New-Orleans-blog-4-30-142It’s the busy travel season! Over the past month, I was in five cities (in four time zones) giving seminars on managing high-conflict personalities. First, I was in New Orleans, to present to their new AFCC Chapter there (see photo with organizers). I saw old friends and met many new ones, as we discussed key issues in managing high conflict parents (and an occasional high-conflict professional) in separation and divorce cases. I emphasized recognizing patterns of high-conflict personalities, so that professionals will use different methods to help them – not to diagnose them.

I encouraged having a “private working theory” which includes not trying to force insights on high-conflict people (HCPs) – just forgedaboudit! – because this just creates an unnecessary tug of war that frustrates the client and the professional. Instead, I gave four key skills to use, which focus on future behavior and decision-making: Connecting with Empathy, Attention and Respect; Analyzing Alternatives (making proposals, etc.); Responding to Misinformation or hostile emails (BIFF Responses); and Setting Limits. Of course, I got in some New Orleans jazz, gumbo and scenery – and I look forward to the AFCC International conference there in 2015!

Next, I spoke at a children’s hospital and gave them similar tools. The staff especially liked the BIFF Response method for dealing with angry emails and letters. We practiced responding to parents in conflict over their child’s treatment. Most people don’t realize that working with children in any setting these days involves dealing with separated and divorced parents, some of whom remain extremely angry at each other and carry out their conflicts into the children’s healthcare treatment, education, recreation and other activities. I was very pleased to work with such dedicated professionals who are willing to work with ill children – and their high-conflict parents.

Then, on to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. There I spoke to the Alberta Family Mediation Society and their new AFCC Chapter, for a combined day and a half of presentations on (you guessed it) high-conflict personalities in separation and divorce. I gave them the same tips and tools I gave the New Orleans AFCC chapter, as well as more specific mediation techniques for managing high-conflict people. I emphasized teaching mediation clients simple skills to use and reinforcing those throughout the process: asking the mediator questions, making their own agenda, making proposals, asking questions about proposals and making decisions – a method I am now teaching as “New Ways for Mediation.” I especially enjoyed seeing many friends in Alberta, including those running the New Ways for Families programs in Calgary and nearby Medicine Hat. These programs are thriving at teaching parents new skills to help them make their own decisions out of court. We hope to have research results published next year from three years of experience, as well as expanding into other cities in Alberta.

Next Blog: On to Pennsylvania and Ohio


Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator, therapist and the President of the High Conflict Institute based in San Diego. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families method and the New Ways for Mediation method, as well as the author of several books including The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. This year he is working on materials for the New Ways for Work method of coaching potentially high-conflict employees – or anyone – to use the same “new ways” skills for greater success in the workplace. For books, video training and free articles, visit us at


© 2014 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD, CFLS
Family systems theory has been around for decades, but there is little discussion of it today. Yet understanding how family systems work can help professionals and parents going through separation and divorce. In this article, I explain some of the basics, some of what happens to family systems in divorce and how to truly help families in divorce. I also point out why the adversarial process of family courts successfully managed family conflicts in the past, but is guaranteed to fail today’s high-conflict family systems (regardless of procedural changes within the adversarial structure) – whereas skillful family mediation and other non-adversarial processes can succeed.
Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory describes families as operating like the solar system: each member of the family has a “pull” on every other member of the family – like gravity pulls planets towards each other and other forces push them away, so that they stay in balance spinning around each other in a predictable orbit. Family systems have many common characteristics, including the following:

They are powerful: Family systems are a powerful source of support. You can take them for granted. Family members will consistently act in predictable ways, so you don’t have to guess each day. You can focus on what your tasks are and respond fairly automatically to each other. In this regard, a family system is like a personality – very predictable, so that you know what you can get from whom, when and where without putting a lot of energy into thinking about it. Family systems have built houses, companies (family businesses are everywhere) and nations (dynasties). For example, most successful Olympic athletes, musicians and actors had strong family support – from a very young age. The family system organized itself around their success.

They seek stability: A family system develops standard ways of doing things. The whole family participates in enforcing its code of conduct, values and roles people play in it. Even young children tell each other, their parents and their toys how they should or shouldn’t behave, which helps them learn the rules of the family system and follow them. Family secrets are kept, so that the family system is not thrown off balance. The more dysfunctional the family, the more rigid the roles to help keep it stable, the more extreme behavior and the more secrets to keep it as stable as possible. Everyone is part of the family system – no member is an “island.”

They create roles: In every family system, everyone develops a role. One member talks a lot and another may be quiet. One person is highly competent at one skill and another is good at something else. In traditional family systems, especially in rural societies, the roles have been very clear-cut. In modern times, roles are more flexible and may overlap, as family members interact with the larger society. This can cause instability, so that the family may spend more time arguing over roles or members may simply leave the family system and have little or no contact.

