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What You Need to Know About Reunification Therapy

by | Abuse Literacy

What You Need to Know About Reunification Therapy

Google “Reunification Therapy” and you’ll see corruption at work – because Reunification Therapy is anything but healthy and safe.

Tina Swithin from One Mom’s Battle is on the BTR.ORG Podcast to tell you what you need to know about Reunification Therapy. Tune in and read the full transcript below for more.

Reunification Therapy Disempowers Children

Therapy should, first and foremost, empower children. Reunification therapy does the exact opposite:

“[The abused children] are told that nothing in the past matters. We are only focused on here and now and future movement. And then when the kids bring up, but he did this to me or this, they redirect them back to present day. The past does not matter. And we are talking about children who have been sexually abused.”

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

Reunification Therapy is Traumatizing

“In cases where there is abuse, this is further traumatizing these children. When these children are not complying or going along with the program, then the extreme situation would be for the reunification therapist to stamp off on the case and recommend reunification camp. That’s a very extreme and further traumatizing direction that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m haunted by the stories that I hear.”

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

Children who are subjected to reunification therapy are re-abused by the “professionals” who are trying to gaslight them into blaming their protective parent for the negative feelings they have for the abuser.

How Do Reunification Therapies and Camps Traumatize Children?

Not only are the children traumatized by the gaslighting itself, but children are:

  • Often forced into participation against their will.
  • Accused of lying about the abuse.
  • Forced to spend time with their abuser.
  • Isolated from their protective/preferred parent.

“It is traumatizing for these kids – they are cut off from all contact with their preferred parent.”

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

Abusers Weaponize Reunification Therapy

Considering how harmful Reunification Therapy is, how can it possibly exist? 

It’s a “lucrative cottage industry” that abusers have weaponized in order to gain access to their child victims while causing inexpressible pain to the protective parent.

And those in the reunification industry continue to push for it because it lines their pockets.

“[Reunification therapy] is a lucrative cottage industry.

And so when the judge’s calendars are overbooked and people are being forced through this system like cattle, and the judges are in this state of overwhelm, they almost have, I call it the a la carte menu on their desk: oh great, I can push this case off on this person who has the ability to dive in and investigate what’s going on. But that person is financially motivated to label a parent as alienator.”

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

If you are in experiencing the trauma of the family court system, please attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today – you are not alone and you do not have to endure this on your own. We love you, we believe you.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have a super special guest on today’s episode. It’s Tina Swithin and so many of you are familiar with her. She is the author of Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle, one of the best selling divorce books of all time. She has also authored three additional books in the Divorcing A Narcissist series: Advice From the Battlefield, The Narc Decoder, and Rebuilding After the Storm. Tina is an internationally recognized blogger, divorce coach, and champion of children’s rights in the family court system. Tina endured a 10-year family court battle representing herself and, against all odds, was successful in protecting her children. Tina works to raise awareness of the shortcomings and failures of the family court system while educating the public on post-separation abuse and narcissistic abuse. Tina is remarried and resides in San Louis Obispo, California with her husband and two teenage daughters. Welcome Tina.

Tina (03:54):
Thank you so much. Happy to be here. Happy to connect.

What Are Reunification Camps & Reunification Therapy?

Anne (03:58):
We had the privilege of meeting in person in a protest that was happening in Utah about family court and how it does not protect children. So that was really exciting. You may have seen us do an Instagram Live during that time and I was so happy to meet her, so I wanted Tina to come to talk about a few issues related to family court and how in most states for a protective parent who is seeking a divorce from an abusive parent, that protective parent really has a very hard time protecting her children.
On my podcast, because our audience is women who have been abused by men, I speak in gender segregated ways simply because that is our audience. But I do want to recognize that the women can be abusive as well. However, for our listeners, since they’re all women victims of male abusers, that’s why I talk like this. Should we start with reunification camps and maybe reunification therapy?

Tina (05:03):
Yes, I think that’s a good place to dive in and it’s a really hot topic right now. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to meet you in real life at the protest in Utah and it’s a big topic and it’s a really important one. It’s something that has infiltrated the family court system and is definitely not in a child’s best interest.

