My most recent seminars were in Burlington, Ontario, on Lake Ontario. The summer weather couldn’t be better and I really enjoyed walking along their boardwalk in the evenings.

Day One focused on “Managing High Conflict Clients: Ethics and Risk Management.” We had over 80 people from a wide variety of professions: domestic violence program counselors, therapists, social workers, child welfare, government agencies, court-related staff, human resources, etc. I have found that this program really appeals to a broad range of professionals, because nowadays we all are facing more “high-conflict” clients. Handling them ethically involves treating them with respect and setting limits with empathy, no matter how awful they may treat us. We have learned that there is no conflict between using Empathy, Attention and Respect (EAR statements) AND having clear boundaries, limits and responsibility on the client’s shoulders. These are concepts that most people get backwards in the larger culture, as most people over-react, by becoming defensive and blaming the client. The skills we have developed at High Conflict Institute really do seem to work and I was glad to share them with this group.

Day Two focused on the “New Ways for Families” method that we have developed for family court systems, therapists and counseling agencies. In many ways this is also a counter-intuitive method for professionals. Instead of “counseling” the client by discussing their feelings and guiding them toward solutions, this method teaches them skills for managing their own feelings and building their own solutions. It is a significant shift for counselors, but we have found that those who train in this method and really practice it are successful with some of the most difficult clients. But it is important to realize that this is not a personality change method, but rather a set of skills that potentially high-conflict parents can learn to use when guided by professionals. They often do not practice these skills unless their professionals provide structures within which to use them. One of the common fallacies about high-conflict people is that they could self-manage themselves, but just choose not to. We believe that they really lack the skills of self-management (especially when they are upset) and so we teach them those skills and provide structures for them to succeed.

For those interested in the New Ways for Families method, we are looking at expanding its use in 2013 to more court systems and more counseling agencies and individual counselors. Please see our website for this method: www.NewWays4Families.com. It’s an integrated method which all professionals can use in managing potentially difficult clients and helping their children, whether involved in court or any family decisions.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It’s All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don’t Alienate the Kids! He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: www.highconflictinstitute.com

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ImageThe 49th Annual Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Conference (AFCC) was another fantastic opportunity for Judges, Lawyers, Psychologists and Social Workers to get together to find clues about unraveling the puzzle of high conflict divorces. With this year’s theme “Attachment, Brain Science and Children of Divorce” a lot of research was presented pertaining to attachment.

Two things struck me from the conference. The first point was how lucky AFCC members are to have a forum for learning about the most up-to-date research and practices. The second point was despite all the work being done, that we have only begun to understand the complex dynamics of high conflict divorce and that research is desperately needed pertaining to interventions with high conflict families.

Unfortunately, even the best laboratory research may not generalize to the “real world” and people are so complex that no two families are alike.

My view of families is that they are stuck in a brick outhouse, and a ripe one at that. To explain this, each “brick” is a separate problem, whether the parents own issues from before the relationship, problems in the relationship, communication or problem solving weaknesses, extended family interference, mental illness, or a multitude of other possibilities. Solving issues in such high conflict families involves chipping away at one brick at a time while also teaching the family new skills and processes.

As professionals, we are obliged to keep up with the best possible knowledge of the day, while using “clinical judgment”, which is more of an art than a science, to meet the unique needs of each family we work with. The vast number of excellent programs emerging for working with high conflict divorces is both reassuring and overwhelming. Each program is a tool for the professional’s tool belt, and no one thing is, or ever will be, a cookie cutter solution for such families. This is one area where we do not have to worry about being replaced in the foreseeable future by computers and videos.

Even though professionals in the midst of divorce proceedings appear adversarial, including the mental health professionals at times, events such as the AFCC conference show that we are all on the same team – the one aimed and helping kids be their best.

About our Guest Blogger

ImageStephen Carter, Ph.D., is a Registered Psychologist based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, specializing in counseling and assessments with adolescents and children, and assessments and interventions with divorcing families. He is the author of Family Restructuring Therapy, which is available for sale via unhookedbooks.com  This book is a “how to” manual for working with families in separation and divorce using an active, directive therapeutic process called Family Restructuring Therapy. This philosophy and effective process works well for the “normal” divorced family who need to learn new practices and patterns, and for the “high-conflict” family whose behavior patterns have become so maladaptive that the children’s well-being is at risk.

A valuable resource for mental health professionals, and also for lawyers and the Court when trying to decide what can be done with challenging parenting battles. It is clearly not a passive approach to counseling. If you’re tired of witnessing the damage that conflict has on children and want to engage in the highly satisfying work of helping parents communicate effectively and seeing children relieved of the burden of picking sides, devour this book and get to work!

To learn more about Dr. Carter, or to explore family counseling options, please visit www.familyrestructuring.ca or send him an email at carter@chvbv.ca.