Dr. Kathleen Reay is no stranger to our website. She is an internationally recognized expert in high-conflict divorce, parental alienation, parent-child estrangement, and child emotional abuse and related trauma. We have introduced her before and brought to your attention the many Parental Alienation webinars, presentations and training workshops Kathleen does throughout British Columbia.
Dr. Reay has not stopped there! Kathleen and her team have been working on a massive project for over three years and she is pleased to announce that The Family Reflections Reunification Program for Severely Alienated Children and Their Family Members has come to fruition.
The program is the first of its kind in Canada. In two pilot studies the program had 95% success rate in re-establishing a relationship between the child(ren) and the alienated parent within a very short period of time. Located in a serene and tranquil semi-desert setting in the heart of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, the program consists of a flexible 4-5 day residential component and follow up services.
If only we had access to a program like this when my family was in the throes of PAS – what a difference it would have made! There is no question in my mind that Dr. Reay’s concept will help families shattered by the emotional damage created when one parent alienates their child(ren) against a once-loved parent.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Reay about The Family Reflections Reunification Program for Severely Alienated Children and Family Members:
Pamela: Tell us about The Family Reflections Reunification Program for Severely Alienated Children and their Family Members.
Dr. Reay: My vision for this unique reunification program began several years ago. After three intense years of working on this project, it finally came to fruition this year. The FRRP is designed for a severely alienated child or youth between 8 and 18 years of age who completely refuses or increasingly opposes contact with a parent for no legitimate justifiable reasons. The rejected parent and child must have had a good, loving relationship prior to the start of the alienation dynamics. Families come to our retreat from all over Canada and the United States.
A court order for custody reversal to the rejected parent is absolutely necessary for admittance to our program. In doing so, the rejected parent is given the legal power to make appropriate health care decisions for his or her child(ren) or youth(s). All members of an alienated family must also be court-ordered to attend reunification therapy of the rejected parent’s choice or mandated to specifically participate in the FRRP. Our program is flexible, adaptable and can be custom-designed to fit the requirements of specific interventions contemplated in a particular U.S. State or Canadian Province’s family law statutes. For example, in British Columbia, a court may order, under Section 40 and 41 of the Family Law Act, that the target parent (or some suitable third party) shall have guardianship of the child to the exclusion of the alienated parent. As such, the guardian would also have parental responsibility and authority to enroll and place the child or youth in our program under my direction for a period of 9 months to 2 years.
Our retreat is located in a serene and tranquil setting in the heart of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. We offer luxurious lodging and nutritious meals at a large private residence. The Okanagan is a semi-arid desert and a 4-seasons playground. As such, participants at our retreat have the ability to engage in various seasonal outdoor recreational activities with our youth workers, including, but not limited to, swimming, boating, hiking, biking, fishing, snow shoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing. We make it fun, engaging and non-confrontational. And, we do not use a one-size-fits-all approach but tailor our program to meet the needs of each family. In two pilot studies, our program has shown a 95% success rate in reestablishing a relationship between the child(ren) and the alienated parent. It’s the first of its kind in Canada.
There are several primary objectives of our program. One is to assist a family to transition after the court has ordered a change in custody to the rejected parent. Pre-arrangements are made for the alienated child or youth and any alienated siblings to come to our retreat and are offered psychoeducation and various counselling interventions, which may include traumatic incident reduction therapy and EMDR therapy to prepare them to feel safe and make healthy steps towards reunification with the rejected parent at the retreat. The rejected parent arrives not long after but has no immediate contact with his/her child(ren). The rejected parent works separately with a psychologist in preparation for the reunification. To complement the intensive clinical aspects of our program, our youth workers offer many educational, social, cultural and recreational opportunities for children and their rejected parents.
I assign a therapist who begins working with the alienating parent off-site. In some cases, the alienating parent works with a therapist in his or her locale as long as that therapist has successfully completed an intensive training program under my direction and has become certified to be an independent contractor with our organization. In the event that there isn’t a trained and certified therapist in the alienating parent’s locale, then the parent is required to work with one of our trained therapists in the Okanagan or elsewhere in-person or through video-conferencing.
The primary purposes of our program are to restore the child’s relationship with the rejected parent, to maintain healthy relationship between them, and to redevelop some healthy relationships between both parents. Keeping the latter in mind, the third component of our program is aftercare services, which are an important key to obtaining long-term success.
