Spotlight on Brook Olsen and the High Conflict Diversion Program™
Separation or divorce is a challenging process for any family to endure, but intense, ongoing conflict between parents can make this situation even more challenging. While two people may be participating in the conflict, it can just take effort on the part of one person to diminish it. This is just part of what Brook Olsen teaches in the High Conflict Diversion Program™, a nationally-recognized program that provides effective strategies to help parents reduce conflict in their disputes surrounding custody and parenting.
The High Conflict Diversion Program
Founded in 2006, the High Conflict Diversion Program™ is a resource for parents that teaches concepts for reducing conflict. The program also educates mental health professionals, parenting educators, and family court professionals on how to integrate these concepts into their own practice when working with parents in high conflict situations.
After having experienced high conflict divorce in his own life, Brook's interest in studying how conflict works grew. "I started out learning about trauma and how the body holds trauma in the nervous system, and really taking that paradigm and moving it into working with conflict," he explains. "I look at conflict from a biopsychological standpoint where what I try to do is teach the parents that I work with to recognize the triggers of conflict not only as something that the other person says to them that triggers it. I teach parents to recognize the portal of being triggered, settle, and then come back to the cognitive process to make choices."
Brook says that when he started the High Conflict Diversion Program™, the idea of "high conflict divorce" was rather new, yet the works of experts like Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq and Philip Stahl, Ph.D. provided a foundation for his initial studies. He began by instructing professionals on the ideas and theories presented by the program, and then he began teaching conflict reduction strategies directly to parents. Today, family courts across the U.S. and Canada recognize the High Conflict Diversion Program™, and program instructors are located across the nation.
Disengaging Through Parallel Parenting
As Brook sees it, some conflict is inevitable during a divorce. "It's inherent to the process," he says. Because of this, taking the co-parenting approach may not be a great fit right away for many families. "Parents often have different parenting styles already, and to try and force them into continuing to do something they didn't want to do in the relationship is counterproductive. It can actually add more conflict," he explains.
Brook points out that the program has three main rules that it teaches to parents: "to disengage, to disengage, to disengage." He finds conflict to be stress-driven and that disengaging from what triggers it plays a huge role in reducing it. Instead of co-parenting, Brook suggests parallel parenting as a way for parents to stay disengaged from each other while still remaining involved in parenting.
The parallel parenting arrangement sets up rules for parents to follow, which includes limiting communication strictly to matters about the children. A plan for how communication will be handled is typically put into place. In Brook's experience, he has found that a communication tool like the OurFamilyWizard® website is a great platform to use in parallel parenting. "It creates a firewall between the two parents," he says. "They handle communication when they are ready. It's not in their face, and that's an important part of this tool. It gives people that are conscious and really want to make a change a chance to let things settle in their nervous system before they react."
How to Get Involved
For parents who want to learn more about the concepts and strategies for reducing conflict taught by the High Conflict Diversion Program™, it is easy to get started. Instructors offer local courses for parents across the country. The program also provides live online courses that provide personalized instruction to small groups. Family courts in many states approve this 9-week course, yet the insights you learn in this program will be useful to any parent wanting to end the cycle of high conflict in their life.
Along with these courses, Brook has written a book that outlines the ideas put forward by the program. The Black Hole of High Conflict: Your Child-Safe Guide for Navigating High Conflict Divorce and Custody Issues is consistent with the course taught by the program, so it's a great resource for parents who attend the course as well as those who do not.
For professionals, the program is currently looking for new instructors. It's a great way for parenting coordinators, mediators, attorneys, and other professionals to supplement their existing practice, as well as for new professionals wanting to build a practice.