When the Business of Divorce Therapy Becomes Toxic

By: Sonia Brill, LCSW
April 25, 2017

The Business That Can Often Turn Toxic on The Therapist 

I received a frantic call from a woman seeking divorce therapy, “I think my husband’s a psychopath, I need your help.” The novel, Christine by Stephen King, popped in my mind. His novels and movies had a certain draw many years ago. The underlying theme of his novels bled the lines between reality, fantasy, and insanity closely, almost indistinguishably.  

“Christine” lives in California, seeking coaching for high-conflict divorce. In a heated argument, she leaves a bruise mark on her husband’s arms, fearful he will get a restraining order; she abandons their home. She runs to their second home by the ocean. She says, “He plays both sides of the fence, I don’t know where he stands. He tells me he loves me… and he tells me he will get a restraining order against me.” 

I need to get a divorce. With a host of conflicting feelings about him, she is overwhelmed by the idea of abandoning him and even more panicked about him abandoning her. They’ve been married for over ten years, an on again, off again relationship. I ask her, "What way can I help?" She says she needs support and clarity to leave the toxic relationship.

To avoid the inner chaos, she manipulates and fabricates. She calls several times. She says she’s mixed up the divorce therapy appointment times, she cannot receive postal mail or receive e-mails. She confines our communication and she purchases four hours of coaching services. In preparation for the next meeting, an evaluation of her anger assessment is completed, and the presenting issues of communication are on the agenda for discussion. Suddenly she says, “I want my money back, you can't steal it." 

Money and the Practice of DIvorce Therapy

The moral responsibility of any ethical therapist is to understand the plight of the client; while simultaneously replicating the real world, holding both financial accountability and personal choice. The role of the therapist is not only to provide a safe, confidential space, but to also empower personal responsibility. This format cultivates inner power.

Therapy or coaching does not replicate early child experience in so much as the therapist is the giver (mother), and the client the receiver, (child). Instead, therapy is a mode through which both parties come together and honor a path of healing. In high-conflict divorce coaching and anger management therapy, the risk of becoming the source of malignant feelings is ever present. Yet, the benefits of helping hundreds of clients outweigh the few who are primed to find their next target.     

Unfortunately, money can be a dirty little word for some clients when it comes to divorce therapy. The role of the helper and the one seeking help can take on a host of interpretations. Significantly, somewhere in the psyche, is embedded the idea that the helping person is much like a good samaritan, rather than a skilled professional.  For such clients, caring for the client’s welfare is incongruent with being paid. In fact, one might be judged as an “uncaring” therapist if fees are outside the scope of traditional counseling, or if one wishes to collect fees for contractual agreements.   

The relationship we have with money can impact our personal experience of therapy services. How we view the helping profession and what we believe we are entitled to can be colored by our ideas and even fantasies about “the helping profession." There are many subsidized, non-profit organizations to help individuals at a nominal cost, the fact of the matter is private, fee for service therapy and coaching is a business. 

Should Money be an Issue for Clients who Want Divorce Therapy?

Divorce therapy with a seasoned counselor or expert in the field is an investment. In a journey to resolve conflict, there is a mirror— seek within—and to ask if there is readiness to resolve conflict. Clients, who are ready, want to end their suffering and are willing to learn how to do so. The work is intense and rewarding. In such situations, money becomes a secondary issue as gaining skills, insights, and freedom from suffering are at the forefront. A competent therapist offers a holistic framework and incorporates an approach that allows the client to gain inner confidence and end emotional turmoil. Ask yourself, "Am I ready to get the help I need?" If the answer is yes, and you are still struggling to pay for therapy, ask these questions:  

  1. Do I second guess my choices?
  2. Do I question my ability to change? 
  3. Do I question if my situation can get better?

When we are ready, we gain something priceless:  happiness, our true self. 


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