We have an interdisciplinary team consisting of psychologists, counsellors, social workers, senior youth and family workers, junior youth workers, therapy pets and admin staff. Our retreat is staffed around the clock for safety, security, and crisis management. Our team both on- and off-site has been trained by me. As Clinical Director, I personally monitor each case and may have the ability to report back to the court outcomes including progress and any noncompliance issues.
Pamela: Why reunification therapy?
Dr. Reay: More and more parental alienation cases are being heard in court. In severe alienation cases, the judiciary is increasingly aware that reunification therapy must be mandated to help these families and protect the children from further emotional and psychological harm. It’s important to note that traditional therapy has been shown to offer little to no usefulness in these types of cases. Because of the nature of parental alienation, the most promising and effective approach is intensive reunification approaches. And that’s what we do best. One family at a time.
Pamela: Why is it so important to be in this type of environment?
Dr. Reay: Some research studies and other clinical literature suggest that intense work conducted within a very short period of time in a different environmental setting presents an opportunity for the family to engage in a deeper, more meaningful transformative healing process. It’s like an inoculation takes place when each family member chooses to absorb him or herself in intense work for the purpose of healing old scars. And, as previously mentioned, literature also consistently suggests that traditional therapy offers little to no hope for severe cases of alienation. Here’s how I see our intensive reunification program unfold:
“It’s ‘as if’ each family member gets inoculated at the same time for a horrible family disease that’s seriously spread out of control. Each individuals’ inoculation may feel a little uncomfortable at first. However, within a very brief period of time, it provides protection to each person while preventing further harmful parent-parent and parent-child conditions from occurring.”
Pamela: One of the biggest problems is getting the short and long term cooperation of alienators. In severe PAS cases how do you get the alienator to comply with the program? Do court orders help?
Dr. Reay: That’s a great question. You’re absolutely right. One of the biggest problems is getting the short and long term cooperation of the programming parent. It’s important to keep in mind that in severe cases, the alienating parent typically has significant psychopathology or a personality disorder. By the time families are admitted to our program, there usually have been quite a few failed attempts made by the judiciary and mental health professionals to help the alienated family. Various legal remedies and counselling approaches have not been successful. Typically, both the alienating parent and alienated child(ren) or youth(s) have been noncompliant. The alienating parent has acted in various ways to help illustrate that he or she is above the law and has continually engaged in various sabotaging or alienating behaviours.
As such, a lot of groundwork is necessary between the rejected parent’s lawyer, the rejected parent and my team long before the family may be able to participate in the FRRP. In some cases, the alienating parent’s lawyer will also be a part of the groundwork process. I provide the lawyer(s) a lot of written data which can be submitted as affidavits to a judge. I can also provide expert testimony.
The FRRP has high entry admission requirements in order to facilitate high success rates. With these types of severe alienation cases, reunification therapy will not be successful when a child(ren) or youth(s) continue to have direct or indirect contact with the alienating parent or others who have been highly involved in alienating the child(ren) or youth(s). Therefore, as mentioned earlier, the court order must stipulate custody change to the rejected parent and must stipulate that a suspension of direct and indirect contact for an indefinite period of time is necessary between the alienated child(ren) or youth(s) and the alienating parent. In some cases, step-parents or extended family members (for example the alienating parent’s mother and/or father who have also proven to be alienators) may also be court-ordered to participate in our program.
It’s up to the alienator(s) to prove to our collaborative mental health team and the judiciary that he or she is genuinely accountable, made very good progress in therapy and is not at risk of engaging in future sabotaging or alienating behaviours when contact is resumed with the child(ren) or youth(s). I cannot emphasize enough how important these measures are to help ensure program compliance and outcome success amongst all family members involved. The court order also must stipulate the need for both parents to cooperate throughout the duration of the program both on and off-site. Enforcement clauses are a very necessary component of the court order, too. The latter may include a clause for financial penalties, law enforcement, or other penalties or sanctions, especially for non-compliance issues.
The court order needs to also state that the Clinical Director of the Family Reflections Reunification Program is responsible for monitoring and reporting information to the court including progress and non-compliance issues. Therefore, the court is also considered the client and there is no protection of confidentiality between the parties involved (the judge, the assigned therapists and youth workers by the Clinical Director, the parents, the children, and any other court-appointed personnel).
