There is No Such Thing as Reunification Therapy

Call me silly, but I tend to be a stickler for truth and accuracy. I just feel that the world is a better place when we base our discussions on things that are real rather than on fantasies that sound nice, but that don’t actually exist.

I’d love to own a unicorn, but they don’t actually exist. So having a discussion about whether I should buy a unicorn is pointless.

So let me be entirely clear on this, there is no such thing as “reunification therapy.”

There are psychoanalytic psychotherapies, such as Adlerian psychotherapy (Alfred Adler), object-relations psychotherapy (Kohut), and self-psychology (Stolorow & Atwood).

There are humanistic/existential therapies, such as Client-Centered therapy (Rogers) and Gestalt therapy (Perls).

There are cognitive-behavioral therapies, such as those described by Beck and Ellis.

There are family systems therapies, such as Structural family systems therapy (Minuchin) and Strategic family systems therapy (Haley and Madanes).

There are post-modern “social constructionist” therapies, such as Solution-Focused therapy (Berg) and Narrative therapy (Epson & White).

As a clinical psychologist, I am familiar with all these different types of actual psychotherapy.  I can describe how they define problems and treatment, and how they go about solving the problems faced by clients.  Not only is clinical psychotherapy my profession, I also teach models of psychotherapy to students at the graduate level, and I have provided clinical supervision and training to interns and post-doctoral fellows in the application of differing models of psychotherapy.  I know the various models of psychotherapy.

But nowhere, not in any book or article, is there any description or definition of this mythical construct of “reunification therapy.”

There is no such thing as “reunification therapy.”

If anyone ever says that they do “reunification therapy,” please ask them for a book or article that describes what “reunification therapy” is. They will not be able to provide you with any reference because none exists.

Doing something called “reunification therapy” sounds great. And I’d like to own a unicorn. But, unfortunately, neither unicorns nor “reunification therapy” exist.

Seeing as how I’m kind of attached to the concepts of truth and accuracy, I find it annoying that people toss around this phrase “reunification therapy” as though it had meaning. I most often hear this term in reference to Court-involved cases where the Court has perhaps ordered “reunification therapy.”

I am more tolerant of the Court’s use of this term, although I’d like mental health professionals to correct the Court at every opportunity that there is no such thing as “reunification therapy.”  I don’t expect legal professionals to understand the various types of psychotherapy, but when the Court uses this term it might as well simply order “therapy” since the term “reunification therapy” adds nothing additional to the basic concept of therapy.  Or perhaps if the Court wants to be more precise in its desires it could say “therapy that has as its goal the restoration of the positive parent-child bond.” But I’m willing to show tolerance for the legal system in the inaccurate use of therapeutic terminology.

It’s the mental health professionals who use this term that most irritate me. They should know better. They’re using the term “reunification therapy” as a junk phrase in which they can pretty much make things up as they go, and they offer a circular definition for what “reunification therapy” is:

Q: What is “reunification therapy?” 

A: It’s what I do.

Q: And what is it that you do? 

A: I do “reunification therapy?”

Q: Okay.  So then what is “reunification therapy?” 

A: It’s what I do.

Q: So what is it that you do when you do “reunification therapy?” 

A: When I’m doing “reunification therapy” then I’m reunifying people in therapy.

Q: And how do you go about reunifying people in therapy? 

A: By doing “reunification therapy.”

When a mental health professional uses the term “reunification therapy” it essentially amounts to selling the public a snake oil remedy. 

I am aware that this is an exceedingly harsh accusation, yet I challenge anyone in mental health to refute this accusation by providing any description of a model for what “reunification therapy” is.

If there is no description for what a term means, then the term has no meaning.

It is pointless to talk about unicorns if unicorns don’t exist.  It is pointless to talk about “reunification therapy” if “reunification therapy” doesn’t exist.  Therapists should say they are doing object-relations therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy, or family systems therapy, or any model of psychotherapy that actually exists.  At least then we will understand what they’re doing.  But they should STOP saying they’re doing “reunification therapy” as this is simply selling snake oil to the public.


Being the stickler for truth and accuracy that I am, I need to correct something I said earlier  When I said that there are no articles describing what “reunification therapy” is, that wasn’t exactly accurate.

There is one article that describes a model for “reunification therapy.”  I wrote it.  It’s up on my website (Childress Description of an Attachment-Based Model for Reunification Therapy).

This is the only article that currently exists that describes a model for what “reunification therapy” is. This definition for “reunification therapy” is based in an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” so if any therapist claims to be doing “reunification therapy” then he or she should be using my model for “reunification therapy” which is based in an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

As the first person to define a model for what “reunification therapy” is, I call dibs on the label.

If you’re going to do “reunification therapy” then you have to use the Childress attachment-based model of “reunification therapy,” or else you have to define your own model for what “reunification therapy” is. But you are not allowed to sell people “unicorns” that are simply dogs, or cats, or gerbils, with pointy sticks taped to their heads.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

2 thoughts on “There is No Such Thing as Reunification Therapy”

  1. Thank you for this article Dr. Childress. This is very clarifying, and I find your work hugely helpful.

  2. Dr. Childress, your attachment based explanation of pathogenic perverse parenting completely and clearly spells out the problem. And as you say, mental health professionals need to speak with one voice to the courts, we need that to have happened “yesterday”. There is too much at stake for the smart progressionals to get offended or critical of you or your honesty for ego if reasons. Call a spade a spade. If something is snake oil. Call it out. We need clarity and unity and integrity. Thank you for keeping your eye on the prize and for serving our special population. This is no time to circle the wagons pro PAS Gardner people..

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