming this is an accurate representation of issues, it would be reasonable that the child would be in distress. However, seeing the child in counseling is not the solution. More to the point, it may inadvertently lead to the child’s greater distress.

It is also often the case in these situations that the parent calling wants me to see the child unbeknownst to the other parent. I explain to the caller that firstly, unless decision making authority is vested in one parent, the parent requesting service, it would be improper for me to see the child unbeknownst to the other parent. Notwithstanding, it likely wouldn’t be long before the other parent found out anyway. In finding out and assuming an antagonistic relationship between the parents, it could result in the child being questioned and even coached more on what to say in the context of counseling, if indeed the other parent even agreed for counseling to continue.

In situations where an antagonistic relationship persists between separated parents and/or where one alleges the other to be undermining the child’s relationship with a parent, counseling for the child is therefore contraindicated. While superficially counseling may be seen to be of value, a deeper look reveals the risk of further embroiling the child in the parental conflict which only makes matters worse for the child. Counseling for children in this context is a poor idea.

The solution, if there is one, if for the parents to hopefully resolve matters between themselves as it is those issues that are harmful to the well being of the child.

I frequently recommend closed lawyer-assisted mediation.

“Closed” means that whatever is said in mediation cannot be used for court purposes. The value here is that hopefully people can be more forthright about what is going on without the fear of things being said, used in a court process. By involving the lawyers in the process, it mitigates the risk of one or both parents falsely reporting back to the lawyers matters addressed in the mediation process. In other words, it lowers the risk of broken telephone at best and misrepresentation at worst. It also allows the mediator to address issues that may originate with the lawyers such as when a lawyer seeks to provide zealous advocacy.

These are not situations that resolve easily. They are typically expensive to resolve and while court  may produce a winner and loser, it also gives rise to the likelihood of the loser continuing to debate and litigate matters when unsatisfied with the outcome.

Counseling for the child? In these situations, spare the child. The parent feeling victim should go to counseling though to address their own stress and to learn coping strategies. Sadly, these are  situations where one has to prepare for the long haul. When a parent copes more effectively, then so too may the child.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Please check out my services and then call me if you need help with a child behavior or relationship issue.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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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 and Georgina 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

  1. So often, the custodial parent simply will not negotiate, nor cease & desist the alenation of the other. Getting to the table becomes rather tricky. You may be interested in the work being done by Dr. Sue Whitcombe.

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  1. Counseling the Child May Make it Worse! — Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW | World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum.

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