How Reunification Therapy Works (2022)

What Is Reunification Therapy?

Reunification therapy refers to family therapy that aims to reunite or reestablish a relationship, usually between a parent and child. It emphasizes attachment, promotes healthy communication, and works to heal injuries in the relationship. It can aim to improve relationships within the family or treat alienation.

The primary goal of this type of therapy is to reestablish trust between the parent and child, so allowing therapy to progress at the child’s pace is essential. Reunification work can be long-term, though short-term intensive programs are also available.

The primary goal of this type of therapy is to reestablish trust between the parent and child, so allowing therapy to progress at the child’s pace is essential.

Types of Reunification Therapy

In most cases, reunification therapy happens after a high-conflict divorce. A judge often orders this therapy to repair the bond between parent and child following intense disagreements and disputes during the parents’ separation and legal battle. When reunification is court-ordered following divorce, it often includes co-parenting work in addition to parent-child sessions.

Less commonly, reunification therapy might be recommended when a child has been removed from the home, when a child has been in foster care due to neglect, or if a child perpetrated abuse against another child in the home. In these cases, reunification aims to establish a safe living environment for all family members.

Techniques

Because reunification therapy is a type of family therapy, a therapist doing reunification work might use techniques seen in other kinds of family therapy sessions. However, there are specific emphases that are unique to reunification therapy.

Co-Parenting Work

When reunification therapy is needed after a high-conflict divorce, co-parenting work is an essential part of the process. Co-parenting refers to working together to raise a child or children regardless of the parents’ relationship to each other, including stepparents.

Something I say to divorced parents all the time is, “If you got along great, you would still be married to each other.” The conflict that led to the divorce will usually interfere with the parents’ ability to come together for their children. Furthermore, if the need for reunification work stems from a parent alienating the child from the other parent, there are typically feelings of hurt and anger to work through.

Co-parenting work is essentially couple’s counseling and parenting for parents who are no longer together.

Something I say to divorced parents all the time is, “If you got along great, you would still be married to each other.” The conflict that led to the divorce will usually interfere with the parents’ ability to come together for their children.

Attachment Work

Because reunification is often recommended (or mandated) due to a rupture in a parent-child relationship, interventions often focus on fostering strong attachment. This can range from facilitating a conversation about a past argument to simply playing a game together and having a positive interaction.

(Video) Reunification Counseling/Therapy Explained | Nell Bowers & Dr. Shannon Wilson

Communication Skills/Conflict Resolution

Improving communication skills not only allows family members to work through specific conflicts in their relationships, but it gives them the ability to address future problems when they arise. All family members learn to express themselves in appropriate and productive ways, even through difficult topics.

What Reunification Therapy Can Help With

  • Establishing co-parenting boundaries: What does co-parenting mean after a divorce or separation? When picturing your future family, you may not have anticipated raising children outside of your relationship. Reunification can help you get on the same page with the other parent and establish boundaries and routines in your children’s best interests.
  • Estrangement: Reunification can also address estrangement. Estrangement refers to a distance between family members, and this can occur when a child feels resentment or anger toward a parent during the divorce. Reunification works to address the child’s feelings and heal the relationship between parent and child.
  • Alienation: On the other hand, alienation refers to when a child allies with one parent over another due to a false belief that the alienated parent is harmful or dangerous in some way. (If a child pulls away from an abusive parent, this is not alienation.) When a child has been alienated from a parent, reunification works to help the child develop a more realistic view of the parent’s character and behaviors, allowing a healthy relationship to manifest.
  • Safety planning: Finally, reunification can also help with safety planning. If a child was removed from the home due to unsafe behavior from either the parent or child, an important goal of reunification therapy is to establish and implement appropriate safety precautions to prevent future problems.

When a child has been alienated from a parent, reunification works to help the child develop a more realistic view of the parent’s character and behaviors, allowing a healthy relationship to manifest.

Benefits of Reunification Therapy

Reunification therapy can be an essential component of repairing relationships within a family that has experienced disruption or alienation. It can foster healthy attachment between parents and children and help parents get on the same page for the sake of the children following a high-conflict divorce.

Effectiveness

The effectiveness of reunification therapy varies. With any therapy, client engagement is essential for progress, and those who are court-ordered to attend therapy might be less inclined to engage. In cases of parental alienation, the parent might prevent the child from reuniting with the alienated parent.

However, reunification therapists have access to interventions and treatment models that have shown to be effective. Joint sessions between parents, therapist willingness to address and remove barriers to treatment, and flexibility with the treatment model have shown to predict success in reunification therapy.

Things to Consider

Although reunification therapy is often recommended for cases of alienation, it is not the only approach for a family to heal. Divorce is stressful and upsetting, and therapy focused on repairing relationships within the family can be beneficial.

If a parent suspects alienation, they can seek out reunification therapy independently or request that the judge order it. This could limit confidentiality, as court-ordered treatment often requires that information about treatment, including session content, be shared with the judge.

How to Get Started

Hurt feelings and anger are expected and common between a divorced couple. Reunification therapy can provide the space for the couple to work through these issues even if they know they will not get back together. It can pave the way for a healthy co-parenting relationship in the future.

