Susan Fletcher | What Family Lawyers Need to Know About Intensive Reunification Therapy

What is the impact of intensive reunification therapy in family law? Intensive reunification therapy is different than traditional reunification therapy, and it can potentially have many negative impacts on a family.

In this episode, author and psychologist Susan Fletcher shares her expertise on intensive reunification therapy, a subject of growing concern nationwide.

Susan will provide a detailed background of the therapy, its implications and ethical considerations, and the controversies surrounding it–and cover the often adverse psychological effects these programs have on children and parents.

Susan’s insights are an excellent resource for attorneys wondering how to approach family law cases involving intensive reunification therapy.

Mentioned in this episode:


Susan Fletcher: Intensive reunification therapy is typically called a reunification camp. The expectations for them are to heal the family by giving a jumpstart to the family to try to get more success and progress quicker than what we know to be the traditional reunification where people are outpatient being seen by a therapist in their community.

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 are excited to welcome back Susan Fletcher to The Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Susan is an author and licensed psychologist specializing in therapy and evaluation in family law matters, including child custody, parent functioning and resist refusal dynamics. She previously joined us on the podcast back in 2021. And I’m very excited to have her back today to discuss a topic that family lawyers, not just in Texas, but I would say all over the country, really needs to be made aware of. And that is the topic of intensive reunification therapy. So thanks so much for hopping on and joining me today.

Susan: Well, thanks for having me.

Holly: So this was something that I personally had never heard of until very recently. I came to learn about it because I had another lawyer reach out to me to do a mandamus and a case where this intensive reunification therapy had been ordered. And you know, all family lawyers who have been doing this for any length of time have heard about reunification therapy, and it’s used regularly.

And you know, our podcast we did before kind of talked a little bit about that. But this is very different. And I’ve asked around a lot of attorneys, a lot of attorneys who’ve been practicing family law much longer than I have. And so many of them had never heard of it, or they had only heard of it a very little bit.

But now that we know it’s being ordered out there in courts, I think it’s super important to educate people about what this is, and maybe what they can do about it, if it comes up in one of their cases. So can you give us a little bit of background? What is intensive reunification therapy?

Susan: Sure. Intensive reunification therapy is typically called a reunification camp, or a reunification vacation, or family vacation that’s therapeutic in nature. And it’s very intensive. Most of the programs are four days. And then at that point, people return back to their communities.

But I think the most important part is what it takes for someone to go to an intensive program. So the court orders are always required. So what they are, for many cases, they can be a last ditch resort to try to heal a relationship within a family.

But the circumstances and the way these programs get ordered and the way they get, I don’t want to say used, I want to say that the way the expectations for them are to heal the family by giving a jumpstart to the family to try to get more success and progress quicker than what we know to be the traditional reunification where people are outpatient being seen by a therapist in their community.

Holly: So backtracking just a little bit to give a little bit of background here. The word that gets thrown around in lawyer circles by judges in all the family law context is alienation. And I knew that that is not something that you like to see used as a term. Can you talk a little bit about alienation and why we shouldn’t be using that term? And what the background is that lead someone into this place?

Susan: I can, and you noticed that I hesitate to use the word alienation. And the reason isn’t, because I don’t believe that there are things that occur that may influence a child in a negative manner in a relationship with a parent, especially when there’s custody issues going on. The reason is, the word alienation is, it triggers so many people, it’s so misunderstood. The literature does not have a standardized definition for the word alienation.

So as you know, I do child custody evaluations and psychological evaluations in family court where I’m appointed by a judge. And when a parent comes in and says my co-parent is alienating my children from me and alienation is going on. First thing I need to do, any evaluator should do, is say what do you mean by alienation?

So the word alienation is often misunderstood. And so what is more important and the literature is reflecting that more now than ever, is to talk about the behaviors and attitudes that may be going on in a family that may be interfering with a child’s ability to have a healthy relationship with both parents. And if we look at it in terms of behaviors and attitudes, then we’re going to look at some things that are more objective.

We’re going to look at things that are measurable, that are observable. And the other thing about alienation and using the word that the literature points out, and those of us that do this work, see on a daily basis, is that it tends to be a blame model. Like there’s one bad player and one good player. So there’s a favored parent who’s the alienator.

