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Psychological Issues at Divorce
Jan L. Warner


DISCLAIMER: This guide is a part of The Life Management Information Series that was designed to provide practical information and to supplement, not take the place of, professional advice. It is a way for you to prepare yourself and your family to understand some of the psychological questions that may arise before, during, and after divorce. There may be other questions relating to your situation that may not be included here. Always rely on professional advice before you take any step to deal with your future.


Statistics document the psychological devastation of separation and divorce...35 million step parent households. Psychological issues continue for parents, children, grandparents. Stress continues with continued dialogue with non custodial parent and families. Remarriage brings on more stress when new personalities brought in; dating; financial matters in remarriage; education; moving; new schools; choosing a therapist and understanding the relationship; loss of friends and families; contact with grandparents and relatives from two conflicting sides; social pressures; sexual pressures and issues;


If you're not used to making decisions, you're in for a big surprise at the worst time.

Rational decision making is a lot easier in a calm, not threatening environment, but you don't have that luxury. So buckle up and get ready.

Should I or shouldn't I: Vacillation and uncertainly cause stress.

Deciding to separate is hardest decision of your life. Easier to decide to marry than to exit.

Knowing it's over: Spouse says so but it ain't necessarily so;

Considerations before deciding to pull the plug:

A) Examine individual values, goals, and interests, and priorities...things that should have been looked at before you married, but is not because of the romantic aspects of the relationship.

B) Consider sharing your feelings with spouse in an unemotional way. Risky, but unspoken words facilitate negative feelings that grow into unmanageable.

C) Consider talking to a friend you can trust and who is open minded about giving you feedback. But remember: talking to a friend, like marriage, can be for better or for worse...if your confidences are betrayed, you can be embarrassed and you may be divorced like it or not.

D) Consider a professional if you're not turned on by A,B,and C.

Understanding what professionals what they can offer:

Social Worker: MSW (Masters of Social Work). Masters degrees in social work that normally included marriage and family counselling courses.

Ministers, religious oriented counselors: Generally college and graduate training, but educational and training in this area vary
significantly. And their religious background often dictates counseling philosophies that may include reconciliation, regardless of the circumstances.

Counselors: Loosely used and educational backgrounds and training vary significantly.

Psychologists: Most have either masters or PhD's that require 2 5 years of post college degree training. Commonly include marriage and family counseling courses. Therapists and do not prescribe medication or have the authority to admit to hospital if needed.

Psychiatrists: Medical doctors who can address both psychological and medical issues related to emotional disturbances.

Doctors: The Marcus Welby type who will offer support, but many will not take the time, have the expertise, or desire to hear your problems...They may tend to quickly medicate or refer you.

Lawyers: Generally not trained to give psychological advice which needs to be addressed, but can listen and give practical suggestions, and may make referrals. Always get legal advice regarding relationships with counselors.

Understanding what support groups offer

Support groups are made up of people with similar concerns to yours. These groups may be led by lay people or professionals and coordinated through hospitals, mental health centers, and the United Way Agencies.

What do I need to know before I choose a professional or support group?

Check around with friends and professions you trust about people they know in the community who provide these services.

Call referral sources...such as local branches or state offices of American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, American Psychological Association, medical associations, state counselor associations, and referral sources such as hot lines, in the community.

Call local hospitals, United Way.

If you work, check with your Employee Assistance Administrator about corporate programs that may be in existence.

If you are in the military, there are services available there or through the veterans administration.

Remember: always ask questions about the nature of the relationship: Is it confidential which means that your records can be brought into court and disclosed or privileged which means that so long as you do not waive the privilege, no one can get access to your records. Generally, only lawyers and ministers in a one on one basis can give you privileged relationships.

