Using Mental Health Professionals in Divorce
Divorce Confidential: Using Mental Health Professionals in Divorce by Caroline Choi
When you and your ex-spouse choose collaborative divorce, you make a commitment to keep matters out of court and focus on problem-solving in a confidential, private setting. Collaborative divorce is beneficial in that you and your ex-spouse have access to an entire team of experts, including mental health professionals to help you through the difficult and overwhelming experience of a divorce.
What happens then, if you and your ex-spouse do not agree to a collaborative divorce? Can you retain your own team of experts, specifically mental health professionals? And is it worthwhile?
1. Types of Mental Health Professionals: Before we dive into the benefits of enlisting the assistance of mental health professionals in divorce, let’s look at the types of mental health experts available to you in divorce. One mental health expert may be a therapist/counselor. A therapist/counselor can assist you in managing the stresses of divorce, including your expectations of the outcome. A therapist/counselor can also help you develop new relationship skills that are valuable both during and after divorce. If you have children with your ex-spouse, this is especially true because you must co-parent with each other after the divorce is final. Another mental health professional you may consider to enlist is a custody mediator who helps you and your ex-spouse determine a mutual agreement regarding custody and visitation. This is an ideal option if you and your ex-spouse are on good terms and you both believe a compromise is feasible. Another option is a parenting coordinator, who can assist you and your ex-spouse resolve smaller issues like holiday pickup arrangements and communication disputes. If you and your ex-spouse are in a litigious custody battle, talk to your attorney about hiring a custody evaluator. A custody evaluator makes an expert recommendation to the court regarding custody and a suitable parenting plan.
2. Benefits Of Hiring A Mental Health Professional In Divorce: What are the benefits in hiring a mental health professional in your divorce? William A. Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute of San Diego says that having a mental health professional on board “can be helpful in calming emotions, clarifying expectations and helping discuss difficult issues.” However, he cautions individuals who hire a therapist/counselor during divorce because “while they can be helpful for support and making personal changes, they really need to be good at staying in the role of therapist and not becoming an advocate, especially if they get emotionally hooked into one person’s point of view and can reinforce the worst fears and anger.” Before deciding on a mental health professional, do your due diligence and conduct your own research before you entrust the personal details of your life to a professional.
3. When Should A Mental Health Professional Be Employed In Your Divorce? Deciding on whether to enlist the help of a mental health professional is a personal decision. Consider therapy if you believe it can offer support and assistance in your own personal growth during and after divorce. Consider therapy if you are struggling with mental illness, which may be triggered or exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding your divorce. Talk to your attorney to determine if a custody mediator or custody evaluator is needed to resolve disputed custody issues in your divorce. Your attorney may have insight as to whether these third party experts will be helpful to your case. If you believe your children need therapy because of the divorce, Mr. Eddy cautions parents and states that “many people put their children into counseling during a difficult divorce, when it’s really the parents who need the counseling.” Instead, Mr. Eddy proposes that wise parents “tell their child that they want him/her to see a therapist for 2-3 times, then it’s up to the child whether he or she wants to go back from time to time. That way the child doesn’t feel trapped in therapy.” If you put your child in therapy, remember to respect his or her privacy and do not question them about what was discussed in counseling.
The goal in enlisting mental health professionals in your divorce is to help you move forward. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help, especially if it will get you to a better place emotionally and spiritually.