Divorce Coach or Therapist?

Posted on Aug 7, 2023 by Katie Carter

If you’re hoping to navigate a divorce while suffering the least amount of stress possible, you’re smart.  Though I think we can all recognize the difficulty, few people give that much thought to how they can divorce better.  When it comes down to it, there ARE choices you can make that will minimize the suffering you experience – not to mention the suffering you inflict on or spare your children from as well.

Being in a good mental state during your divorce is important, and I don’t think there’s enough guidance out there about how to achieve it.  We’ve all heard of therapy, and of the importance of utilizing it when you find yourself in a stressful time in life (including in a divorce) but not nearly as many people have heard of (or utilized) a divorce coach.

I do understand.  After all, it’s already a challenging time.  Who has MORE time to devote (not to mention money!) to finding someone who can help you navigate divorce?  Isn’t it enough to just, like, get through it?

Just getting through it is definitely enough, and its certainly up to each individual person how they want to navigate the divorce process, but learning more about the resources out there that can help you can be profoundly helpful.

If you’ve done much research on the collaborative process, you may have come across the idea of a divorce coach.  To repeat the collaborative line, a divorce coach is a therapist – a licensed mental health professional – who helps you navigate the divorce.  In the collaborative process, the husband and wife each have their own, and the coach helps them work through the process and facilitate general harmony.

If you haven’t been looking into collaborative divorce, you’re probably a bit baffled by the concept.  Indeed, I’d even say that a lot of people who are looking into a collaborative divorce (but are also highly cost conscious, as so many of us are) are looking for ways to cut expenses – and one of the first ways they look to cut is by removing the divorce coach from the proceedings.  Compared with the other professionals involved – attorneys, financial specialists, child specialists – a divorce coach may seem less important.

But is it so?

Because the divorce coach is a ‘mental health professional,’ it sounds a lot like the divorce coach is a therapist and helps the divorcing person navigate the process through therapy.  But divorce coaching is actually a different process entirely.

Therapy, as a treatment process, is what happens when we try to treat mental illnesses and conditions through verbal treatment and interactions with a therapist, who can help us process our issues and work through them.  Sometimes, medicine is also involved, but the main goal is usually to either talk through or work through issues that are holding us back.

A divorce coach – though is often a licensed mental health professional – isn’t offering traditional therapy, the way we’re used to thinking about it.  It’s a much more pragmatic process, designed to help people who are going through a divorce prepare for things that are going to happen ahead of time.  One of the most helpful parts of the process is role playing.  Typically, one of the most anxiety provoking parts of the process is appearing at trial across counsel table from your soon to be ex.  In this situation, a divorce coach would work with a divorcing person to prepare them for what might happen – so that they’re ready to withstand cross examination, so that they’re comfortable talking about something difficult, or so that they’re just generally more prepared for what to expect in that context.

It’s not necessarily about a trial, though.  It could be to prepare for a judicial settlement conference, a mediation, or just a difficult conversation.  It could be to help you manage through the discovery process, or to navigate your tricky feelings about something proposed in the settlement.  Divorce coaching is highly customizable in the sense that it can be tailored to fit the specific needs you’re experiencing, but with the goal being that it happens concurrently with your divorce and helps you achieve the best possible results through the process.

It’s not therapy, the way we think of it, in that its not designed to help address or treat a mental illness, or help you come to terms with your feelings around a particular topic or issue that you experienced.  It’s highly focused on your divorce and the path you should take so that you can maximize your return on investment with your attorney and navigate the difficulties of the process without feeling overwhelmed.

All too often, women make bad decisions in their divorce.  Not because they’re stupid or because they don’t care or because, somehow, its their fault, but because their brains are reeling from the trauma they’re experiencing.  In so many different ways, our brains and bodies try to protect us from suffering damage, but – in a divorce context, in the light of day – those coping mechanisms can hurt more than help.  A divorce coach will help you work with your attorney to get the best results possible in your case.

There’s really no question that therapy AND divorce coaching have their place and, in fact, many women choose to pursue both at the same time.  Though that’s not necessarily possible for every woman – the time alone would be difficult to come by – both are significant investments in your health and well being.

Whether you choose to pursue a collaborative divorce or not, looking into divorce coaching is something you may very well want to consider.

For more information, to request a copy of our divorce book for Virginia women, or to register to attend an upcoming webinar, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.