Samantha Greene | Clinical Social Workers & Family Law

As a family law attorney, you may encounter Licensed Clinical Social Workers—or maybe you have clients that need a referral to one.

But what is the role of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and how are these practitioners involved in family law?

In this episode, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Samantha Greene answers these questions and discusses how you can help clients dealing with trauma.

Listen to learn:

  • How a clinical therapist differs from a forensic therapist
  • When clinical therapists can be involved in family law cases
  • The science behind trauma & the brain
  • Best practices for talking to clients undergoing trauma
  • Why anger management isn’t always the right tool
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Samantha Greene: It is not a kid’s job to take care of their grown up’s emotions, but they can see that hey, when my parent has a big feeling that they have other people they talk to and that can be a really strong model for the child not just strengthening with the parent child relationship, but also for their own emotional growth and well being.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today, we’re excited to welcome Samantha Greene to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Samantha is the owner of Greener Pastures Wellness LLC. Samantha is a lifelong Texan and graduated from Texas Woman’s University with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2007. She went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington. Samantha has a background working for CPS and has the unique perspective of having been involved in high conflict custody litigation, both as a litigant and as a professional. Samantha describes herself as a sex-positive and affirming licensed clinical social worker with a virtual private practice treating pre adolescents all the way through older adults. She’s a board member of Equality Texas, and the proud mom of the coolest seven year old ever. Samantha also testifies as an expert witness. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Samantha: Thank you for having me.

Holly: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background.

Samantha: So I started off with my undergraduate, my bachelor’s is in Social Work from Texas Woman’s University. Part of our degree plan was to have like an internship, and I got through a stipend program SCPS just kind of fell into it. So it was really cool, because I got to graduate. And I graduated on a Friday and started work on Monday. So I had a job lined up ready to go and stayed there for about six and a half years. During my master’s during that time, was also able to get some hospitalization experience working impatient, and really developed kind of a passion for working with trauma. Between working with the children who were came into care with CPS as well as the the families as a whole. Kind of there’s that thing that ish rolls downhill. And those kids didn’t come into care on accident. And there was a story that got them there.

So a lot of the part of the work that I really liked, was also working with with the parents and the families as a whole to change the whole system. So it’s, you know, healthy families make for healthy children. So from there shifted to working at an inpatient, or residential drug treatment center, and it kind of switched gears from working where my job was primarily the advocate of the children to where I was working with primarily the parents. So that was a really interesting shift, especially hearing clients tell me, you know, like, oh, here’s how I’m going to get one over on my CPS worker. Yeah, good try. Like, you know, that that might not work out the way you’re thinking.

So I was able to do get a lot of really good experience there, especially with, of course, more mandated clients, just like with CPS, people don’t generally put hanging out with your CPS caseworker, or going to drug treatment on their bucket list like they might go going to the Eiffel Tower or to Disney World. So working with people who don’t want to be there and who never in their wildest dreams thought that they’d be in the position that they are in front of you right now. So from there went and did some more kind of within a private agency, substance use disorder setting and recovery, as well working with the families, and then did some crisis intervention work.

So when people talk about alternative police response, that’s what I did for a while. I’m also doing psychosocial assessments and things like that with child welfare involved families, and then also doing a private practice. So private practice, but like you said, preadolescents on up and I do work with families who have involvement with court systems. My role is clinical. So I’m not forensic. So I’m not the person that tells you if something did or didn’t happen. I can report what I see. I can report what is reported to me and part of being a good practitioner, and good clinician is also triangulating that with their other providers.

So if they’re seeing a psychiatrist or primary care physician, that’s also treating their mental health. If they have a family therapist, in addition to myself as an individual therapist. If it’s an adolescent, who are they working with at school. I’m getting all those people on board. Because it really is not just like the whole family as in, you know, parent A, B, or C and D in non traditional family systems. Or it’s more than that, and the children it’s, it’s a whole community around them, too.

Holly: So you mentioned that you are a clinical therapist, not a forensic therapist. For anyone listening who maybe doesn’t really understand the difference, can you explain that a little bit more?

Samantha: Yeah. So forensic is kind of like digging in into the trenches and finding alternative explanations and is there you know, like, I’m assuming the lawyer term, I’d be like probable cause for if this did or didn’t happen. So my role is isn’t to determine like if something is true or false. My role is to kind of validate that client where they ask that no matter what’s going on, it is obviously a painful experience. Lawyers are lovely, but y’all aren’t Pokemon cards. We don’t want to collect them all, and you’re much cooler to go out to lunch with, than to have to, than to have to pay on the hourly.

So it’s like, knowing that that person is in a space where they don’t want to be, they didn’t plan on being. No one wakes up one day and goes, you know what, I think I’m gonna sue my child’s other parent. That’s not something that people come to on a whim. So it’s really understanding and listening to the story and the trajectory of how, you know, this family kind of got where they are and what they need in their own life to get through the process, because litigation is, is emotionally taxing. So what do they need to support themselves through that process. Because supported parents are better able to support their children.

