A breakthrough e-therapy program offers parents who are going through stressful divorce settlements much-needed, affordable, online psychological support.
In an Australian first, RelationSpace Online aims to ease the chronic overburdening of the family law system while reducing the stress for couples involved in conflicted divorce settlements.
RelationSpace Online offers Australia's first online cognitive behavioural therapy program for separating and divorcing parents.
Former Chief Justice of the Family Court Diana Bryant praised the program, which she said offered a "unique opportunity" for parents to access online support during a relationship breakdown. "This program has the potential to make a really positive contribution to the psychological well-being of parents and is thus beneficial for the children of these relationships," Ms Bryant said.
RelationSpace Online is an early intervention product and it will provide relief to the specialist practitioners in the family law sector and Courts, relief to individuals as they transition through high-conflict divorce situations, and relief to the children who are caught in the middle of the parental dispute.
The program has officially launched to the public at www.relationspaceonline.com.au
RelationSpace Online is customisable, challenging, and interactive. The 8-10 hour program includes video coaching, dramatisations, sound bites, text, quizzes, infographics and printable PDF's.
Children who are exposed to protracted and ongoing conflict and lengthy family court proceedings are at much greater risk of developing lifelong psychological and relationship problems. This has far reaching consequences for future use of mental health services.
Early intervention to address conflict and resolve family disputes in divorce is essential in improving mental health outcomes for both adults and children.
The NSW Government helped RelationSpace develop the online platform with a Minimum Viable Product grant from Jobs for NSW.
Catherine is a specialist clinical psychologist who works with children, parents and families in high conflict relationships.
Catherine holds a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Master of Clinical Psychology (Hons), Bachelor of Psychology (Hons), and a Bachelor of Education. She has worked in a variety of hospital, educational and clinical settings. Catherine currently runs a private clinical psychology practice in Sydney, The Relationspace where she sees children, adolescents, adults and couples. She frequently provides expert opinion, report writing and therapy in complex family law cases. Catherine provides ongoing supervision of trainee and junior clinical psychologists. She speaks and writes about the issues facing children and parents in the family law system and appears frequently at national and international conferences on these topics.
Question: What is RelationSpace Online?
Dr. Catherine Boland: RelationSpace Online is a new and innovative psycho-education resource for parents in high-conflict separation or divorce situations. The program gives parents an effective, readily accessible, low cost option where psychological assistance is pressing and urgent. It helps parents manage their emotions, improve their communication and reduce their conflict. After completing the program, parents have the requisite skills and behaviours to think and behave more rationally and are more likely to make child-focused decisions.
Question: Who was RelationSpace Online created for?
Dr. Catherine Boland: The program was created for parents in high-conflict separation or divorce situations where there is dispute around parenting arrangements.
The research is clear: children who are exposed to protracted and ongoing conflict and lengthy family court proceedings are at much greater risk of developing lifelong psychological and relationship problems. This has far reaching consequences for future use of mental health services. Early intervention to address conflict and resolve family disputes in divorce is essential in improving mental health outcomes for adults and children.
Question: How does this e-therapy program work?
Dr. Catherine Boland: RelationSpace Online is an e-therapy or behavioural change program that has been developed specifically for online learning. It is challenging and interactive. Based on an effective therapy model used by RelationSpace practitioners, the program uses Cognitive Behavioural therapy and evidence-based practice.
Parents who need immediate access to online, targeted psychological support can sign up anywhere at anytime at www.relationspaceonline.com.au
Access to the program is for a 12-week period to allow the lessons, videos and worksheets to be re-visited and watched multiple times, accessible across all devices. The program offers 8-10 hours of interactive content or the first 6 sessions with a specialist practitioner at RelationSpace. The program includes video coaching, dramatisations, sound bites, text, quizzes, infographics and printable PDF's.
Question: What inspired the creation of RelationSpace Online?
Dr. Catherine Boland: My team and I use an effective evidence-based model of therapeutic intervention, having helped thousands of families in conflict since 2012 at The Relationspace; so we knew what, where and how to address the need.
Taking this effective model of therapy online, to create RelationSpace Online was inspired by:
1) The lack of substantial, accessible evidence-based psychological intervention, meaning families miss the immediate psychological support they require at a critical time;
2) The lack of resources in the Family Court and government services, meaning waiting times can be extensive and families are left in limbo;
3) The lack of specialised professionals skilled in high-conflict family interventions, meaning families struggle along locked in intractable conflict for years;
4) Evidence that many children of high-conflict parental divorce go on to develop lifelong psychological issues as a result of exposure to toxic conflict.
RelationSpace knew there was a better way for parents to understand the impact of divorce both legally and personally and to create better outcomes for their children - and every Australian family as the right to access specialised psychological assistance - when they need it most.
Question: Why is psychological support so important for families going through divorce?
Dr. Catherine Boland: When relationships fall apart, parents experience intense emotions - grief, loss, anger, humiliation, disappointment. Divorce is not something we hope or plan for, especially when there are kids involved. At this exact same time, children are coping with the biggest loss in their lives - the loss of their family as they knew it. Kids didn't get a say in the matter, yet they have to cope, often with big changes to their daily lives. At this time parents usually have limited emotional capacity to manage their parenting and to make big decisions… and yet, kids need the best parenting they can get at this time.
Parents often need psychological assistance to help them manage their intense emotions, understand their children's needs and make sure they don't get stuck in a conflict cycle with their ex.
Question: What advice do you have for parents who need to tell their children they're divorcing?
Dr. Catherine Boland: This is an important conversation - one that their children will remember for a long time, so it is important to handle it well. Firstly, try to keep your own emotions in check as your children will be watching your responses very closely. This is as important as the words you are saying.
Try to have this conversation with the other parent present.
Tell your children you love them and will never stop loving them and being their mum or dad.
Tell them it is not their fault.
Tell them that they will still get to see both their mum and dad, even though the living arrangements might be different.
Don't bombard them with too much information. They need simple information abbot what changes will affect them.
Question: How can parents support children who are involved in lengthy family court proceeding?
Dr. Catherine Boland: The most important thing is to keep children out of conflict as much as possible. Exposure to conflict is the biggest risk facing children whose parents are going through family court proceedings.
Try to keep other areas of your children's lives predictable and routine.
Encourage your children to be independent and good at solving problems.
Ensure that there are other adults in your children's lives for them to speak to - often children don't feel about to talk to their parents as they are too close to the issue.
Watch and monitor them and get them professional help if you notice big and ongoing changes in your children.
Question: How can parents ensure their children do not develop future relationship problems as a result of a divorce?
Dr. Catherine Boland: Firstly, try wherever possible to ensure that your children are protected from conflict. Understand the importance for your children in having positive relationships with both parents - no matter what your feelings are for the other parent; your child still has an important need to have a good relationship with the other parent.
Help your children by role modeling adaptive coping skills, even when things don't go to plan.
Be optimistic about relationships and love. Expose your children to many role models of good relationships with lots of different people.
Interview by Brooke Hunter