Dr. Reena Sommer is an internationally recognized relationship and divorce consultant. She became widely known as a strong critic of domestic violence policies that failed to recognized the reciprocal nature of partner abuse.

Dr. Sommer has been an invited speaker to academic, government and lay audiences in Canada and the U.S.. In 1998, Dr. Sommer testified before the Joint Senate-House of Commons Committee on Custody and Access on the issue of domestic violence. More recently in April 2002, she was invited by the Canadian federal government to participate on a panel of experts on the issue of custody and access.

She has written extensively on relationship and family issues such as domestic violence, addictions, divorce and custody. Her interest in high conflict relationships led her toward developing expertise as a divorce consultant in the assessment and treatment of parental alienation syndrome under Dr. Richard Gardner. As well, Dr. Sommer recently completed her e-Book, The Anatomy of an Affair. A free condensed pdf version of the e-Book can be downloaded.

Dr. Sommer has produced three divorce related informational products which are currently available online in the form of downloadable audiofiles: Divorce 101: Things You are Unlikely to Hear from an Attorney; Developing an Effective Parenting Plan, and Preparing for a Custody Evaluation.

You are also welcome to sign up for a free mini-course, Arming Yourself for Your Custody Battle! See or for more information, please email us at E-Mail or 204. 487.7247 or fax: 204.487.3051 

Addictions, Co-Dependency & Family Functioning
The Benefits of Therapy and Counseling
Beyond a One-dimensional View: The Politics of Family Violence in Canada  
Controversy Within Family Violence Research
Developing a Joint Custody Arrangement
Developing an Effective Parenting Plan
How Stats Canada Distorted the Perception of Violence Against Women
Infidelity - Again! It Can Happen to You More Than Once
Parental Alienation Syndrome: The Problem
The Power of Healing: Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse
Presentation Before the Joint Senate and House of Commons Committee on Custody and Access
Reaching A Crossroad in a Relationship: A Time to Make a Decision
Research Conducted from a Gender Neutral Perspective:  Criticisms and Rebuttals
Re-Thinking Supervised Visits
What Do Infidelity Statistics Mean?
What Kind of People Go into Therapy or Counseling?
What to Do When You are Estranged or Alienated from Your Child?
When Parents Become Estranged From Their Children

What Do Infidelity Statistics Mean?

Recent studies reveal that 45-55% of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital sex at some time or another during their relationship (Atwood & Schwartz, 2002 - Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy)

Do these infidelity statistics seem a bit startling?... Or, Perhaps Not!

Basically, what these findings suggest is that approximately one half of all married men and women seek intimacy outside of their committed relationships.

But what does this really mean? Why are the number of men and women having extramarital affairs so high? I'll tell you - these staggeringly high infidelity figures mean that something is really lacking in their marriages to lead them to look else where.

Lacking... So is it Sex? Or something else?

This may come as a complete surprise, but most extramarital affairs are NOT about sex! If not sex, then what? Pay attention - the reason most people find intimacy with someone outside of their marriage is because their emotional needs are not being met. Yes, it's true! Most cases of infidelity are about wanting to feel emotionally connected to someone.

I realize that what I am suggesting may not be particularly popular, especially among men and women who are on the receiving end of infidelity. Clearly, finding out that your spouse or partner has cheated on you is both shocking and painful. Realizing that you are just another infidelity statistic is not something one is wants to flaunt.

The reality is that there are a lot of unsatisfying and empty relationships out there. However, the reason why infidelity statistics are as high as they are is because people place a higher value on their careers, children, friends or hobbies and not on their relationships with their partners. Think about it - if you neglect any of these others, certainly they would falter and fail. Is it not surprising that your relationship would likewise fail?

The bottom line is - if you want to avoid becoming yet another infidelity statistic, then you must nurture and prioritize your relationship with your spouse or partner. As you may have already figured out, just like planes, relationships cannot be maintained on "auto-pilot" indefinately.

Addictions, Co-Dependency & Family Functioning

Although my client base is self selecting and not representative of the general population, I am still amazed and distressed at the frequency with which addictions are part of my clients' lives.

When I first started out in private practice, I relied primarily upon formal diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV) as a means to identify the presence of an addiction. The DSM-IV provides a sound measure of substance abuse and dependence that is based on the frequency, amount and history as well as the substance's impact on a person's life. On its own, it provides a very acceptable way of assessing one aspect of an addiction problem.

Over the years, I have found that these criteria miss an important element in the addiction process; the impact a substance and/or an activity (and the resulting behavior) has on the family system. Today, while I still use the DSM-IV criteria, I have also incorporated more suble flags that take into account the intra-psychic, emotional, social and familial dimensions of addictions as well as the people with whom the addict associates.

I have catergorized these flags according to their relationship to the addict family member.


Until recently, codependency was a concept that I have had great difficulty in understanding. However, after a number of years of working in the area of addictions, I have developed my own conceptualization of this term which is based on the dynamics I have observed in the relationships between a codependent and an addict. I see condependents as individuals who are reliant on an addict's dependency on a substance or activity (e.g., gambling, work, sex). In other words, it is the addict's dysfunctional behavior and the family's adaptation to it that directs and maintains the relationship between the addict and the codependent.

An intriguing aspect of codependency is the vital role the codependent plays in sustaining the relationship regardless how destructive, aversive or dysfunctional it is. The term, "enabling" is often used to describe this phenomenon and it refers to the codependent's role in preventing an addict from assuming responsibility for his or her behavior, life and future. In doing so, the codependent forestalls and blocks the necessary conditions that would likely lead the addict to seek help on his or her own. Some of these conditions might include facing legal and/or criminal consquences for his or her conduct, being fired from a job and being asked to leave a relationship. The codependent's efforts to help the addict by protecting, shielding and excusing his or her conduct are ineffective in remediating the problem or altering the addict's behaviour.

These are some of the characteristic flags of a codependent:

  • they overcompensate
  • they protect at all costs
  • they second guess their own actions and often override common sense
  • they have difficulties making decisions
  • they struggle for control
  • they live in a constant state of denial
  • they make unreasonable compromises that seriously impact on their lives, their happiness and even their safety
  • they remain committed to the addict inspite of his or her inability to do the same
  • they maintain an unrealistic view that if "they" do the right things, their "addict" partner will change his/her behaviour
  • they are vulnerable to the addict's manipulation, a major impediment to healing and change
  • they place little value on their own needs and instead assume responsibility for those of the addict

These are some of the characteristic flags of an addict:

  • they lack empathy toward others
  • they have a narrow range of emotions (usually limited to anger/rage and elation)
  • they tend to communicate on a superfiscial level finding it difficult to discuss their feelings
  • they live in a constant state of denial
  • they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their behavior and recovery
  • they project their own inadequacies on others and blame others for their problems
  • they are unable to keep promises or commitments
  • they are highly manipulative
  • albeit dysfunctional, their addiction is their method of coping with life's stressors

The power of an addiction cannot be overstated!

It consumes the addict's mind, body and soul as well as that of those who care for them. An addict's path of destruction is multidimensional as it affects family, friends and coworkers and is transmitted across generations. Even though an addict may regret his or her behavior or the distress it causes family members, the addict remains powerless to the effects of their addiction.

An addiction cannot be managed alone!

It requires the support and cooperation of a network of supporters. Conquering an addiction requires more than abstaining from the addictive behavior or activity because it involves examining and changing all the associated feelings and behaviors attached to the addiction. Moreover, the challenge of altering an addict's behavior and ultimately assisting him or her to overcome their addiction is made doubly hard because in order to do so, the behavior of the codependent also needs to change.

If you can identify with any of these "flags"... then you might want to consider examining HOW THEY RELATE TO YOU! ....and how and if... an ADDICTION might be.....

Research Conducted from a Gender Neutral Perspective:  Criticisms and Rebuttals

Criticisms of research conducted from a gender neutral perspective have generally been directed at the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) (Straus 1979) because it has been alleged to understate the victimization of women and overstate the violence by women (Straus 1990). Of the criticisms waged, the charges that the CTS fails to examine the context, initiation and consequences of abuse_are the most common.

Those who criticize the CTS for not considering these variables clearly lack an understanding of the purpose and the design of this measure. The CTS is a concise instrument that can be used in interview or self administered formats (Straus 1979) and has the capacity to generate data from large samples. It is designed to objectively measure a broad range of conflict resolving behaviours across varying populations. Straus (1990) argued that an examination of the context, initiation and consequences of abuse as part of the CTS would compromise its conciseness and would also assume a relationship between them and the CTS items. Family violence researchers have alternatively assessed these variables apart from the CTS and analysed their interaction effects (See Kaufman Kantor and Straus 1987; Sommer et al. 1992; Stets and Straus 1989).

In spite of the numerous papers criticizing the CTS, it continues to be the mostly widely used measure of family violence even among feminist researchers (DeKeseredy and Kelly 1995; Okun 1986) . Even when other measures have been employed, the overall estimates of abuse are still comparable (Straus 1993). With respect to the latter, when comparing my own findings based on a random sample of adult men and women living in Winnipeg, Manitoba and using the CTS, with those of the Violence Against Women Survey (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics 1994) using a modified version of the CTS (e.g., added an item on sexual assault and collapsed “threats” and “the use of a gun or knife” into one item), the overall prevalence of abuse by men was 26.3%.,and 30%, respectively. Even without accounting for variability in abuse rates across the province or differences due to reporting sources, these two findings are nevertheless remarkably similar. Given the similarity in these findings, the question needed to be asked is “why then are the estimates of female perpetrated abuse using the CTS or any other measure deemed less cogent”. Perhaps what is really at issue is the failure of the patriarchal model to explain what it has long espoused.

The Politics of Family Violence Research in Academy

For me, the most troubling aspect of conducting gender neutral research has been coping with personal attacks. While the attack on The Battered Husband Syndrome was documented by media and academics, other examples of this type of intolerance are less well publicized.

