The Mental Health Professional (MHP) manages the collaborative divorce process much like an emcee does any large-scale event, handling many moving parts to help create an outcome that is goal driven and designed to meet the clients’ needs. He or she facilitates the process that empowers adults undergoing divorce to structure a customized, individualized plan tailor made to move their family forward successfully. Consequently, the MHP in the collaborative process wears many hats: teacher, coach, communication facilitator, emotion manager.
What Does an MHP Do?
- Runs the meetings: as collaborative divorce is a private process run by group meetings (two clients, two attorneys, one financial professional, one mental health professional), the MHP is responsible for facilitating the agenda; he or she makes sure the whole room, including all of the, team members keep communication open. The MHP manages the emotion in the room knowing when to stop and address the elephant in the room, or when to move the process forward.
- Meets with clients “offline”: the MHP will often confer with the clients jointly and/or individually in their office, outside the whole group, to address issues in a more cost-effective manner than doing so during the full group meetings. Perhaps there is fallout from whatever breakdowns occurred in a group meeting, or further discussion is needed on a sticking point that has left the process deadlocked. Sometimes, such meetings are simply designed to gather information or provide the clients with additional education or skills training.
- Creates parenting plan with clients: the MHP offers the couple the opportunity to become educated about their children’s needs and the impact of divorce, while learning how to communicate more effectively with the other parent, including how to best handle inevitable conflict. It is within this framework that the couple builds a customized parenting plan, designed to be both effective and durable and to meet their family’s needs. These opportunities in my opinion, are the most crucial benefits of working with an MHP for a divorcing couple. Divorce is hard work and the decisions that need to be made for themselves and their children are numerous and often challenging: couples don’t know what they don’t know. While the marriage is ending, they will always remain the parents of their children. If they can remember that and adhere to it during negotiations, the result is better for the whole family. To the extent that the MHP can help a couple become functional co-parents moving forward after divorce, it has a powerful impact on how well children do.
What Does an MHP Not Do?
The MHP role in a collaborative divorce is a clear departure—a paradigm shift—from the traditional role of therapist or counselor. The MHP does not diagnose and does not provide therapy or counseling. That would be, in fact, a distinct no-no in collaborative divorce. If such help is needed, the MHP is a wealth of knowledge regarding who does what best in the Dallas therapeutic community and serves as a resource in that regard. While the work with the MHP may have therapeutic benefit, it is solely because the focus on communication and conflict resolution often provides a salve to a hurting and troubled relationship. However, the MHP does not lose his or her objectivity or get pulled in to counseling mode with mom or dad—that job is outsourced. The MHP is not sidetracked and remains neutral which is one of the major benefits of this role. He or she can remain present to the big picture of the case and focus on what is often one of the most important, sensitive, and tricky parts of any divorce. How best to protect the children. More on that next time!