When to Use Mental Health Professionals in Collaborative Practice and Divorce Mediation

In our last post, we looked at the importance of including an attorney in Mediation and Collaborative Practice (CP). This article will focus on the value of inviting a mental health professional to be a part of the process.

As with the legal component, mental health professionals are expected to be a formal part of the CP process, but they are also frequently called upon in Mediation, either as facilitators or as resources (coaches, child specialists, etc.) for the parties.

We should first address the fact that the term “mental health professional” can appear slightly loaded to some individuals, who might assume that such an individual is a “shrink” who is brought on scene only when a person clearly has emotional problems. In matters of divorce, however, this type of professional becomes much less of a therapist and much more of a helpmate, as parties work through what can be complicated issues.

Mental Health Professionals in Collaborative Practice

In the more formal CP setting, mental health professionals are usually neutral coaches or facilitators who come from a mental health background. They use their skills to assist both parties in navigating the process; help to facilitate discussions; and assist attorneys.

While they do engage in helping to facilitate meetings, they do not counsel in the usual sense of what is expected from mental health individuals. Instead, they typically serve in the capacity of emotional guides to navigate through the process, or as observers who might intervene to ensure that the process and meetings run smoothly.  Some mental health professionals might serve as child specialists or as valuable resources for parenting issues, such as helping to develop parenting plans.

One or both spouses may in fact be seeing a therapist on the side to help work through some of the more emotional aspects of divorce, but it is important to note that the mental health professionals themselves are not functioning as therapists during CP.

Mental Health Professionals in Divorce Mediation

Since Mediation is a less formal process to begin with, the divorce Mediator could come from any number of different backgrounds, including that of the mental health profession. If that is the case, the individual would naturally bring his or her counseling skills to the Mediation process, but would certainly not be functioning in the capacity of a therapist while serving in the Mediator role.

As with CP, parties going through divorce Mediation may opt to see a therapist separately to help them cope with various emotional factors, but the couple may also choose to work together with a therapist who serves neutrally as a coach, much the same way that they do in Collaborative cases. In addition, a mental health professional may be very useful as a child specialist who can help divorcing spouses work through parenting issues. 

Healthy Symbiosis between Collaborative Practice and Divorce Mediation

Over the years, both CP and Mediation have begun to inform each other about ways that additional professionals can be useful in the process. Whether professionals are trained in both CP and Mediation, or are simply trained in one but familiar with how the other process works, it is beneficial for them to be exposed to multiple ways in which other experts can be useful resources. While the use of such professionals may not be as consistent yet in Mediation as it is in CP, the very fact that it does exist is a good sign.

As we will see in our next post, financial advisors are one such example of additional resources who can bring tremendous value to the table.