In my own academic history, there have been a few occasions where I became convinced that my work was being criticized not on its academic merit, but rather because it did not mesh theoretically with what I have already described as a dominant feminist approach. Indeed, in one particular instance, my research received front page attention in a local newspaper. Soon after, the family violence perspective employed throughout my work, the credibility of my methodology, my understanding of the literature, and my insensitive commentary was the subject of heavy interrogation by fellow academics. Of course, this should not be unexpected in academia since dialogue and criticism are not only anticipated, but preferred. Indeed, early feminists often suffered and continue to endure marginalization and intolerance.

Whomever this type of academic censorship attacks, whether feminist or family violence researcher, the individual toll quite often results in the cultivation of vendettas and continued intolerance - an atmosphere antithetical to serious scholarship. How unfortunate it is when the advancement of ideology takes precedence over the pursuit of knowledge or the welfare of society. The most damaging effect is that instead of accepting the reality of female perpetrated violence, most feminists dismiss any data that do not mesh with a unidimensional patriarchal model. This tendency undermines their ability to cogently speak to woman initiated violence and stunts the progress of scholarship.


The evidence in this chapter points to researchers’ reluctance to move beyond a one dimensional view of domestic abuse to consider both men’s and women’s relationship to violence. This trepidation, fueled by personal politics or even fear of political and academic reprisal, remains an obstacle to understanding how power and control are negotiated within familial contexts specifically. Because the prevailing view of domestic abuse fails to recognize the interactive and reciprocal relations of violent incidents (and its antecedents), support for the needs of women, men and children living in abusive relationships is limited. Until domestic abuse is seen as a problem stemming from maladaptive family relations embedded within wider maladaptive social conditions, rather than the dysfunctional conduct of one individual, or perhaps one gender, viable solutions to family violence will not be forthcoming.


  • This justification for using qualitative methods is selective. The literature on family violence contains numerous examples of feminist research using quantitative research methods (DeKeseredy & Kelly, 1995; Koss, Gidycz & Wisniewski, 1987; Violence Against Women Survey, 1994)
  • Questions regarding female initiated violence were framed within the context of self defence. This estimate was derived from a composite variable assessing reports of violence across a number of contexts (e.g., current and previous intimate relationships, dating relationships, non intimate relationships, strangers) and included forms of violence ranging from threats to the use of weapons. For the majority of women, the violence reported was an isolated incident occurring at some point in the past. For frequency counts on reports of violence across all contexts, see the Violence Against Women Survey: Public Use Microdata File Documentation and User’s Guide (Statistics Canada, 1994).
  • Ironically, this is a similar criticism that family violence researchers raise regarding feminist studies on wife abuse.
  • The estimate of abuse noted is based on Manitoba respondents.


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Coleman H. and Charles G. 1990. Family violence. Canadian Journal of Home Economic 40 (4): 174-78.

DeKeseredy W. S. and Kelly K. 1993. The incidence and prevalence of woman abuse in Canadian university and college dating relationships. Canadian Journal of Sociology 18 (2): 137-159.

Dobash R. E. and Dobash R. 1979. Violence against Wives: A Case against the Patriarchy. New York: Free Press.

Dobash R..P., Dobash R. E., Wilson M. and Daly, M. 1992. The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems 39: 71-91.

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Kantor G. K. and Straus M.A. 1987. “The Drunken Bum Theory of Wife Beating.”Social Problems 34: 213-30.

Kaufman K. L., Wallace A. M., Johnson C. F. and Reeder M. L. 1995. Comparing female and male perpetrators’ modus operandi. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 10 (3): 322-33.

Kendall-Tackett K. A. and Simon A. F. 1987. Perpetrators and their acts: Data from 365 adults molested as children. Child Abuse & Neglect 11: 237-245.

Kennedy L. W. and Dutton D. G. 1989. The incidence of wife assault in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 21 (1): 40-54.

Koss M. P., Gidycz C. A. and Wisniewski N. 1987. The scope of rape: Incidence and prevealence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55: 162-170.

Kurtz D. 1993. Physical assaults by husbands: A major social problem. In R. J. Gelles and D. R. Loseke (Eds.), Current Controversies on Family Violence. Newbury Park, CA.: Sage

Macleod L. 1987 Battered But Not Beaten: Preventing Wife Battering in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

McCarty L. 1986. Mother-child incest: Characteristics of the offender. Child Welfare, 65: 447-58.

Marie S. 1984. Lesbian battering: An inside view. Victimology 9 (1:, 16-20.

Okun L. 1986. Woman Abuse: Facts Replacing Myths. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Martin D. 1976. Battered Wives. New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books

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Simons R. L., Johnson C., Beaman J. and Conger, R. D. 1993. Explaining women's double jeopardy: Factors that mediate the association between harsh treatment as a child and violence by a husband. Journal of Marriage and the Family 55: 713-23.

Sommer R., Barnes G. E. and Murray R. P. 1992. Alcohol consumption, alcohol dependence, personality and female perpetrated spousal abuse. Personality and Individual Differences 13 (12): 1315-23.

Sommer R. 1994. Male and Female Perpetrated Partner Abuse: Testing a Diathesis-Stress Model. An unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Manitoba: Winnipeg, Canada.

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Straus M. A. 1979. Measuring intrafamilial conflict and violence: The Conflict (CT) Scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family 41: 75-88.

__________.1990. The Conflict Tactics Scales and its critics: An evaluation and new data on validity and reliability. In M.A. Straus & R.J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

________. 1993. Physical assaults by wives: A major social problem. In R. J. Gelles and D. R. Loseke (Eds.), Current Controversies of Family Violence. Newbury Park, CA.:Sage.

Straus M. A., Gelles R. J. and Steinmetz S. K. 1980. Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. Anchor: New York, N. Y.

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Yllo K. A. 1993. Through a feminist lens: Gender, power and violence. In R. J. Gelles and D. R. Loseke (Eds.), Current Controversies on Family Violence, Newbury Park, CA.: Sage.

How Stats Canada Distorted the Perception of Violence Against Women


In November, 1993, Statistics Canada released the findings of the Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS). Since then, the survey has been hailed by government ministers as well as the mass media, as the definitive research on the topic. Among the many findings, Stats Can reported that 51% of women had been abused by a man at some point since the age of 16 years. This, and the statement that "measures of violence for the VAWS were restricted to Criminal Code definitions of assault and sexual assault" left the public with the impression that the average woman living in Canada was at risk of ongoing assaults by men of a magnitude similar to that seen at women's shelters.

This paper addresses flaws in the survey's design, sampling and method of reporting which have led to a gross distortion in public's perception of the problem of violence against women. By reviewing the information contained in the User's Guide for the VAWS, we demonstrate that both what is contained in, and also what was omitted from the report contribute to this distortion. Among the issues discussed are: (1) the nonrepresentative nature of the sample, (2) the use of "double barrelled" questions, (3) the interchangeable use of % of women and % of marital relationships, (4) the use of projected figures to represent findings without indicating what proportion of the population sample represent, (5) the neglect of the finding of a low level of victimization of women in the immediate 12 months prior to the survey, (6) the methodological backwardness of a one-sex victimization survey of the general population, and (7) the mis- impression created by use of Criminal Code definitions as measures of abuse. We conclude that the Stats Can survey trivializes the experiences of women who are victims of serious abuse and impedes our understanding of the nature of intimate and conflictual relationships in contemporary society.


As a preface to this discussion, I would like to point out that while the issues raised in this discussion originate from John Fekete and myself, there is consensus among a number of academics whose backgrounds include anthropology, physiology, political studies, psychology, sociology and family studies that Statistics Canada created a picture of violence against women that is inconsistent with the experiences of the general population of women living in Canadian. This consensus is not only based on empirical evidence but also on what is considered logical.

It should also be pointed out that Statistics Canada has come under considerable criticism regarding their survey from a number of sources. To date, they have written both John Fekete and myself lengthy letters whose purposes were to answer our criticisms. Unfortunately, neither letter got to the point of our concerns and instead dealt with other peripheral matters.

Stats Canada has emphatically denied any suggestion that the design, sampling and the reporting of the results from their survey was politically motivated. We on the other hand reject such denials, and will demonstrate through several examples drawn from their own report entitled Family Violence in Canada and VAWS codebook that Statistics Canada distorted the public perception of violence against women. The issues I will deal with specifically are:

  • the methodological backwardness of a one-sex victimization survey of the general population
  • the nonrepresentative nature of the sample
  • the use of "double barrelled" questions
  • the interchangeable use of % of women and % of marital partnerships
  • the use of projected figures to represent findings without indicating what proportion of the population sample represent
  • the neglect of the finding of a low level of victimization of women in the immediate 12 months prior to the survey
  • the misimpression created by use of Criminal Code definitions as measures of abuse

Let me begin by briefly giving you some background information about the development of the survey. The VAWS followed soon after the Montreal Massacre in which 14 women were killed by Marc Lepine a man who said he hated women. The VAWS was conducted by Statistics Canada from February to June in 1993. The cost of the project was $1.9 million.

The Objectives of the Survey

  • Provide reliable estimates of the nature and extent of violence against women by male partners, acquaintances and strangers
  • Examine women's fear of violence in order to support current and future federal government activities

The assumptions made by the investigators are:

  • Macleod (1980) report based on the experiences of battered women found that 1/4 are abused
  • Canadian Panel of Violence Against Women (1993) determined that 98% of the women they heard from suffered some form of abuse
  • Uniform Crime Reporting Survey
  • Homicide Survey
  • National Survey on Transition Homes
  • Study on Dating Violence conducted by DeKeseredy and Kelly (1993) found that 81% of female students suffered some form of abuse in their dating relationships

What the investigators ignored however, were:

  • the Canadian and U.S. general population research showing that men and women perpetrate abuse at equivalent rates
  • Although males make up the bulk of arrests for violent crimes, crimes statistics showing that the rate of female arrests for violent crimes from 1983-1993 rose by 130.9% whereas the rate of male arrests for violent crimes during the same time period rose 96.2%. These figures came from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics the same agency responsible for writing the Family Violence in Canada Report that includes the findings of the VAWS
  • Homicide rates which show that depending on the year, females are responsible for 10% to 33% of all murders.

