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« The Support of a Mental Health Professional Is Integral to Success in Divorce Mediation | Main  | Divorce, Anger, and Revenge: Overcoming Reactivity »
Mental Health Co-Mediators: Consider a COLLABORATIVE MEDIATION

Co-Mediation: Why Have a Therapist in the Room?

It is entirely prudent to think through the potential costs associated with divorce and partnership dissolution, including mediation and co-mediation, before engaging these different processes. But it is helpful to keep a balanced view of the relative expenses of divorce warfare as compared to what mediation fees are likely to be. Adversary litigation burdens not just your pocket book, but the experiences and mental health of you and your family. The costs of a litigated divorce are extreme, and its destructive nature echoes into the future in ways that some people don't expect or deny at the outset.

As a mental health professional working with both parties who are amicable but need some support in mediating the issues of the end of their relationship, and high conflict custody and property/support cases, I guarantee you that this is so. While I cannot promise that all parties will succeed in co-mediation - because frankly some people are highly reactive - I do suggest to you that many more can achieve a lasting resolution through mediation than cannot. Mental health professionals (MHP's) as mediators and co-mediators bring insights, training, and tools to the mediation table that can be invaluable, and while their participation will increase the costs of mediation (but not nearly as much as what litigation without us will force you to incur) it will also make it more likely that your mediation will be successful. A successful mediation is always cheaper than a bad divorce, on so many levels. This is why more and more divorcing couples, as well as legal professionals who are mediators, are adding therapists to the process.

Lawyers, even those trained as mediators, are not always able to recognize some of the antagonistic patterns that slow or stop the divorce or mediation process. Unhelpful patterns of belief and communication that perhaps contributed to the need for divorce inevitably find their way into the divorce process and usually get amplified because of the high stakes involved and the disruption of such a big life transition. Having a therapeutic co-mediator brings a specialist into the process whose specific aim is help achieve resolution through de-escalation of conflict, clarification of the issues and their emotional importance, and education of psychological consequences of your decisions on members of the family.

'But I"m through dealing with these issues. I just want a divorce!' Right.! And the quicker we can bring clarification and understanding to why and how these are important issues, the faster we can reach an agreement, and the better the agreement will meet your needs.

A divorce often highlights the struggles that were present in the marriage. Conflicts that may have even contributed to the divorce decision are places where emotions run high and are likely to remain points of conflict during separation. These conflicts can be painful, yet are very important in the mediation process in that they tell us where each of you has placed more meaning and value. Uncovering the meanings and values begins to move towards resolution faster than assuming our spouses are just being antagonistic. Therapists are trained in uncovering and interpreting these deeper, truer meanings of conflicts.

Disagreements about assets and custody are a natural part of the separation process, and tensions increase when each spouse tries to maintain a position of control, defending their position so as not to feel taken advantage of. Fairness. . . is not a feeling that emerges easily during this time. For example, having a therapist present to help clarify when an issue around "who gets the antiques" is more about a feeling of fairness, rather than the objects themselves, can really speed up a resolution.

Therapists can look for and resolve unhelpful communication patterns when old, familiar ways of arguing emerge. Therapists can uncover areas where agreements are made that don't serve either parties' true interests. Therapists can move conflict to collaboration by restoring even a little bit (and sometimes more than that) of understanding and empathy where it has been lost.

I want you to have a "successful" divorce, legal separation, or custody agreement. I want to help you minimize your personal distress, and the suffering of affected family members, and I want you to do this as efficiently and cheaply as possible.

David Hayes, M.F.T.

Posted By David Hayes, M.A., M.F.T. on June 04, 2011 07:53 am | Permalink 


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