Thursday, December 10, 2015

Working with Divorce (for psychotherapists)

How do we help struggling couples work through one of the worst times of their lives?  With great care. We listen not only to our psychotherapy clients about this terrible time of life but to divorcing family members, friends, and colleagues.

You have probably seen MTCA ads in NPI Reflects. The Middle Tennessee Collaborative Alliance (MTCA) group here in town offers couples a creative and different way to divorce. Some of us NPI members have been trained as Collaborative Divorce Coaches and we offer you our expertise if you are working with clients who are thinking about divorce. 

Before I became a MTCA member, I sometimes felt helpless when my individual clients and couples needed information about divorcing. I could certainly help them make some decisions about whether or not to divorce and about parenting issues, but, what often happened when my clients hired attorneys, was that I felt like I lost control or power to influence my clients’ divorce experiences or outcomes.

Not that we therapists need to be in control of our clients’ divorces but after investing much time and energy in our work with clients, we have sometimes felt like we were turning them over to an adversarial justice system without being able to assist them effectively during the process.  We often watched in horror as some of our couples experienced high hostility and severe conflict even when they may have wanted to divorce amicably, stay friends, or at least continue to coparent their children well.

In 2009, several professionals, including psychotherapists and attorneys, came together to create MTCA.  Collaborative Divorce processes had been developed and used in the US and Canada for many years prior to that time, but Tennessee was just getting on board to help couples complete their divorces with as little animosity as possible.  Couples tell us that they want to make their own decisions about their divorces instead of leaving those decisions to the courts. We owe many thanks to the founders of MTCA which include NPI members David McMillan and Julia McAninch.  

Because we believe in excellent care for our clients during divorces, some other NPI members also trained to function as Collaborative Divorce Coaches, Tiffany Davis and myself being two of them.  We 4 NPI members want you to know that you can use us for consultation about your clients’ divorce discussions, and for referrals to attorneys, financial professionals and coaches.

During Collaborative Divorce, attorneys advocate for their individual clients so that your clients will have rigorous legal guidance and support.  Also, Coaches will not work with your clients as therapists during or after the divorce, so you need not fear you will lose your clients to us.  We want to work with therapists to achieve the best results possible for families and their futures.

The collaborative process is exciting because it uses a multidisciplinary team to help each couple develop an excellent marital dissolution agreement.  The beauty of Collaborative Divorce is that the couple maintains much control of the process and outcome of their divorce, not handing over the reins to aggressive, adversarial litigators.  We have learned though that Collaborative Divorce is not for everyone and it is most useful for those couples who are communally committed to the time and energy it takes to work together. Collaborative Divorce often takes less time than a litigated divorce and expenses are often much lower than the expense of litigation.

In Collaborative Divorce, the couple designs their own parenting plan with our professional teams, and the attorneys make sure that the plan fits with the legal requirements for divorce.  Collaborative Divorce Coaches act as emotional supports to the couple, not replacing therapists but as adjuncts, facilitating the collaborative process and team meetings, and making sure that the process does not become adversarial.

One more fact: Collaborative Divorce is not always easy and nice, although we would like that to happen. Sometimes, couples who have already been having difficulties communicating will continue to have trouble in the collaborative process.  But, with Coaches helping to understand their communication patterns, their histories and inner workings, we can facilitate the process effectively, helping couples learn to work together in new ways at times.  We try to help them move forward in their lives instead of staying stuck rehashing the past.

Feel free to use any of us Coaches or any of the other professionals on the MTCA website ( if you have questions about MTCA, Collaborative Divorce, or the variety of ways couples can divorce.  After all, litigation and mediation are best suited to some couples and some MTCA attorneys also function as litigators and mediators. One size does not fit all but we try our best to match clients with the most appropriate process to ensure success.

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