There was a time years ago when the San Diego chapter of CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) and the San Diego County Bar Association paired up to have a monthly attorney/therapist interface luncheon. There would be a speaker that would present but then the therapists and attorneys would be left to eat lunch together, pick each other’s brains, and share war stories. The conversations often focused on how we could work together to help our clients maneuver through divorce in the best way possible. I am not sure what happened to make these luncheons stop, but the organizers were onto something.
Around that time there was another effort to organize Divorce professionals (Judges, Attorneys, Therapists) into a group called the San Diego Family Law Council for Children whose focus was to educate divorce professionals and the public on how to protect children from the harms of divorce. There would be a seminar each year where we would fly in a renowned expert on children and divorce who would educate the professionals in the morning, then would have a free seminar for divorcing parents in the afternoon to provide tips and insights on how to take good care of the children to help them move through the divorce in a good way. It was a great concept and the professionals involved, as well as the public that attended, received great information. Unfortunately it too went the way of the attorney/therapist luncheon and has not been around for years.
I miss those monthly luncheons and those Council for Children meetings where I would be able to spend time with other like minded professionals, trying to find ways to make the divorce process better. I miss the opportunity to speak freely with therapists and hear their perspectives on divorce and the challenging issues our clients are grappling with. I am happy to assist in bringing it back if others want to join in the work. I will leave that for another day.
Since those days, when I have a little extra time on my hands, I will reach out to therapists and propose sitting down for a cup of coffee/tea and get to know each other. My practice is now exclusively divorce mediation and I am finding that therapists are a little more open to sitting down with a mediator as opposed to an attorney. I have found that therapists are very busy and it is hard to lure them away from their busy practices long enough to have a cup of coffee and a good conversation. Although this past week, I have managed to schedule three therapist meetings. Maybe a shift is happening in the universe. With all that we have to learn from each other, it seems that we are not doing all we can for our clients if we are not finding ways to connect and collaborate.
This past Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of having tea with Cecille Ahrens LCSW, host of Get Mental podcast and founder of Transcend Therapy, Inc. with offices in San Diego. It was so refreshing to have a conversation about how we could collaborate to make the divorce process for our clients as healthy as possible. She shared a challenge that she has as a therapist helping clients in the divorce process where her primary source of information about what is happening is from her client. She’ll hear negative input about the attorney, the Judge, and the other spouse. She does not have the benefit of the whole picture. A therapist wants to provide support and guidance to the client but also wants to provide a healthy perspective and insight when the client might have a skewed view of reality. With permission from her clients, Ms. Ahrens seeks to get information from others involved in the conflict when she is able, but in a pending divorce she is not able to get much input from others beyond her client. Attorneys representing one spouse or the other are in a similar predicament of getting one perspective and not the whole picture. Just imagine if the professionals involved with these families collaborated and, with the permission of our clients, shared perspectives and gave each other tips so that we were in a better position to best meet the needs of our clients, and the needs of the whole family we were working with.
There actually is a divorce practice called Collaborative Divorce where couples each have their own attorney and each have a coach who is a mental health professional who helps address emotional and communication challenges to keep the process on track. The professionals have license to communicate with each other and orchestrate an effective divorce process. There is a very small percentage of couples who take this Collaborative Divorce route. We as therapists, attorneys and mediators should start speaking with each other to figure out ways to collaborate for the good of our clients that perhaps is a scaled down version of this Collaborative Divorce. Attorneys should be making sure we are giving our clients good referrals to trained mental health professionals who can provide emotional support and perspective. Therapists should be providing their clients who can’t fix their marriages to attorneys and mediators committed to taking a holistic approach to their divorce and to helping them divorce in a healthy way.
Whether or not us attorneys and therapists collaborate with each other on specific cases, we should make it a point to regularly sit down with each other. Divorce attorneys go to law school then are often asked to be therapists for our divorcing clients. Having conversations with therapists can help us develop those skills, but also help us recognize that we don’t have the degree of skill of those therapists who did go to school for that and have many more skills then we do in their bag of tricks. In a short period of time I was able to assess that Cecille Ahrens is a great option for my clients who need support that I simply can not provide. She has extensive experience coupled with a heart committed to do good for those she is helping. We should all get to connect with the therapy resources in the community so that when our client’s need a referral, we know we are placing them in good hands. Therapists should have the same opportunity to assess the heart and commitment of those of us providing the legal support.
Working with divorcing couples is difficult and important work. We have the power to help our clients to the next chapter with the least amount of scars and bruises. We also have the power to make a bigger mess of things. Let’s be open to collaborating to make the services we provide the healthiest possible for those we serve. My offer stands for all you therapists out there. Let’s have a cup of coffee and work to get better at what we do, my treat.