Population The target population for the VAWS was all women 18 of years of age and over in Canada EXCLUDED:

  • residents of the Yukon and Northwest Territories
  • women who spoke languages other than English and French
  • women who held visas
  • women who did not have telephones
  • women with handicaps that interfered with their participation in a telephone survey

Of the 22,319 households contacted, 19,309 were eligible households (86.5%). Of those, 12,300 women completed the survey (63.7% response rate). Their overall response rate not taking into account the women not surveyed in the territories was 55.1%. Most important, excluded from this survey were Aboriginal, Inuit and immigrant women (groups that have been shown to be particularly at risk.)

Double Barrelled Questions

We are all too aware that questions that contain two distinct concepts cannot be considered valid. This is because it is impossible to determine whether a respondent is responding to one or both concepts contained within. Examples of these types of questions are:

Now I'd like to read a list of statements that may apply to your PREVIOUS husband(s)/partner(s), and I'd like you to tell me whether each statement describes him/any of them.

Over Inclusive Questions Forced Sexual Activity:

"Since the age of 16, has a MALE STRANGER ever forced you or attempted to force you into any SEXUAL activity by threatening you, holding you down or hurting you in some way" 7.49% (n=921) (weighted factor=741,078)"

Sexual Harassment:

"Sometimes women receive other types of unwanted attention. In this case I mean anything that DOES NOT include touching such as catcalls, whistling. leering, or blowing kisses. Have you ever received unwanted attention from a MALE STRANGER?"

  • ever - 60% (n=7377) (weighted factor=6,278,447)
  • past 12 months - 27% (n=3311) (weighted factor=2,860,403)

Partner Abuse:

The percent noted in this column (48%) represents the proportion of women who had a previous partner and who experienced abuse in that relationship. This constitutes 2216 women or 18% of the sample. What we do see however is a decline in the reports of abuse between past and current relationships indicating that a large proportion of women are freeing themselves of abusive relationships. This point however is missing from the report.

Definition of Abuse in Terms of the Criminal Code of Canada:

Defined according to Section 265 which according to a law professor I consulted with stated these actions have to be without the person's consent. Given that general population research finds that 50% of the abuse reported is mutual and given the findings that there is considerable inconsistencies in husbands' and wives' reports of abuse, we believe that a criminal designation to these behaviours is premature and inappropriate.

Estimates of Abuse:

  • Report highlights the prevalence of abuse but neglects the incidence of abuse
  • Interchangeable Use of % of women and % of relationships

Language of the report:

Over and above the issues already discussed, we found examples of written text which also demonstrate bias in reporting. For example, in the section discussing perpetrators of child abuse and neglect, the following was found:

"While children of either sex were equally likely to be abused by a female perpetrator (53% boys and 47% girls), female children were PREYED UPON BY MALES (my emphasis) in 70% of the cases." (p.78, Statistics Canada, 1993)".


The examples presented clearly suggest that there are a number of problems inherent in the VAWS and in the Family Violence in Canada report which documents its findings. While the sampling technique indicates that not all Canadian women are represented by virtue of the systematic exclusions already noted, we do not view this as the most serious problem since one can place limitations on generalizeability of findings. I might add at this point that this is something that is not done the discussion of their findings. On the other hand, we feel the more serious problem resides in how the results have been presented and more importantly, in the data that have not been presented.

In correspondence I received from Bruce Petrie, the Assistant Statistician from Stats Canada, he states:

"It is our practice to report figures based on the population "at risk". We believe it is more relevant to present figures describing the estimated number of abused women in the population who contacted shelters and not the sample counts of either abused women or all women in the sample."

Given this practice, it appears that the survey did not meet its first objective which was to achieve reliable estimates of partner and acquaintance abuse. Focusing on the "at risk" population does not bring us any closer to understanding the experiences of Canadian women in general than previous research conducted on clinical samples of battered women. In light of the report's focus on chronically abused women,constituting a small proportion of Canadian women, the message delivered by this report and reiterated by the media is the average Canadian woman is at risk of ongoing abuse of a very severe nature.

The data we have presented reflects just a sample of the many ways Statistics Canada distorted the perception of violence against women. Due to time constraints we cannot present them all. An expanded discussion of the distorted perception of violence against women will follow in a paper.

Because of the manner in which the results of the VAWS are reported and the subsequent omissions discovered, we conclude that Stats Can survey trivializes the experiences of women who are victims of serious abuse and impedes our understanding of the nature of intimate and conflictual relationships in contemporary society. Portraying Canadian women as victims of domestic in the face of data which indicate that only a small proportion are affected does little to empower women. We feel that a much better use of the data would have presented a clear picture of family life for Canadian women which according to their unreported data is for the vast majority is violence free. In terms of findings solutions to this very serious social problem we suggest that examining the differences between abused and nonabused women as well as those who are currently abused and others who no longer are abused might be particularly useful. We encourage interested researchers to avail themselves of the data tapes that are now been released for public use.

The Power of Healing: Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse

There are few experiences more devastating or more capable of inflicting long term suffering than the fallout of sexual abuse. It robs children of their innocence, their security, their sense of self and their trust in others. It quashes young spirits, and drains them of the essence of childhood joy, pleasure and freedom. And over time, it colors survivors' futures with anger, fear, disdain and self hatred.. It robs people of the ability to view life from any perspective other than with a tainted lens. And when the pain becomes too unbearable, many survivors of sexual abuse turn to drugs, alcohol, self mutilation and even suicide as a means of escape. The wounds of sexual abuse are not easily recognized nor are their effects readily understood because much of the silent suffering that transpires, resides deep with the human spirit.

The metaphor of a festering sore provides a useful way of describing the emotional wounds of sexual abuse and makes it easier to grasp the effects of sexual abuse.

The redness and swelling of inflamed tissue symbolize the visible wounds, while the infection which spreads systemically and poisons the blood stream illustrates the widespread and deep- rooted consequences of sexual abuse. And until healing occurs, the aftermath of sexual abuse is like a wound that keeps on bleeding, no matter how often a scab begins to form.

It is difficult to appreciate the power and value of healing when one has never experienced the pain of sexual abuse nor the process that sustains it. For survivors of sexual abuse, emotional pain pervades their daily existence as much as physical pain fills the days of people with long term disabilities. In both instances, adaptation to pain is essential to coping and survival, and without it, life becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible to bear. It is only when relief finally comes, that the essence of a person's suffering can be completely realized. For those who have traveled the difficult road to healing, their struggles are well rewarded. Out of the darkness, isolation and despair come a renewed sense of self and the world around. From turbulence comes peace, from anger comes acceptance, and from guilt and self hatred come understanding and pride.

Healing does not, and cannot change the events of the past or the reality of the present. Nor can it erase painful memories. It can however, redefine tragic events of the past and place them in a more acceptable context; one that makes it possible to regain self respect, self worth, purpose and control. Through healing, survivors discover ways of channeling their pain into productive outcomes. For some, it takes the form of developing greater empathy, understanding and compassion toward others, while for others it means becoming a more attentive parent, spouse/partner, sibling or friend; one that is committed to protecting others from the suffering they experienced.

The impact of these outcomes support the notion that a person' s suffering need not occur in vain and give validity to their past experiences. The rewards of healing are far reaching. It can be likened to a caged bird set free and then feeling the breeze, spreading its wings and taking off and landing without restraint. For survivors it means, letting go of the shame, fear, guilt and self hatred that bind them and prevent them from fully taking part in life and living. As the fire that burns within extinguishes, feelings of peace, purpose and hope ignite.

The healing process in recovering from childhood sexual abuse is not a panacea. As in any serious injury, an element of residual pain will always linger. The pain serves as a reminder that what was and what can be.

And like everything in life, it too serves a purpose!

Beyond a One-dimensional View: The Politics of Family Violence in Canada

During the past few years, a renewed interest in examining both sides of the spouse abuse question has arisen. This alternative approach to understanding the problem of domestic violence has met with opposition from feminists who believe that spouse abuse is rooted in power imbalances between men and women where “power” is primarily held by men.

In this essay, I examine some of the issues surrounding one dimensional feminist views of family violence. I begin with the premise that the public’s acceptance of the wife victim and husband victimizer dichotomy stems from the inappropriate application of the ‘patriarchal model’ of spouse abuse to all instances of domestic abuse. I argue that in addition to shaping and reinforcing the public perception of spouse abuse as exclusively a women’s issue, the reliance on over extended and flawed conceptual framework limits studies of family violence to the detriment of advancing knowledge and protecting all families members exposed to domestic abuse.

A perusal through feminist literatures reveals rifts within feminist understanding of violence. Nonetheless, the feminist understanding of violence that has come to dominate not only feminist research and critique but government programs and policy responses is a one-dimensional ‘patriarchal model’ of violence. This essay challenges the dominant feminist stance by:

  • identifying the limitations of the patriarchal model and the flaws in the research based upon it such as incomplete literature reviews, flawed methodologies and overgeneralized interpretations of findings, and
  • by addressing the criticisms of research conducted from a gender neutral perspective.

The essay concludes by looking at the politics of family violence. I tell my own story about university based measures to silence my research which espouses a gender neutral stance on family violence and raises troubling questions about women’s violence.