When Protective Mothers Can’t Protect Their Children

Anne (05:27):
So I have a friend who’s a pediatrician and sometimes she refers cases that she sees in her pediatric office to DCFS, which is Division of Child and Family Services here in Utah. She’s never had a case in Utah come back as supported. Every time she reports child abuse in the state of Utah, it comes back as unsupported. The reason it comes back as unsupported is because usually it’s the safe parent, like a safe mom that brings the child into the pediatrician’s office and that it happened at an ex-husband’s home or a scenario where they’re separated. When DCFS goes to talk to the man who is accused of the abuse, as long as he has a reason, as long as he says, ‘Oh no, that’s not what happened. What happened was I was trying to help her with her homework.’ or ‘I was trying to explain to him how to do this.’ or ‘I’m so sorry I lost my temper, but really I am a good dad.’

(06:36):
As long as he can explain it and he doesn’t say, “Yes, I am an abuser”, it comes back as unsupported. And so she just has no way of being able to help these protective moms protect their kids from abuse. In many cases kids don’t wanna go. Can you explain what happens in family court when the kids are like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to go. My dad is abusive, he has hurt me and I’m not interested in going’? How does the court view that when it comes to parental alienation and then what is their solution?

“This Is An Entity That Is Failing Our Kids”

Tina (07:11):
To piggyback on what you said about CPS or whatever the entity is called, it’s a universal problem across the entire country, and I believe there are two things at play. Number one, there is a very strong bias that moms make up abuse allegations to get a leg up in custody. So as soon as they hear that there is any type of family court case or child custody situation, they cannot close it fast enough. And so that’s a lot of what we’re up against.
Then the second factor of that is that the threshold for what’s acceptable because of the horrors that they see on a daily basis is so skewed. The majority of situations that they’re investigating don’t even register on their scale of abuse or neglect. And it’s really unfortunate because this is an entity that is failing our kids.

(08:16):
When a mom is in the family court system, she has very few resources to support her truth and her side of the story. Most people walk into this naively believing that these other organizations are there to act in a child’s best interest. So they walk in with this false sense of hope that if a pediatrician does report it, it’s going to bolster their case and their ability to protect their child. I tell people in family court, I don’t believe that reports do anything except that it becomes a paper trail. If you get enough of them, it can start to have an impact. But when moms are in family court, there are many, many challenges that they are facing, and CPS findings are just one of those.

“[Most] Abusers Do Not Abuse Children in Broad Daylight”

Anne (09:15):
You get an unsupported case, first of all. So your first barrier is number one, thinking that reporting is going to help, because they do a very quick investigation and as long as he has a “good reason”, it’s “unsupported”. Then you look like the bad guy for claiming he’s abusive when he’s “not”. And the only thing he had to do was say, “No, no, no, I’m not abusive.”, and that negates both the victim’s account, which is the child, and then also the safe parent’s account.

Tina (09:52):
And I think a large part of the problem in family court is that it is “he said, she said” (and I’m generalizing, obviously there are other pronouns that could be used in that situation). They have the same issue that CPS does, where the threshold of what’s deemed as acceptable is so skewed, and so they take someone’s word at face value and the majority of things that happen in family court are considered hearsay. And the family court system becomes annoyed with people. They don’t understand the dynamics at play, that this is typically one high-conflict individual and one parent who is desperate to protect their children, but they get lumped into that same category [of high-conflict].

“Most Family Court Judges & Professionals Have No Training On These Issues”

(10:42):
And it’s really difficult to go in with solid evidence because abusers do not abuse children in broad daylight. They do sometimes, but it’s very rare. Usually what is happening is behind closed doors. We’re dealing with a court system that at a very [maximum] they have the “101” training on domestic violence, but most family court judges and professionals have no training on these issues. So when you get into the more complex topics and the coercive control and all of these other issues, it’s an uphill battle.
You know, there’s a reason why it took a decade in my case to finally terminate rights [of the abusive parent], and that’s a common scenario. I tell people, “If your case is not still active when your kids age out of the system, it’s somewhat of a miracle.”

Anne (11:37):
You know, it’s really interesting cause on the abuse prevention side (abuse advocates), they’ll go into schools or talk to kids and say, “If this is happening to you, reach out to a safe adult and report.” And they think that if they get kids to report their abuse, they could be protected. But in court if a child says, “I’m being abused”, that child has to essentially prove that they’re being abused. If they just say, “I’m being abused”, and the accused parent says, “No, no, that’s not what’s happening”, then they’re not protected at all.
So that is the hard part is that children’s cries for help and they’re then doing what adults told them to do, right? They were like, “Okay, I went to that assembly and now I’m going to reach out and I am going to ask for help. I’m gonna report that this is happening to me.” And then they are further abused by a system that just won’t believe them or discounts their accounts.

