Tips On How To Select The Right Therapist In Serious Custody Cases
I have been asked repeatedly what is meant by “qualified” when selecting a therapist to deal with issues related to contentious custody situations. Too often much valuable time is wasted on counselors who have no experience dealing with the ramifications of custodial interference, parental alienating behaviors and repeated false allegations. Too many people just look at the words “family counseling” and don’t go the extra interview step to discover what experience the counselor has in custody issues and whether the person has even been qualified to testify in court. Often the random selection of therapists does more harm than good and the client finds himself back at square one after the therapist finally admits the situation is outside his/her abilities and expertise.
Now that DSM-5 has finally included these behaviors, the effect on the parent-child relationship and the devastating psychological effects on the children, it is extremely important to select well skilled and qualified therapists. This means the first “list” should be comprised of those psychologists and psychiatrists who have experience with these serious custody issues. Attorneys have a “list” of those psychologists whose expertise and qualifications make them eligible to be appointed to do initial custody evaluations so this can be a starting point. These providers have dealt with enough custody cases that they are aware of all of the ramifications bad behavior on the part of one parent can have on not only the child but on the target parent. The selection should never be dealt with on the basis of gender, although too often the “excuse” for doing that has nothing to do with the child but is rather simply a continuation of the parent’s animosity against the target parent.
The children needing intense therapy often have cognitive difficulties, have difficult inter-personal behavior, lose all respect for authority, have no valid excuse for cutting one parent off, begin to have severe acting-out behaviors and difficulties in school, including poor performance. Treating these children requires skill and experience. Often the problems these children have are very similar to PTSD, and it is not that difficult to find a psychologist skilled in both PTSD and post-decree custody issues. To clarify “more harm than good”, the feel-good counselor who is unable or unwilling to confront the issues becomes harmful since not only will there be no progress but the situation will continue to deteriorate.
On a regular basis I hear a parent say they’ve been taking the child to a “counselor” for an extended period of time and the child is only becoming more stressed and hostile. In these cases I rarely see the name of a qualified psychologist but rather simply a “counselor” whose list of practice areas includes divorce and “family counseling”, both of which are “catch-all” words which don’t begin to address parental alienation and contentious custody issues.
The most important factor in dealing with the targeted child is to start at the top, not the bottom, of the list of available providers and to not wait until a child is fully alienated and/or exhibiting serious issues with the fall-out. You should not wait until everything is stalled by a poorly qualified social worker until the parent/child bond is broken. The “new” offer then gets put on the table for “reunification” therapy, a growing “area of practice” which has no meaning, especially if the offer comes from the counselor who has already created a bigger problem by his/her lack of skill. By then, it is necessary to move on to the qualified psychologist you should have started with and you may have a child who is by now too angry to deal with the skilled professional so will fight seeing someone new.
What a parent needs to have foremost in his/her mind is “This is my child’s mental health “both now and in the future. DSM-5 now describes this as “Psychological Abuse of a Child” and addresses the parental behavior leading to an alienated child with serious psychological damage. Don’t wait and choose wisely.
What is the DSM-5 and how does it relate to Custody Cases?
DSM-5 is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Revision 5”. This manual is the primary reference manual for use by mental health clinicians for diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. In the legal arena, this is also the reference manual which courts fall back on when asked to accept an argument regarding any mental health issue. For the first time, this new Revision, released May 18, 2013, includes language describing “Child Psychological Abuse” and “Parent-Child Relational Problems”. Although the term “Parental Alienation” is not used, each of these three diagnoses can be used in cases of parental alienation:
- Child Psychological Abuse, defined as “non-accidental verbal or symbolic acts by a parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child”. In many instances, the behavior of the alienating parent constitutes child psychological abuse.
- Child affected by parental relationship distress should be used when “the focus of attention is parental relationship discord”, e.g. high levels of conflict, distress or disparagement, including effects on the child’s mental or physical health.
- Parent-child relational problem now has a discussion in the text of DSM-5. The discussion explains that cognitive difficulties in parent-child relational problem “may include negative attributions of the other’s intentions, hostility toward the other parent and unwarranted feelings of estrangement”.
Our guest contributor this week is Judianne Cochran, a nationally recognized expert/consultant in the following disciplines: sex offender profiling; false allegations in custody cases; interstate and international parental abduction; interstate custody and parental alienation. She has testified in numerous Courts throughout Ohio and the country. Judi presently resides in Columbus, Ohio.
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