The Rift Between Feminist Patriarchal Model and Family Violence Research

Family violence and feminist scholars rarely dispute the seriousness of domestic abuse. Nor do they disagree that socially constructed wall of privacy surrounding families is a major impediment to understanding this form of violence. For family violence researchers, however, the major point of departure centres on resolving whether or not gender should be considered the pivotal variable for identifying victims and perpetrators of family violence. Feminist researchers maintain that women have been and continue to be the victims of domestic abuse perpetrated by men. Feminist advocating patriarchal models of violence claim that male violence is pervasive and normalized; some go as far as to equate violence against women with ‘jungle warfare’ (Yllo 1993). Violence is viewed instrumentally as one of several ways men maintain their dominance (Goldner, Penn, Sheinberg and Walker 1990; Martin 1976) within the context of male entitlement (Dobash, Dobash, Wilson and Day 1992), control, intimidation and isolation (Yllo 1993). Thus, while violence as a manifestation of power and control is understood by feminists to be characteristically within the confines of male behaviour, violence by women on the other hand is viewed as a less frequent event typically occurring in response to male aggression (Saunders 1986).

This feminist argument is based on the belief that women are controlled and disadvantaged systematically by a patriarchal societies (Dobash and Dobash 1979). According to this perspective, men are socialized into violence by multiple social institutions, most notably marriage and family. The Cycle of Violence Theory, borne out of Lenore Walker’s (1979) research on a self selected sample of battered wives is often used to support this position. Walker’s theory explains how a woman’s emotional connections to her partner (e.g., through commitment, love or children), combined with her lack of material resources (e.g., economic and social) in tandem with cyclical fluctuations between periods of abuse and peaceful coexistence lead often to "learned helplessness". This psychological state explains why many battered women never attempt to leave abusive relationships (Walker 1979) even when their lives or their children’s are at risk.

Central to all feminist conceptualization of violence is gender and the insistence that spousal abuse be interpreted as power differentials (Kurz 1993). Based on this approach, all violence tends to be collapsed into the category of ‘male perpetrated’ negating the dynamics of power across different social contexts. This assumption then shapes how spouse abuse is then investigated. For instance, beginning from the premise (that women are victims and men are perpetrators of family violence), ‘patriarchal model’ research typically dichotomizes abuse as being present or absent and characterize violence only in it most severe forms.

The family violence genre of domestic abuse differs from that of feminist research theoretically and methodologically. The most noted study conducted by family violence researchers is the 1975 National Survey on Family Violence (Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz 1980). Considered a landmark study not only because it extended the scope of domestic abuse beyond clinical populations and alerted the world to the pervasiveness of family violence, it also marked a shift in how spousal abuse was to be regarded. For years, domestic abuse was once thought to be a rare event resulting from mental illness or psychopathology (Gelles 1979). This research challenged that belief by demonstrating that spouse abuse is ubiquitous, affecting all levels of society.

Much of the research that followed focused on establishing the prevalence, correlates and social patterns of spouse abuse (Straus et al. 1980). Most recently however, the focus of research has shifted toward incorporating and understanding how the interactions of social forces such as unemployment, stress and past abuse and constitutional factors such as personality, alcohol consumption and a family history of abuse (Bland and Orn1986; Gondolf 1988; Sommer, Barnes and Murray 1992; Sommer 1994) contribute to family violence. Regardless of the approach used, surveys conducted over the past 30 years in the U.S. (Straus et al. 1980; Straus and Gelles 1986; Straus and Kaufman Kantor 1994), Canada (Brinkerhoff and Lupri 1986, Kennedy and Dutton 1989, Sommer 1994) and Britain (Russell and Hudson 1992) consistently suggest that men and women share an equal involvement as perpetrators of domestic abuse.. Therefore, family violence researchers adopt a gender neutral approach in their research recognizing that domestic abuse involves a complex set of interpersonal and social dynamics that stem from maladaptive processes within family systems.

Limitations of the Patriarchal Model of Feminist Research on Spouse Abuse.

Notwithstanding the contributions made by the women’s movement in bringing the issue of wife battering to the forefront, we cannot overlook the existence of theoretical and methodological limitations inherent in the patriarchal model on which these efforts were based.

To begin, it can be argued that the patriarchal argument is limited because it is dated and ignores the realities of the present. I refer reader to the laws sanctioning spouse abuse dating back to the 1700’s which have been consistently used to support the “male oppressor/female victim” position (Sommers 1994). Alternatively, the evidence demonstrating changes in society’s attitude toward women through progress made in the areas of employment equity, affirmative action and child care have instead been ignored (Sommer 1996). Through the selective presentation of evidence supporting men’s power over women , the experiences of present day western women have been falsely characterized as stagnant and oppressive. Yet, when confronted with research which contradicts the systemic subjugation of women, feminists justify excluding it by alleging that the methodology used in that research fails to consider the qualitative aspects of women’s experiences (Straus and Gelles 1990).

Beyond the above limitations, various inconsistencies are also evident within the existing literature. For example, the literature on violence within lesbian relationships reports that the rates of abuse among lesbians is equivalent to those found within heterosexual populations (Marie 1984; Renzetti 1992). This body of research challenges feminist doctrine espousing that violence against women is the result of men's overt attempts to dominate them or that women are inherently nonviolent. Research demonstrating women’s over-represented as perpetrators in incidents of physical child abuse (Coleman and Charles 1990; Star 1983; Straus et al. 1980) further challenges arguments against women’s proclivity toward violence. Research by Simons (1995) reports that one of the risk factors in a woman’s abuse by her husband is her own delinquency as a child and suggests that a history of maladaptive conduct may be an antecedent to later abuse. Finally, for the past ten years, research on child sexual abuse has identified women as well as men as perpetrators (Kendall-Tackett and Simon 1987; McCarty 1986; Schultz and Jones 1983). Research by Kaufman, Wallace, Johnson and Reeder (1995) adds insight into understanding the female offender by reporting that compared to males, they are more likely to exploit their victims.

A number of salient criticisms can also be raised about the methodological limitations of spouse abuse research guided by the patriarchal model of spouse abuse. While the cycle of abuse provides an explanation of spouse abuse that is consistent with the large number of women identified by clinical samples who refuse to press charges against their partners following a domestic abuse incident or who welcome them back following an arrest, it does not describe the experiences of all women in abusive relationships. The population upon which Walker’s (1979) theory was developed raises questions regarding its application as a universal explanation of wife abuse that polarises victims and perpetrators on the basis of gender. Not only has the practice of overgeneralising this theory generated misinformation, it has also been instrumental in shaping public perception and developing programs, policies and legislation that have little applied value in the general population.

In addition to the inappropriate application of theory, limitations related to problems in reporting of findings and flaws in research design are also evident. The following studies have been selected because they are based on Canadian data: the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women report by Linda Macleod (1987), the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women (1993), DeKeseredy and Kelly (1993)’s national dating survey, and the Violence Against Women Survey (Canadian Center for Justice Statistics 1994).

Macleod's (1987) study reported that approximately one million Canadian women (1 in 10) annually. When one considers the source of this estimation (from information drawn from transition houses and inappropriately generalized to the female population at large (Lees 1992), one soon realises that it is nothing more than a falsely grounded guestimation. Similarly, the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women (1993) left the impression that sexual abuse is almost universal when it reported that 98% of a self selected sample of abused women from Metro Toronto had also suffered some form of sexual abuse.

Another set of criticisms relates to the selective analysing and reporting of data, as well as the designing of investigations to generate desired findings. DeKeseredy and Kelly (1993)’s study on dating violence analysed data collected from male and female students who were administered different questionnaires based on their gender. The questionnaires given to the males cast them as the perpetrators while the questionnaires given to the females cast them as the victims. Given this questionnaire structure and a broad definition of abuse used in the study, it is not surprising that 81% of females were reported to have experienced some form of abuse. Although the principal investigators also collected data on females’ use of violence __, these results have yet to be released. This leaves one to ponder whether the researchers’ reluctance to release their findings is because their data on female initiated abuse contradict their theory that males are socialized into violence against women (DeKeseredy and Kelly 1993).

The Violence Against Women Survey (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics 1994) which interviewed 12,300 Canadian women on their experiences of violence, reported that 51 percent encountered some form of violence at some point during their lives since the age of sixteen. Estimates of violence experienced across various contexts were also reported. However, missing from the Family Violence in Canada report (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics 1994) were the following findings taken from the Public Use Microdata File Documentation and User’s Guide (Statistics Canada, 1994): 1) being "pushed, shoved or grabbed" was the most common form of abuse experienced by women , 2) only 17% of abused women reported ever fearing for their lives , and 3) only 2.35% of abused women ever contacted a women's shelter (Statistics Canada, 1994). In failing to report these findings along with the others, the report distorts toward the negative the experiences of the majority of women in the general population. By selectively reporting their own data, the Family Violence in Canada report fails to provide balance to the feminist position that violence against women is a pervasive and systemic societal problem.

Beyond the problem of selective reporting of findings, a number of other flaws have also been identified. They include: 1) an unrepresentative sample, 2) the use of double-barrelled questions and over-inclusive questions, 3) biased wording, 4) the presentation of the context of abuse as the proportion of multiple relationships, rather than the proportion of responding women, and 5) the selective citing of research literature to support the conceptual frameworks of feminist advocacy (See Sommer and Fekete 1995 for a detailed discussion).

The Benefits of Therapy and Counseling

Therapy or counseling is a helpful process in deciding whether or not to end a relationship. It is a process of self-discovery that can help people learn how to deal more effectively with situations in their lives such as divorce, addictions and domestic violence. This process helps people feel more comfortable with themselves and with some of the tensions that come from inside.

The therapy/counseling process helps people get "unstuck". Through the development of insight and increased self awareness, people are able to gain a better understanding of their own behavior and the issues, feelings and events that motivate them. The most useful benefit of therapy is often an improvement in health and well being. This often translates into increased self-confidence, productivity and a greater sense of vitality and peace of mind. People of any age can grow and profit from the experience of therapy. There is no "wrong" time to begin.

