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August 12, 2015
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This is one of a series of Lesson-7 articles on howtoevolve a
high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both
biological parents, or any of the
three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home
I've been a professional stepfamily therapist and educator for
36 years. This article hilights (a)
why get professional stepfamily counseling (education) or therapy, and (b)
to shop for effective help.
For perspective, see this New York Times
reprint that says that
"talk therapy" can often produce the same results as prescription drugs.
Manycommentators estimate that
over half of typical U.S. primary
relationships involving prior kids and ex mates fail. This suggests (1)
mates make unwise
and (2) don't know how to avoid or resolve complex stepfamily problems
Whether you're considering stepfamily commitment
or already "in step," it can be a greathelp to get some
professional coaching and/or therapy along the way. Some useful
coaching targets for typical co-parents are:
that each partner is making wise commitment
Resolving significant relationship
mates and/or relatives.
you need, there are specific traits to look for in picking an
helper. Many seasoned pastoral and other counselors, psychologists, social
workers, psychiatrists, doctors, mediators, life coaches, and family-law professionals are
skilled and experienced at helping people with personal and family problems.
If they've had no
training in stepfamily uniquenesses and
(which is common), they may unintentionally promote personal
and family stress and unawareness.How can you guard against that?
To raise your odds of getting effective professional help...
Read and discuss each resource in the box above when you're not
Authorize yourselfto shop
for help. As a consumer, you have a
professional competence. Ask candidates
questions (below), and note how they answer. If s/he responds confidently, clearly, and without irritation
or evasiveness, then green light. If the professional seems bothered by your
questions, look elsewhere.
Option: print this article and use it as a shopping guide. Online lessons 1 thru 7 here will help you evaluate the answers you get to the
Long-term, the most cost-effective help to
get is (a) pre-re/marital counseling (education) and then (b) (step)family
therapy (not "counseling.") The best work goes through several
phases, which can overlap:
1) "Specifically, what kind of professional
stepfamily (vs. family)training
have you had? When?" If "None," or "A little,"
specifically - do more stepfamilies break up than first-marriage
families? What do you do to help
avoid re/divorce - specifically"? If the candidate shows any
uncertainty, vagueness, or resistance to these questions,
3) "Do you treat stepfamilies
differently than biofamilies? If
so, how - specifically?" If the candidate says something like "No, a
family's just a family," thank them and look elsewhere.
4) "What unique
problems do you feel that stepfamily co-parents
face, and (specifically) how do you help with those?"
5) "Have you ever lived in a stepfamily? If so,
"Has that biased you in working with stepfamily clients?"
Many professionals are unaware and
psychologically wounded, and some grew up as stepkids
and/or have re/married
6) "How do you believe stepfamily
membership disputes, and
loyalty conflicts should be handled?"
If s/he can't describe
each of these and a believable solution for them clearly, look
7) "How do you help stepfamily members spot and
resolve (persecutor - victim - rescuer)
"Do you believe that
both divorced parents are equal co-parenting members in a child's
two-home stepfamily?" If "yes," ask "Then are you comfortable working, if needed, with ex
mates who are co-parenting together?" If you get "No," or "It
depends" to either question, look elsewhere. Ignoring the needs and
values of any of your kids' co-parents steeply raises the odds of
how many stepfamily couples (or co-parents) have you
worked with?" "Over 50 couples" is a reassuring answer.
More is better.
specialneeds do you feel typical minor
stepkids must fill that intact-biofamily kids don't face?" (There
can be over
"In your opinion, what's different about stepparenting?"
usually the same as bioparents goals, but the family
environments are different in
almost 50 ways.
12)"Do you have training and experience with helping
harmonize their personality subselves?""Yes" is a great asset, and you may have to settle for "No." This special skill can help typical co-parents
(and kids) heal psychological wounds, which
promote to most family
A professional who is
false selves is far less likely to provide effective stepfamily help.
14) "Do you have special training, experience, and skill at promoting
healthy grief, and spotting and freeing up
incomplete grief? If s/he does, ask: "How do you do
that?" Incomplete grief is a common family, marital, and personal
15)"Are you comfortable working variously with individual
adults, couples, kids, and everyone together in a client stepfamily?""Yes" is a big asset: successful education and clinical work with stepfamilies often
requires working with a mix of family members alone and together over time.
17)"Do you have special training and experience with
(a) assessing and
(b) managing all four kinds of
activities, relationships, and mood states)?"
If they do, ask: "Generally, how
do you approach helping addicts and their families?" If s/he seems vague,
light: addictions are common in divorcing-family and stepfamily
"trees," and are clear signs of wounded ancestors and
co-parents, and low-nurturance
18) "How do you manage client
families who have groups of complex, concurrent problems?"
divorcing and step families
have multiple simultaneous problems, so consistent clinicalfocusing andprioritizing
with the co-parents is essential.
the professional works for an agency or is in a private practice,
ask: "Does your supervisor or clinical consultant have special training in
(all the topics above)?" If "No," ask: "Then
if we work together, are you willing to seek and consult with a local clinical specialist who
special stepfamily and re/marital training?"Often, it's hard to find a fully-qualified consultant.
+ + +
If you discuss
questions like these thoroughly with a prospective professional consultant, you'll probably
spend your first hour
without getting into your current stepfamily problems.
Option: do a
phone interview first. In the longrun, this shopping is a high-return
investment of your time, funds, and energy, compared to having five or
(expensive) hourly sessions with a consultant who works from inappropriate
rules, norms, biases, and expectations.
For perspective, it takes most stepfamilies
more years to
merge and stabilize after
(each) re/wedding. It's healthy and OK to
work steadily to empower your family adults to
identify, clarify, and
problems, not to solve them for you...
Option: refer your consultant/s to this nonprofit educational Web site (http://sfhelp.org)
and use the free self-improvement Lessons here as resources in your work together.
This Lesson-7 article extends this
Q&A article on counseling. Based on
my 36 years
as a stepfamily therapist, This article offers 19 questions you should ask any
prospective professional stepfamily helper, including counselors,
therapists, clergy, social workers, life coaches, family-life educators,
mediators, and legal professionals.
The questions exist because stepfamilies are significantly different
from intact biofamilies, and have many unique, complex problems to avoid
and resolve. Few human-service professionals are adequately trained in
stepfamily dynamics and realities, so they may unintentionally offer
useless or harmful counsel.
Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get
what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what
do you need? Is there anyone you want to
discuss these shopping questions with? Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
For more perspective,
guidelines for avoiding
useless or toxic stepfamily advice,
choosing useful stepfamily
books and programs; and...