And they’re the ones doing all the bad things. And then there’s the rejected parent, who’s the parent that the children are resisting and refusing to spend time with. And that that person could possibly be using an alienation, strategy and litigation in order to cover up possible abuse.

So there are so many variables. And when we’re dealing with families, at a basic level where there is resistance and refusal, we need to look at it as a system, we need to look at all the variables, and we always need to make sure we recognize that these families are all different. So we have to look at alternative hypotheses all the time.

So alienation in the traditional sense, we’re starting to see the clinicians and attorneys who are aware of the more recent literature and research using the terms that relate to behaviors and attitudes that interfere.

Holly: Okay. So, then you were describing a little bit what the intensive reunification therapy programs look like. And I want to kind of expound on that a little bit, because you mentioned the four days. And based on what I’ve seen in a court order, which I had mandamus, it goes way beyond just four days. So I can see four days, no big deal anybody can get through that.

But what these programs really entail is much more than that. So the example that I’ve seen was the four day intensive program with parents and children. So we’ll call that the rejected parent, under your terminology. Followed by 90 days of the rejected parent having the children, and absolutely no contact at all with the favored parent.

And then assuming that nobody has contact during that time, or they don’t have any other violations or whatever the terms are of that order, then it went to a minimum of 12 weeks of the rejected parent being primary, and the favored parent having really less than an expanded standard possession order, and no contact outside of that. So I think it’s really important for people to understand this is a long, drastic program.

Susan: It is. You’re absolutely right. And that mate 90 day, no contact rule is the part that many clinicians and researchers have the most concern about, because you’ve got children that are in the possession of a parent who has a majority of the parenting time, who provides things for them on a daily basis.

And then all of a sudden, what tends to happen when these programs are ordered, is it feels to the children like they’re ripped out of what they consider and they perceive to be a safe space, and then into a system with the rejected parent, with a stranger who’s a clinician trying to assist them in a way that feels very coercive to the children to have a relationship with that parent, that they have some very negative feelings about, justified or not.

That’s the child’s experience. And then after the four days, they go typically back to their community. And when they go back to their community, there’s a whole lot you’re absolutely right, that goes on, beyond those four days. And it’s important that people understand that this is, can be very traumatic for children. It can be traumatic for both parents, it does insinuate that there’s a winner and a loser.

It does insinuate that there is punishment. It does insinuate that one parent is bad, and one parent is good, no matter what the materials say that are written about a lot of these programs. And one of the main reasons is, there are expectations for each parent in this program. So that 90 day no contact rule, that temporary period of sole legal and physical custody of the children, is pretty dramatic and drastic.

And I can understand and I want to say this as a mental health professional in our community. I can understand why attorneys and judges may believe that this is worth a try, because they may believe nothing else has worked. And they may believe that this is one of the ways to guarantee that this is being addressed.

But I don’t disagree that nothing else has worked, because we may not be defining our goals for families very well. And so I think that’s why this is so controversial, is because there is so much that goes on. And we leave the family with a lot of things to unpack when these programs occur.

Holly: So obviously, there must be people out there who think this is a good idea, and that this works. So can you talk a little bit about what research is out there in support of this type of a program?

Susan: Well there is research, and there are journal articles, where there are opinions based on research about when this may be appropriate. And the basis of most of that research is that we are sequestering the children with the rejected parent without the influence of a parent who may be negatively interfering with the relationship between the children and the parents. And that sounds like okay, that sounds logical, that sounds really, really good.

And many times the programs believe that the program is successful because the kids are cooperative, and that the alienating parent, or the favored parent is cooperative. Many times that cooperation can be very deceiving, because just because they appear to be on task and cooperative doesn’t necessarily mean their internal dialogue is changing, or they are receptive.

Because that four days to your point is not very long. But most of the people who promote these programs, or actually are the founders of these programs, or are the leaders of these programs, they firmly believe that this is a viable option when nothing else has worked, and that it benefits families.

But there’s also research that shows some suspicion about some of the research that has been done. At least about one program, that seems to be the model program, that that may not be the case, or it may be misleading when we say that it’s successful or doesn’t hurt families.

Holly: So what concerns do you have based on, you know, these programs and the research that’s out there in support of them?

