My Week in Ontario
Last week I spent three days in London – London, Ontario, that is! I trained almost forty professionals in our New Ways for Families method (see photo). Then I went on to Hamilton, Ontario, to give over 180 professionals an all-day program on managing high-conflict personalities for their 2nd Annual High Conflict Forum. Both experiences were very rewarding and encouraging. One of the themes of the week for me was community. I think we can be very powerful in helping families and children by working together as a community in teaching and reinforcing positive skills for parents. The New Ways for Families method involves short-term counseling for each parent with a separate, confidential counselor and a workbook which helps teach four big skills: flexible thinking, managed emotions, moderate behaviors and checking yourself. By training almost forty London professionals, they can reinforce these skills as they work with parents and children in many settings.
Now that they are trained, they are eligible to be on one of our three panels for a community: Counselors, Lawyers and ADR Professionals (including Mediators, Parenting Coordinators, Guardians ad Litem, and others). We post these names (after they complete our licensing process) on our provider lists on the New Ways for Families website. They may also provide these panel lists in London for clients, professionals and judges to use. Only counselors who have been trained in this method may say they provide this service, but lawyers may take these cases with or without training – although we will only put on our list those who have had the 2-day training and signed up with us. Likewise, any ADR professional may work on a New Ways case, but only those who have had the 2-day training can be on the list, as they will more effectively work with parents by reinforcing the New Ways skills. We look forward to working with all of these professionals over the next few years to bring New Ways for Families to London parents and children.
I emphasized that cases in which one parent alleges that the other has a serious problem should trigger three theories of the case:
A) That this is true about the other person;
B) That this is not true and may be a projection on the part of the complaining parent onto a reasonable other parent; or
C) that both parents may be engaged in destructive behavior.
In high-conflict family cases, none of this is obvious and it helps to keep an open mind. This is also why we have both parents participate in the New Ways for Families program, so that we can move right into teaching both parents new skills, rather than getting bogged down in arguing over which parent acted more inappropriately in the past. I showed some brain research which indicates that criticism doesn’t motivate change as much as compassionate coaching does. We take this approach with New Ways for Families by making it a totally positive, no-shame-no-blame approach. I showed research from the program in Medicine Hat, Alberta, which indicates that nearly 80% of parents can make their decisions out of court after going through the program.
My day in Hamilton on Friday last week was also quite rewarding. Over 180 counselors, lawyers, child protection workers, law enforcement officers and others shared a large auditorium to hear about and practice methods for helping potentially high-conflict families. In addition to giving them a lot of information about five particular high-conflict personalities, I had them do two of our favorite practice exercises for working with potentially high-conflict people anywhere: EAR Statements™ and BIFF Responses®. It’s fun to have a large group doing these sometimes loud exercises all at once. Yet it helps create a community of shared skills and I believe they will now enjoy teaching these skills to their clients. (See more about EAR™ and BIFF®)
I emphasized the importance of understanding that with high-conflict people one should try to focus forward on the future, on choices and their consequences, and emphasizing that decisions are up to the client, not the professional. “It’s up to you!” has become one of my favorite sayings and it helps reinforce that we cannot and should not try to make decisions for our clients, but rather educate them about their options, emphasize the consequences of different options and then respect that they will make their own decisions. Many clients seem to take their decision-making more seriously knowing that professionals will not simply tell them what to do. Ideally, the best decisions are made as a collaboration between professional and client, especially when treating each other with mutual respect. I believe that these skills help accomplish that and help us all have more compassion for clients and each other as hard-working professionals in these stressful situations.
I also mentioned to the Hamilton group that I will be providing a training in Toronto (just an hour northeast of Hamilton) on November 4th and 5th on the New Ways for Families method. I think some of those present are interested in possibly bringing New Ways to Hamilton as well. In short, I think that several communities in Ontario are warming up to the philosophy and community-building of New Ways for Families, as a way to help many of those parents and children who are currently stuck in high-conflict disputes. Stay tuned!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.