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Not To See Kids In Counselling
children in the midst of a parental custody and/or access dispute is tricky
business. It must be understood that seeing children on the basis of a one-sided
request, particularly if unknown to the other parent, can actually cause more
harm then good.
referral may come from the physician or lawyer. It may be one parent looking for
help. Sinisterly, it may be a parent looking to bolster their claim that the
children should live with him/her alone.
these instances, the children may be coached directly or inadvertently to tell
the counselor that parent’s version of events. Even when a parent reminds
their child to “tell the truth”, what is really meant is that parent’s
truth. This intensifies the distress to which the children are subject.
meeting with these children on a one sided basis, often see a distraught or
anxious parent with the kids in tow, urging them to speak. The child prattles
off a litany of complaints, often gazing back to the parent to make sure the key
points have been covered and meet with parent approval.
the uninitiated counselor, the scenario is taken at face value. The counselor
will dutifully report on observations and the expressed issues of the child. The
parent will look relieved, as well the child. It is a moment to be short lived.
With the one parent satisfied, the heat is momentarily off the child.
once the other parent learns what has transpired, that parent will look to set
their version of the record straight. This will also be through the mouths of
the children to a new counselor and the children will again be “reminded” to
tell the truth; this other parent’s truth. The child will then live another
short moment of peace, until the first parent learns of the actions of this
conflict intensifies as the children are thus dragged counselor to counselor.
They are caught between the ever-escalating struggles, seeking to meet the
demands of each parent as ally. In the midst of such conflict, children’s
distress escalates and mood, behaviour and concentration deteriorate.
well intentioned, it is imperative for both parents and referral sources to
appreciate that in order to be truly helpful, children must be emancipated from
parental conflict, not further embedded in it.
with the children alone may inadvertently reinforce a misplaced view of the
problem and/or intensify the conflict and/or give the illusion of help when at
the same time the child is subject to increasingly toxic parental conflict.
use a medical analogy, x-ray before surgery to be assured you are cutting in the
right place. A child in distress does not equate to the child seeing the
counselor first. In fact, it could be quite harmful.
To this end, and by the truly initiated counselor, there might actually be a refusal to meet with the children in favour of first meeting with both parents. In the midst of allegations of domestic violence, meetings can take place with both parents together assuming appropriate safeguards or serially, by seeing each parent on separate occasions. The benefit of meeting with the parents is to actually address the underlying cause of the child’s distress; the parental conflict. If thereafter children are to be seen, it is often advantageous to meet with the children on separate occasions, brought by one then other parent. This brings balance to the understanding of the problems befalling them by way of the parental conflict and separation. Thereafter help can be more finely attuned which at that point may include individual counselling for the children.
you are unsure how to proceed, consult a counselor whose experience includes
matters related to parental separation and divorce as well as expertise in
domestic violence, alcoholism and addictions. Making the wrong cut, regardless
of the distress, will not bring the relief sought. Children need to be helped,
not harmed and their immediate counselling may not be the answer.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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