I Don’t Need a Therapist! (Okay, Maybe I Do)

Family Law issues can be heart-wrenching. Crumbling marriages, ongoing fights over custody of the children, or perhaps a domestic dispute turned bad. Usually, these situations have been brewing over the course of time and finally come to a head.   This is usually where attorneys get involved to help you navigate the court system and act as an advocate for you. Attorneys are certainly counselors of the law and they’re able to offer you legal advice. But it may be time for you to consider seeking the health of a mental health professional to cope with the changes and stress you are experiencing.

Everyone deals with stress differently. Hopefully you have a healthy way of coping with stress — such as talking to your loved ones or perhaps some form of exercise to get your endorphins flowing. Large muscle exercises like walking are helpful. But you may find yourself developing poor coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, drug use or the inability to control your anger. No matter how you deal with stress on your own (healthy and non-healthy alike), there are major benefits with talking to a neutral “third party” professional about the on-going stresses of your life. Most people going through divorce should probably be engaged in some form of therapy.

Making the decision to talk about your problems with a mental health professional can feel a lot like making a trip to the dentist. You know the toothache will stop once you get it fixed, but it’s hard to make that appointment because you know the process of fixing your tooth with hurt. It is the same sentiment with emotional stress. It may be difficult for you to share what is happening with you, but this makes it all the more important for you to talk to someone who is trained to help give you the tools to cope.

There are a few options that may be right for you when considering who to talk to. A therapist is usually a psychologist or a counselor who has obtained either a masters or doctorate degree. They are licensed by the state. A psychiatrist has completed medical school and they are also licensed to practice by the state. The main difference is that a psychiatrist will be able to prescribe you medication should you need it. For example, you may be suffering from anxiety or depression. This is incredibly common and normal through the course of a divorce, with all the major changes in family circumstances. Medication may be a good option for you (even temporarily). Talking through things is usually also very helpful.

Your attorney, close friend or family member may have recommendations on a referral for you. Remember, you can speak to these professionals in confidence. Much like you and your attorney are usually protected under “attorney-client privilege,” the same sentiment applies to you and your therapist. [The exception being that if you make threats to harm yourself, or another person, the therapist is required under the state law to report it.] Overall, you should feel comfortable opening up to your therapist.

Once you make decision to seek individual therapy, it may be time to also consider if signing your children up for therapy would also be beneficial. Children are sponges and are usually very aware of any stress their parents may be under. They are also going through their own emotional journey and may be displaying new behaviors because of the heightened level of stress the family is under. Giving them the chance to speak with a third-party may certainly benefit them as well. There is also an option for family therapy where everyone sees the therapist together. This can help foster healthy communication skills between family members in a safe, monitored environment with the guidance of a professional. Keep in mind that you probably need your ex’s permission to enroll your child in a course of therapy.

There is always a chance that the court could order you, your (ex)spouse and/or your children to participate in some form of therapy (especially for the more tumultuous cases). But it may be more beneficial for you to take your mental wellbeing into your own hands and be proactive about it ahead of time! Counselors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists alike are available for you and your family’s benefit. Put tools in your toolbox! Let them help you navigate the murky waters of your stressful situation.