Uses of Therapy in Divorce
Therapy can save money, reduce trauma and help avoid bad decisions in divorce. The following are some ways that therapy can be used (and misused):
Deciding to Divorce
Many people feel frustrated in their marriages, but are unsure about divorce. Before making such an important decision, I strongly encourage people to participate in at least 12 weeks of couples counseling — or individual counseling if necessary.
With the therapist’s help, people may realistically see whether communication can be improved and problems brought under control. If they are not able to save the marriage, they will better understand why it ended. New communication tools will have been learned for future relationships, and the children can be kept out of the middle.
Coping with Divorce
A few counseling sessions can help a person process the sadness and anger felt during a divorce, so that one can move forward in life — and avoid using their attorney as a counselor or relieving anger through the court system.
This can be an opportunity to make personal changes, such as becoming more assertive, re-evaluating personal habits or changing how one chooses a partner
Some divorcing couples are willing to proceed in counseling together for a few sessions to facilitate the divorce process. This can relieve the pressure on the children and can help the parties let go — while acknowledging the positive aspects of their marriage. People often find that their primary problems with each other have roots in their family of origin issues, which they need to address or they will repeat these patterns in their next marriage or relationship.
Counseling for Children
In many a separation or divorce, it is a child’s mood or behavior which first draws attention to a need for counseling. A therapist who is familiar with the dynamics of divorce can involve each parent in the child’s counseling to help the child and prevent the escalation of conflict over the child.
It is important for parents to understand that children universally have two fantasies: that they were the cause of the divorce and that they can get their parents back together. A therapist can work with each parent and the child to bring resolution to these issues.
A Misuse of Counselors
Most child custody orders in California include “joint legal custody.” This means that major parenting decisions — such as taking a child to a therapist — require the authorization of both parents. Many counselors have unknowingly counseled a child without the knowledge or consent of the other parent.
In some cases, a therapist has been unwittingly manipulated by one parent into writing a parenting recommendation against the other parent — who the counselor has never met. This is considered unethical by most professionals standards. The common scenario is for one parent to present the child to a counselor who has no history with the child. The parent describes the child’s “traumatized” behavior or negative contacts with the other parent. The counselor then interviews the child with the parent present, or nearby in the waiting room.
The emotional intensity and urgency the parent and/or child presents can persuade the unwitting counselor of an emergency situation. Thus a letter or declaration is written. The parent then rushes this to his or her attorney, who uses it as the basis for a change of custody or severe restriction of visitation. Yet in several of these cases, the initial allegations have turned out to be great exaggerations or simply untrue.
It is best to have both parents sign consent to counseling, or for a parent to obtain a court order for an objective and thorough evaluation.