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Noncustodial mother wonders why father has suddenly entered children into therapy, in the middle of an evaluation

Your Question:
Hi Eric,

advice on another situation....

i have requested therapy for our children on many occasions since the divorce as well as co-parent counseling. the other parent unreasonably withheld consent.

after the other parent filed to take away visitation, he decided to take the children to see a psychologist. i was agreeable to this, but he chose a firm where his family (stepdaughter and wife) were already receiving counseling.

i did not feel comfortable with this choice and requested that we chose someone together that did not have a previous relationship with either of us and was centrally located.

the other parent refused this request and my request to mediate the issue. we have guidelines in our civil agreement that state we must mediated disagreements. the other parent took the children to this psychologist anyway.

part of the other parent's reason for this counseling was to help us (parents) be able to communicate better. i don't see how that would be possible, if we were forced into a situation we did not feel comfortable.

i feel he had an ulterior motive to take the children to this psychologist. even now, the things he says in emails makes me believe he is attempting to use the psychologist as a weapon in the pending modification.

i have only been to this psychologist twice. since he was taking them, i wanted to meet her. on the second meeting she told me she felt the children were very well adjusted and really didn't need counseling and that the problem seemed to be more with communication with the adults.

but he has still been taking them and he and his wife have been talking to her as well.

of course, i could go and request the records and notes from the sessions. i am concerned that they are using this psychologist to possibly get the kids to say things to her... i am not sure what, but..

1.what should i do about this? is there anything i can do?

2. since the children are the patients of this psychologist and the discussions the other parent and stepparent have had with her are regarding the children, do i have a right to those notes as well?

3. should i make an appointment with the psychologist to inquire about the children and the status of their therapy? what should i ask her?

4. should i just mention this to the evaluator?

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My Answer:

For background information, your previous post is HERE.

You don't have an easy answer here, and I actually went through a similar scenario. When there is no right or wrong answer to someone's questions, I can only share my own experiences to let people see what was good or bad about them for me.

I had a full custody evaluation that lasted seven months. It was with a clinical psychologist. At the same time the evaluation started, my ex entered our (then) 3 year old daughter into therapy (i.e., we have had joint custody, and mother unilaterally picked a family therapist of Masters level, no consultation with me), claiming that daughter had a stress-related bowel disorder and didn't do well in my home.

So, when my daughter started therapy, I had a situation as follows:

  • The parents were being evaluated for parenting abilities and responsibilities, done by a clinical psychologist with 20 years' experience in child custody evaluations,

  • The mother unilaterally picked the child's therapist and had met with her a number of times without me. Further, my own online research let me conclude that this therapist was a MFCC (not a psychologist) with no particular specialty in personality disorders (my ex met the criteria), high conflict custody situations (which breed a unique type of manipulation and poisoning of kids), or even a specialty in treating preschool-aged children.

  • My ex was either delusional or intentionally deceitful regarding her diagnosis about my daughter's discomfort in my home and the need for child therapy.

  • I had twice previously attempted co-parenting counseling with my ex, and both were dismal failures. All she would do is use the sessions to berate, rant, and complain; and neither therapist could make headway in positive movement. Even if we did make an agreement in counseling on how to interact, my ex typically broke it shortly thereafter.

  • Finally, my attorney warned me to make no contact with the therapist until the evaluation and trial were complete.

So, all I did was inform my ex that her stated reasons for entering our daughter into therapy were not true and that I disagreed with our daughter needing therapy. Every time she notified me of an appointment scheduled with the therapist, I replied with the same thing.

I wrote to the therapist, requesting records (and providing copy of our court orders that we have joint custody of the child). Therapist replied in correspondence, stating that she welcomed me to schedule an appointment with her to discuss my daughter.

Meanwhile, the mother informed the evaluator of the therapist, and of my refusal to join in the sessions. The evaluator asked me about it, and I could only say that I felt the reasons for our daughter being in "therapy" were questionable, that my attorney advised me not to confound the situation by meeting with a mental health professional arbitrarily picked by the mother, and that I was relying on the evaluator's recommendations to determine custody and/or what's best for our daughter.

What came out of my approach was both good and bad for me.

On the bad side, the evaluator's report noted that I had refused to join the mother in therapy sessions for the child. He did not mention any of my reasons.

On the good side (of my approach), the evaluator talked at length with this therapist. Per the evaluator's report, the therapist had concluded that the child was severely traumatized with the time she was spending in my home, that my parenting skills were sub-par, and that she had "serious concerns" about my mental health. The evaluator also happened to note that he asked the therapist if the child had ever spoken negatively about my home when the mother was not present in the session. The therapist reportedly could not recall. The evaluator largely dismissed much of what the therapist said about me (never having met me) because none of it meshed with my psychologist testing, his interviews of me, his private interview with my daughter (who said she likes both her homes), or his observations of my daughter and I together.

While what that therapist said was potentially damaging stuff, completely orchestrated by the mother and the mother's very convincing lies and manipulation, the therapist was not very credible. Reason? She never met with me once, yet she was making clinical conclusions about my parenting skills and my mental health. Had I met with this woman, it could have been much worse.

I believe it would have been much worse because I finally met with her once, after the trial was complete. I wanted to know, firsthand, why she was treating my daughter. The session was a joke. She wanted me to answer to all of the awful things the mother had lied about in my home, she was determined to get me to admit to my errors and agree to do things the way the mother (and therapist) thought were best. Funny, she quickly volunteered that she didn't think my ex has a paranoid personality disorder, which she said the evaluator had mentioned to her (and I guess the therapist assumed I had been told the same). I noted that she had pictures in her crappy little office of herself and her son, no pictures of a husband, and no wedding ring. She was completely suckered by my ex and she lacked the psychological insights to recognize the forces at work.

I subsequently complained about her to the State Board of Behavioral Sciences for violating four areas of the professional code. After the Board notified me that it had passed its initial review and needed further investigation (i.e., it wasn't immediately tossed out), I wrote to the therapist, asking her to 1) concede that she lacked any grounds to assess my mental health, 2) agree that there is too much acrimony between her and I to have a helpful working relationship in any treatment of my daughter; hence referring us to seek another therapist. She wrote back and agreed to those two points while specifically stating she admitted no wrong-doing. Whatever. I just wanted to get rid of her, and that was the end of her.

So you can see how in my situation, I only had bad options. I think I picked the best of those bad options.

In your case, you have a psychologist who has told you the kids don't seem to need counseling. I agree with your position that it does not seem like a good idea for you to use the same counselor as what your husband and wife are using.

Clear this with your attorney, because your approach should be handled gingerly, but I would suggest that you inform your ex that you'd welcome an attempt to address co-parenting issues, but only with a mental health professional that you and he select together and who hasn't been overly exposed to one perspective.

With regard to your evaluator, I suggest that you mention that you met with the psychologist and the psychologist seemed to discourage further treatment of the kids and instead pursue co-counseling between the parents. For that reason, you contacted your ex about it, and you didn't see the need to continue to support treatment of the kids, as it seemed to burden them with counseling that they shouldn't be enduring.

Clear it by your attorney. I shared my story to give you a big warning to keep your head up for any signs of a psychologist going sour based upon lies your ex is sharing.

AND... if the father is entering the children into therapy, ask your attorney if that can be added to the pile for the "change of circumstance" threshhold in your situation. Kids who are doing well don't need therapy. Dad's decision to enter the kids into therapy would seem to be an admission that they're not thriving, which is arguably a change of circumstance.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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