Susan: So one of the concerns that I have is that I believe that there’s a misconception that reunification therapy should have more immediate effects when it’s done on an outpatient basis. So for example, if a clinician in the community has the experience and training and understands the literature to do reunification therapy, and they are working with a family, they’re going to see different combinations of the family, including both parents, as well as the children and sometimes even older siblings, or extended family.

And the work takes some time, because we have to create an environment where the family can see the problem differently. Where we can change it so that instead of looking at blame, we’re looking at opportunity. And we can also be really clear about what the expectations are for the relationships in the family. Especially in a new filing that’s occurred for a family before a divorce, where there’s two households that are being established.

Many times those parents really do need the support and guidance, to know how to assist children to adapt to that. And that’s really what the job is as a parent. So in our community and many communities, there are people who have the experience and training. And it does take some time, but they need to see these family members frequently.

This is not once a week for an hour. And then over time, in a three month period, there’s only been six or seven sessions. This is not traditional therapy. This is where we’re going to work together and help everybody with some skills, create an environment where we can look at some of those faulty beliefs that people in the family have. And what I believe is that the person who is the favored parent feels like that’s a fire hose in their mouth, it’s happening too fast.

And the person who is identified as the rejected parent feels like that’s going way too slow, because they want change to occur now. Research shows we do need intervention as early as possible, because the longer there’s a cut off in families, the harder it is to treat, which makes sense.

So as a clinician, my concern about these programs is that I don’t know, in many of these cases that I’m aware of or have been involved in, if there has been enough time or enough data collected about what is occurring in the community and the mental health team that’s working with the family. I have felt at times that it’s a drastic measure to try to jumpstart and get things moving in a direction quickly.

But it does it in a way that can feel very coercive to family members that is unhealthy and then has lingering effects for those kids as time goes on. And we’re seeing more and more stories about that. There’s more out there for clinicians and legal professionals to review about the experience that people have had in some of these programs.

Holly: So I know you’ve mentioned that they can be very traumatic for not just children, but both parents. Can you talk a little bit about why that is?

Susan: Well, first of all, that usually happens pretty quickly. It’s not unusual that a court order, a hearing is held, or a trial is held. And then the court orders that this occurs, and it occurs within 24 hours. And that’s by design. I understand that. That’s by design. And then there may be transporters that assist the children to get from one household to wherever the four day program is.

So there are some clinicians in Texas who provide the services of the intensive, no contact four day therapy. And if somebody is in another community in Texas, they go to the community where those therapists are. Same thing in California, same thing in New York. And so they leave their community and go with the parent, that they have had resistance and refusal with a clinician they haven’t met before.

Many times, they don’t understand. And we get that. They don’t understand what’s going on. But each day has a certain of the four day program has a certain goal, like the very first day they go over memorabilia from when the relationship with that rejected parent was better. Many times that’s been provided or ordered by the court for the favored parent to provide that.

There’s also a letter that the favored parent is expected to write for many of the programs that supports the relationship that children have with the parents, which isn’t my concern. But often that favored parent is expected to write things in the letter that they don’t believe that they feel is misleading the children. And they’re incredibly resistant to doing that.

Good and bad about that resistance. It’s just a whole process. And so that can be very traumatic. Understandable why a program might think that’s valuable. But that can also be very confusing to the system. And so to the whole family system. And so the favored parent is not involved in those four days, then they return to the community.

And then the children have set up, their family is now working with the rejected parent. Sometimes they have to change schools, because the addresses are different, right? They’re in different school zones. Sometimes they’re most often they are sequestered from their friends and other family members too.

So their emotional support, even though we understand there are problems with that emotional support is cut off. And that is, that’s alarming for a lot of children. But let’s remember, we have to look at all the alternative hypotheses about these families, too. So every family has their own unique issues that are related to why there’s resistance and refusal.

One of the things I want to mention when we’re talking about why these programs are ordered, is that typically, the court has determined that there is no abuse that has been found from the rejected parent with the children. And so that is also controversial, as I think you’ll agree as an attorney, in and of itself, because that is so difficult. I mean, we are looking at, we’re dealing with allegations rather than findings. And that’s a challenge.

That’s a challenge for mental health professionals and the court system. So there’s controversy about that, because there’s disagreement within families about whether allegations are accurate or not. So it’s confusing to children, it seems very abrupt. And many times kids are not quite sure what to do. And there are times they’re resistant, when they go back to their community with that rejected parent.

