Q&A about counseling continued from p. 2
Q19) When is
divorce mediation and/or counseling appropriate?
For perspective on the
following answer, first read this article and scan this worksheet on
Psychological or legal
is traumatic for
typical kids and adults, including grandparents. The degree of trauma
depends on key factors like...
family members are (weakly > strongly);
family adults are, and whether they're
their wounds effectively or not;
the pace of
the three-phase divorce process (very slow > very fast);
the number and
kinds of changes,
related to the divorce;
key family adults and supporters are;
knowledge about grief, and their
(healthy > unhealthy);
effectiveness of family adults'
availability and quality of appropriate
for all affected family members.
divorce mediation and counseling is appropriate for a couple (a) trying to
repair their ' relationship (i.e. to
avoid divorce), or for (b) trying to
minimize the trauma of the divorce process for all family members. The
latter should include grief therapy (Q16)
when any members are hindered in mourning divorce-related losses (broken
counseling may occur voluntarily or by court order when divorcing couples
can't agree on the terms of a
Common disputes are over child custody, visitations, financial support,
vacations, education, geographic moves, and related issues.
In such cases,
counseling works best (fills all adults' and children's primary needs) when
clinicians and any legal professionals involved consider...
Because normal divorce mediation is
focused more narrowly on one or a few specific disagreements, it is less
likely to be effective than family therapy, long term. .
Questions you should ask about
The "/" in
re/marriage and re/divorce below notes that it may be a stepparent's first
union. "Co-parents" means all part-time and full-time bioparents and
stepparents in any family with resident or visiting stepchildren.
Q20) What is "stepfamily
are much more complex than typical intact biofamilies. Because most
step-adults and supporters aren't aware of the complexities and what to do
about them, (re)marital, co-parental, and kin-folk
family-life education aim to do some or all of these...
advise on making wise
dissolve denials of
and what that identity
a stepfamily, and reduce inclusion/exclusion
convert stepfamily myths
into realistic expectations
harmony, identity, and pride
and stabilizing three or more biofamilies over time
assist in grieving
inevitable losses from divorce or death and stepfamily formation,
communication and problem-solving
to adults and kids, and...
problems that merit individual or marital therapy.
Without informed training and experience in all these topics,
many stepfamily counselors provide ineffective (biofamily based) or
even harmful help. Informed training is scarce. See
this for perspec-tive.
assessment and treatment of psychological wounds and incomplete grief in
family members. "Systemic" stepfamily therapy
focuses on the functioning
of the en-tire multi-home,
of homes related by genes, names, histories and ancestries, contracts, laws, marriages,
and divorces. For more perspective, see
Lesson 7 in this nonprofit Web-site is about evolving a
Q21) What is
Counseling is effective
when all agree that
clients and the counselor/s got enough of their current
met, (b) in a way that left all
participants feeling heard, respected, dignified, and empowered enough. This
members, even if
some weren't directly involved in clinical work..
Q22) Do typical
stepfamily members need counseling more than "other people"?
From working clinically with members of well over
500 typical Midwestern-US stepfamily members,
I believe they do need more
clinical help for at least two reasons:
adults seem to come from
childhoods, which promotes psychological
professional help to heal; and...
stepfamilies have more
extra developmental stages, and fewer
effective social supports than average
Q23) When should we
consider professional counseling?
The best time is during courtship,
before exchanging vows and/or cohabiting.
is the first step toward guarding against these five common
I recommend focusing
such counseling on
learning how prepared all affected adults and kids are
for their stepfamily challenges.
Such preparation is more apt to be effective
bioparents and perhaps kids and key rela-tives have had qualified post-divorce and/or
grief counseling first. Consider investing
in the guidebook
Stepfamily Courtship -
how to make three right choices
consider qualified professional help if ...
one or both mates feel your
relationship is significantly
stressed and you can't
find effective solutions; and/or...
one or more minor children are having significant
psychological, social, school, and/or medical problems and co-parents can't negotiate an acceptable way to reduce them.
this for more detail and perspective.
Do stepfamily counselors
need special training to offer effective help?
YES, in order to work effectively with the unique mix
typical stepfamily members en-counter.
experience since 1981, well over 80% of educators, clergy, legal and medical
profession-als, and licensed
counselors and therapists
meaningful education in the
uniquenesses of typical stepfamily
need for long-term success.
33 years, I have never met
one clinician who could describe the lethal [wounds + unawareness]
and what to
most human-service professionals have never systematically studied and applied infor-mation like
you're reading in this nonprofit Web site. That leaves them and their clients (you)
vulnerable to trying to resolve complex stepfamily conflicts and
problems with inappropriate or harmful biofamily con-cepts and tools - and not knowing what they
Q25) Is there a pattern
to how stepfamily counseling usually progresses?
Though there are many variables,
"stepfamily counseling" may evolve through three phases:
Someone initiates counseling because...
is "acting out" at home or school; and/or...
a co-parent is alarmed,
scared, and/or weary of the conflict between a stepparent and a
stepchild and/or between
(ex mates); and...
one partner is thinking or talking "
clinical work is
effective and continues, focus
often shifts from a non-marital focus to...