They are part of larger social systems: Family systems, like “nuclear families” (two parents and their child or children), are part of larger extended families, which are part of communities, which are part of regional cultures read full article here


Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator and clinical social worker, and the President of the High Conflict Institute. He is the author of several books including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress and Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He is also the developer of the New Ways for Families method of teaching skills to family systems (both parents and the children) and New Ways for Mediation for managing potentially high-conflict families. His website is

We believe in supporting good causes and our friends. Our friends at PDAN have a wonderful fund raiser going and we’d love to help as much as possible.


Dear friends,  

For the past month, PDAN has been working on helping children with emotional challenges living in foster care in the US.  We received a generous grant from a healthcare company to assist us with this. The project is called “A Book for Alex”. Our goal is to give free books to foster care centers, for children who may have a predisposition to personality disorders. Our primary focus is the needs of children having traits of attention deficit and/or hyperactivity. In general PDAN is targeting all children with higher risk of developing emotioImagenal dysregulation or a personality disorder in the future, due to biological or environmental factors. 
Based on recent data, over 22,500 children aged 6-12 with serious emotional problems live in foster care institutions in 10 states: Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania. (Data from Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) 2012 by the US Department of Health, Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. These 10 states are the states with a higher percentage of children living in foster care with serious emotional problems.)

Thanks to the grant we received, we’ll be able to address the needs of just over 2,000 children. Our next goal is to find the funds to give away 5,000 books. This would still be only 1 book for about 5 children in need. We have develop a good system to reach children institutions. We would love to have the opportunity to apply our team’s efforts to a larger number of foster care centers, special needs schools and children or family shelters 

Cost of this project: Each book cost us after printing, packaging and distribution about $4.25 per book. With $21,250 in donations, we will have the funds needed to distribute 5,000 books to children in USA. We would appreciate so much if you would take a few minutes to make a donation for these children in needs. If anyone in your family has experienced serious emotional problems, you know the deep impact this condition has on the lives of individuals and families. Please help us help these children!
Thank you for your support, 
The PDAN Family


PDAN is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of personality disorders, mitigating the impact of personality disorders on relationships, and preventing the development of personality disorders in children.

By Annette T. Burns, Attorney at Law

It seems that every time a child rejects a parent, or is even somewhat reluctant to spend time with one parent, or makes it obvious that he prefers one parent over the other, parental alienation is alleged.

Being rejected by one’s child has to be devastating. I can imagine why a parent would find comfort in seeking an explanation for the rejection that has little to do with that parent or the child. Finding an explanation in an outside source is self-protection.

It’s not so simple. A child rejecting a parent, even if the child also favors the other parent, does not by itself equal parental alienation. To fall within most professional definitions of “parental alienation”, a child must irrationally reject a parent primarily as the result of negative influence of the other parent. Unfortunately too many people, including attorneys, forget those italicized words. To some, if a child rejects a parent, parental alienation is presumed, and the other parent MUST be to blame.

Professionals working with high conflict couples must remember that a child’s rejection of a parent is NOT prima facie evidence of parental alienation, and remember to look for all three of the elements of parental alienation before jumping to conclusions.

Richard Warshak notes that in the continuum of parental alienation, some (professionals, researchers, parents) will absolutely deny the possibility that a child could be irrationally alienated from a parent. If a child is alienated, then by definition there must be a rational reason. See Bringing Sense to Parental Alienation: A Look at the Disputes and the Evidence. [Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 37 No. 2, Summer 2003].

Others might acknowledge that irrational alienation might occur, but that this is a normal occurrence, and that irrational alienation can exist entirely separate and apart from the influence of the favored parent.

Yet others will argue that a child’s alignment with one parent over the other is a natural by-product of a divorce, or the result of the child’s developmental needs.

Let’s start with the basic requirements of parental alienation (according to Warshak):

  • A child is rejecting a parent
  • The rejection is irrational
  • The rejection is primarily or at least partially due to negative influence from the other parent.

If a situation has only one or two of these factors, it’s likely not parental alienation.

What is irrational? According to Warshak, it’s extreme animosity toward or fear or a parent that is not reasonable or consistent with the history of that relationship.

There are at least two ends to the alienation spectrum. As mentioned above, to some there is no such thing as irrational alienation, so if a child rejects a parent, there MUST be a good reason, and therefore all rejected parents deserve what they get. The other end is the extreme that if a child rejects a parent, it MUST be the fault of the favored parent’s negative campaign.

