What’s the difference between having a Neutral Collaborative Divorce Coach and a Marital Therapist? (Special Guest Blog)
Our friend, Anne Parsons is a Collaborative Divorce Coach/Facilitator, Licensed Psychologist, and Mediator. She has been a Director on the Board of the New Hampshire Collaborative Law Alliance since 2012, and a former Secretary on the Executive Council. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) and has been actively involved in the collaborative practice since 2010.
People often ask me – What’s the difference between having a Neutral Collaborative Divorce Coach and a Marital Therapist?
In some ways they are similar: In both, the focus may be on helping the couple manage their emotions, and to communicate and interact more respectfully and effectively. However, the way we use these skills varies, depending on whether we are doing therapy or coaching.
Therapy: The focus of therapy is often on improving intra- or interpersonal functioning, often by exploring the past and expressing feelings to promote healing and insights. It is usually done within the time frame of 45-50-minute sessions, in an office. It is often based on a medical model, which means one person must be diagnosed with a Mental Health Disorder and there is a treatment plan addressing that emotional or behavioral disorder. Therapists often work in a vacuum; not involving the legal or financial divorce process.
Coaching: Unlike a therapist, the Divorce Coach is an integral member of the collaborative team. We are licensed mental health providers with additional expertise in conflict resolution, family dynamics, and an understanding of the collaborative law process. Our goal is to support and guide you and your spouse through the divorce settlement process in the most productive way possible. As neutral coaches we provide a safe space for thoughtful communication between all participants in the divorce process. We address any emotional obstacles that hamper either member of the couple from effective decision-making and functioning.
We have three main tasks:
- Help you move successfully through the process, wherever you are emotionally
Whereas in therapy much of the focus is on the past, coaching is focused on helping you move from wherever you are now emotionally, through the divorce process and on to your new lives and roles. We may “visit” the past but just enough to understand who you are and your dynamics so we can better help you in the process. We don’t focus on symptoms or diagnoses. If someone has symptoms that are interfering with their functioning, we will refer them to appropriate professional supports.
- Prepare you for the settlement process –guiding you through emotional challenges during the process, encouraging the use of effective communication and negotiation skills which are necessary for you to have thoughtful, respectful, and successful settlement discussions and post-divorce co-parenting.
- Assist you in identifying your priorities, concerns, and desired outcomes. What is most important to you, what are your greatest fears?
- Identify and manage emotional challenges that can impede communication and negotiations. Help you to identify “hot spots” that may cause you to become emotionally flooded, impeding your thought processes and leading you to make decisions that you later regret.
- Strategize ways of managing strong feelings of fear, hurt, anger, and blame in both you and your spouse so that you can focus on possibilities and solutions.
- Teach you effective, non-attacking, ways to communicate and negotiate with each other.
I may, with your permission, be in contact with your therapist to help them understand the collaborative process and to hear any concerns for your ability to get through this process.
Compared to therapists, we are much more flexible in ways of communicating. We may meet in person, jointly or individually; by email or by phone, whenever needed.
- Help the team work together effectively and handle the logistics of the process.
We share with the team any pertinent information about you and your spouse that may impact your process, such as understanding your history, emotional hotspots, fears and concerns, as well as your visions for your futures and your strengths as co-parents and decision-makers.
We help the team to understand any problematic dynamics, that may occur during the process, that might impede your ability to have productive discussions and decision making. We work together to develop ideas on how to help you through any difficulties.
We facilitate meetings, manage communication, behaviors, and emotions – providing a neutral voice, keeping the process collaborative, both within and outside of meetings. In addition, we manage much of the logistics of scheduling and keeping the process on track.
- When there are minor children involved, we can help you to develop effective co-parenting skills and formulate a parenting plan that is the best possible for your children and your lives. We guide you through the difficult discussions, help you to think clearly, and facilitate creating options. We help you to anticipate difficulties that may arise from the options, so that your plan has a better chance of working going forward. We can help you both move from being parents to being co-parents, better able to communicate respectfully with each other to have the most positive impact on your children and their futures.
Anne has a strong history of helping families through all stages of the divorce process and resolving conflicts peacefully for over 20 years. She currently has a private practice in Nashua, NH where she sees individuals and couples for therapy, Collaborative Divorce Coaching, and Co-parenting Intervention Services. Learn more about Anne Parsons, PhD at http://anneparsonsphd.com/collaborative-divorce-coaching/.