  • Court-ordered reunification: If a judge has ordered you to engage in reunification therapy or if your lawyer has advised you to look into reunification, they should have information about providers who offer this service in your area. You can also search therapists in your area for someone who specializes in reunification.
  • Your feelings about reunification: People who come to reunification therapy are often apprehensive about the process and uncertain about what will happen in their sessions. Know that it is okay to have these feelings and bring any questions you have to the therapist. They should address your concerns related to the therapy.
  • Working with the therapist: Some parents are often concerned that the therapist will be “manipulated” by the other parent or that their child will be “forced” to participate in therapy or do things out of their comfort zone. Again, these feelings are okay and appropriate to bring up with your reunification therapist. A therapist providing this service should be trained to address these issues and take things at a comfortable pace for everyone in the family.

Reunification therapy is intense, difficult, and emotional work. Be prepared for this as you work to strengthen your relationship with your children.

People referred for reunification therapy are often apprehensive about the process and uncertain about what will happen in their sessions. Know that it is okay to have these feelings and to ask your therapist any questions.

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3 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Warshak RA. Reclaiming parent–child relationships: outcomes of family bridges with alienated children.Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. 2019;60(8):645-667.

  2. Sullivan MJ. Reunification family therapy: A treatment manual, by Jan Faust, Hogrefe Publishing (2017): Book review: Reunification family therapy.Fam Court Rev. 2019;57(1):118-120.

  3. Baker AJL, Murray C, Adkins K. Parameters of reunification therapy and predictors of treatment success in high conflict divorce cases: a survey of mental health professionals.Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. 2020;61(8):593-614.

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FAQs

What is the process of reunification? ›

How does reunification work? When children are in foster care, they typically have regular, supervised visits with their parents. As parents progress toward their assigned goals, the reunification process begins with unsupervised visits, overnight visits, and weekend visits.

What is the purpose of reunification? ›

Reunification counseling (also known as reunification therapy) is designed to help mend the strained (or broken) relationship between parent and child in cases of divorce, abuse, or neglect.

Why do families reunify? ›

Family Reunification services may be ordered by the Court for the parents to regain physical custody of their child. The family reunification services are meant to address the circumstances that led to the removal of their child and initial placement in the foster care system.

How long does it take for family reunification? ›

This process can usually take a few months. Once approved, you and your family will be allowed to return to the United States to reunify with your child/children to live and work for three years. Counseling and mental health services will also be made available.

What is the difference between reunification therapy and family therapy? ›

Reunification therapy is a specific form of family therapy that addresses contact resistance or refusal, or estrangement between a parent and a child, most often in cases where the parents are living apart.

Who can apply for family reunification? ›

The United States has a family reunification program. Only immediate family members are eligible to petition under this program. Under the U.S. law, an “immediate family member” is the child, spouse, or parent of the person requesting reunification.

What is parent alienation? ›

Parental alienation is a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child's relationship with the other parent and to turn the child's emotions against that other parent.

What are the benefits of reunification? ›

Reunification promotes better mental health, reduced anxiety, and happier lives for children. Ties To Extended Family — Children in foster care don't just lose touch with parents, but with extended family members too. Through reunification, they maintain those connections, traditions, and cultural identities.

What is right to family reunification? ›

In most national laws, family reunification provisions typically apply to all members of the immediate family (spouses, parents and dependent children). 8 Each State sets out conditions for the admission of close relatives of a migrant who is legally residing in the host country.

What is another word for reunification? ›

Noun, singular or mass

bundling, coherence, collation, convergence, incorporation, merger, merging, reconciliation, regression, relocation, repatriation, reunify, Harmonizing, Reintegration, co-location, re-integration, regroupement.

What factors might influence the reunification in a positive way? ›

Education and training programs for birth parents can enhance the parent-child relationship and teach both specific parenting and general problem- solving skills. They also can increase the likelihood of reunification (Franks et al., 2013). Even training for foster parents may be able to improve reunification rates.

What is a reunification home? ›

The Family Reunification Program is dedicated to reuniting Indigenous mothers, fathers and their children by providing long-term housing. The goal is to assist in reuniting children in care with their families in a safe and secure environment. The home is alcohol and drug-free, with 24-hour staffing.

How long does it take for a daughter to file for her mother? ›

When an American citizen applies for a Green Card for their parents, this process can take at least 5 months, but it can also take up to 10 years. The estimated time of this application depends on the immigration status of the father, mother or both, in addition to other immigration factors of the family.

What is the legal definition of reunification? ›

Reunification, in the context of family law, refers to returning of children to the custody of their biological parents or parents, after they have been involved in a period of foster care placement outside their family home.

How long does it take to bring spouse to USA 2022? ›

The I-485 processing time is the same for citizen and noncitizen spouses, ranging from 10 to 29 months as of August 2022.

What is reunification Counselling? ›

Reconciliation therapy, or reunification therapy, is a highly specialized type of therapy that addresses parent child contact problems following a separation or divorce. This is a complex and involved intervention that requires regular participation from the whole family.