And it also is a really good teaching tool for children, children do not need to know that their parents are involved in litigation. That’s grown up stuff that sticks to the grownups. But they are totally aware if a parent is having a hard time emotionally. And they do need to see that that parent has other other adults that they go to, and that it is not a kid’s job to take care of their grown up’s emotions. But they can see that, hey, when my parent has a big feeling that they have other people they talk to, and that can be a really strong model, that for the child, not just strengthening with the parent child relationship, but also for their own emotional growth and well being.

Holly: So as a clinical therapist, do you find yourself working with forensic therapists in a litigation context?

Samantha: I do. Mostly it is I can kind of give you the information. So for instance, if they’re like, which parent isn’t getting a child to medical appointments? Well, I can tell you, the days the appointments are and you guys know the visitation schedule and the possession schedule, and I hate that word possession schedule, because we don’t possess people and I really wish y’all would change the lingo. So it’s kind of like I say, here, when the appointments were scheduled, here’s what was missed, and people know where the kiddo was on those days and the adults and litigators can put two and two together. So my role isn’t to determine whether, of course never to say whether a child should or shouldn’t be placed with someone that is strictly for custody evaluators and standalone standards setting mental health folks can’t make custody recommendations.

And so that isn’t something that a mental health provider, in a clinical role should be providing. They can say things like, so for instance, if parent A brings kiddo in, and that those days, you can mark that, let’s say, they arrived at the appointments late. There can be a pattern of the appointment that was scheduled at three didn’t start until 3:14. And you can look at the schedule and see what’s what kind of thing. If, when in cases of working with adolescents, are they looking at interaction? So how does the kiddo present? So is there, are there differences? Like are they more lethargic and tired? On repeat is there, are they aware, because so often, they are aware of much more than we give them credit for of what’s going on with the conflict with their parents.

So it’s kind of like that safe space of like, this is a place for them to kind of process that this is a lot for them. And it’s not a situation that they asked to be in. And you know, grown up issues are not kids’ responsibility. So some of what I do is also providing that safe space. When there’s court involvement, I do let the kiddo know, like, hey, that there’s some limits to like the Vegas rules that go with therapy. So your standards setting, I can only talk about things if it’s, you know, imminent danger to yourself or somebody else. Abuse, neglect or exploitation in certain circumstances, or, you know, I’ve got to raise my right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That part I talk about a little bit more.

And so we’ll talk about like, that I want this to be as a safe space. And also, I can’t be a secret keeper. And how can we like teach your parents like the manual to you, and what they need to know about you. Because especially with adolescents, they pick, can pick up on. Often that parents can be really involved in what’s going on with litigation. It’s impactful and they couldn’t not be. And so sometimes when they need something else, it’s like teaching them the words and teaching the parents also how to appropriately reciprocate that and how to encourage it and keep that flowing regardless of what else is going on in the stratosphere.

Holly: I know that one part of your practice is kind of a bit of a specialty I think for you. Correct me if I’m wrong, is dealing with the LGBTQ+ community. Can you tell us a little bit about that avenue of your practice?

Samantha: Yeah. So that about I’d say about 75% of my caseload right now is some kind of gender or sexual identity minority. So that also is is kind of an added an added element when you have a court involved family, because especially in certain counties there people have, unfortunately, some legitimate fear about biases and what may or may not be there. And so sometimes there may be very well meaning people and attornies especially those who may not be in the communities themselves, who are like, hey, I don’t hate gay people, that must mean I’m affirming. And they also may not have that recognition that there’s there are systematic issues. And there are things that families in consensual non monogamous relationships, LGBTQIA relationships, or any other marginalized population.

But those people and those families may have different experiences, then the attorney or the judge or other people assigned with that case may be aware of. So always my kind of suggestion is to keep your ears open and to be learning and to be aware that that experience is that person’s truth how they experienced it in that moment. And that may be something that attorney can go, hey, this is a really good thing to process with your therapist on how that you can have this experience, and it may have been traumatic, and your sexual identity, gender identity or other piece of your identity may have been a part of what contributed to the experiencing experience happening, which you know, adds to the trauma, because it’s not something you can really take off. And that fear of can it happen again.

So there’s kind of the added barrier with, you know, attorneys coming in whether they’re appointed or you know, with a judge, it’s kind of a crapshoot, whose port you get into on distrust from any marginalized community that you may have, that systematically things haven’t traditionally worked in those favors. So there’s, there can be that extra hurdle of how can I make my client feel safe to where I’m getting really good information, because we’re as clinicians or as attorneys, you’re only as good as the informations you receive. So if we don’t have the whole picture, we’re really limited on what we can work with. So I think kind of a global getting everyone on the same page is how do we make this a safe and supportive space? And does that mean that people involved whether they’re appointed clinicians, forensicly, or attorneys, where else can we learn to maybe understand that this family has a different experience than one we’ve encountered before.