In order for the transition process to go as smoothly as possible for the child, I strongly recommend that another term is included in the court order. That is, the alienating parent needs to tell the child that he or she is safe and okay, even if the parent doesn’t really believe it. Then the alienating parent needs to hand the child to a couple of our team members directly. Although it’s something we don’t encourage, when necessary, the alienating parent may need to hand the children to a sheriff or police officer. My preference is a plain-clothes officer. Then the child is handed over to us. It’s very important that the alienating parent and child say goodbye to each other, but this must be supervised by one or more of our team members.
The court order must also define who will be responsible to pay for all aspects of the reunification program.
Pamela: Do most children feel anxious, scared, frightened, or even traumatized when they are court-ordered to separate from the alienating parent and are forced to participate in your program?
Dr. Reay: It’s not uncommon for a child, youth or any other sibling to feel a number of negative emotions including some you’ve mentioned prior to entering our program or at the beginning of it. As a matter of fact there’s been some opposition to this approach by some mental health and legal professionals who consider such an approach potentially damaging to a child. Based on my experience, that’s truly not the case.
Please feel rest assured that our team provides a number of strategies to help all of our participants feel physically, mentally and emotionally safe throughout the transition process and the reunification process. Many factors are considered and decisions are made during the comprehensive screening and admissions process. We strongly consider these types of matters and take extra precautionary steps to help work things through prior to the start of the program. Our team members are very flexible, open, patient, empathic and understanding. In many instances one or more team members will meet the child(ren) in person or online before entering the program. As a matter of fact, it’s our preference to have a couple of team members meet the child(ren) at the courthouse or some other prearranged spot right after a court-ordered decision has been made for their family to participate in our program.
Here’s something else for readers to hopefully feel some comfort knowing That is, an extremely high percentage of children and youths who start off feeling really anxious and stressed do adjust very, very quickly. They also reconnect with the rejected parent relatively quickly, too. Why? Well, we don’t know the exact reasons. We can only speculate at present. What seems evident is the fact that once the children and youths learn and recognize that the litigation process is over and court-mandated decisions have been made, they tend to quickly realize that the alienation game or charade is over. In doing so, they become very open to engaging in various other psychoeducational components of our on-site program. Then they feel ready to re-establish a relationship with the rejected parent. We believe this may be a major reason why we’ve had an exceptional track record.
Pamela: How important is follow up?
Dr. Reay: A strong continuing care plan supports the reunification process and is an important key to obtaining long-term success. As our on-site program draws to a close, clients work with their counsellor to develop appropriate future plans of action. This ensures the elements of a good recovery plan are in place before the family leaves our retreat. The plan may include individual and/or family therapy by one of our trained therapists located near the family’s home and/or continued involvement via phone or Internet with the on-site therapists at our centre.
Pamela: To be successful doesn’t the whole system have to be “on board” and how do you get support for your program?
Dr. Reay: Yes, there are many layers of players involved in an alienated child’s life. For example, the programming parent, the rejected parent, step-parents, grandparents, friends, judges, lawyers representing both parents, therapists, custody evaluators, forensic experts, parenting coordinators, and sometimes even child protection workers, among others. In order to be successful, it’s important to attempt to get the whole system on board.
For well over three years, I’ve been providing a lot of speaking engagements throughout Canada and parts of the United States for alienated parents and their loved ones. I’ve also provided 2 or 3-day in-person or online training programs for mental health and other social service providers called Effective Clinical Assessments and Therapeutic Interventions for Alienated Children and Their Family Members. Participants who have successfully completed the trainings have the option to become certified and to become independent contractors with our program. On an as needed basis, these certified therapists are provided referrals for counselling various family members in their area. Some will work with the alienating parent in the same locale and others will work with the reunified parent and child through our aftercare counselling services component.
Since opening the FRRP, I’ve been receiving invitations to present at various Canadian Bar Association meetings. My presentation is called Parental Alienation: It’s Not Business As Usual for Therapeutic Interventions and the Court Process. Suggested components of court orders governing reunification therapy, in particular the requirements for participation in the FRRP are provided. I’m also in the midst of putting together an online training program for lawyers and the judiciary that offers continuing education credits. I’ve also had the good fortune to work with a lot family law lawyers, therapists and child custody evaluators throughout the years. They are all well aware of the FRRP and many have already made referrals. Manuscripts are also being submitted to editors of some appropriate peer-reviewed scholarly journals as well as articles are being submitted for inclusion in newsletters of professional mental health regulatory bodies. Additionally, there are a couple of popular online websites that members of the Canadian Bar Association enjoy reading. Articles are being submitted to them.
