BOOK REVIEW- Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems: Family-Based Interventions for Resistance, Rejection, and Alienation

Edited by Abigail M. Judge and Robin M. Deutsch

Drs. Judge and Deutsch have offered readers a collection of chapters written by leading clinicians and researchers who have made significant contributions to our understanding of families, where a child resists a relationship with or rejects a parent. Among the list of recognized experts, are contributions by AFCC Ontario Chapter members, Dr. Barbara Fidler, Ms. Shely Polak, and Dr. Michael Saini.

The legal, child protection and mental health communities often struggle to find appropriate resources to assist families experiencing resist-refuse dynamics. This book largely focuses on the Overcoming Barriers (OCB) approach to treating these complex family systems dynamics, and informs readers about the many dimensions of, and clinical considerations involved in the Overcoming Barriers Family Camp (OBFC) program. It also includes chapters about other innovative programs and specialized outpatient family therapy models developed to assist these families. As a sampling, there are chapters about the current status of outpatient approaches; other experiential therapies; generalizing the OCB approach to outpatient family therapy; and a chapter on the challenge of program evaluation and the importance of specialized training of other professionals. The insightful conclusion by Dr. Janet Johnston pulls together the key components of the family dynamics and intervention model, and provides important considerations about ethical issues, future directions and research.

OBFC was conceptualized by Dr. Peggie Ward, and developed by Drs. Robin Deutsch and Matt Sullivan. The book offers a detailed overview of this specialized family camp model. It outlines the legal and clinical considerations given to each referral during the screening and intake phase, necessary to determine if the family may benefit from participation in the camp intervention. It also describes the interplay between the “milieu” — or recreational components of the program, including the rural camp setting — and the clinical interventions, which together provide a powerful experience for most participants. The reader ultimately appreciates how this milieu desensitizes a child who may be anxious about direct contact with a rejected parent, and builds hope of future supported interactions, relaxed and fun experiences.

The authors present the ‘program road map’ that guides each phase of the camp program. There are chapters dedicated to the group work with resisted or rejected parents (the ‘west’ group), the favoured parents (the ‘east’ group), and with the children (‘common ground’). The educative, skills-building, and supportive benefits of group work are highlighted and understood as a stabilizing force for participants who attend with a range of strong feelings, and full of expectation, reluctance or dread, depending on their role in the dynamic. Each group supports its members to take his or her next step. That said, the down side of grouping family members according to their role in the family (‘east’, ‘west’, or ‘common ground’) is also identified.

The OBFC is grounded in family systems theory, which informs the fluid application of multi-faceted therapy: Individual and group work for each family member, joint parent sessions, parent-child and family sessions. Each ‘next step’ is informed by the preceding intervention. The reader is informed of the necessary progress each family member must make to increase the possibility of healing and overcoming the resistance in a sustained way. Attention to the coparenting relationship, often incorporating a parallel-disengaged model, is especially essential:

“The coparenting relationship is a bridge that the child needs to traverse to reconnect with the rejected parent… That bridge does not exist for the child as these families enter camp, and the coparents in each family are a major focus of the clinical interventions. Without both some détente between the parents and the favored parent’s support of the reconnection work between the child and the rejected parent, there is little chance that work will succeed.”

Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems: Family-Based Interventions for Resistance, Rejection, and Alienation is a worthwhile resource for clinicians interested in providing services to families experiencing high conflict parenting and strained parent-child relationships, or who are curious about creative interventions. It will also provide valuable information to child protection workers, lawyers and judges who wish to better understand the selection criteria for these cases, and the referral and intake process, including the importance of crafting a detailed and unambiguous court order for therapy with a specific parenting time schedule, and judicial case management to monitor compliance.

Written by: Linda Popielarczyk, MSW, Acc.FM, AFCC-O Newsletter Committee

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