Do we really need all these professionals – What does the Coach offer?
The Collaborative Divorce Process utilizes a team of professionals who work to help the divorcing partners facilitate a settlement that considers the needs of the entire family. The Divorce Coach, a trained mental health professional, brings essential skills and experience to the professional team yet clients often wonder whether they really need to engage a coach, especially if they anticipate an amicable divorce. Clients who may already be seeing a therapist wonder how divorce coaching differs from psychotherapy and whether working with a divorce coach is redundant.
So what does the divorce coach actually do and how can he or she help?
Divorce is a painful and very stressful process that inevitably evokes myriad and complex emotions. Uncomfortable and distressing feelings such as sadness, anger, guilt, loss and anxiety are a natural part of this major life transition. Even when spouses are amicable, issues such as spousal support and who will stay in the house may elicit strong emotional reactions. The divorce coach provides support and helps clients develop strategies to manage and contain intense feelings so that they don’t interfere with decision making or impede the settlement process. A client’s coach acts as a liaison to the other coach and professional team as a whole, by sharing information that conveys and clarifies their client’s perspective and the emotional complexities of the couple’s relationship as it impacts the negotiation process.
The coach assists the client to clarify their needs, interests and goals and develop effective communication skills so they can represent themselves in the best possible way. The coach promotes candid communication and works with the client to appreciate their spouse’s perspective and needs. Providing a forum for safe conversations can allow clients the opportunity to find new ways to communicate with one another as they separately move forward in their lives.
When a couple has children, the divorce coaches work with the couple to craft a durable parenting plan that will address the needs of the children as the family restructures. Strategies for communication around decision making and problem solving are integral to helping spouses develop effective co-parenting skills. Meetings with spouses and coaches often focus on how to talk with children about the separation/divorce, understanding the developmental needs of their children, opening up dialogue about parenting concerns as they arise and anticipating potential areas of disagreement and discomfort moving forward. These conversations between parents, facilitated by the coaches can help foster healthier communication during and after the divorce process and set the stage for the couples’ future co-parenting relationship.
Unlike therapy which typically delves into a deeper understanding of emotional issues, interpersonal struggles and their historical origins, divorce coaching is short term and focuses specifically on the current situation, helping clients navigate the divorce process, both emotionally and practically. Coaches work individually with clients to reduce misunderstandings, promote candid communication and cooperation, and explore future outcomes.
Though the addition of any professional to the team can increase costs, many clients find that utilizing a divorce coach can be more cost effective in the long run. Despite each spouse’s efforts and best intentions when they enter the Collaborative Process, the emotional challenges that emerge can create obstacles to negotiation. Coaches can help the Collaborative Process run more smoothly and efficiently by helping clients and team members understand, address and resolve impasses when they occur. The addition of the divorce coach’s skills and experience can help the couple find a respectful, healthier and more peaceful way to end their marriage.
By Sharon F. Ballard, LCSW-C, LICSW