The Issues that Bring People to Therapy and Counseling Are:

  • A feeling that life could be more satisfying than it is, that one could feel better about oneself, feel less stressed, and more easily reach one's potential goals.
  • Wanting to feel more effective and comfortable in relationships, wanting to stop repeating the same problems with your partner or your children, parents, coworkers and friends. Wanting to communicate better and resolve conflicts more effectively.
  • Feeling stressed and anxious; having difficulties at work or school, problems concentrating or sleeping, fighting with family members, and experiencing failing health.
  • Coping with stressful life events such as a relationship breakup or divorce, a chronic or life threatening illness or death of a loved one.
  • Feeling as if life is too difficult to manage. Wanting to stop feeling trapped and victimized by one's past. Wanting to move beyond haunting memories of early experiences such as growing up in a family with addictions or being abused as a child or adolescent.
  • Wanting to gain greater insight into oneself. Wanting to discover why one behaves in certain ways and to learn why certain experiences trigger feelings that seem to come from nowhere.


What Kind of People Go into Therapy or Counseling?

  • people who value their mental and emotional well-being as much as their physical well-being
  • people who want to get the most out of life
  • people who are not prepared to settle for just existing
  • people who appreciate the value of learning alternative approaches to problem solving
  • people who are open to learning more about themselves and what makes them do the things they do
  • people who recognize that from time to time it is okay and beneficial to seek assistance in coping with issues that are too difficult to deal with on their own
  • people who realize that being in therapy is NOT about being crazy; in fact therapy is for those who are VERY sane people who are JUST LIKE YOU!!!

Presentation Before the Joint Senate and House of Commons Committee on Custody and Access

Thank you for asking me to present at this very important meeting.

I bring to this meeting contributions from two distinct areas of expertise; my work as a researcher as well as my work as a family life consultant. Together, they have shaped and solidified my understanding of how families function and cope under a variety of conditions. Importantly, by being able to draw from aspects of both disciplines, I am able to move beyond the emptiness and detachment of unnamed and unknown data points, by experiencing first hand the human drama they each represent. In doing so, I can consider the strengths and limitations of each discipline, thus providing me with a more finely tuned picture of family life.

My work as a researcher has focused on perpetrators of spousal abuse within the general population. The results of my research have found no significant differences between the rates of abuse perpetrated by males and females. These findings have been met with controversy and have been widely disputed even in the presence of similar findings reported by other Canadian, U.S. and British researchers. Unfortunately, this area of research has been highly politicized by special interest groups who fail to consider that violence stemming from inappropriate management of conflict and anger is not a gender issue but a human condition. Because of this predominating and narrow view of human interactions, findings such as mine and others have been ignored, minimized or simply discounted.

My clinical work on the other hand has been more mainstream and certainly less news worthy. It is divided between working as a consultant and therapist in First Nations communities in northern Manitoba and conducting similar work, but servicing the general population in Winnipeg. This work has complimented my research findings by demonstrating the following:

  • Domestic abuse comes in many forms with its effects extending beyond the identified perpetrator and victim.
  • The demarcation between perpetrator and victim is often blurred because the abuse most often occurs within the context of poor communication skills, ineffective means of managing conflict, alcohol and drug abuse and histories of abuse experienced in the respective partners’ families of origin. Importantly, the abuse tends to be nonphysical and when it is, it also tends to be reciprocal.
  • Often times, concerns regarding domestic abuse or a partner’s ability to parent are raised at a time when couples experience difficulty resolving the dissolution of their relationship. It is my experience that allegations of abuse and inadequate parenting are fueled by anger and resentment, as well as by both parents’ vulnerability and fear of losing their children.

Based on my 10 years of studying and working with families, I would like to put forth the following three recommendations:

  • While domestic abuse is an important consideration in determining custody and access, when allegations are made, caution must be exercised to ensure that the context, history and progression of family violence are clearly established.
  • An attempt should be made to mediate all custody and access cases as a first course of action. The exceptions would be those cases where safety is a concern as indicated by a documented histories of unidirectional abuse, violent criminal activity, or mental illness. Given the reciprocal nature of most domestic abuse cases found in the general population, safety can be ensured by the mediator establishing ground rules regarding conduct during meetings.
  • Finally, when attempting to resolve custody and access issues, the feelings which underlie custody disputes should be addressed first. Often, when parents’ fears are allayed, concerns about custody and access likewise tend to diminish.

At this time, I invite your questions and comments. Thank you again.

What to Do When You are Estranged or Alienated from Your Child?

Do Any of the Following Apply to You?

  • Has your relationship with your child been strained by loyalty issues related to your divorce?
  • Has your relationship with your child been influenced by parental alienation syndrome?
  • Have you and your children endured a lengthy and bitter custody battle?
  • Has your relationship with your child been interrupted because of geographical distancing?
  • Do you want to establish a relationship with your child whom you never knew?

If you answered "YES" to any of the above, read on!!

The Problem

The bond children have with their parents is essential to their development, their self concept and their self esteem. It provides children with the framework for how their view themselves and the world around them. More importantly, it sets the blueprint for how they form relationships with others. The importance of this bond cannot be over stated or under estimated.

Sometimes events or situations occur and result in this important bond not being formed or disrupted or broken. Some of these circumstances include but are limited to:

  • A child may not have established a relationship with their biological or birth parent because of adoption or separation from that parent at birth because of geographic distancing and/or because the relationship between the child's parents broke down. Some times a parent chooses to not establish a relationship with the child because he/she feels at the time, it is not in the child's best interest to do so. Often times, a father is not even aware of his child's existence and as a consequence, he never had an opportunity to form a relationship with the child.
  • A parent's physical and mental illness or events that alter a parents' ability to function and relate to his/her child at times might have a significant impact on a relationship with his/her children. Some illnesses or medical/psychiatric conditions such as stroke, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol addictions or brain injuries, may result in impairments in the affected parent so great that it might be difficult for a child to continue his/her relationship as it once was.
  • A divorce and its fallout often leads to disruption in children's lives. During this time, children might become hostile toward one or both parents. Most often this disruption is brief and resolves in itself within the first year post separation. However, there are times when it is difficult to sustain a relationship that once particularly when a custodial parent relocates.
  • The most serious consequence of divorce is when one parent deliberately attempts to distance their child or children from the other parent. It is even more painful and devastating to the children and the affected parent when the children engage in the alienating process. Without intervention, preferably swiftly, the chances of re-establishing the important parent-child bond and repairing the relationship becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on.

What Can You Do?

Needless to say, re-establishing a relationship and/or repairing a damaged or disrupted relationship requires the participation of parent and child. There are no guarantees that your efforts will be successful, but what is certain is that if no effort is made, the chance of realizing any improvement is remote.

There are a number of things parents can do or not do. Some of them are:

  • DO keep the lines of communication open through phone calls, emails, cards, postcards & letters. Always let your child know that you are thinking about them by remembering birthdays and other special events. Maintain an interest in what they are doing. Email is an excellent way of communicating and re-establishing relationships.
  • If calls are not accepted, DO continue to communicate in the others ways listed
  • If you have reason to believe that your letters, cards or even emails are being intercepted and not reaching your child, DO consider sending a letter by special delivery and spending an extra dollar to receive a signed receipt by mail. You will then know that your letter did arrive and who signed for it.
  • DO NOT deluge your child with calls. Respect the child's need for distance but balance it with appropriate concern and attention.

Remember above all, that if your messages are being received, they will make a difference to your child.

Therapeutic Reunification

Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates can proudly boast a 100% success rate in helping estranged parents reconnect with their children. Although there is no magic or rocket science to the process, it can be challenging and often lengthy. It involves gathering information on the background of the situation and what if any, relationship existed previously. I will meet with the parent wishing to re-establish contact as part of this effort.

The next step is to meet with the child (or children). Often times, when there is more than one child, I begin with the child that had the closest and longest relationship with the parent. Once trust and rapport are established with the child, I then try to get the child to identify if and under what circumstances they might be willing to reconnect with their parent. I also attempt to get the child to identify what they feel needs to happen to make them feel better about having a relationship with their parent. Often times, (especially in cases of PAS, children's reasoning and rationale are vague, unclear and/or at times, bizarre and requires challenging and refinement. From there I attempt to work within the children's parameters which have been shaped with my help to find ways of systematically re-establishing contact with their parent.

I often act as an intermediary and use email as a medium in the process.We use a number of approaches including games, crafts and photo albums. These all help reconstruct old memories and foster new ones. Children like using email and it is a nonthreatening way to communicate with others. I work with both children and parents to refine their email drafts to ensure that their messages are clearly and appropriately worded such that they have the greatest chance of being received in a positive light. Once successful email correspondence is established, a meeting in a neutral location is arranged. This often takes the form of a very brief meeting (15 minutes) at my office. During that meeting, we reflect on past common interests and focus on positive things. After, an outside meeting at another neutral location usually involving a meal or some other activity can be arranged. It is at this point, that the relationship begins to take form and begins to re-establish itself.

Progress is variable. Sometimes, having someone there to light the match is enough. At other times, things proceed more slowly. The key is to work at the child's pace!!

Developing a Joint Custody Arrangement

You've finally got your divorce decree and you feel you can now breathe a big sigh of relief. You may even be thinking, "no more divorce attorneys, no more divorce negotiations and no more custody battles!! - I can finally get on with my life without my ex."

For the most part, you are right - your professional relationship with your divorce attorney is over, and you are now in a better position to make decisions about your future. However, here is the rub! As a parent in a joint custody arrangement, your relationship with your ex-spouse will continue as long as your children are part of both of your lives.

This reality check often comes as a huge shock to parents who are newly divorced. After all, the reason they chose to end their marriage was because they didn't get along and wanted to get away from each other. What now! Well, there is life after divorce, even for a joint custodial parent. The challenge for couples is to redefine their relationships and to develop cooperative co-parenting plans based on their shared concerns for their children.