Always check into educational background and training in marriage and family counseling; length of time in practice; percentage of caseload is matrimonially related; if religion is important to you, check their background and philosophy on reconciliation and divorce; do they work with both husband and wife and children; can they assist with children; will they assist with children under the age of 15; will they continue counseling if divorce is imminent and then after divorce; have there been any malpractice cases brought against them; does their philosophical background encourage intimacy with patients; their policy on taking calls on weekends and at night; do they charge for telephone calls; who views their other words, do they share call with other offices, who types their notes, are the notes sent out for typing by independent typists; do they tape record their sessions with or without notice to you; does the professional partake in any radio or talk shows or write materials using your case as an example; You may consider shopping professionals and attending group sessions to make sure you have rapport with that professional; always check into billing practices, the cost of psychological testing, and when it's necessary.

Find out if the therapist you choose has been divorced...once or more times. And would you be more comfortable seeing a professional of your same sex and religious faith?

Try not to see a friend who may also be a therapist. This might end an otherwise good relationship.

Insurance coverage: Some health policies cover psychological services, others do not. But those that cover generally preclude marriage counseling as a diagnosis. People going through separation and divorce often experience other psychological diagnoses that are insurable, but may cause problems later if you seek employment or other health coverage. Always find out up front how the therapist handles this. Then you may decide that it is not prudent to get insurance reimbursement for these services.

And Remember:

If you have children, their diagnoses may follow them for a long time...the rest of their lives. So never sign in blank any insurance form without knowing the diagnosis.

Psychological testing:

Often, psychiatrists will order psychological tests and treating psychologists will require these tests. These tests are generally administered by psychologists and may include personality tests, vocational interests, and ability tests to help in diagnoses and treatment. Remember: from a legal standpoint, when you take a test, the results will probably be utilized in a court proceeding and negative parts may overshadow positive parts to be used against your legal position.

What does it mean for a professional to be licensed?

Psychiatrists and medical doctors should be licensed to practice in your state. Check with the state medical association to make sure that your choice is not only licensed, but that there have been no ethical breaches that resulted in loss or suspension of the license.

Other professional have licensing boards that are affiliated with state government. You should call and ask similar questions of them about your choices.

What if I can't afford a professional?

Borrow money from relatives or friends. This is a stressful time and the best help might serve you in the long run.

A more economically dependent spouse may be required by the courts to provide help.

Ask professional if he/she will work on a sliding scale or accept a deferred payment plan.

Agencies, such as mental health centers, family services, and military based on income. You cannot be denied services if you are unable to pay.

University psychology departments, counselor educational departments, and medical schools offer students experiences under supervision that can assist you.

Retired military and military dependents usually have CHAMPUS benefits available which are underwritten by insurance companies So the same risk of diagnosis holds true.

Helplines can refer you to professionals who agree to see clients at no fee.

And you may get assistance over the phone with many hotlines in your area.

Support groups are generally without cost.

Consider asking a professional whether you can trade off services for fees, but remember: Each of you must report the value of services to the Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authority.

What should I expect from the therapeutic relationship?

Expectations by all parties should be dealt with up front with no hidden agendas. Be honest. This is not the place to put your best foot forward. It is normal in domestic matters to spend a lot of time berating the other spouse; however, this is often counterproductive. People generally blame others for much of their problems. In orde ro profit from the therapeutic relationship, it is best to focus on YOU.

No relationship and no medication can solve your problems. This takes work. This relationship can show you where you need to go, but you must go there on your own.

The frequency of sessions depends on the severity of your case, your availability, and your professional's, and perhaps, your finances. Most want to know how much it will cost and how long it will take. The first is easier to answer. The second will depend on your efforts and your openness to change.

Set up goals with the professional to address issues you want to attend to. Set up the agenda, rather that letting the professional dictate what they want you to work on. No one knows better what bothers you than you.

You must take an active role in any relationship to make it work for you and your family. This may include reading and engaging in behaviors that may be uncomfortable for you. Therapy is not meant to be fun.

Be open: You will hear some information that you may not want to hear. The sound professional will confront you with inconsistencies and your responsibility in causing your difficulties.

Children and counseling: What should you do?

Children of separation or divorce will be affected emotionally. How much remains to be seen. And how much if they remain in an unhappy home is unknown.
You need to be on the alert to any chronic or long lasting symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, crying spells, and threats of suicide.

