Hiring a Therapist or Coach During Divorce: What's the Difference?

When you begin the divorce process, it is a new path to navigate and you're hearing messages from all kinds of people. Your family and friends, maybe a neighbor who just got divorced, attorneys, and what people are saying online. You're hearing terms you've never heard, engaging with legal professionals, managing daily stressors, and facing the unknown. Having a therapist or coach who is knowledgeable about divorce can make a huge difference in providing support during the process. There is often gray area on the difference and purpose of therapy and coaching, too. Often those in a divorce will work with a therapist or a coach or both to get through the difficult times. They are similar but do differ in their processes.

In therapy, mental health concerns are addressed, such as depression or anxiety, where there can be a diagnosable condition. Therapists are trained mental health professionals who have specific licenses based on their graduate education and clinical experience. Therapy is considered a health care service and can be covered by medical insurance. Therapy can be helpful for a variety of concerns that come up during a divorce such as emotional distress, grief/loss, coping with divorce, or processing past emotional events.

In coaching, there is no presumption that there is a mental health concern or that a coach is hired to relieve symptoms. Coaches help with navigating the unknown and stressful experiences. Coaches typically have a mental health or legal professional background/education. Since the focus of coaching is not addressing a mental health concern, it is not covered by insurance. Coaching can specifically be helpful in a divorce to improve skills in co-parenting, parenting, or working through legal services.

Both are meant to create a better future and empower individuals to navigate challenges. They can be complementary to one another based on what is focused on in each service. The therapist and coach will help you distingish what you are trying to accomplish in either process. They both can vary in duration of sessions, and sometimes are required through a court order or parenting consultant. It is helpful to have a therapist or coach that is knowledgable in family systems so they are frequently incorporating current relationships and life at home in your work together.

So how do I know what I need?

It is important to talk to a professional that understands the difference and can refer or provide you the services that meet your needs. You may need to participate in a diagnostic assessment with a mental health professional to determine if a mental health diagnosis exists and discuss possible therapeutic goals. A professional who practices both services can help you determine when coaching, therapy, or if both would be beneficial.

Where do I start?

It is important to work with someone that works specifically with divorcing/separating families in their therapeutic and coaching services due to the complexity of the family dynamics and legal system. This is not part of many mental health professionals' educational backgrounds. Often the professionals you are working with will have referrals. If not, look for professionals that discuss specializing in this area of practice and talk with them to see if they are a good fit.

- Erin Guyette, MS, LAMFT