Giving ourselves regular time and thoughtful space to focus on ourselves is one of the kindest and healthiest things we can do. And when you’re adding marital problems and a pending divorce into the mix? Friend, it’s a no brainer.
I could go on and on about the power of good therapy. Or you could just skip to the end of this post and hear first-hand reasons from our Divorce Squad.
If you’ve never sought help in the mental health department before, you might be looking around right now and mouthing “therapy… who, me?” You might even be tempted to skip this post altogether. I get it: the idea of seeing a therapist makes some women feel all bejigity. Add the unknowns of divorce to the mix and the whole thing might seem easier to avoid. But think about this: experts say that avoiding professional help can not only translate to unnecessary suffering, but it can actually make the outcome of your divorce worse.
When a woman is going through divorce, the earlier she gets help, the easier it is to lessen her stress and anxiety. Instead of looking at it like ‘there’s something wrong with me,’ try to view psychotherapy more similarly to other stress-relievers, like running, yoga and eating right – they’re all just strategies that help make life easier during this singular time in your life.
The benefits of therapy during divorce are far-reaching:
It’s a safe place to deal with your emotions
It’s time you’re carving out solely for yourself
It’s confidential (see caveat below)
It can empower you to make better decisions for yourself, your children, your future
It saves you money. If you’re seeing your counselor regularly, chances are you’ll vent less to your lawyer, who usually costs way more per hour.
It’s not physically addictive like some medications, and can be started and stopped as needed.
So who needs therapy?
If you’re going through a divorce, you do.
If you’re already divorced and still having ex drama (and who isn’t), you do.
If you’re a living, breathing human being who has never had any kind of serious trouble in your relationship, yes you do.
And if you still don’t think you need one, then you really do!
You may be thinking, I’ve got great supportive friends. Can’t I just talk to them? Friends can be wonderful ears, and as you know, at Divorce in Good Company we’re all about having a support system to help you through this. But well-intended as they are, they may not know - or advise – what’s actually best for you. And assuming they probably know your husband, they’re not objective. Even the most patient of friends can get worn out by the drama that is a part of almost every divorce. That’s why there’s no replacement for a trained professional whose job it is to help and support you.
Still not convinced? We talked to our divorce squad about their own therapy hurdles. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Hurdle #1: Your Reputation
Now more than ever I want to project the image that I have it all together. I’m worried what people would think of me.
- from Betsy, 59
While therapy used to have a stigma attached to it, that’s really no longer the case. Research organization the BarnaGroup reports that in 2017, 42% of US Adults have seen a counselor at some point. Wow! So, next time you’re standing in the check-out line at Kroger, look around. Chances are that almost half of the shoppers around you have been to therapy. You’re in good company!
Hurdle #2: The Effects on Your Divorce Case
I fear if my ex gets wind of the fact that I’m in counseling, he (or his lawyer, or the judge) may use it against me.
- From Ann, 32
I’ve counseled thousands of divorce cases throughout my career. And rest assured, no judge will think negatively about you for having a therapist (according to the statistics above, he or she probably has one, too). Same goes for your lawyer. Almost every one of my clients has or had a therapist. The way I see it: the client who spends forty-two minutes out of a sixty-minute meeting with her lawyer sharing the emotional details of her divorce is missing out on an opportunity to make key strategic decisions and get the best outcome. If you save your “emotional therapy” sessions for your therapist, then you can spend your time with your lawyer working on your “legal therapy” instead. Trust me, it’s a win-win for you.
Hurdle #3: Knowing Which Type of Professional to See
PhD, LCPC, LCMFT . . . WTF is with all these fancy titles? (And which one do I need?)
- from Samantha, 44
Now that we’re past the “do I need one” conversation, how do we muddle through all these pesky acronyms to figure out who the heck you should even see? It’s understandably confusing. In a nutshell, therapists can have different training, different credentials, different names depending where you live, and perhaps most importantly, different rates. A psychiatrist will charge more than a licensed therapist, but if you’re looking for someone to prescribe and monitor your meds, it’s the only way to go. If what you really need is someone to lend a good ear, don’t spend your money on the MD. You’ll be far better off with a licensed family therapist who specializes in talk therapy for women in distress.
Check out our Therapist Cheat Sheet for quick definitions of who-does-what.
Hurdle #4: How to Find the Right Person
There are a lot of quacks out there. How do I locate a good one?
- from Marianne, 39
True, you can google “therapist” or “counselor” in your area and find hundreds of ‘em. You can also ask your company HR person or your health insurance provider for a list of covered therapists. Chances are, if you’re on a major carrier, you’ll find plenty.
