IN DIVORCE THERAPIST BIAS AND ORIENTATION - Handbook of couples therapy

It is important in working with divorcing couples to have a realistic understanding of one’s own attitude and possible bias toward marriage, divorce, and alternative families. One must ask oneself about one’s own beliefs about divorce when children are involved, about one’s own religious values, family history, and marital/divorce experience. A therapist should be willing to refer a couple to another therapist if he or she is uncomfortable in making the transition from marital to divorce therapy. A related issue is the therapist’s own feelings of failure if marital therapy has not been effective in saving a marriage. A therapist who measures success rate by how many couples stay together may feel like a failure much of the time. Thus, it is important to come to terms with such feelings and to appreciate that helping a couple to divorce more comfortably and with less emotional sequelae for themselves and their children is a worthy goal. Feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment, or impatience are likely to compound the clients’ existing feelings of failure and rejection. Several issues and value judgments also arise in conjunction with vested interests in one member of the couple. Usually, it is very difficult to remain neutral toward either party when one spouse has been the victim of abuse and violence, and the therapist must carefully explore whether he or she is projecting personal anger and judgment that could influence the decision to separate or divorce. More commonly, vested interests are a key issue when, after a decision to divorce is made, the therapist also worked individually with one of the spouses, usually during the separation period. Unless the therapist has previously established rapport and trust with both parties and has carefully and openly discussed the rules and parameters of confidentiality in the individual versus the couple therapy, it can be difficult to get the other spouse back into treatment to explore divorce and postdivorce issues. It may be necessary to see the other spouse at least once or twice in individual therapy to reestablish the therapeutic alliance. Another related issue is pressure for the therapist to take sides in the divorce when difficult legal and custody issues are involved, or a party’s lawyer feels the therapist has critical information to support his client’s position. In this case, it is fortunate when the therapist has continued to see both parties, can maintain that both are clients, and that choosing sides is not fair or ethical . All these strategic issues underscore the importance of seeing both individuals in the divorce process and divorce therapy. This may not always be easy when during marital therapy the hidden agenda has been divorce all along, and once a decision to divorce is made, usually by the initiator, the initiator wants to leave therapy. The initiator may also want to hand over the ex-spouse to the therapist, who becomes the substitute spouse. Often, when it is clear there will be a divorce, clients abruptly terminate treatment. 418 SPECIAL ISSUES FACED BY COUPLES
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