Mental Health Professionals in the Collaborative Process
Because collaborative divorce focuses on open communication and cooperation to reach an optimal settlement, it becomes beneficial to utilize certain professionals in the process. Collaborative practice can employ the assistance of Mental Health Professionals (MHP’s), who in turn can provide guidance in a few different capacities. It is important to note that although MHP’s are used in the collaborative process, the parties are not receiving “therapy” as most people may assume. While therapy tends to address past behaviors and issues, in collaborative divorce the MHP assists parties in addressing their emotions with the current situation, and help them to prepare to move forward in the process in the most efficient way. The MHP assists in making sure the process stays on a productive track and that the parties effectively communicate with each other. There are certain “triggers” that can derail the process during the crisis of divorce and the parties may need support on how best to communicate their interests and priorities.
An MHP can be utilized in collaborative practice as a Divorce Coach (DC). A DC takes on this role to help parties to navigate through the process by assisting with preparation as well as identifying underlying issues and emotions. The DC can meet with parties together or individually to discuss issues and preparation. The DC assists the parties with addressing underlying emotional issues that may impede the progress of the collaborative divorce and work with them to prepare ways of working through the emotions with effective communication. The CD can help the parties prepare for each meeting in the collaborative divorce process by prioritizing the issues and discussing ways to address concerns and feelings in the meetings.
If there are children involved, an MHP may also act as a Child Specialist (CS). Much like the Divorce Coach, the CS focuses on addressing underlying emotions, except in this role, it is from the children’s perspective. The CS has an opportunity to meet with the entire family and to talk with the children individually as well. Any meetings with the children usually take place at the CS’s office in a safe environment. The children do not attend settlement meetings. The CS remains neutral and talks with the child to provide recognition and support that children experience the divorce process in their own way, and their lives change as well. The CS has a chance to assess how the child feels about the divorce and the process and can then provide feedback to the parents and discuss the children’s needs. This exchange allows the parties to view and understand the issues from their children’s perspective, which may assist throughout the process.