Custody Disputes and Distorted Parent-Child Relationships

It is a commonplace in family relationships in custody disputes that parent-child relationships are distorted and often unhealthy. These distortions arise from several sources, including parental insecurity (hence, the common sleeping together), distortions arising from the evaluation process itself, and what I call “competitive parental attention.” It may be covert or overt. It is observed in both parents.  The parents’ basic security operations and self images are quite distorted. People vary in their susceptibility to these pressures. I think there are real limits to individual therapy for children in these situations; at least, I think individual child therapy is adjunctive, at best, and helpful only if the therapist maintains sufficient objectivity to help the child deal with the distorted system they are immersed in. In my view all therapy in these situations has to be “relationship therapy,” it needs to occur in an open system (where all combinations are being addressed simultaneously; hence, the ideal therapy is parent-parent and parent-child therapy, i.e., family therapy. Any dyad in the system runs the risk of becoming a “pocket,” epistemologically and therapeutically cut off from the rest of the system. Individual therapy relationships are most susceptible to distortion. In a situation where the parents do not have face-to-face contact, the risk of distortion increases significantly.  “Pockets” are limited in their view of the system. Its like being in a culvert and you cannot see the landscape beyond. I think there are other pathologies that arise out of pockets, including self-reinforcing factions; we can discuss these later. Pockets have a potentially adverse impact on the therapist’s neutrality and objectivity. Hopefully as the legal situation settles, with help, the family situation normalizes into a standard post-divorce situation. Often, it does not.

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