Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is one of the most heartbreaking effects divorce can have on a child. Typically occurring when one parent actively prevents their child from seeing their ex-spouse, PAS can cause serious rifts in the family dynamic, and can interfere with a child’s mental and emotional development. It doesn’t always happen as a result of intentional action, and in some cases, parents may be unwittingly projecting their own negative feelings onto their children. Regardless of the root cause, PAS makes it harder for children to face the future with confidence.
However, as this condition becomes better understood, some psychologists have turned to a technique called “reunification therapy.” This groundbreaking method has been shown to reduce the symptoms of parental alienation, and with time, it may be able to repair the broken bonds between parent and child. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich, we’ve handled many divorce cases where PAS affected a child’s mental health. In this post, we’ll touch on some of the benefits of reunification counseling.
What Is Reunification Therapy, and How Does It Alleviate PAS?
Because PAS is so misunderstood, it can also be difficult to identify. In general, children who are experiencing parental alienation syndrome live with some degree of paranoia, insecurity, and even fear about the parent who has been alienated. The custodial parent may have told them outright lies about the alienated parent, or prevented them from communicating. There could also be an element of child abuse involved, wherein the primary custodial parent manipulates them with physical or emotional violence, and paints the actions of the other parent in an exclusively negative light. PAS can have a long-lasting emotional impact, on both your child’s sense of self-esteem and their view of relationships.
Enter reunification therapy, a type of counseling that can be administered by any licensed therapist, particularly those who specialize in marriage and family counseling. While the exact strategies will differ between therapists, the ultimate goal of reunification therapy is to help the child rebuild positive feelings towards their parents, and to stabilize the relationship between the two parents so that a new type of familial harmony can blossom.
Some of the ways that reunification therapy can help alleviate PAS include:
- Establishing a dialogue between parents. While the reunification therapist will typically work with your child one-on-one for the majority of the sessions, once they have determined that the time is right, they may invite one or both parents in for a group therapy session. During these interactions, the therapist will ask you to take steps to re-establish clear and effective communication, so that your child can begin to see what healthy dialogue sounds like.
- Improving your child’s self-esteem and sense of individuality. By listening to and validating your child’s complex feelings about the divorce, a skilled therapist can help him or her begin to process hurt and betrayal in constructive ways. This often involves strategies to build your child’s self-esteem independent of parental perception, and to help them realize that parental conflict is not their fault or responsibility.
- Cultivating trust between all parties in the relationship. Acting as a neutral party and a mediator, your reunification therapist can ensure that discussions do not spiral into accusations or heated arguments, and that respect is maintained throughout the session. This can help to break old patterns of insensitivity and reactivity, painting a better picture for your child.
Dealing with PAS can be difficult, and requires ongoing cooperation to resolve. If you need assistance, our Riverside County family law attorneys can act as mediators and help you avoid more emotionally draining court battles. Attorney Danica Hanich is Board Certified in Family Law, and can counsel you on strategies to pursue if reunification therapy does not resolve the problem.
Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich today for a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Murrieta, Riverside County, San Bernardino, and beyond.