Although the terms “reunification” and “reconciliation” are often used interchangeably, it is important to note the differences between the two.
Reunification cannot take place without reconciliation but reconciliation is possible without reunification.
What is Reconciliation?
Within the context of the Specialized Family Therapy model reconciliation is a healing process focused on rebuilding broken relationships. A core feature of Reconciliation Counseling is rebuilding trust between the child and estranged parent. Reconciliation might lead to reunification evidenced by increased non supervised time for the child with the parent.
What is reunification?
Reunification builds off of the work that was done during reconciliation counseling and allows and estranged parent and their children to bond without any form of supervision. Once parents and children are reunified, they are able to take what they have learned from reconciliation counseling and apply it to their relationship.
How do we get from reconciliation to reunification?
Reconciliation is forward-looking in that it enables individuals, including the parents, to come to terms with their divergences, developing empathy and acceptance between the conflicting parties and allowing the parties to jointly define their involvement and relationship. The idea is to move the conflicting parties from confrontation to collaboration so that they can move on with their lives whether separately or together but in ways that promotes continuity of inter-parental responsibilities.
The co parenting counseling aspect of SFT often evolves as a focus as the parents regain some appreciation of each other’s value to their child. During the divorce and separation process, there are many hurt feelings among couples. Many times, these feelings, knowingly or unknowingly, are transferred to their children. So in order to promote a healthy relationship among parents and children, work should start with the parents first during co-parenting counseling.
It is important to note that the reconciliation that occurs among co parents will not have the same end goal as it would when doing reconciliation among an estranged parent and children. Instead, the goal of reconciliation among co-parents is to get them to work through their hurt feelings to have a cohesive, healthy co-parenting relationship. Indeed there is ample evidence in the literature indicating that it is not about whether the parents are or are not divorced as much as it is the quality of their relationship that is the critical factor.
Feinberg (2003) eloquently illustrates and support this point:
“……it was not the divorce per se, nor even particular custody arrangements, but rather a handful of post-divorce factors such as parental absence, economic disadvantage, and most importantly ongoing inter-parental conflict that negatively affected children’s adjustment”(p.4).
Henceforth, reunification as defined and understood within the context of Specialized Family Therapy (SFT) cannot be considered the only measure of success unless reunification is that which the two parties expect to achieve as a result of the healing process (i.e., reconciliation).