CO-PARENTING TRAINING / SHARED PARENTING
WHAT IS THE SHARED PARENTING SUPPORT PROGRAM?
The Shared Parenting Support Program (SPSP) is a structured therapy designed to guide divorced parents in the transformation of "intimate anger," the anger of the dissolution process, to skillful collaboration in the long-term, day-in and day-out, co-parenting of their children. SPSP was developed in 1989 by Frank Leek, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist. Dr. Leek based his work upon family systems therapy, rational-emotive therapy, anger management, and a task vs. feelings orientation in marriage and divorce.
SPSP grew out of the need for a structured program and a protected environment in which divorced parents can learn and practice effective co-parenting skills once a formal parenting plan is in place. Parents need to bring two things to the program: 1. a desire to safeguard the children, and promote healing and growth, and 2. a court endorsed parenting plan they are willing to live with.
WHAT ARE THE UNDERLYING GOALS AND PRINCIPLES OF SPSP?
1. Shared Parenting Therapy is not Marital Therapy
Divorcing parents often think of counseling or therapy as either something they tried that was not successful, or as treatment that was focused on enhancing the intimacy, openness, and cooperation needed for an intact marital relationship. Understandably, they are often reluctant to enter a therapeutic process together, a process that they fear might confuse the new boundaries they are trying to develop after their divorce. SPSP is a time-limited therapeutic process based upon clear goals including the clarification of post-divorce boundary issues.
2. Effective Skills for Co-Parenting Can Be Learned
In many instances, conflicted divorced parents continue to fight because they do not know how to not fight. They may use anger as a way to bring about physical and emotional distance, reduce their sense of loss, and justify their decision to end of the relationship. A major goal of SPSP is to help parents learn alternative methods of separation, develop new boundaries, and build conflict resolution skills, all within a safe therapeutic environment.
3. A Safe Environment Promotes Positive Growth
SPSP creates a safe, no-fault environment where parents can practice new skills and face issues directly in an open and non-defensive manner. Parents learn that they can listen and understand one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and they learn that being willing to understand the other=s point of view doesn't necessarily mean they must agree.
4. Clarification of Personal vs. Co-Parenting Issues
A parent may need help recognizing that residual anger and conflict constitute a personal issue that may need to be worked out with his/her own therapist. SPSP addresses co-parenting issues of learning new boundaries and effectively raising children in two homes.
5. Regaining Parental Power
SPSP is designed to help parents reduce conflict and move from intimate anger to the effective use of shared-parenting power. Usually parents feel a loss of parenting power during the divorce, often blaming the other parent for that loss. As long as parents are locked in conflict, and unable to make effective parenting decisions, they feel powerless. SPSP helps parents regain a sense of parental power.
6. Parents and SPSP Therapists Must Have Accurate Feedback
At intervals in the SPSP process, assessment methods are utilized to measure changes in co-parenting capacity and the children's overall adjustment.
7. Re-establishing Direct Communication about the Children
Parents are guided in discussing their children, reviewing each child's developmental history, dealing with specific child behaviors, and in making decisions about school, extra-curricular activities, medical/dental care, and the need for counseling.
8. The Learning Process Must Be Clear and Structured
SPSP provides a format for the learning of communication, negotiation, and decision-making skills, and the practicing of those skills using a no-fault, non-defensive, depolarizing, communication system.
9. Letting Go of Past Resentments
In many instances parents blame each other for the divorce, often collecting grievances and resentments as a way to justify their own actions. This blocks shared parenting. SPSP provides an opportunity to set aside old issues, focusing instead on the present and the future.
10. Establishing New Boundaries
Marital boundaries exist to preserve the marriage. Divorce is a process of changing those boundaries. Much of the anger during divorce is a result of old boundaries being confused with, or interfering with the new boundaries implicit in marital dissolution.
11. Reduce Co-Parent Paranoia
Divorcing parents, unable to communicate with each other, often communicate through their children. The result is suspicion, distrust, misinterpretation and anger, leading to avoidance of meaningful contact and further misinterpretation. A major program goal is the establishment of direct communication regarding specific su bjects in a timely manner.
12. Remove the Child from the Child Paradox
Children will demonstrate problem behaviors in trying to deal with the dilemma of loving two people who are in conflict with one another. The only real solution for the Paradox is for the parents to end their conflict and move to the business of shared parenting.
