Divorce can be one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences in a person’s life. Divorce can signify the shattering of a once-great dream, forcing a divorcee into a painful process of starting over.
The transition from being married to becoming single again can cause a wide variety of difficult emotions for a divorcee to contend with, including loneliness, loss, confusion, anger, anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, shame, fear and feelings of inadequacy. A large number of divorcees turn to substance abuse to “deal with” their separation, which can lead to even more serious issues.
Individuals that work as divorce therapists focus on helping individuals, couples, and families overcome the stress, disappointment, anger, and resentment of divorce in order to lead a happy, healthy life once again. Typically conducted in an office setting, divorce therapy focuses on helping clients gain insights into their problems and building skills to overcome those problems.
Divorce therapists are required to have at least a master’s degree in order to obtain licensure, although some choose to continue on to obtain a doctorate. The need for divorce therapists is quite strong, as the U.S. divorce rate shows no signs of slowing down. Although the beginning wages for a divorce therapist are not as robust as in some other mental health occupations, there is potential for significant long-term gains in annual salary.
What is Divorce Therapy?
Divorce therapy is a form of therapy that addresses the legal, financial, and familial aspects of crumbling marriage. It is important to note that divorce therapy is NOT marriage therapy. In other words, divorce therapy addresses issues like: whether or not a couple should seek a separation/divorce, or try to save the marriage. If the couple decides to work on their marriage, a divorce therapist helps it set healthier, new boundaries that aid in the repair of the relationship. Divorce therapy typically occurs in a safe, non-judgmental, private counseling office.
It is considered a highly confidential form of couple’s mediation. This type of therapy typically focuses on the following areas: exploring options (i.e. separation, divorce, or saving the marriage), making life changes (i.e. self-improvement, boundaries, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, etc.), indecision (i.e. not knowing what one or both spouses really want to do), trust (i.e. whether or not one or both spouses can truly forgive each other), reconciliation (i.e. repairing the damage incurred throughout the marriage), the inclusion of family (i.e. parents, in-laws, and children), and the end of the marriage (i.e. divorce and moving on).
At its best, divorce therapy helps marital couples determine what comes next – the legal and practical issues of a separation and divorce. It also helps the couple determine, if the marriage is truly worth saving. If the marriage is worth saving, a divorce therapist can provide resources to the couple to help it “get back on track.” It is important to note that the end goal is not always to end the marriage; in fact, many times the ultimate goal is to save the marriage, if possible. Divorce therapy is a safe place to start an honest dialogue between the spouses, as to whether or not they want to continue in the marriage. Although, divorce therapy sounds like a last case scenario, in reality it just may be the first step to repairing a damaged marriage.
What Does a Divorce Therapist Do?
Divorce therapists usually work with individuals after the completion of a divorce. In this capacity, the job of the divorce therapist is to help the individual come to an understanding of what went wrong and why. Working through feelings of sadness, guilt, and anger is common. Devising strategies for moving on with life is common as well. In this capacity, divorce therapists focus on solutions, working with clients to develop knowledge and skills that improve their capacity to live a happy life once again.
Divorce therapists will sometimes work with couples and families as well. In this instance, therapists may work to help prevent a divorce, or they might seek to help families cope with the aftermath of a divorce. The job here typically involves helping family members build skills that allow them to function at the highest possible level. This might include teaching ex-spouses how to communicate effectively, or working with children to develop coping strategies for living in two separate households.
Sometimes divorce therapists might assess and evaluate clients for the presence of mental health disorders, emotional difficulties, behavioral issues, or other problems that led to unhappiness in the marriage or which result from a recent divorce. Divorce therapists usually take a systems approach to understanding the problem, that is, they examine the role of each spouse as well as children, if any are present, in the dynamics of the family.
How Divorce Therapists Help Divorcees?
Divorce therapy can help a divorcee work through their divorce issues, using tried-and-true psychological methods. A divorce therapist can provide a divorcee with a trained and objective perspective for navigating the choppy waters of a separation.
One common technique is transactional analysis, which involves a set of practical conceptual tools designed to promote personal growth and change. It can help couples examine their methods of communication and choose better strategies for progressing through the divorce.
Divorce therapists can aid the divorcees with other issues, like financial obligations, living arrangements and parenting responsibilities. Therapy sessions can also aid divorcees in dealing with some of the psychological issues that contributed to the failure of their marriage, a process that can help prevent difficulties in future marriages. A divorce therapist can also counsel any children who might be involved in the divorce, easing the strain the divorce might have on these children.
