By Barry Bricklin, Ph.D.
(If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2 or 3, start here)
Q: I always worry that the judge won’t do anything to help when a parent in a high conflict family refuses therapy. What should I do?
As evaluators we often must deal with the fact that in high conflict families (continual litigation, continual arguments, failed mediation, various degrees of Parental Alienation) we typically find that all participants need therapy and frequently there will be one of them, a parent, who refuses it, usually the one who needs it most. And we know, annoyingly so from prior experience, that all too many judges are unwilling to force custody litigants to accept therapy.
In a prior post, we made the assertion that the typical evaluator believes the way to deal with parents (or children) who need therapy and refuse it is to write an extra-strong report that emphasizes to the judge the pathology of the family member who needs therapeutic help and refuses it.
Our main point is that this is only part of the task. Most judges in fact do believe the parent could profit from therapy, but the typical judge also believes that people who refuse therapy will not profit from it. These judges believe that a conscious willingness to cooperate is an absolute necessity for effective therapy.
Now it is certainly true that client cooperation makes therapy much more likely to succeed. But there are other pathways to therapeutic success, pathways that do not require conscious cooperation, and are completely ethical in that they will have healthy, not unhealthy effects on the client and certainly be “in the best interests of the child(ren),” the reason they are all in court to begin with.
So the evaluator’s mission is not only to make the client pathology crystal clear to the judge (emphasizing the continual damage to the children), but also to make the case that there are ethical therapeutic methods that can operate successfully even with those who refuse therapy.
The research bases for effective therapy for high conflict families will be addressed in the next post.