What is resist and refuse? ›

I recently attended a seminar taught by clinical child psychologist, Edward Farber (author of Raising the Kid You Love with the Ex You Hate) on what he calls “Resist and Refuse” cases—when a child resists or refuses to see one parent in a divorce or separation.

What is reintegration therapy? ›

Reintegration therapy is a professional technique designed to help children, parents and other family members to slowly reintroduce themselves to one another and gradually become reacquainted. Children may become estranged because of custody disputes, parental problems or their own behavioral issues.

How much income do I need to sponsor my parents in USA 2022? ›

Income Requirement to Become a Sponsor

The most common minimum financial requirement is an annual income of $22,000. This figure is calculated to be at least 125% above the Federal poverty level based on the ASPE.

Who are immediate relatives? ›

You are an immediate relative if you are: The spouse of a U.S. citizen; The unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen; or. The parent of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older).

How long does it take to bring your parents to USA? ›

Green Cards for Parents Living Abroad

If your parents are living abroad at the time you petition, the process will take 12-18 months before they receive green cards. To begin, you should submit: Form I-130 for each of your parents.

What is narcissistic parental alienation? ›

Narcissistic parental alienation syndrome, or parental alienation syndrome (PAS), occurs when one parent coercively tries to alienate their child from an otherwise loving parent. This manipulation then results in the child's dislike or rejection of the alienated parent.

Do alienated kids come back? ›

Although there are no guarantees, many professionals believe and have seen many alienated children return. Some are helped to return by therapists, assisted by court orders, and others may need to be deprogrammed.

What is parental manipulation? ›

An Overview. Parental manipulation of children can be considered a form of brainwashing. One parent tries to target the other parent, ultimately undermining the chances for a healthy relationship with the other. In the worst cases, the child will reject the other parent completely.

Who can apply for family reunification? ›

The United States has a family reunification program. Only immediate family members are eligible to petition under this program. Under the U.S. law, an “immediate family member” is the child, spouse, or parent of the person requesting reunification.

What is another word for reunification? ›

Noun, singular or mass

bundling, coherence, collation, convergence, incorporation, merger, merging, reconciliation, regression, relocation, repatriation, reunify, Harmonizing, Reintegration, co-location, re-integration, regroupement.

How long does CPS have to close a case in California? ›

Although it depends on the particulars of the case, CPS usually has about 45 days to complete an investigation. If an investigation takes longer than this time, CPS has to notify the parents with reasons for its delay.

What is a synonym for reunification? ›

Synonyms & Near Synonyms for reunify. recombine, reconnect, rejoin, reunite.

What is legally considered an immediate family member? ›

Immediate family is limited to the spouse, parents, stepparents, foster parents, father-in-law, mother-in-law, children, stepchildren, foster children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and first cousins.

How long does it take for a daughter to file for her mother? ›

When an American citizen applies for a Green Card for their parents, this process can take at least 5 months, but it can also take up to 10 years. The estimated time of this application depends on the immigration status of the father, mother or both, in addition to other immigration factors of the family.

How much income do I need to sponsor my parents in USA 2022? ›

Income Requirement to Become a Sponsor

The most common minimum financial requirement is an annual income of $22,000. This figure is calculated to be at least 125% above the Federal poverty level based on the ASPE.

What is the opposite of unification? ›

Opposite of the process or result of being united or made into a whole through amalgamation. breakup. disconnection. dissolution. disunion.

How do you use the word reunification in a sentence? ›

Instead of reunification, more children are being adopted from foster care. After World War I, the holiday included all soldiers who died serving their country, although it is still near the original date of the Civil War reunification.

What is an antonym for the word reunify? ›

verb. ( riːˈuːnəˌfaɪ) Unify again, as of a country.

Antonyms. divide disunify lack separate. unite unify.

How long does it take for CPS to make a decision? ›

In most cases the prosecutor will tell you their decision within 30 working days (about six weeks). If the review is likely to take longer than this, for example if there is a lot of evidence to consider, then we will let you know how long the review is likely to take and keep you updated with our progress.

What do social services look for when they come to your house? ›

Social workers assess physical aspects of the home environment. 2. This scale may appear judgmental, but workers necessarily make judgements about the safety, order and cleanliness of the place in which the child lives. The use of a list helps the objectivity of observation.

Do judges always agree with social services? ›

The judge is likely unless he or she considers that the evidence before the court suggests otherwise to take full account of the recommendations made by children's services and the guardian.

Videos

1. Reunification Therapy - What is it?
(Long Counseling and Evaluation Services, PLLC)
2. Reunification Therapy - What is behind the therapy?
(Rochelle Long)
3. Reunification Therapy and Building Connection
(Colleen O'Neil - Mediation and Beyond)
4. Reunification Therapy - Rejected Parent
(Rochelle Long)
5. Keys to Reunification Success in Parental Alienation, Therapist Douglas Darnall #parentalalienation
(Never Lose Hope Keep Sending Love)
6. Reunification Therapy: Hope or Hell?
(Forensology with Dr. Mozelle Martin)

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