In redefining a relationship, former spouses need to make some important shifts in thinking and feeling. An area of difficulty for many couples is making the shift from being emotionally married to being emotionally divorced; moving from a relationship based on intimacy to one that is more businesslike in nature. The major problems lie in the area of personal boundaries. People make the mistake of feeling that they still have the same call on each other as they did while married. For example, an ex wife may feel she is still entitled to know with whom her ex husband spends his time or how he spends his money. Likewise, an ex husband may feel he can still comment on how his ex wife parks the car or wears her hair. Once divorced, these issues should be of no concern to either ex partner. In essence, they are simply "none of each other's business". When couples make this shift in thinking and feeling, the old buttons that could be pushed, no longer work.. The emotional divorce is then complete.

In developing an effective and cooperative co-parenting plan, the following should be considered:

  • Each parent must recognize the other parent as being competent to care for the children and to have their best interests in mind
  • Each parent must be willing to give the other parent full authority to care for the children while they are in his/her care
  • Each parent must recognize that any criticism of the other parent made in the presence of the children is destructive and detrimental to their well-being
  • Each parent must be willing and able to put their personal feelings aside when communicating with the other regarding the children
  • Each parent must put their children's need for love, safety and security above their own needs.
  • When people are able to meet these challenges, they will experience the following benefits of being a joint custodial parent:
  • Having the peace of mind that their children are being cared for by someone who loves them and will place their interests above all
  • Having the time to devote to one's own personal interests without being concerned about the well-being of the children
  • Knowing that there is someone to share problems and concerns that may arise regarding the children

A joint custody arrangement can transform a once flawed relationship into a productive parenting effort where neither person feels that he or she is a "single" parent.

Developing an Effective Parenting Plan

Useful Tips on How to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation and Gain an Edge in Your Custody Battle!
Custody evaluations are very important in determining child custody and access during contested divorce proceedings. Divorce courts give considerable weight to the recommendations of the evaluator. Below are some guidelines that will assist when you prepare for your custody evaluation with the expectation of ending your custody battle.

  • Arrive on time at your custody evaluation interview.
  • Dress neatly and conservatively.
  • Be honest. The custody evaluator will likely check out your statements with collaterals and/or other sources.
  • If the custody evaluator chooses to use psychological testing, ABSOLUTELY answer honestly. The tests are designed to detect defensiveness and lies and unless you are an expert in psychometric testing, you are unlikely to fool them.
  • Be sincere. The custody evaluator can usually detect over embellishment and insincerity.
  • It's allright to be nervous; most people are.
  • It's allright to cry and/or show emotion; many people do.
  • Answer questions directly and to the point.
  • Make sure you pay attention to what the evaluator is asking.
  • Take your time when answering a question. If you do not understand what is being asked, feel free to ask the evaluator to explain what he/she means.
  • If the custody evaluator asks that you provide additional documentation, do so as promptly as possible or communicate any concerns about getting it.
  • If you provide the custody evaluator with names of collaterals, it is a good idea to inform them in advance that they may be contacted so that they can prepare to speak on your behalf.
  • If the custody evaluator is observing you with your child(ren), be attentive to their needs and focus on their interests and not yours.
  • Present yourself as being reasonable and placing the concerns of your child(ren) above all.

The following is a list of things to avoid doing during a custody and access evaluation...

  • DO NOT speak badly of your spouse/partner unless the custody evaluator asks you to comment on what you perceive to be the problems between you.
  • DO not make threatening comments about your spouse/partner or anyone else to the evaluator.
  • DO NOT harass the custody evaluator with phone calls.
  • DO NOT drop by the evaluator's office without an appointment.
  • DO NOT call the custody evaluator to see if the report is completed.
  • DO NOT prep your child(ren) to say negative things about their other parent. The custody evaluator has ways of telling if this has happened.

Custody evaluators recognize the stress people are under during this process and take this into account when assessing family members. If you are feeling stressed and anxious, it is allright to acknowledge it and allow the custody evaluator to help allay some of your concerns.

Custody evaluators also recognize that there are no perfect parents and his or her recommendations should be directed at determining the best parenting arrangement to meet your child(ren)'s needs.

Reaching A Crossroad in a Relationship: A Time to Make a Decision

There is something about the coming of a new year that causes us to take stock of ourselves, our lives and our relationships. I guess that's what New Year's resolutions are all about - making positive changes in various aspects of our lives.

So as many of us contemplate what we would like to change or improve about ourselves or our situation, it makes sense that our thoughts often turn to the relationships we are in.

In taking stock of your important intimate relationship, you might want to think about the following questions (and not necessarily in this order):

1. Are my partner and I moving in the same direction?

2. Is the relationship growing or is it at a standstill or worse yet, is it deteriorating?

3. Do my partner and I share the same values, goals and dreams as we once did?

4. Am I able to maintain some autonomy in the relationship (in other words a "sense of self") or is the relationship primarily geared toward and directed by my partner's needs?

These questions should help you sort out what is going on - or not going on - in your relationship. If nothing else, it will start you thinking...

To learn more about relationship challenges, read Dr. Sommer's free mini e-Book - "Loneliness: feeling Cut Out of Life" at

Infidelity - Again! It Can Happen to You More Than Once

The fallout of infidelity and extramarital affairs is heart-wrenching and traumatic. But did you know that it could happen again if you don't recognize the signs!

Did you know that the majority of people who experience infidelity in their relationships will likely experience it again - even if they move on to other relationships!!

Pretty unbelievable - but unfortunately, it's the truth. One would think that getting badly burned once would be enough. But that's not quite the way it happens for many....

There ARE reasons for why infidelity, adultery and extra marital affairs often become a repeated pattern for some people in relationships and not in others. People are complicated and things are not always as they appear.

Nepenthes, a relationship's vulnerability to infidelity comes down to the following major three factors...

One - People's choices in a partner or spouse are not in line with what they need or want, or with what their spouse or partner can give them. In other words, there is a mismatch along the important dimension of emotional intimacy.

Two - People fail to make their relationships a priority by putting the time and energy into them that they need. That leaves them open for infidelity and cheating to take root.

Three - People fail to understand the issues that lead to the infidelity, adultery and extra marital affair in the first place. They also don't see the part they played in the relationship's failure. For many people, it is easier to blame someone else for things that went wrong rather than looking inward for understanding.

Does any of this ring a bell? If it does, then it's time to pay attention. Goodness knows, you don't need another round of the heartache and grief that comes with infidelity and extra marital affairs.

Parental Alienation Syndrome: The Problem

The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) has only recently been recognized in the literature as a phenomenon occurring with sufficient frequency and with particular defining characteristics as to warrant recognition. Today, the PAS is attracting the attention of clinicians, researchers, social service agencies, parent groups and the legal community. As well, it is an issue that has fueled considerable debate with respect to the validity of its existence. Opponents and critics of the PAS continue to argue that the PAS does not exist simply because of its absence from the DSM-IV. This argument which might have face validity, neglects this extremely salient counter argument:

Would this line of reasoning hold today if one was to argue that because attention deficit disorder was not previously included in the DSM publications that it never existed before? - CERTAINLY NOT!

Regardless of the arguments put forth to discount PAS' existence and validity, it is difficult to argue and explain how a previously strong, intact, positive and loving relationship between a parent and child disintegrates and transforms into outward hostility toward the parent by his or her child, usually following separation or some other significant family reorganization involving high levels of conflict. In spite of the divisiveness on this issue, one issue that few will debate is the fact that too many children are caught in a "tug of war" between their separated parents.

When you purchase the Research Report on Children's Adjustment to Divorce (available online for only $14.99), you will be entitled to a Free 15-Minute Telephone Consult with Dr. Reena Sommer. Please Contact Us to arrange for your consult!!

Parental alienation syndrome has been variously defined. Relying on my background in Psychology and family studies as well as my observations of client families, I have developed the following definition:

"...the deliberate attempt by one parent (and/or guardian/significant other) to distance his/her children from the other parent and in doing so, the parent engages the children in the process of destroying the affectional and familial bonds that once existed..."

The alienation process develops over time and the distancing that occurs, includes some or all of the following features:

A parent speaks badly or demeans the other parent directly to the child(ren) - the disparaging comments made by the alienating parent to their children about their other parent can be impicit ("I am not sure I will be able to afford to send you to camp because "Mom" or "Dad" does not realize how much you enjoy it") or explicit ("Mom/Dad" left us because he/she never cared enough about you to keep our family together").

A parent speaks badly or demeans the other parent to others in the presence (or within audible distance) of the child(ren).

A parent discusses with the child(ren) the circumstances under which the marriage broke down.

A parent exposes the child(ren) to the details of the parents' ongoing conflict, financial problems and legal proceedings.

A parent blames the other parent for changes in life style, any current hardships, his/her negative emotional state and inability to function as before.

Child(ren) come to know that in order to please one parent, they must turn against the other parent.

Allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of a child(ren) are often made.

These features exemplify the denigrating diagnostic criterion set out by Dr. Richard Gardner in his discussion of PAS. In addition, a key feature of the PAS is that it is almost exclusively associated with a separation/divorce situation. Similarly, allegations of abuse made following separation also have no prior history, nor upon investigation are they found to have any basis.

Children exposed to the ongoing conflict and hostility of their parents suffer tremendously. The guilt children experience when their parents' first separate, is exacerbated by the added stress of being made to feel that their love and attachment for one parent is contingent on their abandoning the other. Although they are powerless to end the struggle between their parents', they come to believe that if they turn against one in favor of the other, the unhappiness they experience on an ongoing basis will also end.