Do I believe that parental alienation exists? Of course. But when I review a situation where a child is rejecting a parent, I don’t automatically jump to either conclusion — I don’t automatically assume that rejected parent did something to deserve it, and I also don’t automatically assume that the favored parent caused it. I focus on the child; his age and developmental stage; his needs; his social, school and personal life. I am fortunate, as I’m not a mental health professional, that I don’t have to make diagnoses or assign labels. I just have to deal with what’s there. Unfortunately, the parents and attorneys are often so concerned with assigning blame and placing labels that they lose sight of the child and his needs.

When you think about it, only the first factor —- the existence of the alienation itself—is really important when it comes to the child. The child doesn’t care if his alienation is rational or not; he experiences it either way. Factors #2 and #3 are important only for treatment purposes. Therapy for the child will take different directions depending on whether the alienation is rational or not. If the rejection of a parent is based on rational reactions to experiences that the child has had with that parent, the child’ therapy will focus on strategies to deal with the parent’s shortcomings or issues (such as a parent’s personality disorder, different parenting styles, or lack of parenting skills). If the estrangement is based on irrational justification, the child’s therapy can focus on returning the child to a more realistic and accepting view of the estranged parent.

As pointed out by Johnston, the term “parental alienation” focuses on the parent (and fault) rather than on the child. A more helpful and appropriate term, according to Johnson, might be “alienated child”. Children of Divorce Who Reject a Parent and Refuse Visitation: Recent Research and Social Policy Implications for the Alienated Child [Family Law Quarterly, Vol 38, No. 4, Winter 2005] A change in terminology might allow the court system and professionals who are trying to help the family focus on the child rather than blame.


About Unhooked Books
Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.

billeddyby Bill Eddy

Movie review Part 1

[I am writing this movie review “Part 1” before I have seen the movie Divorce Corp which will be released on Jan. 10, 2014. I have just seen some trailers and received some inside tips.]

I was pleased – but also concerned – when I learned that a movie about Family Court reform was coming out. Why pleased? Because I’m a family lawyer and family counselor who practices Divorce Mediation. I want everyone to know that Divorce Mediation is a better way to make divorce decisions – for most people. Not because Family Court is evil, but because it has an adversarial structure which is designed around one party “losing” and the other party “winning.” This may be good for deciding criminal guilt, business disputes and some public policies, but not good for working out parenting relationships and household finances after a breakup. I had hopes that this movie would help point this out.

I represented clients in Family Court for 15 years and I also give seminars to family law judges for the National Judicial College. I know that most judges and family lawyers try to overcome the adversarial structure to truly help families make good decisions out of court, or good decisions in court – especially to help the children of parents in conflict. I also know that about 80% of people getting divorced never go to court and settle their divorces or parenting disputes with out-of-court agreements – such as in Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce – based on family laws and guidelines that have been well-established over the past 40 years.

For this reason – the inability to resolve issues based on established standards – and because of my mental health training, I know that one or both parties in many (most?) Family Court cases today have a mental health issue that is unrecognized – such as a personality disorder, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, depression – disorders which are often characterized by denial and blaming others. This reflects the growth of these problems in the larger society today. These are not problems unique to Family Court, but Family Courts need to recognize them.

Sadly, Family Courts provide a forum for people with such problems today (in contrast to when I began practicing law), especially because family lawyers, judges and other professionals are not trained in identifying mental health issues, get stuck arguing about them out of ignorance and there are few mental health resources for treating them even if they were properly identified. Family courts were never designed to diagnose and treat mental health issues, and the adversarial process is guaranteed to fail at it. Reforms need to involve more mental health training for professionals and more conflict resolution skills for clients to help them make decisions out of court in non-adversarial settings.

Why am I concerned about the movie? Because I have been informed that Divorce Corp does not focus on the structure of court, but focuses on a more shrill “all-or-none” view of family court, family lawyers and other professionals. By seeming to claim that Family Court judges think they are God (a few, but not most), that family lawyers are all greedy (some, but not most) and that most allegations of abuse are false (many are but many aren’t – but the adversarial process makes it harder to figure these out), this movie is likely to create a lot of noise and anger, but very little useful dialog and reform. By making it personal and using “all-or-none” thinking – rather than talking about the mental health issues which dominate today’s family court hearings – it misses a great opportunity to promote useful reforms.

[I’ll talk about the reforms that I believe are needed, after I see the movie – in Movie Review Part 2 next week.]


Bill Eddy is a lawyer (Certified Family Law Specialist), a child and family therapist (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center. He is the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides training worldwide in managing “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. He is the author of several books, including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress.

About Unhooked Books
Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.

Coping with the Holidays

December 13, 2013



Stress can throw anyone off-kilter. But when you have a mental illness, you might be extra vulnerable. “The demands, pressures and expectations of the holidays can be felt more intensely by people with mental illness,” according to Darlene Mininni, PhD, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit, who works privately with individuals and speaks nationally on topics related to emotional health and well-being.