Holly: Do you think it’s important that attorneys who have clients that fall into one of those categories, and they need they see a need for counseling or some type of, you know, mental health treatment, that they’re encouraging them to go to somebody who has the specialized knowledge of dealing with that community?

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. And looking at what that knowledge looks like, and where that experience comes from. Lived experience is also is always awesome. And there’s also like training and other components that go with it. Like as a queer woman, my lived experience is totally not the only experience by any stretch of the imagination. So just like checking that, oh, yes, this is a queer clinician, doesn’t quite check that box at you know, looking at CVs or asking where else are you expanding your knowledge on how other families are operating. What systematic issues may be prevalent, especially in your area. As the political climate changes, what may be going on for a family here in Texas may look really different than a case that could look strikingly similar in you know, California or somewhere else.

So kind of knowing where fears might be coming from what experiences has that family or have those parents had with the legal system before in any aspect, not just family law. And that also means with other mental health professionals, that if they have had other experiences that haven’t gone well with mental health professionals. And oftentimes, that is something that is court ordered. And even if it’s not, therapy is just a really good idea for anybody. I’m a big proponent of it. That it is a thing that is that kind of plays a role in how we experience things and how we take things in. And that also means what we’re able to give back. And that can mean for a client, how they’re able to function as a parent, how they’re able to function, as a party to the case and as a co parent.

Holly: So during the intro, I mentioned that you testify as an expert witness. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do for that?

Samantha: So it is few and far between, as you know, the goal of court is never to actually make it there. So a lot of times I do consulting and like we talk about game plan, and then they mediate and settle, which is awesome. Because that’s what you’d like to see happen is that people learn the skills to resolve things. And there may need to be a helper in place like a mediator or a parent facilitator or someone of that nature, that there may need to be a mediator to help that family operate on their A game.

But yeah, anytime that you can avoid the stress of and intimidation, because most people, you know, aren’t attorneys and don’t go to court on the regular, so the idea of telling a story, that that may be really traumatic and involves that person’s child and that person’s family, um, sometimes can involve interpersonal violence or other traumas that may be related to the family that the child is a part of. That’s really intimidating and emotionally taxing. And when you have anything that’s taxing on a parent, it’s kind of hard to ignore that, that that doesn’t affect the kids as well.

Holly: And so when you, when they do make it to court and you’re testifying as an expert, is that usually as the just the clinical therapist or somebody involved? Or are you as an out, testifying as an outside expert?

Samantha: I’ve done a little bit of both. Sometimes I’m the clinician assigned. So in some of those cases, they’ve been things like, with parent child relationships, and immigration, or like, kind of best practice scenarios when there’s been custody, and there’s been a treatment or other things that have needed to be involved to make the family system as safe as it can be. Was this treatment, like kind of what is clinically indicated? Is this a, like, legit program? Is what this parent’s after care plan is, is that sustainable? So kind of looking at that, and also talking with attorneys about, hey, here’s kind of some some areas I might see where I wonder if there could be some support added. Or, you know, I wonder about if this need was met, while this person was in treatment, or what treatment looked like.

So kind of looking at best practices. So sometimes it’s in that context, and I don’t know the client, I’m looking at documents and looking at, you know, discussing things about basically, best practices and what different forms of treatment can look like. And of course, adding if there’s a trauma informed component. We all come into the world with trauma, like that’s what being born is. So, but past that we experience different things. And anytime there’s a separation, that’s like a relational trauma and a rupture to attachment, which is so critical to parenting is attachment. So sometimes it is looking at how those things can be affected and what things could be offered as far as community resources, or what might be helpful in, in helping parents or helping families be on their A game.

Other times, I’m working with a client who’s come in like, hey, I have this thing going on, it is court involved, and I have a checkbox that I have on my intake paperwork. Are you involved in any litigation? Or do you plan to be? And what what I tell clients is, I can’t lie for you. Like, like, if you’re, if you tell me something, and I’m asked on the stand, like, did something happen? I can’t say that it didn’t. We can talk about if you want me on the stand. Like Vegas rules, I can’t say I know you exist, unless I you sign a release of information, it falls under one of those three, like exceptions to confidentiality. And under the subpoena one, it would only be if you told someone that you were here.

So sometimes people will say, well, you talk with my attorney and see if you might be a helpful witness. And sometimes the attorneys are like, yep, we can use you. And sometimes they’re like, you know, just a letter if fine. Sometimes they’re like, no, you’re you’re not going to be helpful. So it’s kind of it can look like a lot of different things. I also talk with my clients about what it’s going to look like when I’m on the stand, especially if I’m still seeing them clinically. So it’s like, hey, here’s, here’s kind of what what this may look like. And here’s risks and benefits to what it may be having a practitioner knowing that your records could get subpoenaed. So talking about those risks and benefits is something that I think clinicians really need to be very transparent with their clients, that kind of the general rules of confidentiality may not totally apply to them while they’re litigating.