A divorce therapist can also help a married couple during their divorce by acting as a mediator and guide for both parties through the divorce process. This can help minimize the feelings of hostility the couple might be feeling toward each other. During this process, couples who are constructively working together toward a divorce sometimes suddenly realize that their differences are being resolved, and they sometimes wind up cancelling the divorce and getting back together.
Where Does a Divorce Therapist Work?
Divorce therapists typically work in a clinical setting, either as part of the staff at a mental health center or in private practice. Work is usually conducted in an office setting, although on some occasions divorce therapists may visit clients’ homes to evaluate the couple’s or family’s functioning in a more natural environment.
Divorce therapists that have a lot of experience may also work in higher education, teaching therapists-in-training about the processes and skills involved in divorce therapy. In this capacity, therapists would serve as educators in a classroom setting. Many divorce therapists offer their expertise in court proceedings as well. In this case, the therapist would work in a courtroom, offering his or her assessment of each spouse’s functioning, their suitability as a parent, and their mental and emotional stability.
What are the Requirements to Become a Divorce Therapist?
As with all mental health-related professions, divorce therapists must begin with undergraduate studies in psychology, sociology, social work, or another closely related field. These programs all focus on helping students develop a general understanding of the principles of human behavior, which serve as the basis for more advanced knowledge acquisition in graduate school.
Once undergraduate studies are complete, graduate studies can commence. For individuals interested in working as a divorce therapist, a graduate program in marriage and family therapy is likely the best option, although some divorce therapists have a graduate degree in social work or another similar field. Regardless of the specific program of study, graduate students focus on developing the personal and professional skills that will allow them to provide therapy to couples that are considering divorce or have already been divorced. In addition to studying psychological theory, ethics, and statistics, graduate programs incorporate a significant practice requirement. As such, students must put what they learn into action in both simulated therapy sessions, usually with classmates, and in real-life settings with actual clients during practicum and internship experiences. Most graduate programs last 2-3 years, including these practicum and internship placements.
Individuals that choose to pursue a doctorate may do so although it is not currently required to have a doctorate to obtain licensure. Doctoral programs typically last 3-5 years, with intensive study and supervised practice in a specialized area. For example, a divorce therapist may choose to focus his or her training on working with children of divorce, or he or she may focus instead on working exclusively with couples.
Licensure to practice divorce therapy is usually obtained as a licensed marriage and family therapist. While each state has slightly different licensure requirements, for the most part they align with the expectations of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). AAMFT requires potential licensees have at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution with two years of post-graduate clinical experience under the direction of a supervisor.
Most states also require potential therapists to pass a state licensing exam or the national licensing exam administered by AAMFT. When seeking licensure, it is best to contact the licensing body in your state of practice to determine your state’s specific requirements.
What Skills and Qualities are Required for a Divorce Therapist?
Because divorce can be an extremely traumatic situation for couples and families, divorce therapists must be able to empathize with their clients in a highly compassionate manner. They must be comforting and understanding as well, yet also challenge clients who are stuck in patterns of negative thinking. Additionally, divorce therapists must have:
- Excellent listening skills in order to give their undivided attention to clients.
- Outstanding speaking skills to discuss clients’ personal issues in a professional and helpful manner.
- Exceptional interpersonal skills, and be able to work with clients from all types of backgrounds.
- Refined organizational skills, which allow them to take detailed case notes, remember minute details about a client’s life, and take care of practical tasks such as billing and payments.
What is the Salary for a Divorce Therapist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information for divorce therapists specifically. However, the agency does offer an estimate for marriage and family therapists as being $46,670 per year. Therapists that work in a community mental health setting can expect to make slightly less money, on average, around $41,500 per year.
However, according to PayScale.com, marriage and family therapists that have a number of years of experience can expect higher wages. After 10-20 years in practice, yearly wages can exceed $60,000. Marriage and family therapists that practice privately have an even higher income potential because they can charge more per hour than they would receive if employed by a non-profit or government agency.
What is the Job Outlook for Divorce Therapists?
The job outlook for marriage and family therapists is very strong, predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be 31% over the next decade. Since marriage and family therapists are the professionals most likely to assist couples and families in divorce situations, the need for their expertise will continue to be strong as the divorce rate in the U.S. remains high. An additional factor improving the long-term outlook for practitioners that specialize in divorce therapy is that mental health services are now covered for a greater number of people after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
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