For most people going through a divorce, there is no substitute for having a neutral professional by their side who is trained to listen and discuss the emotional issues relevant to a divorce. The emotions many encounter are similar to dealing with a death or loss of a loved one. Therapists may refer to the stages of emotion by differing names, but they are: shock, denial, anger, sadness, and finally, acceptance.
In my practice I discuss counseling with virtually every new divorce client I meet. Many clients going through a divorce feel like their life has been completely turned upside down. Even if the individual has some sort of a “support network”, this is usually not an adequate substitute for having a good therapist. Most friends or family members are not trained or equipped to provide objective professional guidance and steady you through the divorce process, which often can turn into a very long marathon.
I have seen over the years how important it can be to work collaboratively with a divorce client’s therapist. The therapist is not trained in the law, and I am not trained in psychology. We each have distinctly different roles. A good therapist can help a client deal with all the changes in a relationship that are affected by divorce—children, parents, extended family, in-laws, and friends. The therapist can help the client figure out priorities for the future, deal with anger issues, or help clarify why a person has quit advocating for themselves. Also, therapists can help prepare a client for Court through role playing. The therapist will work with the client to design a plan individually tailored to the emotional needs of the client. Often times this is different from “marriage counseling”. It can be a plan to transition through the divorce process, to ultimately enjoying happiness. While I do provide some advice on these emotional issues, I am trained to try to solve all the divorce related legal issues, often focusing on custody, spousal and child support, and property division disputes. My hourly rate is higher than a therapist’s hourly rate. So hiring a good therapist is not only more cost effective, but it will provide the client with two “experts” dealing with both the legal and emotional aspects of divorce. Taking this holistic approach often helps individuals move through the divorce transition process much more quickly. With the release of privileged information, your lawyer and therapist can talk about your case and needs. Resolving underlying conflicts and moving on after a divorce is critically important. Therapists have the unique training to help their clients restart their life afresh and to eliminate old self-defeating patterns. They can help provide light and understanding where darkness and depression may have previously existed.
Do not try to shoulder the emotional burdens of a divorce alone. Also realize that pragmatically your lawyer is not the best qualified professional to guide you through all the complex emotional twists and turns in a divorce. My best advice is to get a referral from your divorce lawyer, doctor, pastor, or someone you respect, for a therapist who has a solid reputation for being ethical, honest, and real. You know, as “real” as the feelings the sick little boy had for his bunny in the children’s story of The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams in 1922. That sawdust stuffed rabbit was loved “so hard” by the boy that his whiskers were hugged off and the pink lining of his ears turned grey. Isn’t that the kind of therapist you want sitting across from you in your sessions? One that can emphatically help you make sense of life’s craziness and even shed light on its gifts as you work through your pain and come to appreciate your heart, soul, and dreams on the way to achieving a new quality of life!
This represents the third collaboration between Psychotherapist Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, and myself. We both had remarked to the other about the important role that the therapist and attorney play in a divorce proceeding. Donna suggested that we both write about our perceptions on that subject. Instead of each of us writing about the merits of our own profession, we switched roles. I wrote about the importance of therapy during a divorce and Donna addressed considerations for picking a good divorce attorney. We hope this perspective provides the reader with additional information and insight regarding the need for professional support during this challenging and life-changing experience. Donna’s article, “Considering Divorce? The Lawyer You Choose May be More Important Than You Think’’, appears this week on her excellent blog. Click here to access it. Donna, as in the past, the collaboration was fun, and I appreciate all your thoughtful insights!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.