Holly: So you’ve mentioned a few times today about trauma. And I know, with your background, that you have some specialized knowledge about dealing with people who have been involved in trauma. As family lawyers, what are some signs we should be looking for in clients to see if maybe these people have experienced trauma?

Samantha: Yeah, so absolutely. So like, number one is they say, so. Trauma is kind of in the eye of the beholder. So if you tell me that something was a traumatic experience, like you aren’t telling me that for funsies, and most people don’t just kind of like go around, creating, you know, grandiose stories of traumas, and horrible relationships. If there’s an attorney who goes, you know what my spidey senses are going off, and stories just aren’t lining up. Psychological evaluations can be hugely helpful. They can also be helpful with if there is trauma, on best ways to present things to clients. So I kind of like when I’m working with clients, and I’m like, hey, you’re doing something. And this is like, I wonder how this might be affecting your end goal as you are a litigating person right now, I kind of call it a bee sting.

So it’s like, hey, I’m going to tell you something, this is going to suck a little bit. So it’s like a bee sting, it’s going to hurt for a second and I’m also going to sit here with you and we’re going to clean it out. And just like a bee sting we got to get out the junk. And then we got to pack it with some stuff and let it heal. So also as a clinician being really transparent with your client and like, part of our responsibility is if I see that you’re doing something, or I’m wondering if there’s supports that may be more helpful for you to get through a really stressful time, more gracefully and less painfully. My commitment as your clinician is that I’m gonna tell you that. And sometimes it’s like the, the truth can can hurt and there may be need to use a kind of kid gloves.

So that doesn’t mean that you can’t hold your clients accountable or say things like, hey, I know you really want a, b and c, but the legal likelihood of that is it’s just not. What else can we do to make it more comfortable. Validating feelings is something you can do without validating facts. So you can say, wow, you sound really scared, and just kind of hearing that, okay, someone sees that there’s fear, or that I’m nervous, or, or that I’m really excited about this thing I’m doing with my child, or the progression of how things are going. Validating the good stuff, too.

So as attorneys, when you see stuff like, hey, this is really awesome, like step forward, validating that as well. And that’s also the other side of the coin of validating the discomfort, especially when there’s been trauma, family of origin wise, or in the relationship that’s dissolved, that leaves, you know, a co parenting need to be built and explored. So it can be how you present things to clients, and also being aware of what responses might look like. So sometimes it can look like things that look like big emotion. And that can be especially true over the last last couple of years, we’ve had this like crazy go around with this COVID thing. Can I do like a little crash course on some brain science?

Holly: Oh, yeah.

Samantha: Okay, so um, there’s only like, really three parts of your brain you need to know. So up here is like your prefrontal cortex. And that’s like your logic and reasoning and like helps you make like good sense. This is why teenagers historically make really dumb choices because this parts still bacon until like about 24 to 26 ish. So that’s why teenagers are super impulsive. And like parents, like what are you thinking, and they’re like, I don’t really know. It’s because this isn’t fully mature. So when younger parents that you’re if you’re working with younger parents, but it’s something to absolutely be cognizant of is their brains aren’t done baking. So then like in the middle, you got your hippocampus, which is like, where your memories are stored.

And then down here, you’ve got your amygdala. And that is like our most primitive part of our brains, we share it with lizards, it’s like called our lizard brain and it’s part of our limbic system, which is where our fear response comes from. So that’s, we’ve heard a fight or flight and are to lesser known, but equally as popular cousin, fawn. Which is our super people pleasey stuff. So when lawyers decide to like, okay, okay, okay and super, super people pleasey, that’s something that kind of like ping on and pay attention to that, why is this person maybe historically going into like kind of a fawning mode? And so you may see that with clients who go, okay, okay, okay. Or I feel like I have to do this and maybe don’t feel empowered.

And that’s where my role as a clinician comes in is, like, it may be scripting, how do you talk with your attorney like this, about this. I have my imaginary sign that I am not an attorney, and don’t play one on TV. So we can talk about what discussions might look like. But I’m not the one giving you legal advice. But as an attorney, something to pay attention to is, is this person going into to a fawning response, and trying to be really nice and really pleasant and just not rock the boat. And that’s something to pay attention to. You’ve got your fight or flight, which is what we’re more kind of use to. Fight can be pretty self explanatory. And it can also be like, yelling, or emotional outbursts. Flight can also look like, like running away or avoidace.

