REFARE – Reconnecting Family Relationships Program

Parental Alienation Italian Psychological Treatment

by Marco Pingitore e Alessia Mirabelli


The Refare program is a private psychological treatment invented and realized for the Parental Alienation.
Its pioneers are Marco Pingitore (Psychologist-Psychotherapist) and Alessia Mirabelli (Psychologist).
Currently, the Refare Program is only available in the city of Cosenza (Italy).
The term “parental alienation” is referred to two meanings.

The legal meaning
it refers to art. 337-ter clause 1 of the Civil Code:
the child has the right to maintain a balanced and continuous relationship with each parent, receiving care, upbringing, education and moral assistance from both parents and keep important relationships with the forefathers and parents of each parental branch.
We might describe the Parental Alienation as a violation, from one of the parents, of the child’s right to maintain a balanced and continuous relationship with the other parent and keep important relationships with the forefathers and parents of each parental branch.

The psychological meaning
It is possible to observe the parental alienation only during legal actions due to a separation. It represents the impossibility to maintain a balanced and continuous relationship between the parent and the child mainly because of the other alienating parent’s behaviors. These behaviors tend to decrease in value the comprehension and decision skills and they cause a real refusal of the child towards the rejected parent who will have a more and more passive and marginal role. The psychological process of parental alienation determines in the victim child, in relation to his/her age and ability of discernment, a coarctation of his/her will. The parental alienation represents the negation of the child’s right to health, self-respect and self-determination.

Currently in Italy this type of cases are faced letting a wide space to confusion and uncertainty, starting from the judicial provisions.
Then, the total darkness. The following action is a real mystery: nobody knows what to do and who should be engaged and how.
An example: the supervised visitations. Their definition is vague and does not refer to a structured and well-defined intervention (what is the nature?).
The result, unfortunately, is producing, involuntarily and inexorably, disastrous solutions that cause further problems.

Excluding the rare exceptions, in Italy nobody knows what to do in cases of Parental Alienation.
Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose.
Normally, the promotion of change (in terms of development and progression) is the deviation of the rule.
If the rule, in the last few years, has been accomplishing the same attempts making the same mistakes, our objective is trying to go towards the opposite direction, for example, establishing clear and defined preconditions for taking charge of these cases.
It is better to specify that the Refare does not represent a psychotherapic treatment, but a treatment program with the specific aim to recover the relationship between the child and the rejected parent. In the program, the potential psychopathologies of the child and/or the parent are not treated.



Normally, the ineffectiveness of the interventions in the Parental Alienation cases originates from judicial provisions too undefined and lacking of a clear purpose. For example, unlikely and unjustified psychotherapies are proposed to the parents, the mysterious figure of the Parental Coordinator is appointed, the “supervised visitations” are decided “positioning” (what a bad term!) the child at the more dominant parent’s house. And so on and so forth. Generally, the confusion of the judicial measures evokes the Custody Evaluation’s conclusions. In light of these critical issues, the Refare program provides a series of preconditions, in our opinion useful and necessary to start the psychological treatment.

Here they are:

  • Completed civil dispute – To start the treatment, the civil dispute must be completed and the Court must have ordered the provision. The custodial parent must not have outstanding criminal charges and, in any case, the custodial parent must not have had criminal convictions due to violations against the child.
  • Provision – The provision must provide the sole custody for the rejected parent and child removal from from the alienating parent’s house. The sole custody (ex art. 337-quarter Civil Code) wants the custodial parent to decide for the most important issues concerning the child (health, upbringing and education).
  • Informed consent – It represents the theoretical core of the whole treatment. The parent must give it, whereas as regards the child, we need to consider his/her will based on age and degree of maturity. Generally, the child has the right to be informed about the treatment method and its purposes and he/she must be involved in every single phase of the decision-making. Considering the category of the cases, it is obvious to consider that the child’s will may appear conditioned, that is to say, not free. The alleged resistance of the child to undertake the treatment and/or meet the rejected parent represents the main aspect to work on. In some cases (based on age and complexity of the child’s refusal) the Team may decide not to start the treatment.
  • Exclusion of the alienating parent – The participation of the irresponsible parent (alienating) is not permitted because he/she might continue practicing his/her direct/indirect psychological pressure on the child. The main point is not to exclude a priori the alienating parent like a sort of a “punishment”, but strategically to protect the child and, consequently, preserve the treatment efficacy.
  • Costs – The psychological treatment Refare is entirely private. There are no government subsidies. The cost is totally at the expense of the custodial parent.
  • Absence of conflict of interests – One of the main objectives of Refare is offering to the child, finally, a clear container without any ambiguous message. The Team members must not have been part of the civil action and, if present, not even the criminal one. If one of the Team members was a consultant for the litigation, it would not be possible to start the program.
  • No simultaneous psychological treatment for the child – It is not possible to start Refare during a simultaneous psychological treatment (psychological assistance, psychotherapy, etc.) for the child. The significant risk of contamination of the contexts and the excessive stress for the child, exposed to two psychological treatments, may contribute to the failure of the Refare.