Holly: So with these programs, we were talking about how they could be traumatic for both kids and parents. What do you think should be happening before anyone is ever getting to the point of thinking a program like this is a good idea?

Susan: I think qualified experienced health professionals need to become involved with the family. And they need to be professionals who understand the importance of family systems. So you don’t just work with the child to try to get that child to want to be with their parent again.

Typically, that’s a red flag for me as someone that does this work that the clinician that doesn’t know the literature doesn’t have a lot of experience, because that’s typically not going to be effective. So the first thing is to attempt a team approach in your community of clinicians who are going to communicate with each other so they’re not split from taking sides and they can remain neutral.

So the parent who is identified as the alienating parent or the favored parent, that parent would benefit greatly from having a clinician who can assist that parent to deal with the fears they have and talk about maybe some of their irrational fears or ways they can respond to their children who are resistant. The parent who’s rejected, oftentimes, my experiences need some parenting strategies to know how to be responsive rather than punitive.

To learn how to take responsibility for a child’s perception. To learn to apologize. Those things are really important. And then the child needs someone also who’s going to work with that child to deal with the anxiety and the fears that they feel. And then also, the family needs to meet together. And I just want to say, I know in many communities, there are not enough clinicians to do this work.

And I know in many communities, there are families that can’t afford to have a team approach. What I’m going to tell you is it’s one of the best investments they could make is to have a team in place to assist the family early, because the programs that are the intensive 90 day no contact are incredibly expensive. So it’s better to make the investment early. And I do believe that people will see success with those things in place. And there’s research to support that.

Holly: How long do you think there needs to be an effort at more traditional reunification therapy and family systems therapy, before anyone should be trying to pull the trigger on this type of a program?

Susan: I wish I could give you a number because that will make our job so much easier. And I get asked on the stand a lot when I do expert testimony, how long will it take? Or how much time should we give it? I want to be really clear, there are so many variables within each family that need to be considered, there is no cookie cutter. It is important though, that these families have more than one appointment a week.

Kids are going to miss school in order to see their clinician so they can be seen at the rate they need to be seen. It is an important investment in a child’s future to learn the skills they’re going to need, rather than learning cutting off, blaming, siding with people as a way to deal with their feelings.

So I wish I could tell you. It’s not two months, and it may not be two years for some families. But it is, just like most things in life, it’s being consistent. It’s being deliberate, it’s getting qualified, experienced people involved. Being transparent about the process, so that the clinicians are all talking to each other, and setting expectations for the family.

And some families, especially if there’s been a long cut off or a lot of resistance or refusal. And a lot of stories of things that have happened, police involvement, things like that allegations, it’s going to take a little longer. Those are the cases that are going to take longer.

The ones where the cut off and rejection has been occurring for three months over a holiday period, while I appreciate that’s very traumatic for families, and especially for the parent that hasn’t seen their children. Not gonna say those are easier cases, because I can’t guarantee that, but we can see success earlier with the proper interventions.

Holly: You mentioned a little bit about the allegations of abuse when we see resist, refusal. And one thing you and I talked about offline was statistics around how often that’s false versus how often it’s accurate. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because I know in the case that I was brought in on there is a criminal indictment for child abuse. And this was still ordered. And the program was saying no concerns about this. So kind of give us your thoughts on that.

Susan: Well, first I will tell you that’s one of the reasons the case you’re talking about and your involvement in other cases I’m aware of, a criminal indictment, that is pretty clear information that something’s likely occurred. There’s been an investigation, there’s now an indictment.

Those are the cases that are concerning, because the intensive programs that have the 90 day cut off, the goal is for those children to be and the reality is the children are with that rejected parent 100% of the time. And so if that parent, if there is data that supports that abuse has occurred, then I’m going to say straight out that these intensive 90 day no contact programs are not appropriate for a family like that.

Because you’re putting, you know, we’re looking at kid’s safety. We’re looking at safety for the family and the children’s safety. And I don’t know how that supports children’s safety when there’s a criminal indictment or allegations where there’s a finding from CPS or other types of investigators.

