The Good and Bad of Divorce Counseling
Family court systems favor combining divorce mediation and divorce therapy as it can be an effective way to solve problems and reach agreements with minimal involvement from judges. According to recent industry surveys, most divorce attorneys, mental health professionals, and social workers who specialize in divorce agree with the approach in principle. However, experts warn that the courts must be careful not to employ it as a one-size-fits-all solution as the wrong type of counseling can be very detrimental to those involved.
About Divorce Counseling
The mental health field deems divorce among the most stressful events in a person’s life and not dissimilar to the loss of a loved one in terms of the mental and physical toll. Most adults and certainly children are not prepared for the experience, and experts advise counseling through which family members can gain the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the process in a healthy manner. In fact, many divorce lawyers advise pre-divorce counseling, counseling during the divorce process, and post-divorce counseling for as long as is needed. While counseling is generally good, it can also be bad depending on the person and circumstances. With that in mind, we’ll look at the good and bad of four core types of divorce counseling:
- Individual Child
Individual Counseling: The Good
One-on-one divorce counseling is recommended by many family lawyers because divorce is emotionally trying but also because a person has to learn or re-learn how to go about daily life as an independent person. Even when a person is overwhelmed or angry, a good counselor can be empathetic while providing strategies and other tools that make a real difference. Clients often gain an objective understanding of why the marriage failed, their role in that failure and their partner’s role. This is beneficial for all adults but particularly important for victims in an abusive relationship, as they often have a more difficult time regaining and maintaining their individuality.
Individual Counseling: The Bad
In order to get the most out of divorce counseling, people must find the right therapist for them—a neutral counselor who understands their needs and shapes the counseling accordingly. Of course, this isn’t always possible, such as in the case of a court order. Some therapy focuses on empowerment of the individual, but this can be potentially unhelpful if it evolves into fully blaming the partner and not taking any individual responsibility. The issue here is that no real growth occurs, and many divorce attorneys and other divorce experts fear that this approach may only reinforce bad behaviors and therefore make a person prone to similar relationships in the future.
Couples Counseling: The Good
There is a prevalent misconception that marriage counseling ends at the point the couple decides to divorce, but this is often not the case. Many divorce lawyers recommend ongoing couples counseling if at all possible or beginning counseling if they haven’t yet. The courts favor this approach as well and may even mandate it. Couples divorce counseling puts both partners in a nonconfrontational environment in which they can view the divorce from each other’s perspectives and gain the tools needed to cooperate when it comes to co-parenting and other important aspects of their shared lives.
Couples Counseling: The Bad
Ideally, both partners are willing participants, but family law attorneys warn that this isn’t always the case. One partner may be resistant to counseling, and that resistance may transform into hostility if forced. Some divorce therapists may be prepared to work through such difficulties, but many others are not. If a divorce is contested and has turned ugly, courts forcing couples counseling can actually do more harm than good. This is also the case if the marriage involved an abusive relationship. Fortunately, modern courts are typically acutely aware that forcing couples counseling for an abusive relationship is not the right approach, but it does still happen. Furthermore, not all therapists are equipped to handle couples counseling when there is dysfunction involved and can inadvertently reinforce the dysfunctional behaviors.
Individual Child Counseling: The Good
Family lawyers stress that children can be affected by divorce just as much as their parents are. Children of all ages, including teenagers, can benefit greatly from speaking to a divorce counselor who has specific training with young people. No matter the age, it can often seem to a child as if they have nowhere to turn. Turning to one parent in particular or one of their relatives or friends can seem like a betrayal to the other. Individual counseling therefore is an opportunity for children to express thoughts and feelings and ask questions that would otherwise go unvoiced. A therapist can provide coping mechanisms and strategies, and these tools can be particularly important for pre-teens and teens who are developing their own identities and who could become stunted by a bad divorce.
Individual Child Counseling: The Bad
The potential issue with individual child counseling is bad behavior by a parent. If a parent has recruited a child to their side and perhaps even uses them as a spy, then traditional therapy may be unhelpful, and therapy centered on overcoming this influence would need to be the focus. If the counselor is unaware of the circumstances, it can be quite harmful as they may accept the child’s complaints about the other parent in a different light and reinforce those ideas. Even if a therapist is aware and strives for a healthier view of both parents, a child may resist that approach, and an effective therapy may have to start with the parent who is causing the fundamental issue.
Parent-Child Counseling: The Good
There are instances where parent-child counseling can be very effective, such as when a child has built up resistance to a parent or even refuses to see the parent due to physical or emotional abuse in the past. Guided by a therapist skilled in this particular problem, children can reach a place where they’re able to grow emotionally within that parent-child relationship.
Parent-Child Counseling: The Bad
Traditional parent-child counseling typically doesn’t work as well when the resistance to the parent is not due to that parent’s behavior but rather the influence of the other parent. In such cases, a traditional approach may only reinforce those feelings and make the problem worse. An alternative that may be effective is to have the child in counseling with both parents. However, if the influential parent is committed to their approach, then the solution may have to begin with individual counseling for them.
Find the Right Approach for Your Divorce
Each family is different and therefore requires a unique approach to navigate a divorce and come out the other side ready to grow within this newly shaped family unit but also as individuals. At Lawrence Law, our focus is helping our clients with their divorce and family laws needs in the manner that is right for them. If you’d like to discuss your situation with a New Jersey family law attorney, we have offices in Watchung and Red Bank, and you can call us at 908-645-1000 or contact us online by using the form on our website.