Building Family Resilience From The Ground Up

As Overcoming Barriers (OCB) has grown from an original program prototype to a national organization working to expand and deliver programs throughout the US and Canada, we have recognized the critical importance of training to the success of OCB’s mission. While expanding the scope of programming is ultimate goal, maintaining the quality and integrity of the program delivery is essential to positive outcomes for families and long-term success.

OCB provides programs for for post-divorce/separation families caught in intractable parental conflict, bringing the entire family together in a positive, fun, clinically supported, natural environment, to practice skills as a reorganized family. The OCB Approach is unlike the prevailing adversarial court paradigm that engenders distrust and conflict engagement, while consuming public resources with little resolution of parental conflict. OCB has developed and refined a “whole family” intervention, a creative alternative to the ineffective adversarial court process or conventional therapeutic interventions. OCB has run High-Conflict Family Camps annually since 2008, working with the most entrenched families in the country, largely court-ordered to attend.

Sharon Ryan Montgomery, Psy.D., and Marcy Pasternak, Ph.D., had both been doing family forensic work in New Jersey in private practice for many years, including child custody & parenting time evaluations, therapy for individuals and families, mediation, and parenting coordination. They were both finding cases involving child alienation to be the most tragic as well as difficult to treat, and that the common treatment of weekly family/reunification therapy was generally inadequate to shift the family dynamics in a meaningful way.

They began to hear about intensive family treatments, including residential family programs such as the OCB camp conducted by leading experts in the field. Resultantly, Sharon had referred some entrenched families to the camp, and Marcy served as an after-care therapist for one OCB family. Encouraged by their experience with OCB, they reached out to see if they could visit the camp and observe the treatment model for themselves.

Sharon and Marcy attended an OCB outreach event in NYC in the fall of 2012. Robin Deutsch, Ph.D., was present and they discussed their desire to observe camp. Shortly thereafter, OCB announced that there would be opportunity for clinical trainees to attend and observe the Family Camp in summer 2013. They both applied and were accepted.

In the summer 2013, Sharon and Marcy participated in OCB’s first clinical training at camp, learning the model, observing the families and interventions remotely, and participating in the team discussions and the camp milieu. “We found it to be a powerful and amazing experience.” *

As a continuation of the OCB training model, Sharon and Marcy were invited to attend camp the following summer as clinical fellows, to co-lead one of the parent groups and assist clinical staff in family interventions.

“Working at the camp was an intense, exhausting, and rewarding experience. Working with the entire team (both clinical and milieu staff) in the camp milieu setting was powerful. The mode of working that we experienced is unique. The approach to treating the families is somewhat like a “boot camp” in that the entire time at camp is geared toward one goal, and is approached from many angles. Learning to go with the flow and think on your feet for twelve plus hours a day, how to work with a group in a milieu setting, while also individualizing treatment for each family, were skills that were developed. It was a training experience like no other, and what I feel is essential to experience in being able to run an weekend intensive for one family at a time.”

Encouraged by the OCB clinical team, and supported by OCB staff, Sharon and Marcy began working to bring an intensive program to their local jurisdiction in New Jersey. Because of the many challenges to implementing a safe and effective intensive program, and Sharon and Marcy’s desire to provide the best possible program they could, OCB “incubated” the intensive program in New Jersey.

Sharon, Marcy and OCB led the first intensive weekend program in New Jersey in September 2015. Sharon, Marcy and Robin Deutsch filled the clinical roles, and OCB provided support and supervision for all the aspects of the endeavor, including logistics of location, staff, paperwork, and clinical support from Dr. Deutsch.

“The weekend intensive went extremely well, and we really were able to solidify the skills that we learned by participating at camp. It was important to have this support, as while many of the skills and techniques are the same as what is done at camp, there are also differences and a greater intensity of therapeutic involvement. The family Intensive is a new concept to many attorneys, judges, and mental health practitioners, and it is important to demonstrate how helpful the program can be to families. To that end, intensives must be of high quality and run by professionals who understand the dynamics in these families and have the skills and experience to treat them. It is essential to have both a clinical and forensic background, as these are some of the most difficult families to treat. Conducting successful programs will result in Courts being interested in referring families in the early stages of alienation before it becomes too entrenched.”

Marcy and Sharon have been marketing the intensives through speaking engagements, the creation of a web presence, and brochures they have sent out to New Jersey family lawyers, judges, and other forensic mental health clinicians. Their new program is called “Building Family Resilience” and they have their first independent family intensive program scheduled for December.

“Experiencing both camp and an intensive is necessary in order to know how to approach intensive work and how to think on your feet and be creative for a multi-day treatment program. Observing and reading about this treatment is not the same as actually doing it.”

“This is not an area that a therapist should be entering without having had an extensive background in forensic family work. It is important to be well-seasoned in working with families in which a child refuses contact and to also be able to recognize when there is a situation of alienation versus realistic estrangement. Familiarity with research, experience working with the legal system (courts and attorneys) and devising parenting plans is essential. Experience in working with this high conflict and very litigious population is also very important.”

OCB is proud to have Sharon and Marcy among its first “graduates,” having completed the series of trainings from soup to nuts, now offering their own intensive programs and coming to camp once again in 2016, but this time as lead clinical faculty. They are a shining example of the successful completion of the OCB training model, in fact, they have been instrumental in the development of the training model, and OCB looks forward to continuing to partner with them in the future.

*All quotes were contributed by Sharon Ryan Montgomery, Psy.D., and Marcy Pasternak, Ph.D.

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