And then that freeze, which is like kind of that shutdown, which is your deer in headlights, they can see the car coming, the headlights are coming, they know they’re going to get hit, but there’s not really a damn thing they can do about it. So that’s just kind of like your brain shutting down. So our brain when we’re in a place of kind of fear and trauma, it just picks the one that’s most likely to keep us safe. So in a really healthy nervous system, what we have is like, let’s say for instance, I got mugged by a guy in a blue hat. And so like I go, oh, well, I’m walking down the street, I see a guy in blue hat. My hippocampus goes, oh, crap, I was mugged by a guy and one of those.

And then I’m taking in other data with my prefrontal cortex and like, oh, man, dude in a blue hat, like eating an ice cream cone, he’s chatting on his cell phone, he’s smiling. He’s holding this like friendly dog wagging his tail, I probably don’t need to look at this guy as a threat. And my amygdala can stay chill, and doesn’t have to ping on. In somebody that’s that’s had chronic activation. It’s kind of like this part gets skipped. And it goes, oh, my gosh, guy in blue hat, panic, panic, danger Will Robinson. And they aren’t able to think at their best. So we also looked at the past couple of years, and we’ve had this little COVID thing and we can’t see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it, but it could kill you or grandma.

And so for a while it was we were all running around with really heightened nervous systems. And so and that was true of clinicians and clients and attorneys alike. It was pretty universal to the collective. As things are kind of starting to to get back to some normalcy, it’s not like our brains just bounced back. Our brains are fabulously elastic, but we also got to teach them and work with them. And we are creatures of habit. And so while we may have gotten into certain patterns over the last couple of years, they may not be needed now. And so it’s kind of undoing some of that. So sometimes clients with trauma have found it more exacerbated over the last couple of years, given what’s happened with public health and other things going on in the social environment.

Holly: So when we were chatting before the podcast about this topic, one of the things that you mentioned that I wanted to hit on was biases to look out for when dealing with trauma. Can you tell us what you mean by that?

Samantha: Yeah. So, oftentimes with with bias there can be, especially with women, there’s like that line, you’ve heard of like, kind of the perfect victim and, and spoiler alert, there isn’t one. So there’s kind of with any kind of marginalized population as well, kind of looking for that other outlier. And sometimes, people aren’t aware that that person may already feel or have experienced in their own real life, a lot of otherness. And so that kind of like, okay, I’m talking with a person or maybe presenting my case to a judge, who might not understand me, and understand how things might show up. And my why I might be really emotional when talking about something that’s usually painful. I know, that doesn’t mean that somebody might be an emotionally unstable parent. It’s totally cool to show emotion. It’s just what do you do with it? And how do you make sure it doesn’t impact parenting in a way that’s maladaptive?

So being able to, as an attorney, kind of notice things with your clients, as far as hey, is my client getting activated? Have I noticed a change in my client’s responsiveness? Have I noticed a change and my client’s demeanor when you’re having consults with them? Have I noticed more avoidance? How have things been going with the child, um, as we’re reporting about kids. So looking at things like that, and talking with the clinicians. We are, we’re definitely, I like to think we are an asset, and we all kind of work on the same goal of having healthy families. And so it’s really important to know who your clinicians in the area are, and who does what work with what populations and who’s comfortable with what dynamics.

So for instance, you may have a fabulously trauma informed clinician, who just may not be well versed in, let’s say, consensual non monogamy, which may be an aspect to a certain family situation. Just not a good fit. So knowing your clinicians and who might be just personality wise, also a good fit with your client. Just like not every attorney is works the same way with every client. And there are clients that attorneys work with better than others, clients, and therapists are the same way. And that goodness of fit is really important.

So there can be a point of as often as appropriate, having that empowerment there that, hey, here are some options of some therapists I know who I think can be a really awesome support for you with through this journey. Or, here’s some therapists who I know, may be able to have a really great rapport with your child. And kind of help be able to communicate with all the adults in that child’s life on getting everybody on the same page. Because that’s the end goal is that we have healthy kiddos with healthy family systems, it is absolutely a team effort that takes a village.

So as a clinician, I’m like, hey, we talk about releases of information and risks and benefits. I really, really, really, really, I absolutely require them when there’s another clinician involved, for ethical reasons. I love them when there can be other other supports involved, whether it’s the child’s school or someone in a faith community or someone else that can also be there for the family as a support. And so sometimes it’s kind of that creative thinking that I think social workers are really awesome at, not that I’m biased.

That can be limiting with hey, this is kind of our standard setting how we’ve always done it, or this just kind of seems like this is kind of a you know, this is a, like an order I already have saved on my hard drive. And I can just change out the names. So I’m a really big fan of being super creative also when you need to be. And while I can’t make recommendations about what plans might look like, there are ways that that a lot of families do things with step down plans or like okay, when this then this with trigger clauses that work really well for families.

Or in families where a parent may travel, there may be trigger clauses around that, or other things that can help encourage stability for the child, especially if the child’s already injured or trauma which they have if they’ve had their parents separated and their especially if they’ve been exposed to some of the emotion that can be part of litigation. That is grown up stuff that kids don’t need to know about.