Refare program

The Refare – Reconnecting Family Relationships program is a psychological treatment with the aim to rebalance the relationship between the child and the parent rejected after the direct/indirect intervention of the other parent during the separation phases.

The Refare is mainly based on three interventions:

  • Psychological support for the parent – “Be careful to what you desire because you might obtain it”. This premise is basic for the success of the treatment. The rejected parent needs a psychological support. It is a good presumption to believe that the rejected parent may manage the reparation of the emotional bond with the child without any specialized support. After having been in the limelight at the Court, there are not the lawyer, the expert witness, the judge, the technical adviser anymore. You are alone with your child who does not want, at least apparently, to stay with the “new” parent. It is the most delicate and problematic phase because the parent tries to repair a relationship that most of the times does not exist anymore. That is why the program provides a psychological support for the parent, simultaneous with the other two following interventions. The objective is identifying the resources of the parent and enhance them. During the separation process, the rejected parent usually showed him/herself significantly passive and compliant, facilitating the possibility to be perceived as the weakest parent by the child. We work on assertiveness and fears that, also in a latent level, the parent has towards the child whereas a wide space is given to the reparation of the communicative method. Furthermore, we deal with the difficulties linked to the joint sessions with the child that are established by the program. The parent is supported by a Psychologist of the Team who is different from the one who supports the child.
  • Psychological support for the child – It is the program’s core. The child needs to elaborate the important emotional events after the civil action and the Court provision. Let’s start by the premise that in the last few years the child has been more likely submitted to evaluations due to the civil action: Social Services, expert witnesses, supervised visitations, meetings with the judge, and, not sporadically, also evaluations from a simultaneous criminal proceeding. Most of the time the Parental Alienation produces the effects of the psychological splitting in the child. It is a psychological defense mechanism that on the one hand allows the child to survive to the internal and external pressures, on the other hand might cause important damages to his/her psyche. The splitting is also defined as “black-and-white thinking”. The objectives are oriented to work on the reparation of the significances that the child has given to the various family vicissitudes, focusing the clinical attention on his/her abandoning distress, lack of ambivalence, distrust towards both parents (yes, both!). The reparation technique actually does not change the facts, but the significance that the child gives to the situation. He/she is a child who is psychologically massacred, used in a family and judicial feud. Patient and determination are necessary by the Team members and, especially, by the parent. The child is supported by a psychologist of the Team who is different from the one who supports the parent.
  • Joint sessions – They are carried out simultaneously with the individual psychological support between the child and the parent and they are used for repairing the relationship practically. They are carried out by the same two psychologists who support the parent and the child. During the sessions it is possible that the parent and the child have confrontations with fit of tears and anger. In most cases the child discovers he/she has “another” parent, and the parent discovers he/she has not lost his/her child definitively. Strong emotions that need to be contained and elaborated: also for this reason the psychological support is provided for both of them. In some cases, in spite of the years of latency, the parent and the child discover they have a lot in common, or rather to be very similar. It is a game of mirrors from which, at the beginning, the child escapes, later he/she accepts it because, simply, he/she starts to accept him/herself, recognizing his/her emotions. Both are also involved in role games by the Team in which everything comes out, included the psychologists’ emotions, they are used to give the parent and the child a restitution. The two psychologists carries out an active role during the joint sessions, containing and stimulating the parent and the child.


Psychological process of Refare

  • Definition – It corresponds to the taking charge. It is the initial phase of the program in which the Team is contacted through the very first request by a parent. It is the step in which the critical issues of the case are made explicit and identified and the contract, the informed consent and the privacy are signed. In this phase, the parent and the child are “bearer” of a clear and defined problem, as well as strict positions and differentiated expectations that need to be renegotiate and redefined during the program.

    Duration: two weeks

  • Deconstruction – In this phase it is possible to see a deconstruction of the dysfunctional relationships schemas to start imagining alternative solutions. It is the phase of a co-construction of new expectations and solutions in which the needs of the parent and the child meet in shared objectives.

    Duration: four weeks

  • Change – It corresponds to the restoration phase related to the behavioral scripts in which new relational schemas are experimented through the valorization of the personal resources belonging to the parent and the child. In this phase there is a reparation of the dyad relationship, together with a gradual increase of self-efficacy, self-esteem and mutual confidence.

    Duration: four weeks

  • Stabilization – It corresponds to the phase in which the changes made are stabilized. It is the most delicate moment of the entire program because of the possible “relapses” that may occur, especially for the child, in view of the conclusion of the treatment and the possibility of frequenting again the alienating parent. At this phase, it is necessary to reinforce the results obtained by the dyad which, in the short term, will relate outside the treatment without constant specialist support.

    Duration: four weeks