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Teaming During the Divorce Process: Therapy vs. Coaching

Good Counsel: For Mental Health Professionals


As we explore the ways that therapists can team with divorce attorneys, it is important to contrast the role of the therapists from the role of the Divorce Coach.

The role of “coaches” in modern society is a rapidly growing and difficult to define concept. Today, we have a wide variety of people who fall under the broad label of “coach,” from sports coaches to fitness coaches to life coaches and divorce coaches. Even the concept of divorce coach can have many meanings, from the types of divorce coaches that assist clients in traditional cases to specific coaching roles defined in the Collaborative Divorce process.

What is a Collaborative Divorce Coach?

Most Collaborative cases involve a team approach in which the parties work with other interdisciplinary professionals, including financial neutrals, child specialists, and divorce coaches. (For a summary describing the other roles, go to our Collaborative Team Practice page.) In this segment, I want to address the role of the Collaborative Divorce Coach, and contrast that role from the role of the therapist that has been addressed in this series.

When the Collaborative Team Divorce Process began in the early 1990’s, the model involved two coaches, one for each spouse. These coaches aligned with the parties, just as each of the attorneys represented an individual party. Ultimately, a “one-coach model” evolved, with the parties working with a neutral coach. The neutral coach often serves as a case manager as well, participating extensively in the full team meetings. While the two-coach model is still used in many areas, Minnesota currently offers only the neutral coach model so we will focus primarily on that role.

While neutral coaches are almost always mental health professionals who generally provide counseling or therapy to other clients, their role as the neutral coach is different. In a Collaborative case, they are generally working with the couple on communication, co-parenting, closure, emotional adjustments and case management. The neutral coach, in many cases, participates in the larger team meetings with the attorneys and financial neutral, in addition to meeting separately with the clients. In some cases, the parties will have a separate child specialist who meets with children and the parents and will often work with the neutral coach to assist the parents in creating a parenting plan. In other cases, the role of child specialist and neutral coach are combined. In those instances, the neutral coach is generally called the Family Specialist.

Working with a Coach and Therapist benefits everyone

In Collaborative cases, the attorneys are teaming with the Neutral Coach or Family Specialist, in the fullest sense, including regular team briefings and participating in some client meetings together. This is a more formal role than the type of teaming that has been discussed between the therapist and the attorneys. In cases where one or more of the parties have the benefit of both a Divorce Coach and a therapist, some of the benefits of teaming discussed in earlier sections can be addressed through the coach. However, because the therapist has a distinctively different role, there is still benefit in having the therapist work with the attorneys, and the other members of the team, for the benefit of the parties.

The ability for the client therapist, or the child therapist, to work with the Collaborative Team, (either through the attorney, the Divorce Coach, or one of the other team members, provides additional opportunities to make sure that all information is available to help the family make the best choices possible. This flow of communication requires the creation of full confidentiality so that each team member can focus on the true needs of the parties without the fear that information will be used in an adversarial manner in the future.

In our final segment, we will look at how the therapist can work with the attorneys, and the other team members to help the family after the dissolution.

Next: Teaming After the Divorce

mental health professionals, therapists
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