Stable Paths’ Family Intensive Reunification Workshops are case-specific, solution-focused opportunities for families to connect, reconnect, and heal. Our Workshops have been developed by an outstanding, interdisciplinary team in Miami and Boston. The Stable Paths Clinical and Aftercare Protocols, authored by Clinical Director in Boston, Abigail Judge, PhD, and contributed to by the Clinical Director in Miami, Carol Golly, LCSW, RPT-S, in conference with the entire Stable Paths Team, were designed to articulate a standard of care specific to the needs of the families served by Stable Paths. Elements of the TFTRM model have been embedded in the protocol and serve as a guideline for the Workshops.
While most participants are Court-referred cases, some families choose to engage in the workshops to strengthen family relationships across single or multiple generations. Mental health providers, family law attorneys, as well as experts in the field of parental alienation and familial abduction refer families to Stable Paths as well. Families enter the Workshops at various points in their challenging situation depending on their specific needs. Families can thrive, even in crisis, when offered a multi-faceted, strength-based, family systems approach to crisis, conflict, or challenge. Stable Paths is an interdisciplinary team-based and family-focused approach designed for moderate to severe parental alienation situations when a child (or children) is having significant difficulty in managing the relationship with one or both parents during or after a separation or divorce. The Workshops serve one family at a time and are not fact finding, blame-focused interventions nor are they custodial evaluations. Instead, Workshops are an alternative to traditional interventions for families that are seeking ways to connect, break down barriers between family members, develop balanced perspectives, and address existing or past challenges.
Why Choose This Program?
Largely unique to this reunification program is its intensive structure. Stable Paths integrates cognitive, emotional, and behavioral participation by the family members with equine and dolphin-assisted exercises (off-site), interactive recreational activities, culinary experiences, and traditional talk therapy. Humor, a critical ingredient in this intervention, is embraced. The program draws from evidence-based interventions such as brief and strategic, solution-focused, and cognitive behavioral therapy in the design and implementation of the program. We embed these empirically supported techniques within a highly experiential framework; on-site equine assisted interventions facilitate a dynamic environment that few families have the chance to encounter or experience. Equine and dolphin interventions are tailored to address a variety of needs within the family including, but not limited to, parenting skills, teamwork, and self-confidence. ‘Horse-work’ and ‘Dolphin-play’ transcend rigid and limiting defense structures within the family system and allow for profound insight, metaphorical perceptions, the fostering of appropriate boundaries and renewed attachment, and powerful healing opportunities. Enriched by the ‘here and now’ process, the Stable Paths approach, utilizing (TFTRM) nurtures continued growth beyond program parameters. With its broad tool set of techniques and experiential framework, the team at Stable Paths is able to facilitate each family member’s participation in reweaving the unraveled threads of connection within the family structure in the most complex of scenarios.
Who Should Participate:
Families impacted by separation resulting from contact refusal, Parental Alienation, intense conflict, and familial and non-familial abduction are excellent candidates for participation. Families who are simply looking to connect or reconnect with each other due to other complex scenarios may be accommodated. Because of the case-specific nature of the intervention, each family has a unique treatment plan but consistent standard of care. All family members, immediate and extended, may be asked to participate.
High Conflict Divorce:
Therapeutic reunification in these types of cases employs a non-blaming focused, case-specific model for restoring and reunifying relationships between children and parents. These cases often exhibit some element of parental alienation or estrangement. In both cases, the focus is on the repairing and healing of fractured bonds within the family. In the case of parental alienation, the alienation can be direct or indirect. Direct alienation involves a deliberate, conscious attempt to undermine a relationship with one parent. Indirect alienation tends to be more covert. For example, a parent might repeatedly schedule activities with the child or children during the other parent’s visitation time. Another might continually seek out therapists, attorneys, or other support service providers who will support their views. Disputes are often in the form of one parent claiming that they are more important to, or can provide better for, the child/children. Estrangement describes a dynamic in which the child’s experience corresponds directly with their experience with the rejected parent. The child resists contact due to factors such as the parent’s chronic substance use, major psychiatric disturbance, or exposure to domestic violence. The child might see the rejected parent as persistently angry, rigid, or excessively immature. Or, the parent might reject the child because the child is perceived as “too difficult” or “out of control”. Perhaps the child and parent have experienced a long-term separation. There are a number of reasons why the relationship may have deteriorated. Exploring the relationship with equine-assisted therapy can reveal patterns and answer questions about how to move forward in the reunification.
