What a great week at AFCC in Seattle!

© 2016 Michelle Jensen, MSW, JD

What a great week at AFCC! Always the best conference of the year!

Last week we were in Seattle at the AFCC Annual Conference. Over 1,000 family law and mental health professionals attended this exceptional conference on divorce and co-parenting, looking for ways to help families through this difficult time of transition and to provide services in the most effective way. The question is always - how can we do better?

Trissan Dicomes, our BIFF Response® Coordinator, joined me at the exhibit table to share our new service: BIFF Response Coaching for parents. Instead of your clients consistently asking you to review - and in some cases re-write – their email exchanges, send them to us! We now offer one-on-one BIFF Response® Coaching to parents. (Learn more)

Teaching Your Clients Skills

Bill Eddy, Andrea LaRochelle and Dr. Jeff Chang presented a workshop titled “New Ways for Families: Teaching your Clients the Four Big Skills In-Person and Online.”

Bill Eddy, lawyer, therapist, mediator, and developer of the New Ways program, began with an overview of the fundamental components of New Ways for Families – small skills, in small steps, with lots of repetition. That’s what works for high conflict people.

Attendees left the workshop with practical skills for managing clients, specifically the BIFF Response® method and Making Proposals technique. BIFF Responses® (responses that are Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm) help set boundaries and avoid escalation of conflict in written communication - think social media meltdowns, hostile texts and emails the length of a novel! This 4-step method helps you get back in control of any hostile communication.

Making Proposals is a technique that shifts the client from “right brain emotional reacting” to “left brain problem-solving” by engaging the client in decision making in a structured way. Professionals were taught how to engage the client in brainstorming and decision making by requiring them to come up with their own potential solutions. This technique provides structure to any client meeting or mediation session, and re-focuses the client’s energy on the future rather than the past.

Parenting without Conflict, by New Ways for Families - 12 session online course for parents

Andrea LaRochelle, Registered Family Mediator and High Conflict Divorce & Communications Strategist, from Calgary, Alberta, presented on our new online program, “Parenting Without Conflict.” This online co-parenting course teaches  parents all the same skills as the New Ways in-person program and includes practice exercises, videos, journal entries and quizzes. The course also includes information on child development goals, the effect of stress on brain development, what decisions will need to be made in the future, how to prepare for mediation and how to avoid becoming a high-conflict case. (Learn More)

We adapted the program for online use in order to make it more accessible to parents, particularly low-income families and those in rural areas who have difficulty attending classes or counseling on a weekly basis. Given the high number of family court cases and limited time and resources, professionals are looking for online programs that engage parents in learning while reducing defensiveness.

Andrea is the first to use the online course in conjunction with coaching services. Parents who work with Andrea are required to complete the Parenting without Conflict course, but also get one-on-one coaching to help them apply what they have learned. Andrea teaches her clients how to make co-parenting with a high-conflict person manageable by using the New Ways skills and her method of the 4D’s: Disengage. Decide. Deliver. Document.

Andrea covered all the pros and cons of an online course, explained how she has structured her services to incorporate both an online course and coaching, and ended with encouragement for how we can teach clients skills at the beginning of the case to avoid escalation of conflict. (Learn more about Andrea)

Research! Research! Research!

We all know that a program’s success and funding depends on measuring its outcome – is this working? Dr. Jeff Chang, psychologist, professor and clinical supervisor, presented on the research aspect of the New Ways program. Dr. Chang worked on the research study from our pilot program in Medicine  Hat, Alberta, and shared the results with attendees. He also laid out his plan for future research, which includes a study of all program models in use at this time, including a control group study for the in-person counseling model. We are excited to have such a comprehensive research study in the works and hope to publish our findings late next year. (Learn more about Dr. Jeff Chang)

Dr. Chang ended with this hilarious video of what it’s like to work in family law. Many of you will appreciate this! Check it out for your laugh of the day.


Michelle Jensen, MSW, JD, is the Program Director for the New Ways for Families program. Michelle assists legal and mental health professionals in implementing the New Ways program in their family court system and/or community counseling organization. www.NewWays4Families.com

*New Ways for Families is a project of High Conflict Institute