Finding a Therapist for Yourself and Your Children

Divorce is challenging. You will be beset by a range of emotions, including denial, anger, loss, depression, fear, resignation, ambivalence, sadness and frustration. If you tend to overeat, over shop, over drink or otherwise overindulge, these tendencies will be exacerbated during this time.  These behaviors tend to numb your feelings, and since this can be a painful time, numbing is common.  Excessive drugs or alcohol are never smart – they negatively impact your body and your case.  You can be sure that your husband and his attorney will highlight your habits in any proceeding in an effort to obtain an advantage. You can be ordered to participate in random drug tests and lose custody or visitation of your child.  Don’t allow this to happen to you.

I advise all of my clients to consult a therapist regularly during the divorce process to remain on as even a keel as possible. You will need a safe and supportive place to work through your feelings.  Many of my clients attempt to use me, their lawyer, as their therapist.  This is a bad idea.  Your lawyer is not a therapist—and a lawyer charges much more per hour than a therapist and doesn’t have the education, training and skills to address your needs in this area.  So if you haven’t already done so, find a good therapist and see them regularly during your divorce. A well-trained therapist will endeavor to understand your goals and support you in moving in that direction. Respecting a client’s self-agency is a hallmark of psychotherapy and if you ever feel that your therapist is pushing you or leading you in a direction that is out of sync with your objectives, take note.

When choosing a therapist, look for one who understands what it takes to survive divorce and thrive. Your therapist will make space for you to express the emotions you are experiencing and can help you move through them, gaining insights, coping skills, and vision for a more satisfying life.  Follow the tips below to locate a therapist for yourself and your children.

•      Find a Therapist for Yourself

✓    Qualifications for becoming licensed marriage and family therapist. Usually, individuals seeking to become a therapist will start by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, sociology, or social work with elective coursework focusing on marriage and/or family situations.  Upon degree completion, therapists go on to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy (MFT). MFTs are held to strict licensure requirements, which include 3,000 hours of supervised clinical practice.  Prior to licensure, MFTs must pass a Law and Ethics examination and a Clinical examination.

✓    Most important skills that a therapist needs.  When looking for a therapist, you want one who has experience working with women facing divorce. You want someone who understands the stress you will feel as you navigate the legal process and work to reconstruct your life.  That means, you want a therapist who has either been through divorce herself and has successfully restructured her life, or one who has helped many women going through divorce do so.  You need to feel comfortable enough that you can share your deepest feelings and darkest secrets with this person. They will be the one to help you process your emotions, thoughts and behaviors and support you in recognizing your strengths and resiliency. Your therapist should also be willing to work closely with spouses, children, family members, and other healthcare professionals, so strong collaboration skills are also important.

✓    How to find the right therapist for you.  Obtaining a referral from a professional you trust is a great way to develop a short list of therapist options. Ask your lawyer, accountant, doctor or real estate agent if they know someone who has worked with other women facing divorce. The Internet is another good way to research and learn background about the choices. Go to: https://www.psychologytoday.com and use the Therapist Finder tool to locate therapists in your area.

•      Find a Therapist for Your Children

Your children will also benefit from therapy during this time.  Parents are often consumed with their own feelings and overlook the emotional state of the children, who may be confused by the divorce or feel guilt, loss, pain or a sense of abandonment.  Children may not be sure which parent they should "choose," or be loyal to, and they might also worry that they are the cause of the divorce. When parents are aggressive with each other, a child may feel even more fearful, and a child who often hears his or her parents argue about custody arrangements might feel as if he or she is unwanted by either parent, or as if he or she is to blame for the separation.  Therapy will provide a safe place for children to discuss their feelings about any issues that arise as a result of divorce, and they may be able to process their emotions more easily and better adjust to the changes.

•      How do you know when to seek help for your child?

If you are unsure whether your child needs therapy, there are certain red flags, or warning signs, that signal when it is time to seek the help of a professional.  The following checklist provides the things to watch out for.

When your children show signs of stress:

✓    Acting younger than their chronological age

✓    Showing fear of being apart from parent(s) 

✓    Experiencing moodiness 

✓    Acting out 

✓    Being manipulative

✓    Experiencing sadness and depression 

✓    Struggling with guilt 

✓    Having sleep or eating problems 

✓    Undergoing change in personality 

✓    Having academic and peer problems 

✓    Displaying irrational fears and compulsive behavior

When you or your partner begins to: 

✓    Use the legal system to fight with each other

✓    Put down or badmouth the other parent 

✓    Use the children as message carriers or to spy on the other parent, causing children to feel caught in the middle.

✓    Experience high levels of conflict where children repeatedly try to stop the fighting 

✓    Rely on the children for high level of emotional support and major responsibilities in the home 

✓    Experience depression or anxiety

Coauthored by divorce survivors, Linda K. Reeves, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist & Ann E. Grant, Family Law Attorney and author of the forthcoming book, The DivorceHacker’s Guide to Untying the Knot.

Ann Grant