Goals and Objectives:
- To eliminate the conflict between the children and each of the parents to allow for healthier relationships.
- To facilitate, repair, and strengthen child relationships with both parents.
- Help family and children untangle difficulties created or heightened by Court involvement.
- Help children rebuild a relationship with longevity with both parents.
- Encourage and foster a working relationship for the entire family by promoting a balanced perspective and an inclusive solution-focused perspective.
- Strengthen compassion and communication skills.
- Help empower both parents to be effective parents.
Ironically, as parental time-sharing became more equitable, situations where one parent violates the Court-Ordered or Agreed time-sharing arrangement and absconds with or conceals a child or children are increasingly more common. Time-sharing varies from State to State, Courtroom to Courtroom, and from family to family, leaving desperate parents confused regarding their parental rights. Familial abduction can occur because of anger, retribution, or frustration between parents. Equine-assisted exercises can promote a reconnection process for the whole family and provide a pathway for resolving feelings, enhancing communication and revealing other issues in need of attention.
These cases present a particular challenge in that the experiences of the abducted individual and those of the family left behind can be vastly different. This might also be true in familial abductions, but is a near certainty in stranger abductions. In cases of non-familial abductions, one of the first orders of business is to facilitate a common ground with the family unit. For example, a love of animals can be a deep connection the family shares. A long forgotten family recipe cooked and served together can quietly awaken a shared memory. We find that following a stranger abduction the central victim is likely to exhibit an absence of emotion. Talk therapy can be threatening and confusing to all the participants. Therefore, work in the horse arena or dolphin pool can be easier for the clients and more palatable for all family members, thus more productive for all concerned.
Goals and Objectives:
- Encourage and foster a working relationship for the entire family by promoting a balanced perspective and an inclusive solution- focused perspective.
- Help families untangle difficulties caused by the abduction.
- Strengthen existing familial relationships and promote and support the development of compassion and communication skills.
- Strengthen empowerment of the family in the face of external interference from extraneous well-meaning agencies such as Courts, media, and community organizations.
Risks of Treatment:
Crisis creates vulnerability. All therapists affiliated with Stable Paths are acutely aware of this issue. Every effort is made to empower the family to make their own decisions and to create options for themselves. Informed consent is an important component to this work. These choices are a crucial part of the treatment regardless of the stage of the reunification process. The interventions and activities chosen for each family allow for options in the depth of interpretations made by the families. For some families, cooking, horse work, and swimming with the dolphins are merely activities to connect, while others see it as a vehicle for development, growth, and self-awareness. Each family sets the tone for the reunification or transitional work. In the case of multiple perspectives in a family, the focus becomes finding the common theme for all of the family members. It is possible that the work can reveal hidden issues that are distressing to one or more of the family participants. In some cases, the issues can be addressed in the context of the Workshop. In other cases, adjunct work with existing therapists or referrals to new therapists or agencies can be an important component for ongoing growth.
Intake, Assessment, and Referral:
All cases begin with an Intake Assessment for the appropriateness of the referral and for the suitability for various types of interventions. Possible interventions are identified and considered, with known risks and benefits for each as well as the risks and benefits of no intervention.
Our recommendations may include:
- Our highly innovative experiential/educational workshop for families incorporating equine-assisted and/or dolphin-assisted growth and learning techniques.
- An alternative Workshop, which does not include an experiential element.
- A parent’s participation in Transitioning Paths, a dedicated educational Workshop for preferred parents.
- Referrals to other programs
- Referrals for Custodial Evaluations.
Family members are made aware of our recommendations and are advised to sign an Informed Consent to Treatment for any services to be provided by Stable Paths.
