1. People & Relationships

A Detailed Look At The Collaborative Divorce Coach

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The Collaborative Divorce team is made up of Collaborative Attorneys, Collaborative Coaches, a neutral Financial Specialist and a neutral Child Specialist. This article will look at the role of the Collaborative Coach in more depth.

It goes without saying that divorce is an emotionally complex process in which a variety of intense feelings are experienced. Most people going through divorce will tell you that it is the most emotionally challenging, difficult and complicated thing they have ever experienced. People bring to their divorce a wide array of emotional “issues” from the marriage as well as those that hearken back to their own early lives and experiences. Add to this a very puzzling truth in divorce:

  • The person who was at the center of your support system and who was the person you turned to for comfort and assistance when you were upset is now the person with whom you are engaged in the divorce process.

Thus, the place you almost reflexively turn to for support is not only unavailable but is, in many ways, the source of much of your current here-and-now struggles. In traditional adversarial divorce, it is probably fair to say that the person who was at the center of your emotional support system is now the “enemy”, someone who may well be acting to make things worse, not better.

Since divorce is such an emotional process, the active involvement of trained mental health professionals is of great importance if one is to divorce healthfully and emerge from divorce ready to rebuild a positive and happy life. Even if one has never had emotional difficulties or felt the need to consult with a psychologist, it is important to realize that divorce is an experience that challenges the coping of all who go through it.

Collaborative Divorce is a process in which two people, who are at odds with each other, endeavor to peaceably and amicably settle their differences. This is NOT easy! Specially trained and experienced mental health professionals play a key role in assisting the divorcing parties as well as the entire Collaborative team to stay focused, work on the problems at hand and deal with the “triggers” and psychological/emotional challenges that invariably come up in the course of a successful Collaborative Divorce.

Collaborative Divorce Coaches are all licensed mental health professionals (for example, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists). Each Coach is experienced in the area of divorce and each Coach receives specialized training in Collaborative Divorce and the Collaborative process.

While each Coach is also a therapist in his/her professional life, Coaching and psychotherapy are two different things. Coaches are not functioning as therapists. Indeed, it is true that the divorcing parties sometimes have a therapist they have been working with – and they are encouraged to maintain their therapeutic relationship. Coaching and psychotherapy are different in some important ways such as:

  • Coaching focuses on what works in the person and on their adaptation. Psychotherapy also focuses on what is not working, what is “wrong” and on the person’s maladaptation.

  • Coaching focuses on the here-and now only and on the current challenges and obstacles related to the Collaborative Divorce. Psychotherapy also focuses on the past, on old hurts and wounds.

  • The Collaborative Coach is solely focused on assisting their client in the process of negotiating their Collaborative Divorce. Psychotherapy focuses on a wise variety of issues that may or may not be related to the immediate challenge of finalizing a marital settlement.

  • The Collaborative Coach is part of a professional team working towards a Collaborative Divorce. Psychotherapists primarily work 1:1 with their client and while they may consult with other individuals in their patient’s life, their work is fundamentally 1:1.

  • The Coach’s relationship with his/her client is quite focused on the Collaborative Divorce and when it is over, the Coach’s professional relationship with the client is over. A therapist may maintain an on-going relationship with a client for a long period of time over numerous episodes.

There are different models for Collaborative Practice. Some of the models do not use Coaches at all and, instead, use only a two-attorney team. As Collaborative Practice becomes more and more established and common, Collaborative professionals recognize that the use of Coaches on Collaborative teams is crucial to the positive outcome of cases.

However, there are various models for the use of Coaches. The “Full Team” model uses a coach for each parent and a Child Specialist (to be described in a forthcoming article) – thus there are three trained mental health professionals. Other models use one Coach that works with both parents and a Child Specialist while another model uses one mental health professional who is both Coach and Child Specialist.

As complex and difficult as divorce is, one of the major advances and advantages of Collaborative Divorce is the inclusion of Coaches on the team. The recognition that healthy divorce is far more than a legal process represents how Collaborative Divorce is truly a value-added process that looks at the whole person and the whole family.

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