Why Don’t Court Professionals Believe Children?

Tina (12:39):
These professionals who are barely trained in the “101” of domestic violence don’t understand victim/perpetrator behaviors and how children present when they’re telling these stories. And a statement that I heard in the past few months that really resonated with me is that it’s easier for people to believe that a child is being coached to disclose these things than it is for people to believe that a child is being abused.

We don’t want to believe that there is this darkness in society, but it there is. We have to start listening to these kids because as you touched on, when a child finally feels empowered, finally feels brave enough to do what they’ve been told to do, the healthy parent (the mom in most situations) is accused of “coaching” them. The big word in the family court system, which has infiltrated and created an absolute disaster, “alienation” – you’re accused of alienation and it’s a legal strategy employed by abusers to turn the tables and take the focus and spotlight off of what they have been doing behind closed doors and shift the blame to the parent who is just trying to protect their child.

The Truth About “Parental Alienation”

Anne (14:00):
Now in so many of these cases a child is desperately trying to not have to have contact or not be exposed to further abuse in the form of just being around their abuser. The court says, ‘No, you have been coached into saying you’re abused; you’re not actually abused. Your parent that you say is abusing you is fine, they’re a great guy. In fact, you need to like get your story straight, and so we are gonna court order you to “reunification therapy” or a “reunification camp”.

This reunification therapy can take many forms. It can be a reunification camp where the children are kidnapped essentially and taken across state lines, trafficked. Or it can be in the form of reunification therapy where they’re forced to do “therapy” to reconcile with their abuser, meaning the abuser still has access to them and a child is forced to improve or repair their relationship with their abuser. Can you talk about both of those forms of “reunification torture”, let’s call it?

Understanding the Corruption of the Reunification Industry

Tina (15:24):
Sure. That is what it is. The way I describe it: if there is a finding of abuse and everyone’s on board and believes this is happening, it cuts off the financial flow of money because we know we cannot fix an abuser.

Anne (15:40):
Really quickly, let’s just pretend for a minute that they were like, “Oh child, you’re being abused. Okay, you don’t have to go with your dad; your mom gets full custody. The end.”, and the custody case is over, the divorce case is over,. It’s signed and they just go their merry way. Are you saying that if that would happen, then all the custody evaluators, all the Guardian Ad Litems, all of the therapists, et cetera, that are part of this system would not be able to make money because they make money off of these court-ordered requirements?

Tina (16:17):
Absolutely.

Anne (16:19):
So they’re all kind of in on it.

“Rings of Collusion”

Tina (16:24):
I think that there are some who really do believe they’re doing the right thing. There is this common thought that two parents are better than one, no matter what. I don’t agree with that. I think a child needs one healthy adult in their life to thrive, but that’s a large part of the bias that we are up against in the family court system. I think we have a range from professionals who really do believe they’re doing the right thing or they may really be doing the right thing to people who this is their financial livelihood. And from that we see rings of collusion or outright corruption. Throughout the family court system, there are a lot of people who are motivated by their own bank accounts versus what is in the best interest of a child.

Anne (17:19):
One of my questions is, since it’s the Guardians Ad Litem and the custody evaluators and the therapists that get the money from this, a judge is just given a regular salary from the county or from the state? They’re not necessarily paid more if they send more kids to reunification therapy, for example.

Who Benefits Financially in the Alienation Industry?

Tina (17:44):
I think that when we’re looking at judges and why they would order this, if they are on a regular salary and they’re not financially incentivized, there is a range of those who believe they are doing the right thing and they’ve drank the Kool-Aid that has been poured by these professionals in, I call it, the alienation industry. It’s a lucrative cottage industry. So with the trainings that the judges are partaking in, they are seeing these people as experts.

And so when the judges’ calendars are overbooked and people are being forced through this system like cattle. The judges are in this state of overwhelm, they almost have, I call it the a-la-carte menu on their desk that, ‘Oh great, I can push this case off on this person who has the ability to dive in and investigate what’s going on.’ But that person [that investigates it] is financially motivated to label a parent as alienator.

Anne (18:47):
Like a custody evaluator, for example, or Guardian Ad Litem. If they say, “Nope, this is just an abuser and the kid shouldn’t go with them.”, then they’re not able to charge their hourly rates anymore.