Consider telling the children that you are going for counseling and feel that they would benefit from the process. Discuss with your counselor whether they feel that they should see the children or if the children should have independent therapists. Expect resistance, as children often feel very defensive about discussing personal matters with a professional...or anyone for that matter. Some children will prefer their own counselor to insure their privacy and confidentiality...but remember, children's records may be brought into court...regardless of anyone's expectations of confidentiality.

RIsks in going for help.

Remember: Don't think that confidentiality means your inner most secrets are safe. They are not safe if you become involved in litigation.

If everyone goes to the same therapist, information you give may be inadvertently leaked to your spouse or children. And vice versa.

Transference means that you become enamored with your therapist or vice versa. Although these feelings are not uncommon, they can be damaging to the counseling relationship. And since those seeking counseling are very vulnerable, you must be aware of this dynamic of counseling.

Others may find out that you or your children are attending counseling. Although more accepted today, many still hold counseling against you.

You might consider using cash, not checks or insurance, to protect your privacy. And ask your counselor about keeping no notes or files about you.

If a professional appears to act unprofessionally in your opinion, don't be afraid to mention it. Don't hold things in, including your opinions about your relationship with the counselor.

Can my counselor help me in business or legal advice?

Some are more knowledgeable than others, but they are not trained to do so and the best thing to do is find a professional. Your counselor may give you opinions and you can expect referrals to qualified professionals in these matters. But always check out all professional referrals yourself.

What happens if I feel the counseling relationship is not helping?

Give it time. People frequently want immediate relief which never happens. However, if you earnestly work at it and you are seeing no progress, you may want to seek another professional and another approach.

The ethical professional will be open to this and is happy to make a referral to another counselor. If the professional is defensive about this, then you are right to switch.

How can I protect myself from dissemination of my records?

In all instances, ask your lawyer about the laws in your state; however, if all parties agree to make a relationship privileged and inviolate, then that agreement may assure the confidentiality you desire. Here is a sample, but be sure to ask your lawyer:

State of

County of

Agreement to make counseling relationship privileged

This agreement is entered into between , Wife, , Husband, and , counselor.

1. Husband and Wife are genuinely interested in a counseling relationship to attempt to resolve lingering emotional issues including

To do this, Husband and Wife each recognize that honest is an absolute necessity. Husband and wife also recognize that the relationship between each of them and a counselor is not priviliged as their relationship with their lawyers and ministers, but is confidential. A confidential relationship means that the records of Husband and Wife may be subject to subpoena and discovery and court proceedings.

2. Because Husband and Wife want counseling and for it to be totally private for all purposes, they agree as follows:

A. The relationship between Husband, Wife, and Counselor, and all records and communications relating thereto, are considered to be private, privileged, and not available to court order, subpoena, discovery motion, or other process.

B. All aspects of the relationship shall be kept inviolate by Husband, Wife, and Counselor with none of these parties to discuss, disseminate, or otherwise disclose any aspect of the counseling relationship.

3. If Husband or Wife, or their attorneys or agents or anyone on their behalf attempts to secure these records for any purpose, then the party who breaches this agreement shall be responsible to the other party and to the counselor in an amount less than $10000 per counseling session and for all attorney's fees and expenses incurred in the defense of this agreement.

4. If Counselor discloses or disseminates any fact or circumstance of the counseling relationship, then the counselor shall be responsible to Husband and Wife in an amount not less than $10,000 for each counseling session in addition to all attorneys fees and expenses incurred in the defense of this agreement.

5 Husband, Wife, and Counselor agree that estoppel and equitable estoppel shall be absolute defenses to any claim by any party to this agreement. And should any third person attack this agreement, then Husband, Wife, and Counselor shall jointly defend the agreement against any such attack.

6. This agreement shall be submitted to the Family Court of the for approval and incorporation into an order of that court. Upon approval, estoppel by judgment shall likewise be a defense to any action attacking this agreement.

© 2002 FlyingSolo® Life Management®

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