If you or your spouse is crazy, you probably need all the help you can get. But most people going through a Collaborative divorce aren’t crazy — choosing Collaborative is a very rational, sane decision, after all!
Actually, almost everyone going through a divorce could use some professional assistance, but some need it more than others. In a Collaborative divorce, the parties experience the same emotions that are experienced in a litigated divorce, although hopefully less intensively. In addition, the Collaborative context actually tries to manage the emotions in a case.
In Texas Collaborative divorces, we usually bring in a single, neutral Mental Health Professional (MHP) to work with both parties. Other states and countries may utilize an MHP for different functions. The MHP has several roles in Texas Collaborative cases. Here are the main ones:
- Communications facilitator. This is a wide-ranging assignment. The job often involves teaching new skills, such as listening, responding appropriately and respectfully and anger management. The parties often learn how to make statements in less offensive ways, which leads to greater acceptance of the substance of their message.
- Process facilitator. MHPs may focus more on the process than communication skills in some cases. They can change their approach pretty easily. Sometimes, MHPs need to help the parties understand how the Collaborative process works and how to stay on track to reach agreements. Generally, MHPs are more skilled than attorneys in keeping everyone in line and working cooperatively through the Collaborative process. Although attorneys talk a lot about what a change in perspective they must make to begin working in Collaborative cases, the parties also face a process very different from what they have heard or read about or seen or experienced. It helps to have a steady, supportive hand to help guide the parties.
- Child specialist. Sometimes an MHP will act in this role, to help develop a parenting plan, and still be a communications facilitator. Other times, an MHP may work solely as a child specialist while another specialist handles the communication issues.
- Coach. This is a role that is a little less common in Texas, but which is very common in some other states. A coach helps a party deal effectively with all the issues he or she faces in a divorce. This approach does not include therapy. It just helps a party become strong enough to get through the process.
What you don’t see in that list is “therapist.” That’s because we don’t use the MHP to try to improve the client’s emotional state or stability. The MHP doesn’t try to cure a party or unravel sordid histories. Instead, the MHP works to help each party function at their optimal level.
More and more, we are realizing that Mental Health Professionals are indispensable in Collaborative matters. I would say that we’re crazy about MHPs, but I would probably get a lot of negative comments. Instead, I’ll just add that whatever title is used or whatever role is filled by MHPs, they are worth their weight in gold for the attorneys trying to work through to an agreement.
Jonathan Kalex says
In Northern Virginia, where I practice law, we utilize a 2 coach model in most team cases. My sense is we are not having the same level of success with mental health professionals you are in Texas, at least when it comes to client perceptions of the utility of having them in cases. Just this week, in a case of mine, the clients requested we dismiss their coaches. I am aware of this happening in mutiple other Northern Virginia cases.
Kim Munsinger says
Interesting point, Jonathan. My experiences with using one MHP have been very good, and I don’t think we could have succeeded in any of the cases without them. Sometimes the MHP can help the lawyers understand the emotional dynamics. The MHPs worry a lot about maintaining an appearance of neutrality, especially when one of the parties needs more attention.