New Ways for Families™ – Growing in Texas!

LAustin Area Aug 1 2014ast week I gave two days of training to counselors and lawyers from 5 counties in Central Texas. I also met with judges from Williamson County and Travis County (including Austin). New Ways is really growing there! I did an initial 2-day training there in July 2013 with over 50 counselors and lawyers (and one judge). Now, judges in these two counties are ordering New Ways cases, counselors are teaching the parties the New Ways skills, lawyers are using the skills to settle their cases and several have been completed. Their growth was beyond my expectations! I quickly realized that I needed to switch from trying to persuade professionals that the principles of New Ways for Families are necessary with potentially high-conflict families, to focusing on the fine details of the method and explaining all of its paradigm shifts.

Several of the big paradigm shifts of New Ways are:

  • It’s for both parents, so that they aren’t competing and can teach their children the same skills.
  • It’s skill-training counseling, focusing on the future rather than past, skills rather than feelings.
  • It’s totally positive, rather than criticizing parents for their behavior, to motivate new behavior.
  • It’s time-limited counseling, with 6 individual parent sessions and 3 parent-child sessions each.
  • It’s for lawyers to use in settlement, helping them guide clients to stay calm and make proposals.
  • Judges provide the structure, otherwise the parties don’t connect the skills to decision-making.
  • Parents actually appreciate the skills and are reportedly using them at work, with friends, etc.

New Ways addresses some subtle issues of high-conflict parents, which we dealt with in discussions and practice exercises. First of all, high-conflict people don’t volunteer to learn skills that will help them. Therefore, New Ways almost always has to be court ordered, although some attorneys have had success in convincing their clients to sign up for the method. But they don’t volunteer for it. “I already know all of those skills!” “The other parent is the one who needs this, not me!” “We’re going to end up in court anyway – I just know it!” These are the types of resistance we frequently hear. Yet all parents seem to benefit from these skills – even the “reasonable” parents who don’t “need” them – and even high-conflict parents are settling their cases. They are often glad to have a structure for dealing with a difficult co-parent.

Another issue is that domestic violence, alienation and other high-conflict behaviors are often made worse by litigation. We discussed how and why teaching the New Ways skills can help abusers learn to calm themselves to avoid unmanaged emotions, to become more flexible in their thinking and use moderate behaviors in solving problems. This method is designed to be in addition to treatment programs, not to replace them. By counseling victim/survivors of abuse, we can help them develop more flexible thinking given the circumstances they are in. We don’t encourage victim/survivors to be totally flexible with an abuser – instead we teach them about how abusive behavior doesn’t change easily and can take a long time, and how they can protect their children and themselves.

Yet the reality is that they will end up dealing with the other parent someday, so that learning to use these skills with the other parent, either directly or indirectly, will help them. By teaching both parents the same skills, it can be doubly reinforcing for the children in learning new ways of family behavior without violence. We have had many successful New Ways cases which previously had domestic violence issues.

Lastly, high-conflict parents tend to reject all guidance from others – they tend to see all relationships as inherently adversarial and threatening. So we are teaching New Ways professionals how to present clients with choices, how to encourage them to make and receive proposals, and how to make their own decisions. We have found in the trainings that being less directive is hard to do, as professionals tend to want to direct the parties too much. Yet by helping high-conflict people make their own decisions, they are more likely to stick with them and put less energy into trying to fight them.

We now have three trainers for New Ways for Families, with Tammy Corrales and Debbie Lyons co-teaching with me at last week’s training. This is good, because it looks like Central Texas is going to be increasing its use of New Ways for Families and more professionals are interested in learning and using this skills-training method.

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Bill Eddy is a family lawyer, family mediator and family therapist in San Diego, California. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families™ method, as well as the author of several books including High Conflict People in Legal Disputes and The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress. For information about training, resources or books, see www.HighConflictInstitute.com.