Sometimes there’s videos from nanny cams and things like that, that really strongly support that some type of abuse occurred. That is not an appropriate case, in my professional opinion, for these 90 day no contact intensive programs. So the literature, it’s important for attorneys, judges and mental health professionals to know the literature. Because what the literature says and I will reference there’s a study that was done.

One of the authors was Nicholas Bala in Canada, a very well respected researcher, contributor to our knowledge base in this profession. And it was published in 2005. And the study is from 1998, where they looked at CPS cases and cases of child maltreatment over a three month period in Canada. And it was published in the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect.

And that study, just I’m going to look at my notes here, because I want to get the numbers correct for everybody is that the data is from Canada and it was for they looked at child maltreatment investigations for 7,672 cases. That’s a lot. That’s not a small sample size. And they found that based on the data that was available from the investigators who are experienced and trained professionals, that 1/3 of the maltreatment investigations were unsubstantiated, but only 4% of all cases are considered to be intentionally fabricated.

So in family law, what we see is there is a misperception that when there’s a custody case going on, that there’s a high incidence of intentionally fabricated allegations. And the research doesn’t show that. In the Canada study, they took a subsample of the cases where custody or access dispute had occurred. And the rate of intentionally false allegations is approximately 12%.

And other studies have shown that it’s less than 20%. And the custodial parent, which is typically the mother and the children were the least likely to fabricate reports of abuse or neglect. And neglect was the most common form of intentionally fabricated maltreatment. And while anonymous reporters and noncustodial parents most frequently made the intentionally false reports.

So we have to look at the data, we have to turn to the data before we start giving opinions or as decisions are being made for families. And the data supports it’s low incidence that there are false allegations. And many of us because many mental health professionals and people in the legal community because of stereotypes, or they’ve heard somebody else say it so they believe it, they don’t really know the research, think that it’s a really high incidence. And the research just doesn’t support that.

Voiceover: This episode of The Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by The Draper Law Firm, providing family law appellate representation across Texas. For more information, visit or call 469-715-6801.

Holly: So oftentimes, in family law cases we don’t have as black and white as somebody’s been indicted. We have he said, she said, somebody’s throwing around these allegations. Nobody outside of those people involved actually knows if anything happened. So what would you recommend for families like that? I mean, is that something where yes, there’s allegations, but we can still do traditional reunification therapy. Or do we need to let a criminal court get to the bottom of it before we should be trying to reunify? What’s your opinion on that?

Susan: Okay, I love this question. I’m asked this question a lot of times on the stand about specific families where I’m responding to a hypothetical question when I do testimony as an expert, when I’m retained. And what I’m going to tell you is that we have to consider all the hypotheses.

And there are many hypotheses for the allegations. And in considering all those hypotheses, multiple sources of data have to be considered. And if there is any indication that the possibility exists, that it is not safe to put a child in a residence with a parent, where there is enough data that suggests that that child will not be safe in that environment, then I think that courts and mental health professionals and attorneys need to attend to the fact that we have to craft a treatment plan for this family that can take that into consideration.

So as we all know, sometimes courts will order that the only time that parent has access to the children is in the therapy environment, or during supervised parenting time. And that just gives us more data in order to know what the next steps are. So it’s not really just testing that parent because we all know, any human individual can act fine when they’re not fine.

And in family law, we know that that’s where people who can do bad things or have done bad things act fine, act like they’re good people. Whereas criminal law and I do a little bit of criminal law, that’s where people who have done bad things, and we have lots of data on that, act like they’re good people, right. And they may be good people, but they make bad decisions. So we have to really get more data.

And one of the ways we can get data is if access is allowed for that parent where there is some suspicion to get more data from a trained supervisor over time. Also get more data by having them in a therapeutic environment with each other. I want to be really clear the goal in those instances is that we want to see how the parent is in front of the therapist, and the child is in front of the therapist, because we want to give them skills and skill may be for a child to be able to manage their anxiety when they’re with that parent.

They’re not left alone with that parent, but how to manage the anxiety, see what kind of progress they can make. Have that parent be able to be responsive to the child rather than making it all about themselves. As reunification therapists working with families, one of the first mistakes rejected parent makes, in my opinion, when they have the opportunity in my office to begin talking to their child who’s resisting or refusing contact, is they start talking about themselves.

