Why A Therapist is a Must Prior to, During & After Divorce

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Jennifer Aniston Claims “Therapy Saved Her Life” During Divorce & Loss

I have been working on the manuscript of my first book for the last few months. It will eventually be published as a guide to preparing for divorce and I am keenly aware of the tabloids, news articles and scholarly articles that support any area(s) of my book. A significant portion of my book is devoted to the importance of forming a support team before beginning to prepare for or at the outset of the divorce process. I describe in detail who I believe should lead the team and how to build such a team. I strongly suggest that one of the essential members of the team be a therapist. Imagine my delight when I see the cover page of US Weekly with Jennifer Aniston’s beautiful face on it, and in big font type written, “THERAPY SAVED MY LIFE”. Do not get me wrong, I feel horrible for America’s sweetheart and what she has been through, but I love that she is spreading the word about the importance of therapy both during and after divorce and loss.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last six months, you are probably aware that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux broke up and are either divorced already or are working on it. In the article in US Weekly, Jennifer speaks about loss and how therapy saved her life. She states, “It takes a lot of therapy, but you do absolutely get over it.”

Most people faced with divorce put themselves and their mental health on the back burner. In fact, based on 15 years of experience as a divorce attorney, I can safely say that most individuals preparing for or going through divorce do not believe that a therapist is necessary. I think many individuals, especially men, are programmed not to ask for help or they feel that a therapist is unnecessary to process their emotions. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A therapist is absolutely necessary to help the individual process the ups and downs that have been going on in their relationship and that will inevitably get exacerbated by the divorce process.

What makes things even more difficult is that many cultures do not believe in therapy at all. Some cultures believe you turn to your faith and others believe there is no need for therapy because you should turn to your family. However, while I strongly believe your support team should include one best friend (and I mean ONE), I do not think your family belongs in the divorce process. Family members are of course bias towards their family because they have only heard one side of the story. Often, they have heard that side when their son, daughter, niece, nephew, cousin, or other member of their family is angry, sad and projecting his or her emotions towards the other spouse to them, which guides the listener’s advice and opinion. As a result, their advice and opinion is very often the worst type of advice and opinion. Such advice and opinions can be so destructive to a divorce, that I often urge my clients not to be guided by the opinions and advice of family members. Depending on the client’s upbringing or culture, that can be a difficult request to make when those are the only people they have to turn to. Just another reason to seek out the support of a therapist either as you are making the decision to get a divorce, or as soon as you find out you are being faced with divorce.

In fact, what I hear from most clients that do take my advice and see a therapist is that even if in a minority of cases they do not find value in the “therapy” portion of therapy, it is absolutely freeing to speak to a neutral third party. Do you know what a neutral third party won’t do that all of your friends, family and colleagues will do when they hear about your divorce? A neutral third party (therapist) will not throw-up on you with their opinions or their own baggage.  Therapists are professionally trained to become attuned to your personality and they often temper your emotions. Any experienced divorce attorney will tell you, that one of our biggest hurdles is to get our clients to remove emotions and feelings altogether from any of their decision-making during divorce. The reality, though, is that “family issues” are completely entwined with feelings and emotions and extremely hard for anyone to remove from the process, unless you are a trained mental health professional. A therapist can often help the spouse see that there may be two sides to every story, and work through anger and sadness that impedes their ability to make rational decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

Dalia Lightman PsyD, founder of Story of Life Therapy in Bergen County, New Jersey, and Vice President of the non-profit organization Sunset 2 Sunrise, a licensed psychologist with many years of experience, who completed her fellowship at Harvard and whom I refer many of my divorce clients to, said, “I love the idea of a therapist being part of the “team”. Thinking about divorce, starting the process, going through the process and the aftermath are very stressful experiences. Even when it is positive, stress is defined as change and all change has an element of adjustment. Therapy can help smooth the transition by providing a safe place to talk, to be heard, and to learn new ways of thinking as well as providing a compassionate and empathic person to listen without judgement.” I love what she states about therapy being a safe place, considering most people preparing for or going through a divorce lose the comfort in their marital home being their safe place. Also, prior to speaking with Lightman, I underestimated the importance of therapy even when the divorce is amicable or as she describes it, “positive”, considering there is always an element of change that needs to be processed, understood and accepted.

Divorce can be a very liberating experience, but only if you prepare for it. I can’t stress enough that one of the major steps of preparing for divorce is forming the proper support team. Moreover, as my book will discuss in greater detail and as I discuss in this article, that support team should always include a therapist. In the article about Aniston, one of her friends is quoted as saying, “She’s doing her thing exactly the way she wants to do it and really enjoying life.” It goes on to say, “Jen is very comfortable with where she is and believes that whatever her path is, it will present itself the way it should. She’s all about taking care of herself.” In order to take care of herself, she sought out therapy. Therapy should be just as valued, if not even more valued, than getting exercise and eating right. Like both exercise and eating right, it’s not just about the present, rather, therapy should be on-going. That is the most important part of making a therapist a part of your support team prior to or at the outset of divorce. It’s not enough to simply get you over it, but it is imperative to getting you through it as well.

By taking the time to read this blog and search out those things you can do to help yourself through the difficult process of divorce, like Aniston, you are taking the first step towards your path of doing your thing exactly the way you want to do it and really enjoying life. I hope you will seek out a therapist to assist you with your goals.

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