The challenge for counselors and family services workers is to find ways of sparing children the emotional pain and stress that result when they are caught in their parents' crossfire. It involves helping parents understand the harm being done to their children through their actions, helping them find peace and reassurance in leading a life separate from each other and helping them develop effective ways of co-parenting. The challenge for lawyers is to discern whether the actions taken and allegations made by a client are based on genuine concerns for their child(ren)'s safety and well-being, or motivated by revenge, leverage for child support, fear of losing his/her children and the role of father/mother.

The PAS is a burden that a child is forced to bear by a parent who fails to recognize their child's strong need to love and be loved by the other parent.

The Solution

In theory, the solutions sound easy. In practice, they are anything but easy! For many, simple education and reassurance is enough to set things right. For others however, these reasonable strategies simply do not work. In these cases, a skilled lawyer must demonstrate that one parent is deliberately and maliciously attempting to sever the bond between the children and the other parent. The challenge for the client is to find such a skilled lawyer who is knowledgeable about PAS.

Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates supports clients' and lawyers' efforts in addressing the enormous challenges associated with PAS cases. We do so by:

  • providing counseling to parents who are wrongly denied access to their children
  • working with families to re-establish contact between children and parents
  • conducting PAS assessments to determine or discredit PAS and to ascertain whether allegations of abuse are bona fide or bogus
  • reviewing and critiquing assessments conducted by custody evaluators who have failed to identify PAS
  • consulting with lawyers on how to question suspected alienating parents and/or suspected alienated children and how to develop strategies for case development
  • providing expert testimony on PAS, parenting & domestic abuse

Fees for PAS Assessments and consultations are determined on a case by case basis.

We are pleased to offer consultations and custody assessment reviews to clients in any geographic location. These can be done by fax, telephone and email.

Controversy Within Family Violence Research

I have been involved in the study of partner abuse for the past eight years. My interest in this issue began with my concern about violence against women. Initially, my examination of partner abuse focused on courtship violence and spouse abuse perpetrated by men. My sense of curiosity led me to go against what I believed to be the essence of partner abuse and examine the prevalence of abuse perpetrated by women. Quite to my surprise, I found that women too, abused their male partners at equivalent rates. This led me to search out other research examining this issue, and again to my surprise I found my findings were not an anomaly, but had considerable support.

Considerable controversy has emerged as a result of studies finding equivalent rates of abuse for males and females. The rift within family violence research centers on how researchers have approached their investigations. On one hand, there is the unidimensional approach to partner abuse advanced by feminists. They view abuse between intimates as a problem of women being abused by men whereby the abuse is perceived as a dichotomous variable (abuse/no abuse) and seen in its most sever forms. On the other hand, sociologists and family researchers view partner abuse as being gender neutral and occurring along a continuum with no abuse at one end and very severe abuse at the other end.

I would like to address this controversy by first providing a backdrop to how the divisiveness in the study of partner abuse developed, and then by discussing some of the methodological and practical issues that have contributed to it.

Long before the first reference to violence within the family was made in academic circles -which was actually not that long ago - somewhere around 32 years ago - the goings on within the family took on a very different tenor than they do today. Back then, family problems were considered private and were no one's business but those directly involved. This is not to say that the outside world was totally oblivious to the problems that some families experienced. On the contrary, family problems were often quite apparent, however they were defined somewhat differently and were viewed as issues that were to be resolved without outside interference.

I'm sure those of us old enough to remember those simpler times and as well as those too young to remember that era in history will recall stories about families whose children were not adequately fed, unclean and sent to school without warm enough clothing. There were also stories about husbands and wives who quarrelled a little too much and whose houses echoed with sounds of yelling, screaming and items hitting the walls. We may recall husbands who were labelled as boors and wives who were labelled as hen peckers because they didn't treat their respective spouses with the respect or consideration they deserved. We may also recall stories of elderly people stranded in their homes, not being able to adequately care for themselves while their able children only rarely came to visit them but for a few minutes each time. I would venture to suggest that when we reflect back on these stories, the notion of abuse never crosses our minds. Instead, we probably thought about how unfortunate these families were and how thankful we are that such things did go on in our own families.

The explosion of research in family violence as well as the work done by the women's movement has redefined not only how we look at family violence, but how we approach family issues, in general. During the past three decades, the family has been placed under the social science microscope and has been examined in many different ways. We have learned about the division of labour within households, different child rearing practices and alternative lifestyles, to name just a few. What was once considered a troublesome, but private problem is now defined as abuse in its various forms and is subject to the scrutiny of numerous social agencies. In the case of family violence, this move toward deprivatizing the family has been positive in many respects and has led to the protection of those unable to protect themselves. Today, we have very strict guidelines about the reporting and handling of child abuse cases and legislation concerning protecting the elderly is currently in place in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

Twenty-five years ago, the problem of wife abuse went virtually unnoticed by the legal, medical, social and research communities. Up till that point, women caught in abusive relationships were left to suffer in silence with no where to turn to for help or understanding. Little support was provided by their own families because of strong adherence to the notion of "to death do you part". Much of the credit for the increased public knowledge about wife assaults is attributed to the women's movement which, through its tireless efforts, has brought the issue of wife battering to the forefront. Today, wife abuse has been identified as the single most important dimension of family violence. In fact, lobbying efforts by women's groups have been so successful that the issue of wife abuse has taken precedence over other social problems such as poverty, alcoholism, and unemployment.

However, the lobby for the protection of women has been at the expense of protecting other family members also at risk for abuse. In some quarters of both popular and media cultures, as well as the legislative culture, violence against women by men has literally squeezed out recognition of other forms of family violence, including the violence perpetrated by women against other women (siblings, daughters, mothers and lesbian partners), against children, and indeed against male partners and elderly fathers. Especially noteworthy is research which reports that female perpetrators commit between 3% and 13% of all sexual abuse. The tunnel vision view of domestic violence where women are the victims and men are the perpetrators is built on the patriarchal model which conceptualizes abuse as resulting from men's overt attempts to dominate women. This conceptual framework argues that men are socialized into violence, and is supported by many of our social institutions, most notably the institution of marriage. Feminist writers maintain that violence by men is pervasive and normal, and some have gone as far as to equate violence against women with jungle warfare.

At the centre of the debate on family violence is the argument over who is the biggest victim. Feminists would have us believe that women are unquestionably the greater victims and men are the greater perpetrators - even at the cost of invented figures, illogical arguments and suppressed empirical data which dispel this position. It has been suggested that feminists fear that what is perceived as the more serious problem of wife abuse will be impeded by drawing attention to other forms of domestic violence. In other words, it is believed that by sharing the victim spotlight with men, funds will be diverted away from women's shelters and advocacy and toward the needs of men and others suffering abuse. Is it is too naive of me to suggest that by viewing family violence - and specifically spouse abuse - as a much larger problem than has been until now, more funds could be directed to domestic abuse programs which recognize the role of both partners. These funds could then be used to bring about long term solutions by working with couples and their families instead of the current band aid strategies that shelters offer to women alone.

It is only recently that the presentation of domestic abuse as solely a matter of the victimization of women by men has begun to be questioned by academics, government officials, the media and the public. More and more often, stories about women assaulting their family members appear in our newspapers. Although the story of Susan Smith shocked the nation, a perusal of newspaper articles reveals that she is not the first woman to harm her children. Still, examples of women's violence are continually dismissed as rare events while examples of violence by men are held as symbols of their innate violent make-up. As a consequence, challenges to the patriarchal model of spouse abuse have not been well received by women's advocates, and in fact have been labelled as the "backlash" in the violence against women struggle.

The controversy over the salience of the feminist stance on wife assault has been discussed by only a few academics. The penalties against criticizing feminist ideology are varied but nevertheless, severe. They range from personal attacks such as name calling and malicious rumours, to threats to academic careers, to threats to their family members. Because of this, many academics feel the price of speaking out is too high to pay. On the other hand, those who have braved the consequences and spoken out, have gained public attention and given many reason to rethink what has till now become accepted truths in our societal consciousness. Those who have dared to question the myopic, unidimensional view of domestic abuse have done so because of their commitment to see that the issue of violence perpetrated by women is brought to the forefront after being hidden as wife abuse was 20 years ago.

I want to shift gears now and talk about some specifics. While there is no shortage of official statistics, emergency room reports and anecdotes from shelters supporting the claim that women are very often severely abused by their male partners, these claims in no way: 1) describe the condition of all women in society, nor 2) do they address the issue of abuse sustained by men that has already been demonstrated by several large general population surveys.

With respect to my first point concerning the generalizing of findings from one population to another, I will begin by stating that we must remember that the cases that are described by these clinical data sources (that is the shelters, police and hospitals) reflect the tale end of domestic abuse cases. In other words, these are the most serious examples of domestic abuse. On the other hand, surveys conducted on random samples of men and women in the general population find equivalent rates of abuse in which the abuse is relatively speaking more benign in nature. By that I mean, the tactics used during incidents of abuse have a lower probability of producing injuries. This is supported by the low rates of injuries reported.

Much of the confusion in the debate over whether or not women are the sole victims of male perpetrated abuse centers around the data source used to report cases of abuse. To resolve this debate, we must begin by asking, "why do women overshadow men in cases of severe abuse?" Based on the information that has flooded the media, the most obvious answer would be "because that is the way it is; these statistics reflect reality". However, there is an alternative explanation which is: "women overshadow men in reports of severe domestic abuse because the sources from which we gather data do not adequately reflect cases of abused males". Think about it, how many abused men can we expect to find in battered women's shelters?

You might argue though that police and emergency room statistics have likewise failed to produce large numbers of male victims of domestic abuse. How do I explain that? My answer is, "look at the cities that have instituted zero tolerance domestic abuse policies". If you compare pre policy male/female arrest ratios with those at present, you will undoubtedly find that the gap between male/female arrests is quickly closing. In fact, in my home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the number of arrests of females is escalating faster than the number of arrests of males. Unfortunately, data on emergency rooms is not as convincing in that few men report domestic abuse as the cause of their injuries. However, based on the anecdotal reports of injured men many say they often lie because they fear they will not be believed.

