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A few months ago, I had a chance to interview Woodacre therapist Louis Breger about his book Psychotherapy: Lives Intersecting,  in which he describes how he contacted former patients after decades to discover if his work with them helped.

I was intrigued not only because I love all things psychological, but because I have been to therapists, as an individual and as a couple, and I know some therapists suck — well, they sucked for me, anyway. Some people offering support and advice don’t know what they’re doing; they’re not going to help you very much and may even make things worse.

What I love about Breger is his honesty — he admitted that, yes, early in his 50-year career he made some mistakes. This is understandable; we all make mistakes when we’re newbies (although his former patients may feel less compassionate about that!). He also acknowledged that when he got a divorce (which, oddly, upset some of his patients), he was able to have more empathy for his patients who were divorcing.

All of which got me thinking about people who give advice, consult or coach about divorce.  

Some people who go through a divorce have a strong desire to help others based on their experience, and go on to form divorce support groups or communities or even paid services as a consultant. This seems like a noble enough endeavor — “learn from my experience.” OK, but there are many, many ways to experience a divorce, and your experience may not be mine. My divorce was mediated and relatively cordial, with a 50-50 co-parenting arrangement; we are friendly and have managed to co-parent pretty well. Other people have experienced horrible, drawn-out and acrimonious divorces that leave both parties bitter and angry, sometimes because it was an unwanted divorce by one spouse.

So, I have to wonder — if a woman has a bitter, acrimonious divorce, what kind of impartial help is she able to offer as an expert or consultant to other men and women seeking support and advice during their own divorce? What if the newbie divorce coach herself didn’t want to be divorced but her husband left her anyway; her experience will be much different than mine and so will her advice.

And that concerns me.

If a therapist screws up, there are professional boards to which you may make a complaint. Who holds a divorce consultant accountable to offer real, unbiased, honest support and advice about divorce at one of the most challenging times in our life? No one, really, unless that person is a licensed professional. And how can those of us seeking help be sure we have found the right person to advise us about divorce?

It’s a roll of the dice.

Last week, I had an interesting experience with a Facebook page for divorced people that I had “liked,” one that says its mission is to “create a place where you can find others to laugh with, to cry with, or to vent to as well as get referrals and specific information about divorce-related issues” and that hopes that “by being part of this community, you will be able to move in and feel supported in your new home.”

Which is great, because I believe I have a lot to add — being twice divorced and having spent the better part of the past few years writing about divorce for various online publications as well as my own blog — as well as learn. Yet I was censured and my comments and links were removed — not because what I wrote was derogatory or inflammatory (I could understand that) or even controversial. No, it was because my views differed than the Facebook page administrators’, both of who took the experience of their acrimonious divorces to become divorce consultants.

Well, so much for feeling supported by “my” community!

When it comes to divorce — or anything, really — we all benefit when a variety of voices are offered and heard. That’s the beauty and curse of the Internet; if you only gravitate to viewpoints that confirm your own, you will never understand or gain insight into the wealth of opinions, many that might be valid and perhaps even open your mind. You can find fantastic advice and then you can find some really, really bad advice.

Same with your friends. I didn’t talk about what was going when my marriage was unraveling for a long time because I needed to think about it and clarify things for myself. I didn’t want to be swayed because of my freiends’ own feelings about marriage and infidelity. I was leery of advice with an agenda.

You should be, too.

When I was approached by Susan Pease Gadoua to help write The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, I grilled her about her approach to marriage and divorce, and her background. Her professional experience, as substantial as it is — she’s the founder of Changing Marriage as well as the Transition Institute of Marin; a divorce counselor; a licensed therapist; author of two divorce books; and a child of divorce herself — wasn’t enough. I needed to know her experience with and feelings about marriage and divorce. It was clear our philosophy was pretty much the same, even though we have such different backgrounds — that if you cannot salvage a marriage despite your best efforts, then divorce may be the right decision, and that divorce is not a failure.

I don’t give advice unless asked (please don’t ask my kids to confirm that!), but if you are divorcing and need support, please be careful about choosing someone to help you. An inexperienced divorce consultant or expert who may carry resentment from his/her own divorce, who may still be battling her former spouse over custody issues, who considers divorce a failure, who believes in divorce reform that would slow down the process may not be the person who’s looking out for you; he or she may have hidden agendas that have nothing to do with you and your unique situation.

Don’t be content with just knowing that she’s divorced; ask what has happened since her divorce; whether she chose mediation, collaborative law or hired lawyers and went to court; what her custody arrangement is (and why); what her relationship with her former spouse is now;  whether she considers divorce a failure; and what kind of romantic relationships she’s had since her divorce. At a delicate, confusing and emotional time like divorce, there are too many ways in which we can find ourselves being talked into seeking vengeance instead of compassion and flexibility.

And if you’re looking for a supportive community, look for one that’s open-minded and willing to hear — if not embrace — all viewpoints.

  • Did you seek professional help during your divorce?
  • Was it helpful?



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