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Therapists Be Informed: Counseling Children of Separated Parents is a Specialty Area of Practice

June 20, 2018

It’s not uncommon for therapists working with children between separated parents to get caught up in the conflict between those parents. Just as children can be triangulated between their parents, so too can therapists.

This occurs when one parent seeks to limit access to information by the other parent; or when one parent seeks the therapist to write a report for court purposes; or simply by accepting the referral to work with the child on the basis of one parent’s request to do so in the absence of he other parent’s input or knowledge.

When children are referred for counseling, it is always advisable for the therapist to ask about parentage; if both parents are in agreement to therapy; and to advise on policies regarding confidentiality, reports and court involvement.

It is also important for therapists to know that in the Province of Ontario, regardless of who has decision making authority (custody) or who the child resides with mostly, both parents still have the right to unrestricted access to information regarding their children unless expressly specified otherwise in a legal agreement or court order.

Given the above, therapists are advised to:

  1. Acquaint themselves with Family Law in their province or state;
  2. Have policies in place for working with children of separated parents
  3. Be clear as to your role and that as therapist, it does not include advocacy or working on behalf of one parent’s legal interests;
  4. Include both parents as best as possible in the referral and treatment process and consider obtaining the consent of both parents before proceeding.

Failure to be knowledgeable or have processes in place for providing service in these circumstances can increase conflict between the parents to which the child is exposed and inadvertently increase risk of harm. These circumstances also place the therapist at an elevated risk of complaints often in the nature of dual roles if/when the therapist moves from their therapeutic role to that of custody/access assessor or parent advocate.

If you are a therapist and are unsure about a situation regarding rights and responsibilities in the provision of therapy to children of separated parents, do seek consultation.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice

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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. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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