By Barry Bricklin, Ph.D.
(If you haven’t read Parts 1 or 2, start here)
Q: What is the best therapy to suggest for a custody family where the parents constantly argue and undermine each other?
Informed court involvement is important when it comes to ordering therapy for high conflict families. What you have to explain to the judge involves an area most mental health professionals believe they fully understand, while it is unlikely the judge has ever thought about the area at all. In our opinion even mental health professionals may not fully understand the area either. It is Systems Theory thinking, and especially the unexpected implications for treatment that follow from Systems thinking.
First, some background. As we go through the day we operate within a steady parade of different systems: alone; with spouse; with children; with anyone else who may be in house; within the workplace (which may harbor several systems), after work in recreational and other social circles. Each system will automatically elicit (stimulate) a different (some slightly different, others very different) cluster of body-mind neural circuits in your brain. You will, almost literally, be a different person in each system. (I have four children. It was obvious to me even years before I was trained in my field, that I felt different, and acted differently, with each child.)
Each custody family is a unique system. Each member will act differently within that system than when part of any other system. This means the members of this family really require a special type of family therapy to be able to deal with the unique things that happen in that system. but, as said, we also know that this is impossible. (By “special type” we mean a therapy that can deal with typically non-cooperative clients. This type of therapy requires backup help from the court.)
So what to do? Family therapy is needed and will hardly ever happen. And even if it were to come about, in a high-conflict case the sessions would be chaotic and likely scare the children.
The next post continues coverage of this dilemma and the problems encountered by evaluators when dealing with judges in high conflict cases.