Over the last couple of years many alienated parents, their loved ones and professionals have signed up for our free online newsletters. Social media has played a large role in spreading the word about our unique program.
We have separate brochures for professionals and alienated parents that can be downloaded from our website at www.familyreflectionsprogram.com.
Pamela: Does the latest issue of DMS 5 give enough qualifications to empower the courts and others to use the description without directly inferring to PAS to help children and families in the throes of PAS in the court system and elsewhere?
Dr. Reay: Yes, although the term parental alienation is not listed as a mental disorder in the DSM-5, the concept of PA is undeniably in the new manual. Clearly, parental alienation is a horrific form of child psychological abuse. Fortunately, Child Psychological Abuse and Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress are two new diagnoses in the DSM-5. Parent-Child Relational Problem now has a discussion in the text of the new 5th edition. Moreover, Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another and delusional symptoms in partner of individual with delusional disorder is the terminology for Shared Psychotic Disorder. Depending on the family situation, each of the above-noted diagnoses can be used to help children and families in the throes of legitimate unjustifiable alienation cases in the mental health and court systems.
Pamela: What can and should the courts be doing to help children and families-is there a hit list of 5 top recommendations?
Dr. Reay: Wow! I can only provide a hit list of 5 top recommendations? That’s not so easy. Okay, here goes! These are the top 5 recommendations that come to mind:
1) Take swift action. The seeds of alienation sprout quickly. These cases must be understood and treated differently than most other types of family law disputes. There should be judicial case management for these types of cases.
2) When allegations of alienation are being made, it’s important to court-order an independent comprehensive family evaluation right away by a mental health professional who is trained and well experienced with high-conflict divorce and parental alienation.
3 ) When allegations of alienation are being made, it’s also important to not court-order a Views of a Child Assessment because it will likely be biased and skewed. The child will likely be manipulated by the favoured parent. A moderate-severely alienated child will likely state that he or she wants to reside with the programming parent. In true alienation cases, the child or adolescent may even state that he or she does not want to have any future contact with the targeted parent. Let’s face it. It’s against the law for a child or adolescent to get tattoos, vote, drive a motor vehicle, consume alcohol, purchase cigarettes, and purchase pesticides, among other things. So why should a child or teenager be able to decide what’s in his or her own best interest when it comes to making very serious decisions about their relationships with both parents, especially when allegations of alienation have been made? A child and teenager’s brain, including executive functioning, does not fully develop until the early twenties.
4) It’s recommended that custody reversal and suspension of direct and indirect contact between the favoured parent and the alienated child should occur in severe alienation cases when all other judicial and mental health remedies have proven futile.
5) Specific, multiple enforcement clauses need to be in court orders, which should include financial penalties and sanctions for noncompliance and other issues. Otherwise too many alienating parents will continue to disregard the law and disregard the need for reunification therapy.
Pamela: Are there future plans to expand the FRRP in Canada and beyond?
Dr. Reay: Yes, there is a future plan to open up other FRRP retreats across Canada and beyond.
Pamela: What can people do to help support your program?
Dr. Reay: Thank you for asking that question, Pamela. For those of you who are interested in helping support our program, please feel free to pass along as much information as possible about it. If you are an alienated parent, please pass your knowledge about our reunification program to your legal representative, therapist, child custody evaluator and so on. Word of mouth, social media, and networking are all very, very helpful. I’m open to invitations for keynote speaking engagements and media and publicity events. Additionally, there are many, many alienated parents who very much want to participate in our family reunification program but do not have the financial means to do so. Donations of any size are very much appreciated.
Pamela: How do families get involved with your new program?
Dr. Reay: Parents, child custody evaluators, parenting coordinators, therapists, judges, lawyers and attorneys are invited to spend time on our website www.familyreflectionsprogram.com to learn more about the FRRP, our team and follow-up services. Other menus on the website include frequently asked questions (FAQ), a photo gallery and career opportunities. Those interested can also contact us via telephone at (250) 276-9467 or toll-free (888) 208-8565. Or, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our screening and admissions procedures.