Collaborative Coaching vs Individual Therapy

Collaborative divorce is a process involving family law attorneys, mental health professionals and financial specialists, all working together cooperatively to bring about a solution that is fair, just and equitable for all family members. Each of the professionals on the team assist both husband and wife to make informed decisions in an atmosphere of respect and fairness. Without the judge to make the orders, the divorcing couple is empowered to make their own informed decisions with the advice and guidance of their professional team.

Many people wonder what is the difference between a mental health professional doing divorce coaching and a mental health professional doing individual therapy. Simply put: The major difference between divorce coaching and individual therapy is the client (not the coaching or therapeutic process).

Traditionally, individual therapy involves the assumption that the client is coming into therapy due to some real or perceived “problem” which they want to understand, discover or have “treatment” thereon because their coping skills and/or current manner of dealing with their “problem” is not working for them. Due to this traditional thinking, it has long been a given that if someone is in therapy, something is “wrong” with them.

Insurance companies and managed care facilities have traditionally indicated a more comfortable position in dealing with emotional “problems” from the medical model. Simplified, the medical model says there is a disease (the problem), the symptoms must be documented (a diagnoses from the DSM – yet another medical model), and a plan laid out as to how the client will be “healed” (from the clinicians therapeutic orientation, paradigm or model). Based on this medical model, the therapist will focus on the clients history to assist in determining how the “disease” (the problem) came about.

Many times you will hear therapist talk about the “pathology” of a client. Ever wonder what “pathology” really means? (Definition: “The science or doctrine of diseases. That part of medicine which explains the nature of diseases, their causes and their symptoms.” As you can see from that definition, even in their language therapist use the medical model.) With an understanding of the “pathology” the therapist can allegedly determine the cause of the problem (the diagnoses). The therapist then gives the client new ways of thinking, coping or behaving that allegedly will work better for them in the future (the healing or curing of the problem). Under this simplified model, the therapist is the helping agent in charge, the client is the one with the “problem.”

Divorce coaching is different from individual therapy. In coaching the client is not perceived as having any particular “problem” and the divorce coach does not assume any “pathology.” Problems and/or pathological issues are only dealt with if they impede the divorce process, wherein a suggestion may be given that the client might benefit from therapy with an outside independent therapist.

In coaching the therapist joins with the client in a duet of cooperation. The coach, having a therapeutic and mediation background, educates, offers insights and observations, gives possibilities, and at times may even propose certain strategies for the client to consider. The divorce coach is specifically trained in the collaborative process to work closely with the client in their development of skills needed to deal with critical issues involving the divorce. Although coaching may be very therapeutic, it is not therapy.

The divorce process, whether adversarial or collaborative, is a complex and deeply emotionally process. Grief issues such denial, anger, bargaining and depression are usually involved, as well as a sense of loss and many times confusion. Post-relationship co-parenting issues are always a difficult area, as are support and property issues. Individual parenting styles is also an area of concern for many parents (How do I answer my kids questions? How do I or should I discipline the kids who are already hurting?). Divorce coaches in the collaborative model not only have specialized training of the collaborative process, they are also generally very experienced in working with restructuring families.

As indicated above, the major difference between divorce coaching and individual therapy is the client (not the coaching or therapeutic process). In therapy the client is perceived as having a “problem” with a particular “pathology” for which the client is seeking help. In divorce coaching, the client is not perceived as having any particular “problem” and the divorce coach does not assume any “pathology.” The divorce coach uses their training and experience to assist their client through the collaborative divorce process in such a way that the client is able to move on with their life with the learned skills and knowledge needed to make their post-divorce life as full and complete as possible.