Association for NPD/Psychopathy Survivor
Treatment, Research & Education

The International Associational Body for
the Narcissistic Abuse Counseling Field

Therapeutic Legal Aid:
What Therapists Need to Know about Family Court and its Impacts on Survivors

Therapist Training Digital Workshop

Please note: This course also is offered on
The content is identical, but there it is titled,
Narcissistic Abuse: Must-Know Insights to Support Clients in
High-Conflict Legal Cases & Custody Battles

On This Page



Sherri L. Renner, J.D.

The CDC reports that Intimate Partner Violence is common. It estimates that more than 61 million women and 53 million men have experienced psychological aggression — and more than 41% of women and 26% of men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking — by an intimate partner. These numbers undoubtedly rise when we take into consideration survivors of pathological relationships who are not included in the CDC’s statistical parameters.

Many of these survivors will spend years in court litigating issues stemming from the abuse and the dissolution of the relationship. If they have young children, they could spend decades in family court.

An estimated 75% of survivors have trauma. Unfortunately, their trauma will likely escalate because of legal abuse by the system itself and the partner, as well as parental alienation claims, inadequate services by court professionals, and the adversarial nature of the court experience. There are few therapists who will not encounter setbacks to their client’s treatment from this experience in court.

The purpose of this workshop is to guide the therapist to an understanding of the special issues and challenges that arise when a client’s litigation is against the pathological partner.

Survivors, particularly those who are pro se (self-represented) in family court, experience challenges above and beyond those usually encountered by litigants who have not experienced trauma from pathological partners and the years-long court process known to be prevalent from pathological partners.

Survivors’ lingering trauma can be activated or triggered whenever they have to handle court-related tasks not only because they are forced to encounter the pathological partner they thought they escaped, but also because litigation itself is purposely designed to mire them in another adversarial, conflict-addled environment when what they need the most is peace, quiet, and space to heal.

Because this trauma activation can interfere with survivors’ ability to fully and adequately participate in necessary court proceedings, knowledgeable therapists can be essential to survivors’ functioning, as well as avoiding deeper traumas related to legal abuse so commonly inflicted by courts on survivors.

Therefore, therapists’ understanding of the litigation environment and proceedings is key to gaining insights into their clients’ experiences, which can inform their ability to better prepare their clients for court with an arsenal of regulation techniques, act in a crisis capacity for needed debriefing during and after court, and how to make space for these inevitable treatment interruptions and setbacks.

Topics include:

  • Why the courts don’t “get it”
  • The stages of litigation and the challenges present in each
  • Domestic violence and family court
  • Treatment issues

Course Outline

Part One: Why Doesn’t Family Court “Get It”?

  • Why courts focus on the wrong things​
  • Why survivors have more troubles with court than others
  • ​What some studies show

Part Two: Introduction and Purpose of Family Court

  • Understanding litigation generally
  • Understanding special issues and challenges that arise when a client’s litigation is against the abuse perpetrator
  • Legal advice vs legal information
  • Survivor representation status and its connection to DV/IPV​

Part Three: Litigation and Family Courts

  • Litigation overview generally
  • Overview of the litigation process
    • Pleadings stage
    • Discovery stage
    • Resolution stage
  • Family court vs general civil court
  • Family court judges and proceedings
  • Alternatives to family court litigation

Part Four: Domestic Violence and Family Court

  • Legal abuse
  • Protective orders
  • The problem of family courts deciding issues of abuse
    • The equitable nature of the courts
    • The judges
    • Lax enforcement of orders
    • Judges’ personal values
    • “Parental alienation syndrome”
    • Failure to connect past violence to potential for future harm
    • Judges’ own character disturbances
    • Gender bias
    • Economic incentives
  • Advocacy efforts
  • Perjury
  • Accommodations for trauma under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Part Five: Treatment Issues

  • Trauma associated with family court
  • Courts do not understand what creates “high conflict”
  • “High conflict”-oriented court is part of post-separation abuse
  • Legal abuse is part of institutional trauma
  • Legal Abuse Syndrome
  • What institutional trauma does to survivors
  • What we can do
  • What to expect happening to ourselves
  • Therapist support and self-care


  1. Understand why family courts do not “get it”
  2. Understand why surviviors have more troublies with court than others
  3. Understand the results of family court studies
  4. Understand litigation generally
  5. Understand how litigation progresses and the challenges present in each stage
  6. Understand the difference between legal advice and legal information
  7. Understand the connection between survivor representation status and DV/IPV
  8. Understand various issues that arise in the family court setting
  9. Understand problems inherent in family courts
  10. Learn about advocacy efforts underway to address family court problems
  11. Understand accommodations available under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  12. Understand institutional trauma stemming from the courts
  13. Understand what therapists can do to help surviviors and themselves

Who Should Take This Course?

  • Marriage & Family Therapists
  • Counselors
  • Social Workers
  • Psychologists
  • Addiction Counselors
  • Psychiatric Nurses


The cost for this course is $149.99 (USD).

Please note: Because the majority of the course materials are available immediately as downloads, we are not able to offer course refunds. 

Post-Workshop Consults

Make the most of your training and deepen your understanding of your clients’ challenges in court with post-workshop consults with Sherri Renner.

Connect With the Association