- Marital therapy. The couple breaks
protective denials, and admits that the main
problems are between them - e.g. a mix of
conflicts + an inability to
effectively. This is more likely if one or
both partners have been divorced (vs. widowed) and strongly want to avoid re/divorce.
Alternatively, both partners
are ruled by
which co-create a cyclic blame
<--> defense, counterblame festival. Because of excessive
couple can't find an
acceptable way to own responsibility for their part of the stepfamily
conflicts. One or both mates quit therapy.
If courage, money, and stamina
hold out, and if the
fear, and weariness is high enough
(i.e. if they
both partners courageously
that the main problem is within
The focus then shifts to...
- Individual therapy, which may
lead to (a) gradual
(b) thawing frozen
and (b) admitting painful stepfamily
(which seems to be the U.S. norm)
and choose to work at true (vs.
their relationship can become exceptionally strong and
Q27) Is it a good
idea to try to get all
co-parents into counseling at once?
It may or may
not be a good idea. It can be good if
sees potential value to counseling for
themselves, their mate (if any); and/or other people they care about;
trusts that the counselor will not allow
this to become an unproductive finger-pointing (shame and blame) session; and
also trusts the counselor
(a) will not
take sides and (b) will facilitate them all toward building mutual respect, co-parenting trust
all co-parents have agreed on who should pay
what part of the counseling expense; and...
each co-parent has had the option of talking to
the counselor alone to request special guidelines or safety limits - e.g.
requesting topics to be postponed or prioritized, and...
all co-parents and the counselor are fairly
on the main
(surface) reasons for meeting; and...
no one feels pressured or shamed into
coming, or excessively anxious about doing so; and...
any clinicians working with any of the co-parents are
(a) aware of the
potential group meeting/s; and (b) have discussed them with their clients and
the new counselor, if appropriate.
An essential requisite is that the
counselor have adequate training and experience in working with
(b) several conflicted adults at once (vs. 1 on 1), and
environment, without getting confused and/or overwhelmed.
If these conditions are
met well enough (by group consensus), then having all co-parents present can
speed mutual learning and accepting stepfamily basics,
typical new-stepfamily co-parents to want to meet the criteria above
and risk confronting their problems together with a clinician is usually too
daunting - specially if (a) their
are paralyzed and
they aren't agreed on their stepfamily
Q28) What is post-divorce counseling, and when is it useful?
The broad goals of effective post-divorce
facilitate each adult and any affected kids
and life changes;
help adults understand why they
divorced, and forgive themselves and each other; and to...
acknowledge and reduce any significant
agree on each minor child's
agree on who is responsible for helping to fill
each need over time; and...
learn how to master values
and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles related to child
custody, visitations, education, health, and financial support.
This work is useful if any family members are significantly conflicted by
the divorce process and its effects. It's also valuable as a preparation for
divorced adults forming a healthy new partnership. Parents controlled by a
(i.e. most divorcers) are unlikely to seek or fully participate
in post-divorce coun-seling until they're well along with
There are surely
exceptions to this.
Q29) What is pre-(re)marital counseling, and when is it useful?
is having a clinician help you choose the right mate, for the right reasons,
at the right time. An individual can use
pre-re/marital counseling to confirm that childhood and prior-relationship
are healed enough, and
that partners are making a balanced-enough
to re/commit to a
Because there are
remarriages, I highly recommend
for engaged couples.
here is designed to
help each partner commit to the right
(adults, kids, and relatives), for the right
at the right
The guidebook that integrates these key ideas is
Counselors who offer
FOCCUS (Catholic) or "Prepare MC" pre-remarriage assessments may be helpful, tho they don't prepare
couples to understand and combat the five
that this divorce-prevention Web site proposes. To find qualified
counselors for "Prepare MC" the latter in your area, contact
Life Innovations, Inc. at
1-612-635-0511. Also check the
National Stepfamily Resource center (NSRC) for stepfamily-trained clinicians in your area.
For more perspective and
resources, review these courtship
and these Q&A items on
Can you recommend specific counselors in
Probably not. Options:
consulting with me
via Skype or
article on evaluating stepfamily advice;
this article as a shopping guide to help
research clinicians that your friends, and/or local churches, hospitals, and public and private
mental-health agencies may recommend.
It's unlikely anyone they
recommend will know much of the information on this Web site - and they may
still provide significant help. Keep in mind your option to use or share
any materials in this site with any professionals you hire.
National Stepfamily Resource Center
(NSRC) for a listing of trained therapists in your geographic area.
with local divorce-support and single-parenting self-help groups to see
if they can recommend competent professionals who work with
And if you're
interested in personal
check the Self Leadership Web site to see if there are trained professionals in your area.
Option - copy this and any linked articles for your
partner and/or supporters as discussion-starters...
Lesson 4 links /