“Having a mental illness is the same as having any chronic illness,” said Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and founder of Explore What’s Next, a comprehensive psychotherapy practice. So it helps to have a plan and take good care of yourself.

Here are nine tips for coping with the holidays.

1. Make yourself a priority.

During the holidays, as we’re hosting, shopping, cooking, cleaning, attending get-togethers and checking off other tasks on our to-do lists, self-care often takes a backseat. But “your health comes first,” said Dr. Aletta, who’s also a Psych Central contributor.

This also means maintaining your routine as much as possible. “Make sure you get the sleep you need and keep up any activities that make you feel good such as exercise or time with friends,” Dr. Mininni said.

2. Avoid feeling guilty.

During the holiday season, many of us want to be many things to our loved ones. And we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So we put pressure on ourselves along with a hefty side of stress-inducing guilt.

Remind yourself that pleasing everyone is unrealistic. “Set aside the guilt, push the pause button on it or throw it out completely if you can. Put it on a shelf, in a box, labeled ‘I will talk about this later with my therapist,’” Dr. Aletta said.

3. Keep connected.

If you aren’t feeling well, you might be tempted to isolate yourself. But this will just make you feel worse, Dr. Mininni said. “If you’re not in the holiday mood, consider spending time with a friend or calling a person who cares about you. Connecting with just one person can make you 10 times less likely to get depressed,” she said.

4. Tune into your feelings—and be honest.

You may love your family very much. But if you’re honest with yourself, you might realize that being with them also can be stressful. Coming to this realization, while uncomfortable, will help you figure out better ways to cope, Dr. Aletta said.

5. Identify what you really want to do.

For instance, you might want to spend the entire day with your family or just go for dessert, Dr. Aletta said. “Once being with [your family] is a choice instead of a gun-to-your-head obligation maybe you can relax a bit.”

6. Plan a timeout when stress strikes.

Dr. Aletta encouraged readers to give themselves permission to leave a stressful situation. Your “strategic retreat” may be anything from walking the dog to getting tea at a café to listening to soothing music to having a good cry, she said. Then decide whether the healthier choice is to return to the get-together or go home.

7. Buddy up.

“Have a confidant close by or on speed dial: a friend, cousin, sister or niece who ‘gets it,’” Dr. Aletta said. In fact, “She may need your help to get through as much as you need hers,” she added.

8. Avoid alcohol.

Alcohol can interfere with medication and exacerbate symptoms. It also might spark an altercation or two. “You do not want to be disinhibited when there is even one person in the room who can hit your buttons with an emotional Taser,” Dr. Aletta said. On a similar note, she suggested that readers avoid confronting people in general.

9. Laugh—a lot.

“See the humor wherever and whenever you can,” Dr. Aletta said. That’s because humor heals. (If you’d like some proof, Therese Borchard’s piece on humor is a must-read.)

About Unhooked Books
Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.

20 Questions for Thanksgiving

November 21, 2013

With Thanksgiving upon us, ask yourself not only “what” but “why” and for “whom” you are grateful.

By Karen Horneffer-Ginter, Ph.D.

It can be challenging to create rich and meaningful family conversations about gratitude. I know I’ve felt disappointed when my “What do you feel thankful for?” questions are met with quick, predictable responses that bring the conversation to a close soon after it’s begun. Last Thanksgiving season, I took a different approach by coming up with 20 gratitude questions to help enliven our sharing.

Feel free to borrow these or come up with your own. You can even copy the questions onto small pieces of paper and invite family members to each choose one for everyone to answer.

May these questions help to spark the spirit of Thanksgiving!

1) What teacher are you most thankful for and why? What did you learn from him or her?
2) What’s the season you’re most thankful for, and what’s your favorite part of each season?
3) What electronic device are you most grateful for, and what does it add to your life?
4) What musician or type of music are you most thankful for?
5) What are you most grateful for that brings beauty to your daily life?
6) What form of exercise or physical activity are you most thankful for?
7) What foods are you most thankful for?
8) What local store or restaurant are you most grateful for? How does it contribute to your quality of life?
9) What book are you most grateful for and why?
10) What act of kindness has made the greatest difference in your life?
11) What challenging experience has ended up changing your life for the better?
12) What form of art are you most thankful for: music, acting, writing, painting, drawing or something else?
13) What place do you feel most grateful for and why?
14) Name three days in your life that you feel especially grateful for.
15) What color do you feel most thankful for — is there a color that you can’t imagine living without?
16) Is there a personal limitation or flaw that you’ve come to appreciate?
17) What vacation are you most grateful for?
18) What philanthropic cause or organization do you feel thankful for?
19) What product do you use on a daily basis that you most appreciate?
20) What, from this year, do you feel most grateful for?

Originally posted on

About Unhooked Books
Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.