Reunification Brief and Extended

Reunification counseling is a therapeutic process designed to introduce, re-introduce or reinforce the bond between family members.

The goal of Reunification Counseling is to assist the family structure from within the family. This means strengthening existing familial relationship to promote and support the development of compassion and communication skills.

Because of the case specific nature of the intervention each family will have a different treatment plan. But all members may be asked to participate. In some situations this may include extended family members. The team takes a multi-faceted approach, which incorporates a combination of individual, dyad and family processing.

Family Reunification Workshops

“A Time for Families”


The Transitioning Families Therapeutic Reunification Model (TFTRMTM), originally conceptualized by Rebecca Bailey, PhD in 2006, and further developed by Cynthia Psaila, LMFT and Jane F. Dickel, LCSW at the Transitioning Families Program in California, is an experiential, education, solution-focused approach to healing families who have major interruptions in their life processes. The breadth of reunification treatment within this model includes families experiencing high conflict divorce, families facing reunification post-abduction or major trauma, and blended families wanting to enhance their transition.

The TFTRMTM approach is case specific and based on intervention guidelines for responding to child abduction developed by the Department of Justice (Behrman-Lippert & Hatcher, 2000, DOJ, 1992). The founding clinicians have expertise with family systems therapy, advanced training in animal assisted therapy, and a forensic specialization with families in high conflict, court involvement, and post-trauma. For a more comprehensive description of the model see page 232-249 of the Family Court Review Journal, Volume 54, Number 2, April 2016.

This is a case-specific, solution-focused approach originally designed for Reunification after familial abduction or for contact refusal and resistance cases – situations when a child(ren) is having significant difficulty in managing the relationship with one or both parents during or after a separation or divorce. The workshop is not a fact finding blame-focused intervention. Nor is it a custodial evaluation. Instead, it is an alternative to traditional interventions for families that are seeking ways to connect, break down barriers between family members, and repair existing or past difficulties.

Why Choose This Workshop?

Largely unique to this reunification program is the onsite intensive structure; the combination of intellectual, emotional, and physical participation by the family members; and the integration of equine, recreational, and culinary classes with traditional talk therapy. The program draws from evidence based interventions in brief and strategic, solution-focused, and cognitive behavioral therapy in the design and implementation of the program. Additionally, onsite equine assisted interventions facilitate a dynamic environment that few families have the chance to encounter. Equine interventions are tailored to address a variety of need within the family including, but not limited to, parenting skills, teamwork, and self-confidence. ‘Horse-work’ transcends rigid and limiting defense structures with the family system and allows for profound insight and healing opportunities.

Enriched by the ‘here and now’ process, the TFTRMTM approach nurtures continued growth beyond program parameters. With its’ psychodynamic foundation and its’ broad tool set of techniques, the program is able to build bonds from within the family structure in the most complex of scenarios and situations.

Who Should Participate?

Many of the cases that come to us are families we term “Complex Case Scenarios” embroiled in scenarios as difficult as reunifying post familial abduction, contact refusal and resistance, and other challenges to family health. Families that have been estranged or distanced from each other by everyday life challenges, by crisis, or an intense conflict are excellent candidates for participation. While many participants are Court referred cases, some families use the workshops to strengthen family relationships across single or multiple generations. Some are self-referred, referred by mental health providers or agencies, or other agencies (i.e. The Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Victim Compensation/Advocacy Programs, or local and federal law enforcement). Families enter the program at various points in their challenging situation depending on their specific needs. What we have discovered is that families can thrive even in crisis when offered a multi-faceted, strength-based family systems approach to crisis, conflict, or challenge.

Some of the possible scenarios include, but are not limited to: high conflict divorce; casualties of man made or natural disasters; familial and non-familial abductions; returning military; survivors of violent crimes; and families simply looking to connect or reconnect with each other. Because of the case specific nature of intervention, each family will have a different treatment plan. All members may be asked to participate. In some cases this may include extended family members.

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 parental figures. These cases often exhibit some element contact refusal or resistance. In these cases the focus is on the repairing and healing of fractured bonds within the family.

In the case of 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 side with them in their views. Disputes often are in the form of one parent claiming that they are more important to, or can provide better for, the child/children. Alienation can also manifest within a system of well meaning professionals involved in the family dynamics. Protracted litigation often works to split families and fracture relationships rather than to support healing and a “new normal” for families post divorce. Treating alienation in families is complex and therapeutic reunification requires an experienced and specialized team of professionals.

Goals and Objectives:

To reduce 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 worsened 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.

Familial Abduction:

Ironically, as the custody laws have become more equitable, situations where one parent illegally takes custody of the child or children are increasingly more common. Custody rulings vary from state to state, from courtroom to courtroom,leaving desperate parents confused regarding their custodial 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 discovering other issues in need of attention.

Non-Familial Abduction:

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 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.

Foster Families, Military Families, and Others:

Reunification work can also include foster family services between the child and the foster parent or the child and the parent(s) of origin. Intensive reunification services are short term. Intensive family-based sessions are designed to reunite children with parental figures. It is the intent that the work would be continued with community based mental health professionals. In some cases, workshops for disengaged families can be useful and warranted. The disengagement can be due to geographic distances for reasons such as life choices and military deployment.

Risks of Treatment:

Crisis creates vulnerability. All of the therapists connected to the Transitioning Families team are acutely aware of this issue. Every effort is made to empower the family make their own decisions and to create options for them to choose from. Informed consent is an important component to the work of Transitioning Families. 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 hiking 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 Transitioning Families 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 growth and learning techniques.
An alternative workshop, which does not include an experiential element.
We also, depending on the circumstances, may offer weekly sessions with the child and least favored parent with a focus on reunification.
Referrals for Custodial Evaluations.

The 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 Transitioning Families.


Part of our intake process will include determining what services you are currently using in your local area. Every effort will be made to coordinate our 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 you with that.

Generally, a family will leave our workshop with a list of specific issues to work on and suggestions to follow. These will be shared with your community resources as you choose. There are several options for follow-up with Transitioning Families after your departure:

Periodic phone/email contact to review your progress.
Contact with your local service providers for continuity of care.
Another intensive weekend to continue work completed in the first workshop.
Case specific flexible arrangements as needed.

Transitioning Families will make referrals to other agencies/professionals as appropriate.

Location of Workshops:

Our program workshops are located primarily in Sonoma County, California. Arrangements can be made to bring the program to other locations throughout California and, in some cases, to other states. Contact The Transitioning Families office for more information.


Ideally, workshops are three and a half to five days, but can vary in duration depending upon the availability of participants, logistical issues, or time constraints. The schedule of each workshop is agreed upon in advance with an eight-hour day being the norm. The overall costs for the workshop is arranged prior to the start of the program.


Most meals are prepared in cooking classes with our chef and support staff, or are brought in from local restaurants. All participants are expected to stay in the area for the duration of the workshop under the direction of the TF team. 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 “A Time for Families” workshops, scheduling and registration fees, please contact the Transitioning Families office at (707) 237-5330 or email to

Sample Workshop Outline:

The 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, with a break for lunch followed by another combination of these 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 are suggested and sometimes may include a staff member. The issues dealt with for each family will vary, however a general outline is as follows:

Day One

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.

Day Two

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.
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, and humor. We also identify with the family the anti-relationship patterns that are to be avoided. These may include threatening, disrespect of boundaries, sarcasm, and litigation.

Day Three

Communication and Cooperation: Utilizing a variety of experiential components, including equine-assisted growth and learning exercises, arts and crafts, recreation and outdoor activities and educational culinary experiences, 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.

Day Four

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 suggestions.