In the last few years, I’ve heard many stories of estranged individuals struggling to find the “right” therapist, having had negative experiences when they reached out to a professional and walked away feeling worse off. This is not true of all therapists, but some of the problems cited included:
1. Reconciliation Bias:
Some therapists had an agenda around reconciliation, insisting the client ‘must’ reconnect and make amends with family. Some of the strategies I’ve heard suggested including writing 100 letters (one per day for 100 days) to an estranged family member to let them know the client loves them. I really hope I don’t need to be explain why this type of exercise is not only highly inappropriate, but could have legal ramifications.
By focusing on a specific estrangement outcome, a therapist could be dismissing the core reasons why the estrangement happened and disregarding the traumatic impact of a failed reconciliation, as well as depriving the client of their autonomy and discovering their own truth.
2. Estrangement Bias:
Some therapists had an agenda around ‘just walking away’, without exploring how difficult this is and the consequences of doing so. Again, the core reasons might be dismissed and the client is not allowed to work through their own process.
3. Perspective Bias:
Some therapists believe one side is ALWAYS at fault…it is not that simple, and it reduces each person to a family role as opposed to a human being.
4. Forgiveness Bias:
I would never encourage someone to hold onto resentments, but the reality is many estranged people are carrying a great deal of hurt and are not ready to forgive now (and perhaps may never be). And yet there are therapist who insist on the need to forgive, dismissing the client’s need to come to that place naturally and when it feels right for them.
“I think everyone seeking therapy for estrangement would really benefit from the workshop and highly recommend it. I’d go as far as to say that it’s a necessary part of the process.”
Another challenge when engaging with a therapist is knowing where to begin. There is so much dense (and sometimes chaotic) history between family members, that it can feel impossible to find a specific relationship or event as a starting point.
I needed to help my clients to find their starting point, as well as get a sense of the bigger picture of what is happening between family, so I can more effectively help them.
To do this, I created the “Mapping YOUR Estrangement” Workshop to present a general model to provide insight into the various estrangements a person is experiencing, based on 7 important components.
My hope is that individuals could bring their maps to their own therapy sessions or support network and discuss in detail, but I also hope therapists can embrace this model/process and apply it to their work with estranged adults and help them grasp the complexity of their clients current reality.
The “Mapping YOUR Estrangement” workshop has been recorded and is available for download here.