Reunification therapy is a technique that courts use as a means of therapeutic intervention to help parents reconcile with their children. Because it is a newer form of therapy, many therapists are hesitant to take on a court-ordered reunification therapy case. Most families who use this form of therapy have one parent as the primary custodian and the other parent is given limited visitation rights via family law.
The child or children who are affected by the divorce may show signs that disturb either the primary custodian or the visitation parent. These signs may include the children having high levels of anxiety or depression. In other cases, most issues can be worked out between the parents themselves, without needing to involve the children into the situation. However, in that scenario, court-mandated reunification therapy is not necessary.
What is the purpose of reunification therapy?
The overarching goal of reunification therapy is to reunite family members who have been estranged. In the vast majority of cases, reunification therapy involves a rejected parent reuniting with their children. However, in some instances it may involve brothers or sisters. Reunification therapy can sometimes involve parents who have lost their children either through the death of said children or by force into the foster care system. In this instance, reunification therapy would deal more with helping those parents to cope with loss.
What is the reunification process like?
The reunification process involves several small parts moving towards a common goal. Certain components of reunification therapy may be restricted by the court. The first session usually involves the parents meeting with the therapist separately so that he/she can gather information about the children, couple, and family dynamics. This critical session will dictate how the rest of the reunification process will play out. In addition to assessing the parents, therapists will often meet with the children involved as well. When therapists meet with the children, therapists can determine how receptive they are for more sessions with the parent who has been estranged.
After the determination has been made, the therapist will often meet up again with the parents and provide them each with the skills they need to effectively integrate the children into their new lives. Usually, visitation sessions with the parent that has been estranged will start off slowly so that children have time to adapt. These sessions usually begin over the phone and then eventually progress to face-to-face sessions.
In some cases, reunification may take longer because of parental alienation. Parental alienation describes a circumstance in which children feel hostility towards the estranged parent. Signs of parental alienation include having very negative views towards the estranged parent and having a lack of interest in trying to cultivate a better relationship. Other signs may include not acknowledging any experiences in the past that were positive and siding with the custodial parent regardless if said parent is correct or not.
How long does the reunification therapy process typically take?
A trained therapist will answer this question by taking into account the age of the children involved, how long the visiting parent has been estranged from their children, what factors led to the parental alienation, how cooperative each parent is in the long term, and the number of children involved. Due to the complexities involved in this form of therapy, progress is judged on a case-by-case basis. This means that the length of the processes may vary substantially. For most people, reunification therapy can last between 3-12 months.