Oh, I missed you. Do you know how hard this has been on me. All these accusations are hurting my reputation. And I’m just going to add that there’s an alternative. And the alternative is to say, I know that we have a lot of problems in our relationship, and we have a lot to work on. And I’m going to be patient, and I want to be able to listen and the therapist here is going to help you and I be able to figure out what’s possible in our relationship.

And so a trained, experienced reunification therapist knows the literature, knows those skills that are needed. And so that is my answer. I think that is the component and what needs to occur. And that order needs to also include that all parties have to be compliant.

And if they’re not compliant with the process, if a parent doesn’t bring the children to those appointments, there needs to be consequences related to that. And strong court orders are needed, especially with the outpatient programs that can assist a court to know that the 90 day no contact isn’t required or even to be considered.

Holly: Are there certain situations when you feel these intensive programs are justified? And if so, when would that be?

Susan: So I’m going to tell you, in my experience, and in talking to other clinicians and experts nationally, hearing all sides of the argument about these programs at national conferences that I attend, and sometimes I’m speaking at those national conferences, and have access to a variety of expertise and opinions. I feel well, I feel, what I know, is that there is more concern about the programs than there is support for the programs among clinicians who are actually doing this work.

So when you ask me that question, I struggle with that question. Because my goal is to assist families to be able to function independent from clinicians and the legal system. And so I’m invested for long term for them to have the skills and be able to be in the same room with each other and support that child having a relationship with both parents.

So I have not found any of the cases I’ve been involved with where I’ve felt that has been appropriate. In fact, some of the cases you will find the data shows the reunification therapist felt that they didn’t give enough time for the family to benefit from the resources in their own community without such a drastic intervention.

Holly: So as a practical matter for attorneys, when we are dealing with a case where this has come up, what types of experience, training, background should we be looking for, from both those involved in any type of reunification therapy, and those who might be recommending it or recommending an intensive program?

Susan: Okay, I’ll be really clear that I think, if any legal professional is looking at a possible clinician to do this work, it’s important to get a copy of their CV and look and see, what training have they received? Do they know the literature? Are they a member of AFCC? Do they know who the major researchers are that are doing this work? And many times when I’m retained behind the scenes where I’m not going to be a testifying expert, but I’m assisting attorneys in litigation for family law cases.

That’s the first thing I’ll ask is let’s learn a little bit about that clinician. Just because somebody says they’ll take a case doesn’t mean they have the experience and training in order to do the work that’s required. In fact, Christy Bradshaw Schmidt and I, we’re in the same community and we co presented advanced reunification therapy training to mental health providers for over a period of years, during COVID, so we did it virtually.

And we did it because we wanted in our community for there to be a longer list of professionals who knew the literature and knew what the literature says benefits families, and knew all the sides of the issues. What we found was we had a lot of national people wanting to take our training, which is a compliment, but the goal was to invest in our community.

So we’re not providing that training anymore. But there are plenty of places to get training, and you want to see those on a clinician’s resume. The other thing is, is that clinician needs to have almost immediate availability, which is sometimes unheard of. But if somebody’s doing reunification therapy, that’s an important commitment to make. Don’t make a family wait.

Bad things continue to happen. And we got to work with these families pretty quickly. So that will be the number one thing is make sure they have the experience and training. Just because they say they do it or they list it on their website doesn’t mean that that’s the best person to do the work.

Holly: So in the case that I was familiar with this came up because an LPC that was working with the children recommended that these intensive programs might be a good fit. If that comes up in our case, what types of cross examination questions should we be asking that professional to show you don’t really know what you’re talking about. You don’t know that this is a program that would work for this family.

Susan: So again, I’ll tell you, we look at the literature. So you want to make sure they’re familiar with the literature, there is actually a study that was done. And it was published just in the last few years by Jennifer Harman about one of the programs that’s in New York, and it’s Turning Point. And that is that research came out, and I’m gonna make sure to get the date correct in 2021, in the Journal of Family Therapy and evaluated the Turning Points for Families program in New York.

And while that research, if you just read the abstract, says that that program does no harm, that the children were not traumatized, and they were safe. And the program supports a positive change in the relationship between a rejected parent and a child or children. It’s important to have always with any research have a critical way of looking at it to ask yourself what they’re saying.

