Team Approach       (continued from page 2)

The case which I’m about to describe has been changed to protect the confidentiality of the family. A 12 year old boy has refused to see his father for a year and a half. He expresses hostility through rude and disrespectful behavior, sometimes becoming violent with his father. This is in contrast to their pre-separation relationship. He is aligned with his mother and believes he needs to protect her. The parents can be classified as high- conflict, they are unable to communicate effectively. Initially, they agree to engage the services of a Child Therapist, however this produces little change in the child. The Child Therapist suggests that a Team approach be implemented with a Team Leader, a Divorce Coach/Therapist for each parent and a Child Therapist for the child and his siblings. The parents agree to engage in this process after receiving an orientation on Team approaches. Objectives, Team member roles, scheduling, expectations of the parents and funding/retainers are negotiated with the assistance of the parent’s Counsel and drafted into a written binding agreement. The parents are in the middle of a trial over custody, however with the assistance of Counsel and the Team Leader, we are able to negotiate a clear treatment process that is separate from the litigation process. A Team Leader is appointed who recruits Team Members in consultation with the parents. The Team Members are Bob Finlay, RCC, Team Leader; Ellen Shapiro, RCC, Coach/Therapist; Yuval Berger, RSW, Coach/Therapist and Nancy Devries, RCC, Child Therapist. The parents are expected to engage in individual therapy in order to examine their part in the emergence of PAS symptoms, to attend all Team meetings and ensure that the children receive therapy with the Child Therapist.

I am happy to report that after three months, there are signs of progress in a number of areas. The father and his son are engaging in counselling together, the mother is taking responsibility for past alienating behaviors and the parents are making beginning steps in communicating effectively in the presence of the Team.

Why use a Team approach?

Lesson number one:  "Don’t go solo."

High Conflict PAS family systems are powerful, they can overwhelm any single treating professional. Team interventions displace and break up entrenched, symptomatic family patterns as the parents give the Team the power and the authority through a written contract to provide individual and family therapy, education on PAS , practical advice on the parenting plan and if necessary, arbitrated decisions can be made by a Parenting Coordinator or Team Leader. The Team has the power to both support and challenge the high conflict PAS family in order to establish healthy patterns of parent to parent interaction and reunify the child and the rejected parent. Examples include the use of the Team recommendation and the flexible adoption of temporary roles. The Team recommendation is used when the parents are at an impasse. The Team leaves the room for a few minutes promising to return with a recommendation. The recommendation is designed to interrupt blame and defensiveness and focus the parents on problem solving and the children’s needs. The Team Leader delivers the recommendation on behalf of the Team and encourages discussion. The second example is the flexible use of Team Members in the interruption of the parent’s unhealthy interactions. For example, a Team Member may temporarily play the role of “devil’s advocate” while another member aligns with one of the parents in order to power balance. Team Members have this creative freedom because the Team provides support for each other and there is protection from the unhealthy dynamics of the parents. As Team chemistry develops, Team Members are able to spontaneously “play off of each other” similar to improvisation in acting.