Aftercare is a critical component of continued successful reunification. Without it, recidivism may ensue. Part of the intake process will include determining what services are currently being accessed in the family’s local area. Every effort will be made to coordinate work with the work that is already in place (with appropriate releases). If a family has not connected with local services, every effort will be made to assist the family with connecting with an appropriate aftercare professional or team of professionals that coordinates with Stable Paths to develop a family-specific aftercare plan. It is Stable Paths Policy that the Aftercare team leader be appointed by the Court or agreed to by the family prior to the commencement of the Workshop. The aftercare team leader is a non-therapeutic role and this professional should be able to make time sharing recommendations or at a minimum, be able to communicate with the Court. Upon conclusion of a Family Intensive Reunification Workshop, a family statement consisting of the clinical team’s objective observations and recommendations will be reduced to writing. These recommendations do not include custodial recommendations.
There are several options for follow-up with Stable Paths after departure:
- Periodic phone/email contact to review a family’s progress. Four hours of post-Workshop follow up time is included in the Family Intensive Workshop.
- Contact with local service providers for continuity of care.
- Re-visit: An intensive weekend to continue work completed in the first Workshop. This is especially useful when additional family members are reintegrated into the family at a later date when deemed appropriate.
Stable Paths will make referrals to other agencies/professionals as deemed appropriate.
Location of Workshops:
Stable Paths Family Intensive Reunification Workshops are located primarily in Miami, Florida. Transitioning Paths, the dedicated educational Workshop for preferred parents is located in Southwest Ranches, Florida about thirty minutes north of Stable Paths. Arrangements can be made to bring the Workshops to other locations throughout the country in extenuating circumstances. Contact our office for more information.
Ideally, Workshops are three and a half days or five days but can vary in duration depending upon the availability of participants, logistical issues, time constraints, Court Orders, or the severity of the case. The schedule of each Workshop is agreed upon in advance with an eight-hour day being the norm. The overall cost for the Workshop is arranged prior to the start of the program.
Travel arrangements and lodging expenses are the responsibility of the participants. A workshop administrator is available to assist in the logistics of travel and lodging.
Registration and Scheduling:
For more information about Stable Paths Workshops, scheduling and registration fees, please contact the Stable Paths office at 1(888)728-9940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sample Workshop Outline:
The Family Intensive Reunification Workshop consists of a series of educational sessions, discussion groups, and experiential exercises – some of which utilize horses in an equine-assisted growth and learning model. Each day we will begin with a combination of these activities, a break for lunch followed by another combination of these activities in the afternoon. Dinner arrangements vary according to our assessment of the needs of each family on that day. It may be prepared for, with, or by the family. Supplies are always provided unless otherwise stated. Evening activities may include a staff member. The issues addressed by each family will vary, however, a general outline of a three and a half day is as follows:
- Workshop Orientation: Educational/experiential session addressing our case specific approach and the non-blaming focus.
- Identifying core issues: We want to identify many of the ‘elephants’ that have been in the family’s home while remaining mindful, purposeful, and authentic.
- Exploration of Family System: Discussions and experiential/educational exercises designed to encourage exploration of perspective, perception, and communications. This may include the preparation of a timeline of family events as perceived by the children with input from the parents.
- Psycho-education: We employ didactic and experiential methods to impart case-specific education about what led the family to the workshop (e.g., parental alienation, abduction).
- New Language: We generally develop a system of language with the family that is pro-relationship. Key words may include trust, honesty, compassion, courtesy, respect, attunement, courage, curiosity, mindfulness, and humor. We identify with the family relationship patterns that are to be avoided. These patterns may include threatening and contemptuous behavior, disrespect for boundaries, sarcasm, and litigation.
- Communication and Cooperation: Utilizing equine-assisted and/or dolphin-assisted growth and learning exercises, we focus on communication and working together using the words and language that we developed on Day Two.
- We begin to problem-solve and develop a family plan which can serve as a template for the family to continue their efforts after the weekend workshop.
- Skills Learned: The final group session features exercises and activities that focus on skills learned during the weekend.
- Plan: The final meeting is for sharing the prepared outline of the aftercare plan and for ongoing support.