"Do I need emotional support during my divorce if I talk about it to friends and family?"
Friends and family will always provide important support during any kind of crisis or life change. In a divorce situation, they help in all sorts of ways like providing perspective, giving practical and wise advice on how to handle certain situations and will often do things and take direct action to help when necessary. However, friends and family are not trained in psychological support. Many times it is important for someone going through divorce to thoroughly work through their emotions. Here’s how seeking therapy is different than relying on friends or family for this kind of crucial support:
Handling Negative Emotions
Divorce often brings up anger, sadness, regret, guilt and shame. Many friends and family address this by trying to “fix” the undesirable emotion. When someone is sad, they try to cheer-up the person going through the divorce, or soothe-away the negative emotions. Hearing “don’t feel sad” often calms the immediate situation, but provides little long-term help. For example, how many times have you been told not to feel something, and still been left feeling very strongly about a situation? Similarly, how often have you told someone not to feel something because you cannot handle such strong emotions in your presence? The fact is strong emotions need to be thoroughly explored and felt by individuals in order for them to be completely resolved. A therapist or counselor is trained in working with people’s emotions in ways that create growth and independence for the person going through a divorce.
It is often beneficial for there to be a distance between a divorced person and the person providing support. In many cases, it is not worthwhile for previous history to be brought up while supporting someone, or doing so must be done with special care. Moreover, the supportive person likely knows how difficult the relationship was, and may even know specifics. In such a situation, it is hard for a person providing support to keep their sense of perspective. A therapist will hear all the information about a relationship, but keep the focus keenly on self-improvement without dwelling on the past.
Some Subjects Can’t Be Discussed With Friends And Family
Sometimes a divorced person does not want to reveal the past in too much detail. They do not want to describe all of the actions that took place leading to the divorce, because they do not want people who are close to know certain facts. This is something that clearly hampers growth for the divorced person. A therapist is detached from the personal situation such that after a few sessions, people feel comfortable opening-up all their past issues, and these issues are often crucial to the healing process.
Providing False Support
Often a supportive person will encourage someone going through a divorce to take particular actions so that the supportive person can be seen as a “good friend” or “good mother”. That is, a friend or family member may feel like a failure if they themselves do not see the divorced person improve within a certain length of time. A therapist, however, allows a divorced person to work at their own pace, and supports progress as it happens with no agenda or timeline for improvement.
Therapists Are Excellent Listeners
Perhaps the biggest benefit of seeing a therapist during a divorce is that fact they are trained to listen, and listen well. Sometimes people going through a divorce just need to sit in front of someone and talk for an hour without being judged, without advice being given, or without an “I told you so” attitude that may occur with friends and family. That is, people going through a divorce simply need to tell their side of the story. Too often they have kept their relationship details secretive, and one of the factors leading to divorce is the fact that the other partner would likely not listen much to what needed to be said. People going through a divorce often just need to be heard, and that’s how a positive therapeutic relationship often begins.
Brian Baumal is a psychotherapist working in Toronto, whose clients describe him as calm and reassuring. Brian has completed four years of Gestalt Psychotherapy and has been seeing a growing number of clients who are achieving the results they want.