The bottom line is, we do not have a comparable clinical population of abused men. Appropriate comparisons cannot yet be made between clinically abused males and females, nor can the issue of injuries sustained be appropriately addressed without a parallel population of abused men. Until such time, the motivations for the abuse as well as its associated factors within this high risk population remain unresolved. For now, valid comparisons of male and female abusers should be limited to research conducted on either random samples from the general population or convenience samples drawn from a number of sources including therapy groups. Unfortunately, this is something that is rarely done and is certainly not reflected in media reports.

In terms of my other point concerning the abuse sustained by men, I will say again, there is ample empirical evidence demonstrating that the perpetration and victimization of spousal abuse within the general population is shared by both men and women. Spousal abuse is not exclusively a woman's issue. Yet this notion of domestic violence as being solely a women's issue still persists. In addition to what I has already been said, the strong adherence to female victimization by males centers on women's use of violence as being motivated only by self defence as well as men's greater relative physical strength over women.

Research by Straus and colleagues has demonstrated that an equal proportion of men and women initiate episodes of domestic abuse. This suggests that self defence is not likely a factor in these cases. My own research goes a step further by straight forwardly asking "was the abuse perpetrated in self defence?". Results indicated that only 9.9% of women and 14.8% of men said they perpetrated abuse in self defence during the year prior to the survey. In other words, for the vast majority of men and women, the abuse they perpetrated was for reasons other than self defence.

To date, there are no data that take into account height and weight as a factor involved in the perpetration of domestic abuse. As a result, comments regarding men's greater relative physical strength as a predictor of perpetrated abuse are strictly speculative. While it makes intuitive sense that a person of greater stature and strength will have the advantage in a physical assault, it would be a mistake to believe that one's greater relative strength is the only determining factor in the outcome of a domestic assault. Anecdotal reports from abused men suggest that small framed women exert considerable fear and intimidation by threatening to take their children away and by other forms of emotional abuse such as insults and degradation. We know all too well that anyone can compensate for a lack of strength with a weapon. The case of Lorena and John Bobbitt speaks to that issue quite well.

My point is that we should not automatically jump on to the band wagon that discredits the other reality that men like women can be victims as well as perpetrators of abuse. Regardless of our gender, we are all members of the same human species with the same innate drives of flight or fight. Each one of us has the ability to react violently given the right set of circumstances. What the literature on spousal abuse has shown us is that there is considerable variability in what triggers violent responses to marital conflicts. Some of abusers are triggered by stress, while others are triggered by alcohol, unemployment, family background or poor coping skills. In most cases, it is a complex combination and interaction of these factors that predispose men and women to use violence to resolve conflicts in their intimate relationships. The job of research is to identify these triggers and be able to accurately predict who is most vulnerable and under what set of circumstances. Once accomplished, the road to effective intervention may be at hand.

I want to conclude this talk by making a plea for honesty during future discussions on domestic abuse. As a woman who is deeply concerned about the well being of all women, I cannot help being frustrated by attempts to resolve the abuse that many women suffer by turning a blind eye to other women who inflict serious physical and emotional abuse on their loved ones. By denying this aspect of many women's existence, we do little to help women cope with life's stressors, or assist them in building more satisfactory intimate relationships. In our efforts to improve the lives of all women, it is incumbent upon us to see all aspects of their reality. Even more damaging to the image of women is the self imposed label of victim. In doing so, we deny ourselves the empowerment that we have long strived toward. As long as women subscribe to the notion of universal victimhood, they will never experience the freedom that goes along with having control over their lives.

The truth is, thank goodness, we are not all victims. Research shows us that 89% to 97% of couples report no violence during the year prior to the surveys conducted. In light of these findings, it seems that it would be more appropriate to examine the factors associated with women who have risen above the abuse and have made positive changes in their lives instead of continuously focusing on the small subset of women who have been unable to free themselves from extremely violent relationships. An approach such as this may provide the needed insight to help those still caught in abusive relationships. If not for ourselves, then we need to think about our children and do what is necessary to improve their lives. Since domestic abuse is often handed down from one generation to the next, the only way we can protect our children's future is to stop the abuse they witness and experience in their lives today. Let's take off our politically correct blinders and see the problem of domestic violence for what it really is. Domestic abuse involves and affects all family members!

Re-Thinking Supervised Visits

For most noncustodial parents, the thought of having a perfect stranger sit and watch them while they spend their limited and much valued time with their children is most unappealing to say the least. For those parents who previously had strong, positive and healthy relationships with their kids, this seems wrong, unfair and demeaning. At face value, I couldn't agree more!!

However, there is another side to this story. One that is much more positive, effective and cost saving. How can this be so? Take a deep breath, sit back and read on....

Supervised visits managed by professionals who understand the dynamics of high conflict divorces and who have lots of experience working in these situations can be a parent's ticket to renewed relationships with children who have been affected by loyalty issues, alienating influences, false allegations of abuse and access blocking. In other words, what appears to be supervised visitation on the surface, is really a program of family reunification and reintegration.

Since developing our "therapeutic supervision" program (which for reasons that will soon be obvious we do not call them "family reunification/reintegration), we are pleased to boast a 100% success rate in helping parents and children reconnect.

How Do We Do It?

There really is no magic or rocket science involved in the process. What is involved is careful and detailed observations and documentation of any interactions involving the children, the parents (yes, both parents) and anyone else that is involved from the time the children are dropped off until they are picked up. We use our own visitation log (upon which our online Parent Visitation Log is based) to document all interactions including those involving telephone contacts between visits. This coupled by my report summarizing and making recommendations about what has been observed are then submitted to the court for review by a judge.

This unique program that we have developed has not only been instrumental in helping parents and kids reconnect, but also in achieving open and increased access for parents. In some cases, a change in custody has occurred and in one case, we brought to light issues of abuse by the custodial parent that were previously overlooked by Child Protective Services.

What Make this Program Work?

It's the appeal it holds for the custodial parent in addressing alleged "safety" concerns. For the noncustodial parent, it offers protection against all sorts of further allegations. From a cost perspective, a complete program of supervision including observation notes and a report is about half the cost of a custody evaluation ($3000 USD v. $6000 USD based on 20 hours of supervision & parent interaction - average cost being quoted). Most importantly, a custody evaluation does not guarantee that a parent denied access to his or her children will have an opportunity to re-establish a relationship. This program makes that possible!

ESSENTIAL Ingredients of a Successfl Reunification/Reintegration Program

1. A professional who is well versed in this process, able to cope with challenging situations and has the credentials to impress the court.

2. A court order stipulating the conditions under which the supervised access will occur as well as the cooperation of all parties with penalties for noncompliance.

3. Shared costs of the services is recommended to ensure compliance.

4. Frequent and consistent visits will enhance the success of a reunification/reintegration program. Aim for twice weekly access periods.

To learn more about our family reunification/reintegration programs which are now being made available in some centers across Canada and the U.S.A., please contact Dr. Reena Sommer at:

When Parents Become Estranged From Their Children

The bond children have with their parents is absolutely essential to their development, their self concept and their self esteem. It provides children with the framework for how their view themselves and the world around them. More importantly, it sets the blueprint for how they form relationships with others. The importance of this bond cannot be over stated or under estimated.

However, sometimes events or situations occur and result in this important bond either not being formed or disrupted or broken. Some of these circumstances include but are limited to:

  • A child may not have established a relationship with their biological or birth parent because of adoption or separation from that parent at birth because of geographic distancing and/or because the relationship between the child's parents broke down. Some times a parent chooses to not establish a relationship with the child because he/she feels at the time, it is not in the child's best interest to do so. Often times, a father is not even aware of his child's existence and as a consequence, he never had an opportunity to form a relationship with the child.
  • A parent's physical and mental illness or events that alter a parents' ability to function and relate to his/her child at times might have a significant impact on a relationship with his/her children. Some illnesses or medical/psychiatric conditions such as stroke, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol addictions or brain injuries, may result in impairments in the affected parent so great that it might be difficult for a child to continue his/her relationship as it once was.
  • A divorce and its fallout often leads to disruption in children's lives. During this time, children might become hostile toward one or both parents. Most often this disruption is brief and resolves in itself within the first year post separation. However, there are times when it is difficult to sustain a relationship that once particularly when a custodial parent relocates.
  • The most serious consequence of divorce is when one parent deliberately attempts to distance their child or children from the other parent. It is even more painful and devastating to the children and the affected parent when the children engage in the alienating process. Without intervention, preferably swiftly, the chances of re-establishing the important parent-child bond and repairing the relationship becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on.

What Can An Estranged Parent Do?

Needless to say, re-establishing a relationship and/or repairing a damaged or disrupted relationship requires the participation of parent and child. There are no guarantees that your efforts will be successful, but what is certain is that if no effort is made, the chance of realizing any improvement is remote.

Here are some things parents should and should not do in their efforts to re-unite with their children....

  • DO keep the lines of communication open through phone calls, emails, cards, postcards & letters. Always let your child know that you are thinking about them by remembering birthdays and other special events. Maintain an interest in what they are doing. Email is an excellent way of communicating and re-establishing relationships.
  • If calls are not accepted, DO continue to communicate in the others ways listed
  • If you have reason to believe that your letters, cards or even emails are being intercepted and not reaching your child, DO consider sending a letter by special delivery and spending an extra dollar to receive a signed receipt by mail. You will then know that your letter did arrive and who signed for it.
  • DO NOT deluge your child with calls. It could be viewed as harassment. Instead, respect your child's need for distance but balance it with appropriate concern and attention.

Remember above all, that if your messages are being received, they will make a difference to your child.

© 2008, Reena Sommer

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However often marriage is dissolved, it remains indissoluble. Real divorce, the divorce of heart and nerve and fiber, does not exist, since there is no divorce from memory. - Virgilia Peterson

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