1. Level Two Case Study:
The co-parents in this case were court ordered to participate in therapy together because they couldn’t agree on the parenting of their daughter. Their daughter has special needs and points of contention for them often were related to how his education should be approached, how his behavior should be handled and whether or not he should take medications prescribed to children with his diagnosis. The parents went to court to make decisions about their child’s education and health care because they were unable to talk to each other and come to resolutions.
When the parents tried to communicate about these and other things, they ended up in heated debates. They both knew they had a communication problem that got in the way of them attending school meetings and doctor appointments together and then making decisions about how to move forward. Father often shut down and refused to speak to mom because he was expecting conflict. Mom pursued dad when he backed away and was angry and confused about him shutting her out. Dad responded to this by shutting down more and the family lived with constant parental tension that got in the way of creating a clear plan of care for the little boy. They were stuck because each parent saw the other as the problem and maintained their interactional cycle of retreat/pursue.
Both parents were involved in the child’s life and they needed to be on the same page to create consistency and care related to his special needs. One of the central tenants of SFT is for the therapist to maintain focus on the child and the impact co-parenting relationships have on him/her because change often comes from the parent’s wish for their child to be happy and healthy. During initial individual sessions I used Solution Focused and Narrative Techniques to assist the parents in realizing how they could take part in a more effective co-parenting relationships. Psycho-education was also used to teach healthy co-parenting styles. With each parent an emotional safety plan was developed to enable distress management during joint sessions.
When joint sessions began we established ground rules for safety and collaboration. During the first joint sessions sharing positive stories about the boy helped the parents learn that even though they had differing opinions about how to raise their little daughter , they both loved him and had his best interest at heart. During these storytelling sessions, I buffered interpersonal stress and modeled conflict resolution skills. The co-parents had the opportunity to experience being together and talking about their daughter without fighting. This enabled them to begin the work of learning to approach decision making together.
In later joint sessions the co-parents talked about their own and each other’s communication styles and how this affected their ability to parent together. Both parents helped the other to understand what they needed to feel valued and respected as a parent. Mom communicated that she needed to know that dad would make it a priority to talk about parenting issues. Dad agreed to do this and expressed that he needed her to be respectful during these discussions.
The parents practiced communicating with the other parent’s needs in mind while they were still in therapy. When there were incongruities between their actions and the agreements surrounding communication with each other, motivational interviewing was used to illustrate the misalignment. This often got the parents on track to focus on the behavior change they wanted to achieve. During joint sessions, the parents met their goal of making a unified decision about medication and being involved in school matters together. They used therapy sessions to discuss ways that they could approach their daughter’s challenging behavior and create consistency between their homes. They updated each other about their son’s successes and continuing challenges. Both parents knew they had completed their therapy when they were able to parent together during the week without the help of the therapist.