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WOMEN IN MIND: Building Resilient Parents: Clinical intervention strategies to develop child-focused parenting after divorce
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WOMEN IN MIND: Building Resilient Parents: Clinical intervention strategies to develop child-focused parenting after divorce

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Presented by Dr. Julie Gowthorpe at our annual Women in Mind conference. …

Presented by Dr. Julie Gowthorpe at our annual Women in Mind conference.

Dr. Gowthorpe draws from her extensive clinical experience as a practicing psychotherapist in the area of high conflict divorced parenting issues to bring to an interactive presentation. Drawing from her new expertly written plan for
conquering the divorced parenting relationship, Dr. Gowthorpe offers key clinical tips and
strategies to support clients through challenges of the divorced parenting relationship.


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  • 1. Building Resilient Parents: Clinical intervention strategies to develop child-focused parenting after divorce NOVEMBER 15, 2013 Dr. Julie Gowthorpe, R.S.W.
  • 2. The Words of Parents “It’s hell – my ex is out to get me. She doesn’t want me to have time with the kids, and she has a lawyer from hell that hates men & wants every cent that I’ve worked for.” Jim, 45 year old airline pilot “I don’t get it. We used to figure things out. He was never the best husband but I’ve always said he was a great dad. What happened? He’s so angry with me that he’s forgotten how to parent.” Melissa, 35 year old government employee
  • 3. Who are the parents we are talking about?  While most parents are able to work through their negative feelings associated with divorce to establish healthy interpersonal relationships with the other parent, approximately one quarter to one third experience difficulty with this process (Bacon & McKenzie, 2004)  10% of separated parents never work through their feelings to the extent necessary to establish healthy interactions with their former partners in their postmarital relationships (Bacon & McKenzie, 2004; Lamb, Sternberg, & Thompson, 1997)
  • 4. Key Question How can clinicians best support healthy, child-focused parenting throughout and following the divorce process?
  • 5. Presenting Client Issues Stress and anxiety Negative financial consequences Mental health stressors Dissatisfaction in the Post-Divorce Parenting Relationship
  • 6. Three Key Strategies to Assist Parents Post-Separation  knowledge-development with clients about separation and divorce (psychoeducational)  therapeutic empathy which comes with the therapist having competent understanding about the complexity of the divorce experience in North America while not getting caught in the client’s stuck points  Resilience-building to assist clients in moving forward
  • 7. Key Strategy #1 KNOWLEDGE DEVELOPMENT
  • 8. Typical Symptoms of Divorce Stress Lack of Self-regulation Emotional Turbulence Financial Stressors Grief and Loss Symptoms from A Toxic Family Court System
  • 9. Core Clinical Practice Beliefs for Effective Intervention  Parental Happiness Matters  Stable, Content Parents Support Children’s Post-Divorce Functioning  The Post-Divorce Parenting Relationship is Highly Complex  Divorce is a transitional process rather than a single event  Good Parenting after divorce requires an ability to selfregulate and shield children from anger in the parenting relationship  Resilience Building is Key to Healthy Post-Divorce Parenting
  • 10. …an Individual within a System Sociocultural Level Social Network Family Individual Biology
  • 11. The Divorced Parent Dyad is A Complex Relationship because…  Patterns of interaction between divorced spouses may aim to meet old marital needs (such as the need for emotional closeness; Johnson, 1996);  Transitioning from parenting as a couple to parenting without the support of the couple relationship is challenging  The role of individual pathology affects the post-divorce dynamic (Ehrenberg et. al., 1996; Silver & Silver, 2008).
  • 12. A Relationship that Affects Parenting  Research has clearly identified the negative outcomes for parents and children when these relationships are filled with animosity, conflict and dissatisfaction (Brownstone, 2009; Davies, Cummings & Winter, 2004; Garber, 2004; Jenkins, Park, & Peterson-Badali, 1997; Johnston & Roseby, 1997; Kelly, 2005; Kelly & Emery, 2003; Rogers, 2004).
  • 13. Why the Parenting Relationship Matters  Parental adjustment influences child adjustment (Feeney & Monin, 2008; Garber, 2004; Kelly, 2005; Kelly & Emery, 2003)  Cooperation between parents associated with feeling more supported in parental roles (Camara & Resnick, 1989) and increased satisfaction (Cohen & Finzi-Dottan, 2005)  Cooperative parenting requires mutual respect, support and healthy patterns of communication (Macie & Stolberg)
  • 14. Divorce and Children  Not all children are harmed by divorce  Leaders in the children and divorce literature debate the consequences of divorce for children (Hetherington and Kelly, 2004; Wallerstein and Lewis, 2004)  Factors affecting child adjustment have been identified in the literature
  • 15. Key Strategy #2 Balancing Therapeutic Empathy with Stuck Points
  • 16. “A useful intervention is one that makes a client feel deeply understood, fosters a sense of connection and hope and contributes to the (client’s) higher functioning”
  • 17. Clinical Considerations Continued Attribution plays a role in the approach to problem-solving and overall happiness The availability or absence of supportive resources and the time at which the resource is accessed also play a role
  • 18. Key Strategy #3 Build Resilience
  • 19. What Does Resilience Mean in the Context of Parenting After Divorce?
  • 20. Resilience is a two-dimensional construct that refers to exposure to adversity (i.e., risk) plus a positive adjustment outcome (Levine, 2009; Luthar & Cicchetti, 2000; Patterson, 2002 Rutter, 1987).
  • 21. Specific Clinical Considerations for Resilience Building After Parental Separation The post-divorce parenting relationship is a unique dyad not free from the dynamics of the former couple relationship Men and women experience the post-divorce parenting relationship differently
  • 22. Identifying Risk and Protective Factors Properties Risk Friends and Family Protective X Change in Lifestyle Financial Issues Counselling Negative Feelings Pre-separation Dynamics Mediation Lawyers and Judges Quick Resolution High Conflict Former Spouse’s Parenting Ability X X X X X X X X X X X Former Spouse’s Willingness to Meet Financial Obligations X X Cooperation Confidence in Self as a Parent X X X X X X X
  • 23. How do we know when a solution has been reached? Self-care routine as a priority Improved self-regulation Demonstrated ability to disengage from conflict
  • 24. Clinically Supporting Disengagement from Post Divorce Conflict Reducing Repetitive Thoughts (Rumination and Worry) Increasing Self Regulation through emphasis on how/action rather than why/feelings Child-Focused – Common Ground Thinking and Action Plan
  • 25. Coaching New Behaviours Show restraint because it is in your interest to do so Don’t take it personally My happiness in not part of the divorce settlement
  • 26. Building Empowerment Self-attribution Shifting from “other” Action focused self-care
  • 27. Addressing “Stuck Points” Identify Avoidant Behaviours Challenge Thinking Patterns Challenge Belief Systems Resolve shame and guilt
  • 28. Happiness and Contentment After Divorce Sense of purpose Focus on children Ability to form new, healthy relationships Emotional Self-Regulation
  • 29. Practice Exercise
  • 30. Wrap Up  What factors or strategies may assist the client in improving self-regulation?  How might functioning? resilience-building assist in improved  What strategies would you implement based upon your current understanding of transitioning from marriage through divorce?  What obstacles to child-focused parenting surfaced during exercise?  How would you address these based upon the core practice beliefs outlined earlier?
  • 31. Clinical Intervention Tips  goals should consider what would make things better for the client rather than emphasizing an improved relationship with the former spouse.  support clients in disengaging from the conflict of a dysfunctional relationship with a former partner  encourage self-attribution, empowerment and resiliencebuilding to assist in this process