Reunification Camps Are “Further Traumatizing These Children”

Tina (18:59):
Absolutely. And then when the child is forced through these reunification therapies, it’s not successful because common sense tells us you can’t force a child to have a relationship or force two people to have a relationship if it’s fractured or if there’s no bond in the first place. That has to be something that works itself out naturally, not with forced intervention.

Especially in cases where there is abuse, this is further traumatizing these children. So when these children are not complying or going along with the program, then the extreme situation would be for the reunification therapist to stamp off on the case and recommend reunification camp. That’s a very extreme and further traumatizing direction that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m haunted by the stories that I hear.

Anne (19:57):
The logic of this, that judges have so many cases that they’re like, “I’m just too overwhelmed and so I’m going to just like pass this off to a custody evaluator.”, is really interesting because if they do that, there are more and more hearings. There’s more and more to do when that happens. If they really wanted to clear their docket, they’d just be like, “Oh, this child is being abused. They say they’re being abused. I’m just gonna listen to the kid declare this over.” You know, it’s ironic to me that <laugh> if they’re like, “Oh, I’m so overwhelmed”, that they would choose the thing that makes way more work for themselves,

“Vexatious Litigants… Use the Family Court System as Their Playground”

Tina (20:38):
But they know that these cases are high-conflict and some people don’t like that word, but it is the label that is used or that phrase. And so regardless of which direction it goes, they’re going to keep filing. A lot of these abusive individuals are vexatious litigants where they use the family court system as their playground to continue their reign of terror and control. And so it’s not going to stop the case. They’re going to keep trying.
So in the case of Ty and Brynlee Larson, we had Child Protective Services come in and make multiple findings of abuse which, as we’ve discussed, is incredibly rare. And not only did they substantiate the abuse, they labeled some of the sexual abuse and other types as chronic and severe. And when that happened, it completely took the case out of family court and the kids were protected and the kids did not have to see their abuser. There was actually a restraining order in place, I believe it was for 150 days. At that point, the alleged abuser brought the case back into family court and before you know it, there were multiple professionals put into place: a reunification therapist, minor’s counsel, and all of a sudden these children are being forced back into visits with their alleged abuser. And not only visits, but overnight visits.

What do Reunification Therapies & Camps Entail?

Anne (22:12):
This isn’t even alleged at this point, right? Because it was supported by DCFS.

Tina (22:16):
Some people say because he didn’t go through the criminal justice system and he wasn’t convicted, that it’s still better to use alleged.

Anne (22:26):
Oh, all right.

Tina (22:28):
And there’s a reason why it didn’t go through the criminal justice system in my opinion.

Anne (22:34):
So they are court ordered to have contact with their abuser, and then when they refuse, they’re like, ‘Heck no, we are not going.’, they barricade themselves in their room. Then they’re ordered to reunification camp. So let’s talk more about what this reunification therapy or reunification camp entails.

Severely Alienated OR Protected by A Safe Parent?

Tina (22:58):
Reunification therapy is forcing a child against their will to have contact with their alleged abuser. I’m speaking in general terms. And if the child doesn’t want to participate or speaks out about what’s happening, then they are considered to be severely alienated and then they are subject to reunification camps.

Anne (23:23):
When you say severely alienated, basically what you mean is people think these kids have been brainwashed so much by the protective parent. There’s this other parent who has brainwashed these kids, coached them into thinking that they were abused when they actually were not.

Reunification “Therapy” Traumatizes Children

Tina (23:42):
Exactly. So when they are labeled as severely alienated, the solution that these people propose is reunification camp, and these are four-day intensives. They call them therapy. I cannot call this therapy; it is traumatizing for these kids. They are cut off from all contact with their preferred parent. They are sent to this camp. We’ve reviewed testimony where some of the camp owners talk about what happens on each day of the camp. The first day. They are told that nothing in the past matters; we are only focused on here and now and future movement. And then when the kids bring up, ‘But he did this to me or this.’, they redirect them back to present day. The past does not matter. And we are talking about children who have been sexually abused.

You know, I can’t imagine being put in a room with my abuser, let alone my abuser receiving full custody of me and me being forced to have a relationship. Everyone I explained this to says it sounds medieval, ‘How is this happening?’ And everyone says it sounds like a racket because it is. These camps cost I’ve heard anywhere between $15,000 and $40,000 for a weekend.

Anne (25:13):
We are going to pause here and Tina is going to continue to talk to us about reunification camps next week. So stay tuned. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.

 

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