Reunification Therapy: What Is It?
By Jennifer Shivey MA, LPC, RPT-S
The term “Reunification Therapy” gets thrown around a lot, and it’s one that is commonly misunderstood. Here’s where I think the confusion lies: Reunification Therapy is not so much a phrase that’s originated within the mental health community. It’s a term that comes from the legal community and family courts. As therapists, we are cautioned and warned in every which way not to practice outside of our scope. When there is a new treatment modality or procedure that we want to be able to use, we seek out a workshop, certification program or other coursework to ensure that we know what we are doing! There’s not really a certification or any specific training for Reunification Therapy, so when we are asked if we provide that service many of us answer “no.” Reunification Therapy typically comes with court involvement, which is also tricky for therapists, so we also tend to decline as we don’t know what we might be getting into, and don’t want to practice outside of our scope.
Here’s the thing that we as therapists need to understand: What is called Reunification Therapy in the legal world is called Family Therapy in ours. The difference is that the specific focus of the Family Therapy is to reunify the parties, for the most part a parent and their child(ren). So to accomplish this goal we need to have training in family therapy. We also need to know how to work with children, and if they are young we should be utilizing Family Play Therapy (yes, I know that’s my own bias but I stand by it!). We need to have some basic knowledge of the court system, who a GAL is, who a Caseworker is, how does confidentiality work, etc.
The times that I have done Reunification Therapy the only court involvement I had was communicating with a GAL and/or Caseworker, and providing a clinical summary of our work together. The clinical summary should include things such as:
Are the parties attending sessions and participating meaningfully?
Are there any concerns about safety or the child(ren)’s welfare?
Is the parent displaying adequate parenting skills?
What goals were accomplished? Which ones need work?
What can support the family moving forward?
You want to make sure your paperwork is in order. This is not a scenario where you want to bend the rules - straight by the book, no exceptions! As always, every case is different, and if you have concerns you should always consult with an attorney about specifics. Reunification Therapy shouldn’t be as intimidating as it sounds. At the end of the day you are helping a family to work out their differences so they can reconnect. All in a day’s work for us, right?