Holly: So something you said in there really made me think, you know, as family lawyers, it’s super important that you have a pretty lengthy list of mental health professionals that have different niches so that no matter what type of issue your particular client or the trial in a case might be dealing with, you can find somebody who’s really niched in that area to point them to.

Samantha: Absolutely. Like another one would be people who work with neuro diverse clients. So if you have a neuro diverse co parents, you are primed for extra high conflict. So things like rejection sensitivity or other things that may be in neuro diverse clients with ADHD, or missing social cues and clients on the autism spectrum, that attorneys having an awareness of, hey, while you aren’t clinicians, and don’t play them on TV, just like I don’t play a lawyer, knowing who to ask for y’all can have your own consults. And going, hey, I’m noticing this, what are your what are your thoughts?

And just, just like I keep a whole bunch of everybody on my referral list, I absolutely encourage lawyers or anyone who works with with people to, to kind of do the same. So if you have a family that you’re working with that, you know, is neuro diverse, that may be a different clinician, or a different pot of people that you pull from, then if you have a family that have, let’s say, maybe Orthodox Jews, and they may have their own set of needs, that might not be I mean, there’s no like standard set in high conflict case.

But like finding people that have those niches, whether it’s lived experience, in addition to training, or a lot, a lot, a lot of trainings with other people in the communities, they’ve trained in calling them an ally. So like, we don’t get to proclaim ourselves, allies of other communities. They go, yes, like you support us in the ways we like to be supported. So remembering that our clients live their lives 24/7. And we’re around for a snapshot of it. And so, like, sometimes clients were like, yeah, you know, I don’t really care about your training, I just want to know that you can understand me that I can trust you and that you’re gonna help me.

Holly: So circling back on the trauma piece we were talking about earlier, a lot of the trauma that clients in family law cases have dealt with is a result of family violence. And so what kind of special considerations do you see for cases involving a history of domestic violence?

Samantha: Sure. There I mean, so one thing we also know about family violence is that is that it’s really, really underreported. And there’s, you know, all the all the reasons around why. So it’s kind of like absence of data does not necessarily equate absence of a problem. So looking at things traditionally, like police reports, awesome if they’re there. So often they aren’t. And that’s something that looking at language in our family wizard messages looking at the dynamics of how parents interact. So looking at like, when we’re talking about language, things like, oh, I’ll let you set it into adults don’t let other adults do certain things. It’s, hey, what do you think about this? Or, hey, I’d like to. How can we work this out? Is much more collaborative language, then I guess, I’ll let you. Or allowing.

So those kinds of things can be flagged to look at and go, hey, what is that power and control dynamic? When it’s with with somebody’s kiddo, parents get protective. It’s what we do. And there’s also that okay, is this coming from a place of a parent trying to be protective? And if so, let’s look at that, or is this coming from another dynamic looking at that coercive control? So it can be that there might have been a physical violence incident, and it may have happened once, and that can be all it takes to keep someone in line. So it may be that, hey, you know what, there’s no police report. So you know, we really can’t say that there’s family violence. There are still like best practices, that sometimes people well meaning will go, oh, okay, well, you know, this story kind of tracks.

So we’ll send your co parent to anger management, which sounds great, except that interpersonal violence and anger management really don’t have a whole lot to do together. Somebody who is engaged in a violent relationship generally doesn’t have anger issues, if they get pulled over for speeding, or if their boss tells them that they need to redo a job. It is when they can get away with it. And when it’s a place that they know it’s functional. So that person may know if they go off on the cop that gives them a speeding ticket, that’s probably not going to be super functional, and they may keep it together. So anger management can sometimes teach somebody and in the case of batterers, tools to use the right words, and so they may learn, learn learn words like emotional safety or being heard. And so they start using the lingo and can use it to be more manipulative.

So, so sometimes people go, oh, yeah, anger management that will get it done. And oftentimes, that can exacerbate the problem. Any more than then getting it better. BIP is, I think underutilized and really needs a PR lift, especially with attorneys and pitching it to clients as hey, this is not a punishment, this is not a bad thing. There can be a lot of power and stories that hey, I as your parent did some stuff that was really not cool. And part of being your parent is that I want to learn better for us and for your family because you as my child deserve a healthier family than what I’ve given you so far. And that means like putting on my big person, you know my big person underwear, and doing BIP and learning things like what biases they may have towards different for different genders or in relationships.

And how that also might trickle down to their children. And that can show up with alienation, refusing to resist dynamics, and, you know, all the all of those things. So kind of like reframing BIP, as this is a good thing. This is a tool that helps you be a safe person in your child’s life. And while we know that the stuff on BIP is not perfect, we also need to look at accredited programs that so many clinicians can go, yeah, I do BIP, but there’s really not a lot of follow up to make sure that they’re accredited. So looking at the Texas Council of family violence, and what programs they track to making sure you’re getting a program or counseling with someone who really does understand the dynamics and treats it differently than anger management.