But going to therapy and benefitting from therapy are two different things, and the difference has to do with two people: you, and the therapist you pick. Sure, you need to commit to doing the hard work, both in and outside of your session. But if you don’t choose a therapist who is both qualified and well-suited to your personality, it’s probably not going to be helpful.
Aside: an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being. EAPs generally offer free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for employees and their household members. Even though EAPs are mainly geared towards work-related problems, there are a variety of programs that can assist with problems outside of the workplace.
I find the best therapist referrals come from friends who’ve gone through divorce, and divorce lawyers, as they’ve probably worked with most of the well-known therapists in your area and gotten feedback from other clients.
Remember, many of the “best” mental health professionals will not be covered on your insurance plan. If money isn’t a concern, then pick one without hesitation. Just make sure you check in advance, so you aren’t shocked at the end of the session when you’re asked to stroke a check for anywhere between $60 and $350 (yes, in major metropolitan cities, some psychologists’ rates are that high and not covered by insurance).
Hurdle #5: Confidentiality
My divorce case is at the midway point and I don’t know the rules concerning what to talk about. Is there anything I should or shouldn’t say?
- from Kaylee, 57
Counseling is for your benefit, to help you work through grief, sadness, anger, anxiety… whatever emotions are plaguing you. Because of that, the law in most states is that what you say to your counselor is confidential and can’t be repeated by your counselor. You, however, are free to repeat whatever you want, to whomever you want. But the person to whom you’re paying good money is not to utter a word of it to anyone. So feel free to talk with abandon.
There are certain exceptions here: Mental health professionals are considered “mandatory reporters,” meaning they have a duty to report (i.e. call the authority) actual or suspected physical or sexual abuse of minors. They also have to report if you threaten to hurt yourself or someone else. [If you are having thoughts like this and don’t have someone to turn to, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)].
Other than those exceptions, which I don’t expect you to violate, there’s one other big caveat to the “confidentiality” rule of counseling. In a contested custody case, the court might appoint someone called a Guardian ad Litem or a “custody evaluator.” These neutral, court “experts” are often given free latitude to interview anyone and everyone who has knowledge that relates to you and your spouse. This includes your family, your friends, your kids’ teachers and doctors, and yes, possibly your own therapist.
So, while your counselor can’t be called to the stand to testify directly in court, he or she might be asked by someone making recommendations in your case to share comments about you. I’ve spoken to a number of therapists about this issue. Most of them feel it is disruptive to the therapist-patient relationship and are careful not to say anything to compromise it. They stick to general comments and avoid revealing the specifics of what you talk about. But I wouldn’t want you to be blindsided by this, so it’s important for you to know this going in to your divorce and you have kids, especially if you’re just about to start counseling.
Hurdle #6: Choosing the Wrong Therapist
I hate my counselor. Now what?
- Sophia, 38
Well friend, hate is a strong word, but it’s certainly possible that you could see a counselor and not click. Maybe she doesn’t get you, she feels too “judgey,” she’s too opinionated, or not opinionated enough. If that’s the case, my first suggestion is to be up front about it. Tell her how you feel and what you’re looking for. If that improves your future interactions, super. And if not, then move on before you waste too much time and mental energy.
Your relationship with your therapist is just that, a relationship, and it’s one you should feel really good about. That does not mean you want a therapist who just blows smoke up your skirt and says only what you want to hear. A good therapist will probe, question, and challenge you. It’s not pain-free. (You’re there to deal with some serious crap!). But you will grow and benefit from the process, I promise.
Hopefully, now you’re a bit more comfortable with the idea of counseling, and you feel you know enough to find a therapist and start a conversation. But maybe the best way to get a sense of how powerful this can be is to hear stories from our amazing Divorce Squad…
We have coaches in all parts of lives. We hire personal trainers, dieticians, professional coaches. It only makes sense to have a professional help you through the process of deciding whether to divorce.
No one should have to live feeling like they are always doing something wrong. Therapy was the best!! It helped me to understand not everyone was living the way I was.
Therapy is a MUST. It has helped me to understand how I love AND hate the person I promised to be with forever. Divorce can be such a huge loss and having a really talented therapist has helped me be a better parent and a better professional.
The best insight from therapy was that I was not going crazy! That I felt afraid and anxious and unhappy for real reasons. I learned to trust myself and my feelings and reconnect with what I wanted for my own life - after spending decades focused on my children and spouse.
The "All about ME Hour" should challenge & comfort you. Ask your friends for referrals. If your gal pals don't personally know a stellar counselor, they'll make it their mission to you find one.
I never wanted to be Debbie Downer to my friends. I had so much drama with my ex and my kids that I had to talk to someone. It helped me see things from a fresh perspective and sometimes it was just good to say things out loud.
I learned that I'm worth something, that I'm worth a lot actually. The feeling of worthlessness dominated during the last part of my marriage.