William Eddy, the author of: Splitting: Protecting Yourself When Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist – has introduced an innovative new program in San Diego to help people with a high conflict partner better resolve issues involving child custody and other issues.
The program, called New Ways for Families, is a structured program that helps reduce the high conflict person’s splitting, emotional instability, and acting out behaviors by avoiding blame and labeling and moving decision-making to a highly cooperative environment: one staffed by trained mental health practitioners.
Bill, who has written several other books in addition to Splitting, is at the forefront of this issue. Hopefully, this program will be a success and be introduced in other cities. You can read more about the New Ways for Families program at http://www.newways4families.com. I’ve adapted the info below from an article at the site.
New Ways for Families™ is a new program for addressing high conflict family court cases as early in the case as possible. It is designed to address high conflict issues, including child abuse and child alienation. The New Ways approach was developed to reduce three common problems seen in high-conflict divorce:
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Unmanaged emotions
- Extreme behaviors
Often, in high conflict families, one parent engages in highly-aggressive, highly-emotional behavior, to which the other parent responds with highly-aggressive or highly-passive behavior. In some high conflict families, both parents contribute relatively equally to these extremes. In other high conflict families, there is one particularly difficult parent and the other parent is generally reasonable, but walking on eggshells.
STEP 1: GETTING STARTED
New Ways can be ordered by the judge at a hearing, or agreed to by signed stipulation of the parties. The order does not assign blame to either parent, and puts both parents into the identical counseling structure.
Prior to beginning the counseling, each parent prepares a “Behavioral Declaration” that focuses on what each person sees as their three major concerns. Each person also comes up with three statements by each parent describing the positive qualities of the other parent, which goes against their automatic rigid, all-or-nothing thinking.
Each parent prepares a Reply Behavioral Declaration (in reply to the other parent’s concerns expressed in his or her Behavioral Declaration). This Reply Behavior Declaration allows the parent the opportunity to acknowledge behavior problems and to say how he or she intends to work on those problems. This reduces the pressure to simply defend one’s own past behavior. Instead, it focuses on developing positive new behaviors.
Next, the parents each pick their own Individual Parent Counselor from a list of therapists trained in New Ways for Families.
STEP 2: INDIVIDUAL PARENT COUNSELING
The focus of the Individual Parent Counseling is practicing the three basic skills (flexible thinking, managed emotions, and moderate behaviors), rather than on blaming the other parent.
The New Ways Parent Workbook repeatedly encourages the parent to write down and think about these three skills. This is an encouraging process, without blame, criticism or shame. The focus is repeatedly on future behavior. The therapist and the client discuss current problem situations and how to address them using these new ways.
Whenever the parent blames the other parent in the discussions, the counselor can say “how could you use flexible thinking to address this situation?” Or: “How could you use managed emotions to help solve this problem?” Or : “What moderate behaviors could you use in response to the other parent or your child to manage this problem?”
When a parent starts blaming the other parent or is concerned the other parent is getting away with things, his or her counselor can say: “Remember, the other parent is working on the same issues in the same workbook.” This way each parent can be directed back to their own behavior, knowing that the other parent is being told the same thing.
In some cases, one parent maybe “high conflict” and the other may already be reasonable as a parent and may already uses these three skills regularly. In this case, the counselor for the reasonable parent can reinforce these skills as ways to help deal with and in some cases “manage” the more difficult parent.
By responding with moderate behaviors to the difficult parent’s extreme behaviors, a reasonable parent may be able to calm the dispute. The way this parallel counseling is structured, a counselor doesn’t have to decide which parent is more difficult, but can reinforce using these skills to manage the other parent regardless of whether he or she is really the more difficult parent.
This method creates a non-defensive, non-blaming environment, which is absolutely necessary for new skills to be practiced and truly learned. The usual high conflict environment of cases with allegations of child abuse and/or parental alienation, actually prevents behavior change from occurring and new skills from being learned. New Ways is structured in the opposite direction so that learning new skills can take place.
In some cases, one or both parents will be unable to learn and demonstrate these low conflict skills of flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. In these cases, they will be unable to reach agreements and make their own parenting decisions. In these cases, they will end up back in court and the judge can observe their learning (or not) regarding these three skills.
A parent cannot get a Verification of Completion signed by his or her therapist, until he or she has completed six full individual counseling sessions and completed his or her Parent Workbook, as well as the Behavioral Declaration and Reply Declaration. This motivates the parent to complete the process and to work within the New Ways structure, rather than miss appointments or be preoccupied with blaming the other parent in traditionally less-structured counseling sessions.
STEP 3: PARENT-CHILD COUNSELING
The Parent-Child Counselor is specifically assigned by the court or jointly selected by the parents (and their attorneys, if any). In either case, the Parent-Child Counselor is appointed as a neutral expert for the court. This counselor will only be provided each party’s Behavioral Declaration, Reply Behavioral Declaration and related court orders. This helps the Parent-Child Counselor avoid being pulled into an adversarial decision-making role for the parents.