THE SPSP ENVIRONMENT
We make every effort to provide a safe and comfortable environment. Our sessions are highly structured and businesslike. We coach our clients in how to talk to one another without blaming and attacking, and listen to one another without defending or retaliating. We don't allow abusive behaviors such as yelling, name-calling, put downs, or intimidation. We're highly experienced in conflict resolution and mediation and utilize these skills to redirect negative behaviors and emotions. We're careful to balance the sessions so that no one feels powerless or "ganged up on." We do not take sides. We maintain a precise structure and adhere to clear goals. We push for nothing less than a transformation from intimate anger to full collaboration in raising healthy kids.
CO-PARENTING SKILLS SELF-ASSESSMENT
Background, Directions, Uses
Bill and Robin Shearer
Few things in life are as disturbing and traumatic as the end of a marriage or love relationship. Each year over 320,000 Californians get divorced. For most it’s a nightmare, an adversarial situation where couples who once loved one another become bitter enemies. Costs in time, energy, money, and emotional distress seem overwhelming. There are usually no winners and children may be hurt the most.
Parents have enormous difficulty separating out the hurt, pain, and anger of the lost relationship from the need to safeguard their children by becoming part of a healthy co-parenting team. For many this seems an impossible task. Yet with help and time they can forge a collaborative effort that is business-like and respectful, a team effort that leads to kids being emotionally healthy, versus emotionally challenged.
But how do you do this? How do you work with someone who seems like your enemy? How do you trust someone you’ve lost trust in? How do you make such a shift when everything in you is so deeply affected by the pain and anger of the relationship? Why should you try?
First, realize that you have tremendous power to help you child, or cause your child irreparable harm. The most damaging thing that happens to children of divorce is an ongoing conflict, a struggle that never seems to end and where children are often caught in the crossfire. A never ending war will destroy your child’s mental and emotional health. So how do you end the war and build emotional health in your child?
If co-parents can give their children five things, children will probably get through their parents’ divorce with minimal harm. no harm, or perhaps even improved functioning as parents move beyond conflict and focus on parenting more effectively. The five key things you can each give your child are:
1. End the war–the no.1 way to contribute to your child’s mental health.
2 Be fully involved with your child.
3. Fully support your child’s involvement with the other parent.
4. Learn and practice effective co-parenting skills.
5. Make decisions about your child based on the best interest of your child, not as part of an agenda that grows out of hurt and anger.
Do all five things and you’re helping your child recover and grow. Take one away and your child may be harmed. Take all five away and lasting harm is certain. Of course you don’t want to harm your child, yet it may seem impossibly difficult to transition from the painful ending of one relationship to beginning a differently structured relationship with the same person. Where do you begin?
As in any change , the place to start is with self-reflection and self-assessment. You may find it much easier to be an expert on the other parent’s shortcomings. That doesn’t help your child. The person you most need to understand and manage if you’re going to do your part in effectively raising an emotionally healthy child is you.
Self assessment leads to greater self-awareness and self-awareness brings the power to control and direct your personal growth. Nowhere is this more important than in growing a healthy co-parent relationship and dealing with inevitable conflicts. Accurate information and awareness about your co-parenting relationship skills and deficits is vital to growth, conflict resolution, and successful co-parenting.
How successful do you want to be in your co-parenting relationship? How confident do you want to feel in making your co-parenting relationship work? What would it be like to see conflict as an opportunity for co-parenting growth? Would you like to have the skill to courageously and positively navigate conflict troubled waters with a sense of safety, and with a confident and clear sense of direction?
Would you like to effectively model conflict-management skill for your child? Relationships are essential to feelings of success and well-being. Probably, nothing else contributes to a satisfying life, a life of freedom from depression, anxiety, and self-esteem problems, more than solid relationships. Relationships characterizedby effective handling of conflict are healthy relationships. It’s not to late to show your child that adults can rise above hurt and anger and choose to deal with one another respectfully and with consideration.
So, want to have An effective co-parenting relationship? The starting point is self-awareness, and even more basically, accurate and honest self-assessment.
The Co-Parenting Skills Self Assessment (CPSSA) has been developed to provide such a starting point, a foundation upon which to base all co-parenting skill and conflict management self-development. Such an assessment will prove invaluable in providing useful insights, helping you manage and resolve conflicts, improve and strengthen your co-parenting relationship, and building lasting parenting satisfaction
The CPSSA is based on three assumptions:
1. It is assumed that you both love your child and have a deep desire and commitment to contribute to your child’s well-being.
