Welcome to Conjoint Court Therapy at Family Connections Therapy! Your therapist has been specially trained in child and family therapy. They have also received FCT’s Child-Centered Conjoint Court Therapy training.
Who are we?
We are highly skilled therapists trained in family systems and attachment therapy modalities. Our focus centers on the child’s emotional needs while supporting Parents as they learn skills to attune to their children’s emotional needs.
What do we do?
We use Emotion Coaching techniques from Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT, Adele Lafrance). This involves approximately 3 to 5 sessions with the Peripheral Parent before Conjoint therapy with the child can begin. We want to be sure you have a successful outcome for Conjoint. We have found that taking the time upfront to work on skills with the Parent helps suggest a more positive outcome once Conjoint therapy begins.
Who’s the client?
We consider the child(ren) we see in Conjoint as our clients. This is a child-centered process, and we support the Parents as they learn to create a more welcoming and safe space for their children in the relationship.
Who are the Peripheral vs. Central Parents?
With families in custody disputes, one Parent often becomes the primary custodial Parent. The Peripheral Parent may have visitation or even custody but their relationship with their child is strained.
To be clear about which Parent we are referring to, we call the Parent who is less involved in the child’s day-to-day lives the Peripheral Parent. We refer to the Parent with whom the child is spending more time as the Central Parent.
How are we different?
In the beginning, we work with you and your child separately to help sort out issues that are hard to deal with. While this can vary on a case by case basis, as noted above, this usually takes about three to five sessions each before we begin Conjoint therapy. By meeting separately, both the children and their Parents are able to talk openly about issues that they may not want to bring up when first together. It helps for a more open conversation with the therapist and develops a strategy for bridging the gap between a Parent and their child. This means we can get to the root of issues and help them get resolved more rapidly.
We also focus on the child having a “voice” and feeling safe in session. It’s common for children not to feel heard, understood, or like their feelings are being taken seriously. We have found that if we work with the Parent on focusing on being able to express empathy for the children’s feelings, that creates an opportunity for healing to take place. It’s essential that the child feels heard and understood in order for them to feel safe enough to repair the relationship with their Parent. When the child feels safe with their Parent, the relationship can start to heal.
What are the Stages of Conjoint Therapy?
First Stage: Supporting the Child
- The average number of sessions is approximately 3 to 5 before Conjoint begins
- We listen to the child(ren) about how they feel and what their concerns are
- We establish ground rules for safety & help them to feel safe and reduce anxiety in session
Second Stage: Empowering, Teaching, and Supporting Parents
- Before Conjoint therapy starts and concurrently with the child’s Conjoint preparation in Stage 1, we meet with the Peripheral Parents to make sure they understand the child’s narrative and feelings
- Therapists assess the Peripheral Parent for:
- Empathy (intellectual understanding of a child’s emotions)
- Attunement: “When we attune with others, we allow our internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another. This resonance is at the heart of the important sense of “feeling felt” that emerges in close relationships. Children need attunement to feel secure and to develop well, and throughout our lives, we need attunement to feel close and connected.” (Dan Siegel)
- Understanding the child’s narrative
- Emotion Coaching takes 3 to 5 sessions to learn the above skills
Third stage: (in Conjoint) Promoting Healthy Parent-Child interactions, Pictures, Reminiscing, and Positive Experiences
- We focus on repairing relationship injuries instead of establishing whether something happened or not
- We treat the issues as they occur and move toward the conflict to help resolve them
- As stated by Daniel J. Siegel, we need to “Name it to Tame it.” In other words, when you say the big feeling out loud, it’s the start of reducing the intensity of that feeling
- Not only does understanding the child’s pain and showing empathy for it build safety and trust in a relationship but also makes children calmer
- Strengths are identified in the Parent-child relationship
- Starting Conjoint therapy = Repairing the relationship (The Peripheral Parent has to do the majority of the work):
- Peripheral Parent expresses empathy and attunes to the child’s feelings
- Peripheral Parent shows interest in entering the “child’s world.”
- The child reports feeling more at ease when the Parent listens and understands (the child is starting to feel heard)
Fourth Stage: Strengthening Skills for a New Future
- The child becomes more comfortable with the Peripheral Parent
- Contact is encouraged in between sessions to help strengthen their bond
- Field Trips! Activities outside of the office with the Conjoint therapist are a possibility as well
- Parents are encouraged to practice healthy co-Parenting skills, if possible
- Safety protocols are created when with the Parent outside of Conjoint therapy
- A healthy new dynamic exists between the child and Parent
- Misunderstandings have decreased, and the Parent can soothe their child independently of the Therapist’s coaching
- Child expresses being upset to their Parent freely, seeking comfort
- The Peripheral Parent is attuned to the child’s feelings
Is it too late?
In the beginning, you may feel like it is too late. It’s tough to tell until the process has been applied for at least two months. For instance, we can generally tell if the fear shifts to apprehension/hesitation, OR a full shut-down shifts to anger, OR anger shifts from outbursts to conversations. These are indicators that there is hope. Again, it takes several months before this all plays out and one can see if trust can be made.
What if I haven’t seen my child for months or years?
We understand that it may be awkward initially, but we work with you and the Central Parent to ease back into a relationship with your child. There will most likely be more preparation time the longer that it has been. Sometimes we use pictures, old videos, and things that the child can positively associate with the Peripheral Parent. Just seeing you and your child in a positive light can begin the process of building the relationship.
Why is the Central/custodial Parent so important in the process?
Being child-centered, we need all parents to help in the process of repairing relationships with one Parent. The Central/Custodial Parent will not be in the room with the Peripheral Parent or child but will play an integral part.
We like to keep the Central Parent in the loop with Parent consultations and RE-Caps at the end of Conjoint therapy. We also encourage Central parents to
participate in Parent consultations in between sessions. We need to understand how things are going on at home and if there are any concerns.
It’s helpful for Central parents to learn how to encourage their children to be in a healthy relationship with the Peripheral parent. Sometimes this little bit of “permission giving” from the Central parent to the child helps the child to relax and not worry about loyalty to the Central parent.
What is Successful Conjoint Therapy?
The definition of “successful” Conjoint varies as well. There are many ways we measure whether a family experienced a successful outcome in the Conjoint therapy process:
- Parent(s) learned how to attune to their children emotionally
- Children feel safe, heard, and understood
- Relationship injuries between the child and Parent are repaired
- Children can talk to their Parents freely and reach for comfort with their Peripheral Parent outside of the Conjoint sessions
- Children have a desire for more contact with their Peripheral Parent
- Contact outside of Conjoint is positive
How long is Conjoint Therapy?
The amount of time it takes to have a successful outcome in the Conjoint Therapy process varies. It depends on the amount of emotional trauma a child has experienced throughout the different stages of the custody dispute. Sometimes this makes the first few stages of the process move slower.
Once we get to the third stage involving relationship injury repair, it could take many months to work through issues in the past. Few families can accomplish this stage in less time. Again, the severity of trauma a child has experienced from the custody dispute process is usually proportionate to recovery speed.
Another indicator that helps the process along is how quickly a Parent can understand the necessity for attuning to their child’s emotional state as it is in a particular moment. As mentioned earlier, with Emotion Coaching the Parents learn to meet their child emotionally where they are at. In other words, they learn how to connect with their child emotionally through learning new vocabulary and skills. Then, the Parent creates a safe space for their child to feel safe and be open to their Parent.
This entire process can be anywhere from 6 months to over a year, depending on several factors: outside influences on the child, the Peripheral Parent’s participation in the process, etc.