Recognizing and Treating Embattled, High-Conflict Families

CE Hours: 4.0


C. Wayne Jones, PhD

February, 2020, North Carolina

Embattled family systems are marked by an intense power-struggle between the caregivers, creating an emotional war zone where pressure is placed on children, extended family, friends, and professionals to choose sides.  Avoiding becoming triangulated into the conflict between caregivers while maintaining a balanced therapeutic alliance, is one of the most challenging aspects of treating these families. This workshop provides an eco-systemic framework for understanding the dynamics of these families and for effectively navigating their complicated toxic interpersonal politics.  In these families, children are often pawns in their caregivers’ conflicts, leaving them invisible as real people with their own ideas, feelings, and needs. A major thrust of treatment is shifting the caregivers away from their conflict with one another, orienting them toward their children’s emotional needs. This workshop identifies common traps in working with these families and demonstrates strategies for avoiding them.  Treatment guidelines are presented for removing the child from a triangulated position and opening avenues for the children to receive more emotional support.


 As a result of participating in this training, attendees will be able to:  

  1. Recognize the structural characteristics of embattled, high-conflict families
  2. Describe patterns related to triangulation, stable coalitions, and parental alienation  
  3. Describe the differences between embattled families with open conflict and those who are cut-off, living in a parallel caregiving system
  4. Identify common traps when working with high-conflict families and how to avoid them
  5. Describe how to structure treatment sessions with caregivers, keeping treatment child focused 
  6. Describe strategies for questioning caregivers’ negative narratives, de-triangulating the child, and de-polarizing parenting.

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