And that can also mean if there’s children that have been exposed to violence, whether that’s verbal, sexual, emotional, physical, any of it or even if parents think they were in the other room, they didn’t hear a thing, kids are smart. And they can pick up on energy just like we can like if you’ve ever walked into a room and you’re like, whoa, I can cut the tension with a knife. And no one said something, kids are no different. They just may not have the words to put that together yet. So sometimes looking at with your clients talking about BIP or therapy or other things that may be seen as a punishment, or as oh, this is something wrong with you as a tool to help you be the parent your kid deserves.

Holly: So can you tell for anybody who doesn’t know what BIP is, can you explain a little bit about what BIP is?

Samantha: BIP is Batterers Intervention and Prevention programs. They can be really easily found at any kind of like family violence agency. And those are really good places to start looking to find ones that are accredited. So different than anger management, BIP talks about the power and control dynamics. And it talks about things like gender bias, and same sex bias and things with sexuality. And there can be a whole other element of violence when there’s a gender and sexual minority as far as threats and outing somebody.

Or if you know they live in an unaffirming area, hey, I might make your household or your community and unsafe space for you. So there can be an added dynamic with gender and sexual minorities in family violence cases that attorneys may not be aware of, because we kind of don’t know what we don’t know. And so sometimes, people not maliciously don’t know what to look for to go, oh, this, this might be a thing that is used to kind of make the legal system continue continually abusive, which isn’t its purpose. So that can be a piece as well.

Holly: So you kind of mentioned a little bit with the gender affirming piece there. Circling back a little on the LGBTQIA+ demographic or community. Are there unique trauma issues that family lawyers should be looking out for with respect to people in that community?

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. So I don’t think either personally or professionally, I have met a single queer person who hasn’t experienced a rupture as a result of their sexuality or gender identity. Or in cases of, like, sexual minorities within the polyamorous community that haven’t experienced some kind of rejection, judgment, refusal of service, something, someone telling them, there’s something wrong with them, or the way they’re doing their family. And so especially if that person knows that their providers are not a member of that community, those providers need to know that it may be a slower bill to get rapport. And that rapport is so important, that if your clients trust you just like if you can trust your client, you’re going to feel a lot better about the work that you’re doing and a lot more confident about the outcomes that you’re going to get. And it’s the same for clients, too. Of okay, how do I know that I’m safe with you?

And how do I know that if I’m going to share something with you about an experience that my family has had that I don’t know, if your family’s had and I don’t really know where you stand? How do I know that I’m going to be heard? And if it’s something that doesn’t make a legal statute. That it’s like, yes, this is a crappy thing and a painful thing. And here’s why. Here’s here’s why that may need to be managed differently than a legal context of being able to use that with kid gloves. Because it is a it’s a piece of an identity. And it’s something that people are kind of used, unfortunately to being having to be like on guard for. And so understanding that it may take a little bit longer if you aren’t in the community yourself and even if you are, you know, internalized homophobia and transphobia are absolutely things so just understanding that that safety may take a little bit.

Holly: So when we were chatting before you mentioned not a lot of professionals receive training specific to working with the queer community. What type of specific training have you received?

Samantha: So I’ve done a ton. I’m so there’s a ton online for clinicians who are members of good therapy which is like a therapists search engine, they are fabulous at doing a lot of queer centric trainings. I also go to other providers in the community who are queer themselves and go directly to people in the community for training. So training that I go to for, you know, for trans clients or treating non binary or gender creative youth, I go to two clinicians who have that lived experience. There are wonderful communities, like the and that’s the happy part of the internet. There are wonderful, wonderful professional communities where people can become aligned. There’s kink, where professionals and most of them are well versed in not only any kind of non traditional relationship dynamics, but more likely queer affirming. And then looking at things like the Resource Center in our area.

I keep a running list of, you know, professionals who are queer friendly. And a lot of the queer therapists, myself included, keep running lists of all sorts of places and entities that we know are affirming. And that can be anything from therapists to hairdressers, to attorneys to places of worship, and anything people may need to make their support system whole. And that’s good for adults and kids. We don’t do parenting alone, nobody is an island. And so making sure that people have the resources that they can go be authentic, be themselves and know that their needs are getting met, is really what can help achieve safety and security for that client, regardless of what may happen in that court proceeding, knowing that they have that support around them.

And it’s also a hugely awesome model for kids. That kids that is monkey see monkey do. And if they see us as parents, taking care of our needs and staying connected with healthy people in our social circle. And I just defined a healthy connection of someone who wants well for you. So like if I, you know, walked up to you or punched you in the face on the street, is that a connection? Yes. Is it a healthy one? Not so much. So like, there can be a lot of space for modeling, hey, here’s what a healthy friendship and other relationships and what community can look like. Often in the queer community that is not a families that have we share DNA with, there’s that concept of family, or the family that you make. And so it can be a really powerful tool of, hey, you can pick who’s in your life, and you can pick how people treat you and how you respond to people, which is a really great social skill for kids as they grow up.