2. It is assumed that your commitment is sufficient to prevent you from knowingly harming your child once you are aware of the potential for harm and aware of better choices.
3. It is assumed that your need to be a good parent is stronger than any need to “win,” punish, or defeat the other parent.
Additionally, CPSSA principles do not apply if there is out-of-control addiction, severe mental illness, or abuse. When two understandably distressed, but otherwise responsible, parents fulfill the above assumptions they may find practicing these concepts difficult but something they are able to do for the benefit of their child. If a parent doesn’t fit the assumptions or is incapable or dangerous, the primary concern becomes safety. Working together without outside assistance may not be possible.
The CPSSA presents you with 55 statements divided into 11 major relationship categories. Your task is to read each statement and decide the degree to which you agree with the statement or believe that the statement typifies your thinking or behavior. Your choice is to select one of five descriptors, each with different point value. The choices are virtually never true (0 points), rarely (1
point), sometimes (2 points), often (3 points), or consistently true (4 points). There are five statements within each category, hence five scores to be added together for a category total. There is a possible range of 0 to 20 total points within each category. Once totaled category scores are transferred to the profile sheet.
The profile provides quick and easy visual interpretation of IRSSA-CP results. At a glance you'll see abilities and deficiencies and understand how best to direct self improvement efforts.
The following are possible IRSSA-CP uses:
1. Think of a problem relationship you are now experiencing and assess your mix of skills for dealing with that particular relationship. Remember, this is a self-assessment. You are not evaluating the other person.
2. Think of how you deal with conflict in general and rate yourself accordingly. Strive to capture a general conflict management style.
3. When working with a partner on improving a relationship, both of you might complete an IRSSA and use the results as a focal point for exploring your relationship. Remember to be open, nondefensive, and willing to learn.
4. Using color coding, the IRSSA can be used to look at multiple relationships simultaneously. Simply use a different color pen or pencil for each relationship added to the profile sheet. You may discover that you handle different relationships in different ways. Some you may be handling very well. Others may need attention. The IRSSA will help you determine what relationships need attention and what specific skills need improvement.
5. Use the IRSSA repeatedly as a relationship check-up. We often tell conflicted family members to do a relationship self-assessment daily over the next six months. This is not as daunting a task as it may first seem. Once familiar with the self-assessment device, a daily check-up takes less than five minutes. We have found that those who take the request seriously and follow through with their Ahomework@ experience the most rapid and dramatic skill development, and the most satisfying relationships.
6. Working groups, particularly self-directed high performance teams, may find the IRSSA a valuable component of team building or communication skill building efforts.
7. Be creative. There are many possibilities. For example, relatively high-trust partners might complete IRSSA=s on both self and other, guessing at how the other might see them (or how the other might complete a self rating). Ratings could then be compared. In the subsequent discussion remember to be nondefensive, open and willing to learn.
Using the directions above, complete the IRSSA with the usage of your choice, afterward transfering category totals to the IRSSA Profile Sheet.
William C. Shearer
Ph.D., M.B.A, M.P.H.
The director of Alternative Group of Redlands, a full-service counseling center, Dr. William Shearer has been a psychotherapist since 1977. Licensed as both a psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist, Dr. Shearer specializes in relationship difficulties and conflict resolution. He is often involved in team building, mediation, and seminar presentations. He teaches Couple Communication Skills, Core Communication Skills, And Collaborative Team Skills. He has a doctorate in psychology as well as masters degrees in business administration, education, and public health. He is a member of the Academy of Family Mediators, and the Southern California Mediation Association. He has a certificate in Conflict Management and Mediation from the University of California, as well as extensive ongoing training in conflict resolution and mediation. He has been trained by Dr. Frank Leek in the SPSP process. He has done divorce mediation since 1987.
Robin L. Shearer
M.A., M.P.H., R.N.
Co-Facilitator Robin Shearer has a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a Master of Public Health degree from Loma Linda University. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in psychology with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Counseling from Chapman University. She teaches Couple Communication Skills and has been trained in Imago Relationship Therapy. She works extensively with healing relationship wounds, divorce recovery, couple conflict resolution, and team building. Her particular interest Is promoting healthy parenting and helping conflicted couples work out a parenting plan that safeguards their children while promoting child health and well-being. She has been an instructor at a local college and Is frequently involved in public presentations and seminars.
© 2005 William Carey Shearer Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H