Did it really measure what they were saying? And I will tell you there is a lot about that Jennifer Harman article that is very recent looking at a program that in New York that is a model program for many clinicians doing the intensive 90 day no contact programs, that there’s a lot of criticism of that research because of the way it was conducted. And I will tell you, there’s a follow up article by Andreopoulos and Wexler in 2022.

The title of that article is The Solution to Parental Alienation, A Critique of the Turning Points at Overcoming Barriers Reunification Programs, that was in the Journal of Family Trauma, Child Custody and Child Development. If people who are watching this want copies of those two articles, I’m happy to provide those because anyone doing this work or recommending an intensive 90 day program needs to know at least those two articles so that they can speak intelligently.

And when you are writing cross examination questions for a clinician recommending the programs, you want to know that they’re familiar with the research on that, and to hear what their response is on that. Just because somebody says it’s safe, doesn’t necessarily mean the way it was measured, determines that it’s safe.

And for the follow up, that’s reported in the Jennifer Harman article about whether families benefited long term, their source of data was from the founder of the program, who is the clinician who reported it to the people that wrote the article. And that person, as we would all understand has an invested interest in the success of their program.

So I don’t know if that’s a good objective way to gain data about the long term benefits of a program. So there’s a lot of other points about it, but they’re covered in both those articles. And I would just invite people who are in the situation you described, to be familiar with those articles. And there are many cross examination questions that could be asked.

Holly: And I think it’s a really good idea if you are faced with this as something you know is coming up in a hearing where one side is asking for it, to hire an expert that is familiar with this. Correct me if I’m wrong, that expert does not need to know this family or these children, but they are going to be able to testify about why this program is potentially dangerous and why the court should have a lot of hesitation before they throw a family into it.

Susan: So if I could just suggest another way to say it because I do this work a lot. When I testify, I will testify to what the court should consider if they’re looking at these programs, rather than me saying it’s dangerous. Because I haven’t done the research myself. I can educate the court and assist the trier of fact or in Texas, a jury, about what the research shows about the programs and what the different views are about the programs.

I can give that. All the hypotheses, all the things that people are talking about the national level, but I am going to assist the trier of fact to know what to consider. And one of the major considerations is have we tried to the best of our ability and given the time that’s needed, and the attention that’s needed to this family and our community without putting a no contact order in place?

And can we say that these children will be safe with that other parent if the no contact order is put in place? So I go about it that way, because my job as an expert, I am a visitor in the courtroom, right? I’m a guest in the courtroom. And I’m there to assist the trier of fact. So I want to give them those variables to consider as that decision is being considered to put a no contact order and an intensive program in place.

Holly: So I wanted to also talk a little bit about the opinion that came out in the case, the mandamus that I did, because I think it can be really helpful for attorneys that are trying to prevent a court from ordering intensive reunification therapy. So the argument, I made several arguments as to why this was not a good, not allowable under the law, with very minimal information on the mental health piece of it, but just from a truly legal standpoint.

And the argument that the Court of Appeals, the case is in re SB and it’s not published at this point. The Westlaw citation is 2023 Westlaw 8112897. It’s out of the Fort Worth, Second District Court of Appeals. And the argument I made, which the Court of Appeals agreed with and issued an opinion about was that issuing an order for intensive reunification therapy at temporary orders amounted to a custody flip.

And Texas law is very specific about what is required to get a temporary flip of custody of primary in a hearing. And if you just get up and argue that there should be intensive reunification therapy, and you haven’t met the affidavit requirements, and you haven’t met the requirements of the code, you can’t get it.

So I think that’s something, both if you’re trying to get it, which I don’t think I would ever recommend. Or if you’re trying to fight it, I think you want to be on alert for that. Another idea that I had, which the Court of Appeals did not address, but I think is worth people being aware of if you’re having to make these arguments, is that if you have a mental health professional recommending this program, that they are making recommendations about possession and access.

And if they have not done a child custody evaluation, the code says they cannot do it. So I think those are a couple of ways that as practitioners we can fight legally against having these types of things happen in our cases.

Susan: I’ll add two other things just for consideration is that, as you know, I served a six year term on the Texas State Board of Examiners and Psychologists, and then also on another board appointed by Governor Abbott to regulate our profession in the state of Texas. And so I cannot omit the fact that we also have to look at some licensing issues on this. In addition to what you just mentioned with the Texas family code.

