What Is Reconciliation Counseling?
Divorce is never an easy process, especially when children are involved. However, there are some instances where divorce causes such an extreme shift in the family dynamic that a child may become excessively hostile toward one parent or reject them entirely. When this happens, reconciliation counseling may help the parent and child reconnect.
What is reconciliation counseling?
Reconciliation counseling, also called reunification therapy, is a type of family therapy that focuses on rectifying, or reconciling, the relationship between a child and one of their parents.
What are the goals of reconciliation counseling?
The goals of this type of therapy include re-establishing trust, building healthy communication, and improving the overall bond between parent and child. It is often a temporary type of therapy and is only used in situations where certain life events have caused a rift between the child and parent.
When and where does reconciliation counseling take place?
Reconciliation counseling can be entered into voluntarily or due to a court mandate. It can take place in a number of settings, such as a therapist’s office, at home, or at a neutral location where the child feels comfortable. Because the primary goal is to re-establish trust between the child and the estranged parent, it’s important for the therapist and parent to be willing to work at the child’s pace and keep things as comfortable and safe as possible for the child.
How do you get the most benefit from reconciliation counseling?
Reconciliation counseling typically works best when done in conjunction with other types of therapy, such as individual therapy or family therapy. This gives the child and parent space to work through their personal concerns and process any emotions that come up during reconciliation sessions. Furthermore, additional support during this time can help all members of the family work through any concerns so everyone can engage in healthy communication going forward.
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When is reconciliation counseling used in a divorce or separation?
Families can elect to voluntarily enroll in reconciliation counseling after a divorce or during a separation. However, the majority of families who utilize this type of therapy do so because of a court mandate after a particularly high-conflict divorce.
Here are some examples of situations that may lead to the need for reconciliation counseling.
In some cases, the divorce itself pushes the child away from one parent and creates an unhealthy dynamic in which the child does not want to engage with the parent they believe is the “bad guy” in the situation. This resistance is often temporary and fades as the child and parent have time to recreate their bond outside of the divorce.
Negative parental behavior
There are three main types of negative parental behavior: verbal or physical, neglect, and manipulation.
Verbal or physical behavior
Sometimes, when parents cannot keep their behavior civil during a divorce, they resort to badmouthing or physical violence. This can scare a child and push them away from the parent.
A similar problem could occur if one parent were to walk out on the family during divorce proceedings – especially if they don’t return or contact the children for an extended period of time.
Sometimes, one parent manipulates the child into believing the other parent is bad. This can create what is often called “parental alienation.” In other words, one parent (the alienating parent) uses tactics to convince the child that the other parent (the alienated parent) is corrupt or otherwise problematic. In these cases, the child may lash out or simply refuse to see the alienated parent because they believe the alienating parent is telling the truth.
Because children lack the emotional intelligence and coping skills to deal with everything happening during a high-conflict divorce, they often “side” with the parent who is providing more love and care, even if it’s veiled manipulation. Unfortunately, these volatile situations can cause a lot of pain and confusion for children. In many cases, this transforms into what is called a resist-refuse dynamic where the child rejects contact with the alienated parent in order to preserve the relationship they have with their other caregiver.
These situations often require professional assistance to rectify because they are so filled with emotion and stress. Without reconciliation and a re-established bond with both parents, the child is more susceptible to depression and other mental health complications as a result of the extreme stress and anxiety of this tense situation.
Goals and benefits of reconciliation counseling
Repairing the parent-child bond
As you might imagine, the main goal of reconciliation counseling is to re-establish the parent-child bond that was damaged during the divorce process.
Depending on the situation, the therapist may help address the child’s underlying feelings so the parent can counteract these emotions. In cases of alienation, reconciliation counseling can help the child develop a more realistic view of the alienated parent outside of what the child heard or saw during the divorce. These therapeutic tactics can go a long way toward repairing the relationship and helping the child heal.
Re-establishing trust and feelings of safety
Reconciliation counseling can help families repair trust and re-establish safety for the child. This can be especially important in situations where the divorce caused one parent to act aggressively. Aggressive behavior can make a child feel unsafe and question whether a parent has their best interest in mind. However, through careful work with a trained professional, the parent can re-establish this trust and prove they are a safe and loving caregiver.
Enhancing the co-parent relationship
In some cases, reconciliation counseling can help co-parents learn how to navigate their new relationships as divorced spouses. While this isn’t usually the primary focus of reconciliation therapy, getting co-parents on the same team after a divorce can ultimately help the child, so it can become a focus if the therapist and all parties agree it would be beneficial.
Potential downsides of reconciliation counseling
Like any other type of therapy or intervention, reconciliation counseling comes with its own downfalls that may impact a family. In some cases, the downsides to this type of therapy are minimal compared to the long-term benefits. Other times, the pitfalls outweigh the benefits. Therefore, families must consider both sides of the coin before they commit to this type of therapy.
Increased financial burden
Reconciliation counseling can increase the financial burden for a family already struggling to manage their money. Although reconciliation counseling is usually offered by a licensed mental health service provider, it isn’t something insurance providers typically see as necessary. If parents are already struggling to cover court fees and other expenses, reconciliation counseling may push them to their limits and create more stress for everyone involved.
The effectiveness of reconciliation counseling can vary based on family circumstances. If the parent or child isn’t willing to engage, therapy may not help the situation. Further, if the root cause of the rift between the parent and child isn’t uncovered, there’s a good chance the issue will continue to snowball, ultimately chipping away at the therapist’s ability to re-establish the parent-child bond.
The act of trying to repair a relationship that was damaged through abuse or other harmful parental tactics may actually put a child in harm’s way. For this reason, the counselor should investigate the situation thoroughly before offering services to a dysfunctional family.
Despite possible pitfalls, the majority of cases where reconciliation counseling is offered end successfully, leading to a healthier relationship for the child and both co-parents as they create a new life post-divorce.