And then we can also talk about how we interact with people, or model that we may interact with people who we have some differences with. You know, those relationships didn’t dissolve for no reason, and how to do those respectfully, and it can be reached. And oftentimes it is you just talk about the kid, for some people, they use OFW, where they just use the calendar sector, they don’t even do messages. And sometimes that is what creates the smoothest family through this family setting. Is that it can be especially in violent situations, that increased interactions with the parents and less, something like BIP has been completed in conjunction with some kind of legal consequence to where that person has ownership of their behavior and how it’s affected their partner, former partners or children and themselves. That they that they too are worth being part of a healthy relationship. And they need to be a part of that. And they can learn those skills too.

So I think as attorneys, if we’re trying as trying to protect clients, maybe it’s kind of the story I make up on my head in my head of, hey, I don’t want to admit that my client may have some issues where maybe they don’t they they have acted in ways they shouldn’t have or ways and trying to control their previous partner or their child. BIP is a good thing. It keeps that partner from being a continued litigant. So anytime that something can be framed as a tool like this is not a punishment, this is to help you not have to hire me again and not see a courtroom again and be a really good model for your kiddo. We are not given parenting manuals. If when I work with parents, I’m like, hey, if we’re lucky, like you maybe got a class at the hospital, like changing a diaper, like burping your baby.

But once they were holding your head up, they you were kind of on your own. And so if you know learning that each child is different, and the way that you were raised as a child or the way that your other child’s parent was raised as a child may not work with your own. And so that can also obviously kind of create create conflict and things like that. So those skills as far as healthy communication can’t really be taught in anger management when there really is those coercive control dynamics. And somebody who really needs to have a change of mind frame and how they see a partner, whether it’s somebody who’s female or otherwise marginalized in a population.

Holly: So we’re just about out of time, but one of the questions I like to ask everyone who comes onto the podcast is this. If you could give one piece of advice to family lawyers, what would it be?

Samantha: Learn. And I would give that advice to everybody and clinicians too. That is like, keep your ears open. That is something if you’re if it’s something that you’re like this makes no sense to me. Dig a little bit deeper, that it may be like, you know what, this still makes no sense. And that’s a really important piece of data for you to have. It may be that there’s something else beneath it. And it could be something that’s really painful or maybe embarrassing or carry shame with it. And that’s something that might be why a client might withhold withheld that information. You know, people, you know, what I’ve heard, you know, attorneys all hate surprises. And so making sure that that space is like, hey, I’m noticing this, is there something you haven’t told me? Let’s talk about this. Or kind of just point blank asking. You know, have you ever felt unsafe?

And so sometimes going, you know, hey, was there domestic violence in the relationship? And people go no, because we kind of may have this idea that means black eyes and broken bones? And it absolutely can be. And can also be, hey, were you ever called names? Or did you ever feel like you couldn’t say no to sex? Or was there ever? Were there ever things done that were illegal that you felt like you were pressured into doing or not saying anything about? What would happen if you told your, your your former partner no? And what could that look like for you?

So there are questions that attorneys can ask, if they think there’s something beneath the surface or, you know, even what are you afraid might happen, if somebody really knew all the skeletons in the closet about your family, is kind of a good, really open ended one. And it may take time, and there’s like, kind of that your that your job is there that you want to help. And that here’s, here’s what I need to help you, and what do you need from my end. So that also mean like that, as you work with different clients, you may also learn to things that like, on ways of delivery that work better with some than others.

And so going, if you have to do something, like you know, when I talk about the bee stings. If you have to share that with a client, like, hey, I’ve got to tell you, something you’re doing is just like, not gonna not gonna cut the mustard. How would you like me to give you that information in a way that is functional. Because you don’t want your client to, like, you know, blow up at you, they probably don’t want to do that either. So asking how your client likes to receive feedback. And that’s also like, can be room for change and growth and learning too. The client relationship between an attorney it’s just like a client relationship with a therapist or a relationship with anyone else. It’s just kind of learning how each other operates within that dynamic.

Holly: So where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about you?

Samantha: So, I, they are welcome to email me. [email protected]. I have a website that is currently under construction, And I, you know, I love taking emails and talking with people, and seeing how I can help. Sometimes also as a professional, that is knowing our own limits, and that there’s someone else who is more awesome than we are. And so that’s when keeping that big, that big pool of referrals can come super in handy. So sometimes the best help is I’m not the person who can help you and here is someone who can really offer that. So another piece of advice would be like kind of knowing our own limitations.

Holly: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. For our listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, please take a second to leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes.

Voiceover: The Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law Firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

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