Often for these programs, the parent’s attorney who is wanting this program to be in place, it’s typically the rejected parent, right. That attorney will bring in the person who would be the clinician for the intensive program, and that person will testify. I want to make sure that attorneys know that if that person is not licensed in the state of Texas, that they are practicing without a license in our state by testifying.

And so if the person is licensed in Texas we have two that I know of clinicians who do this work in the state of Texas, if they testify in a Texas court, they’re licensed in Texas. I know they are. That’s not the issue, but someone from the program in New York, someone from the program in California, if they are not licensed in the state of Texas, and you’re looking to exclude their testimony, that’s one area to look.

The other thing is, my experiences is, is that during testimony, the people that testify about their programs in order to educate the court, the transcripts I’ve read and the cases I’ve been involved in that clinician, that mental health professional, speaks to the diagnosis of the alienated parent, and the rejected parent and speaks to things and talks about again, possession and access recommendations, where they’ve never evaluated either member of the family.

They have not typically met the alienating parent who’s identified as the alienating parent. They have not typically met the rejected parent, or reviewed the data to show there’s a high possibility that children may not be safe with that parent that there’s resistance and refusal. So those are also important elements to consider. Because as clinicians, it is unethical for us to diagnose a party we have never evaluated. And I do see in transcripts that does happen when there is testimony about these programs.

Holly: So thanks so much for hopping on today, we are pretty much at a time. For anybody watching on TV, my guilty party that caused us to take a break is saying hello. She’s causing all kinds of problems in this podcast today. But, you know, I really appreciate you hopping on. I think it’s so important that people get educated on this.

Because even if just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, and doesn’t mean it couldn’t pop up and happen at a hearing where you don’t expect it. Because that’s exactly what happened in the underlying case of SB. It was not on the radar, it was not expected to be discussed at that hearing. So be aware.

Know what the concerns are about these types of programs and how to attack it if someone’s going to bring it up in court. So where can our listeners go, I know you mentioned being able to get the articles and I know you’ve told me in the past that you’re going to have blog posts on this topic. So where can our listeners go to connect with you or to find that information?

Susan: So on my website, which is, I have a blog. And I have information on that blog about some of what we talked about today. I don’t have the exact articles that are published in journals on my blog. But if anybody wanted to email me and get a copy of those articles, I am happy to provide them. I’ve listed what the references are.

So I wanted to make sure I said what journals they were in. So there are other ways that people can get that on their own. But I think the most important thing is to get educated. And so I do have information on my blog that can assist. One of the things that I also will tell you is there’s a number of professionals in Texas, that we all know each other, we share literature with each other, we see each other at national conferences, we consult with each other who are available in order to provide expert testimony.

And I’m happy to assist someone, whether they want to talk to me about doing it or someone else. So there are resources out there, they do not have to deal with these things alone. These programs are not new, the one in New York has been around since 2016. It’s just that in all communities we’re slow to learn about it.

So stay informed about it. I also want to mention something. There are some laws that everybody’s gonna start hearing about. One of them is Kayden’s Law, which came out of Pennsylvania and you’ll see some states are adopting that. And it’s a law that will require judges to have more training in domestic violence. And there are parts of it that forbid the courts to order these programs.

And then there’s another one. Piqui’s Law that’s in California. And both of these are newer, and I expect we’re going to see more in the next few years. So just stay alert to what’s happening in other states because it’s coming to Texas and some of it may be helpful to attorneys. But more importantly, when we’re educated, we know how to deal with things and we won’t be caught off guard like I think people are about these programs.

Holly: I think the fact that there are states prohibiting courts from ordering these types of programs tells me a lot about the risks of courts ordering these programs.

Susan: Well, both Piqui’s Law and Kayden’s Law are the result of children who were murdered by a parent when they were provided with unsupervised access, and there were known risks in advance. And so they aren’t specific about the intensive programs. I don’t want to mislead people, but they are specific about the issues and the concerns about safety for children. So I just encourage people to learn more about that and when you see that in any of the journals that you’re reading, make sure you spend the time to learn more about it because it’s very relevant and will become even more relevant.

Holly: All right. 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 to 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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