Counseling children caught in custody battles
Parents often consult a therapist for their children while they are involved in a custody battle. They are concerned about the effect the divorce has on their children, and wanting the best for them they want to offer them a place where they can be listened to. In those situations it is important that I meet as the therapist with both parents. This apparently simple situation becomes more complicated when the parents are not only considering the therapeutic space as a place for their child to speak freely, and to be listened to, but as a place where they can get to settle a score with the other parent of their child. They might for example think that the information the child divulges to the therapist might become useful to support their preferred visitation schedule. Parents might come in with the impression that the therapist is an ‘expert’ who is going to ‘make a recommendation’ to the mediator or court with regards to the safety of the child.
Of course, therapy is confidential and moreover this kind of expert, evaluator position would put the therapist in a dual relationship: the therapist of the child, and an expert evaluator of the safety, well being of the child. Those roles do not mix, and they will jeopardize any genuine therapeutic process. Of course, the therapist is a mandated reporter: whenever there is a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect a report has to be made. In extreme cases, where the agenda of the parent is blinding the care for the child, the child might be encouraged to divulge certain negative things about the other parent to trigger a child abuse report. Of course, therapeutic work with the child becomes very difficult, and will become impossible when the child might believe that his or her words in the therapy session might be used by one of the parents against the other. When the therapeutic work gets complicated with considerations like these it might take a very long time to untangle. Most of the time the parents have only the best interest of the child in mind, and the parents are not always aware of how they unaware might intrude and thwart the child’s therapy. In those cases the therapeutic work can be difficult, but does not have to be impossible. It will be important to meet not only with the child, but also on a regular basis with the parents of the child to help the family move forwards.