It also prevents the parent(s) from swamping the counselor with highly emotional declarations which detail every “transgression” of the other parent. The counselor keeps the parents focused on future positive behavior rather than past negative behavior.
However, the parent-child counselor will be aware of the worst allegations against each parent from their brief statements in their Behavioral Declarations. The parent-child counselor can address these issues in a productive way rather than become emotionally hooked with allegations.
The parent-child counseling is structured to keep parents on an equal basis, in terms of number of appointments involving the child and the order of issues addressed.
The first of three sessions for each parent focuses on having the parent teach the children the three low conflict skills of flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. By having each parent teach these same skills to the children, the children learn that both parents support these skills.
In addition, the children learn that the parents are expected to be using these skills. In other words, the child is discouraged from forming a negative alliance with a parent around all-or-nothing thinking, un-managed emotions, and extreme behaviors.
The child will know that these are “officially” incorrect behaviors. This will help the child resist a “good parent” and a “bad parent” view of their family. In reality, alienated or estranged children are primarily demonstrating those three negative behaviors in concert with one or both parents.
The second session for each parent (which cannot occur until both parents have completed the first parent-child session), focuses on each parent hearing the children’s concerns about the separation or divorce. This also helps deal with the alienation issue, because the child sees that each parent is open to the child’s feedback, with the assistance of the parent-child counselor.
In other words, the child can complain to their parents, which is a helpful thing as part of growing up. In the process, the parent-child counselor helps direct the parent to receive the child’s concerns without judgment, without anger and without giving in.
When the child experiences an “all-bad parent” listening in a non-judgmental manner, it may loosen up their all-or-nothing view of that parent. Also, when the child experiences the “all-good parent” listening to negative concerns, the child will be encouraged to take a more flexible approach, rather than having to absolutely treat that parent as “all good.” This experience should assist the child in being less alienated or estranged. This may take a lot of repetition in many more-severe cases.
The third session of parent-child counseling focuses on how each parent and child may act in new ways towards each other and toward the other parent. This should create a momentum towards change in the relationship of the child with each parent. By the “all-good parent” encouraging the child to move forward with activities with the “all-bad parent,” the child will learn that he or she has permission to have a more reasonable and balanced relationship with each parent. By meeting with the “all-bad parent,” the child will learn that steps are going to occur to re-engage the child with that parent. The steps may need to be small, but inevitable.
NO CONTACT BETWEEN PARENTS
The parent-child counseling, as well as the individual parent counseling, is designed so that neither parent needs to have contact with the other parent during the entire process. This helps prevent high conflict encounters, and protects a victim parent from an abusive parent. Temporary court orders before the counseling begins, and future court orders after it is over, can still provide protection for a parent and/or children, and future findings can still be made. However, the focus is to be on future behavior.
The parent-child counselor observes the parent behavior with the children in these three sessions each. By observing three sessions with each parent, the counselor can see an ability to change after receiving feedback and direction from the counselor.
Ideally the parents will settle their parenting issues immediately after the parent-child counseling, possibly even before the third session. However, in cases where settlement cannot occur, because of one or both parents inability to develop positive skills, then the family will go to court. In that case, the parent-child counselor can testify at court at the request of either parent or the judge.
However, this counselor does not write a report, as reports tend to escalate parents into high conflict behavior and posturing. Instead, if the parties are able to settle their case, there will be no information that goes to the court other than the completion of the Parent-Child Counseling and their settlement agreement. If they are unable to settle, then that counselor can testify about what was observed. Traditionally, evaluations and reports tend to inspire defensive behavior, more than they resolve. New ways is designed to avoid escalating into high conflict behavior.
However, since the Parent-Child Counselor can testify at court, the court can have current information about each parents’ parenting behavior, which is much more useful than reports of what each parent did several months or years ago. In addition, the Parent-Child Counselor can report on each parents’ ability to change his or her behavior. It’s this ability to change which is the focus of new behaviors and helping families move into positive directions rather than negative, all-or-nothing “attack and defend” cycles of behavior, which inherently spill over to their children and inherently develop into child alienation in many cases.
STEP 4:FAMILY (OR COURT) DECISION MAKING
In this last stage of the New Ways for Families process, the parents make their own decisions, if possible, about things such as:
- The parenting schedule
- How to change the parenting schedule
- Taking a parenting class separately or together
- How the parents will communicate
- How the parents will jointly make decisions
- How the parents will separately make decisions
- How the parents will plan child activities
- How other people (relatives, new partners) are included in the child’s life
All the professionals involved in the case are encouraged to support the parents in making their own decisions, rather than trying to make decisions for them.
At no time do the parents have to meet together in order to reach a settlement. It is expected that some parents who have engaged in negative behaviors will agree to accept treatment for those behaviors, rather than having to go to court and have them publicly discussed.
You can find the full article at http://www.newways4families.com/for-families/get-started/19. For more about Bill, go to highconflictinstitute.com.