If you’re like most women, you’re experiencing an incredible range of emotions as you go through your divorce. At times, you might feel anger, fear and sadness… quickly followed by exhilaration — or even jubilance. You might be calm and solid as a rock one day, and then terrified and overwhelmed the next.
In short, going through divorce may leave you feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. But rest assured: That’s normal!
And seeing a therapist to help you cope with all these emotions is completely normal, as well.
Even so, a surprising number of women begin the divorce process without a therapist in their corner. Some just haven’t gotten around to finding someone to talk to. Others don’t believe they have the time or money to spend on therapy. Sometimes, women with supportive friends and family simply don’t think they’ll need additional help with their emotional well-being.
While it might be unconventional advice from a financial professional, I always encourage women to include a therapist on their professional divorce team. Financial decisions can be difficult, and if your judgment is clouded by strong emotions, it can spell disaster down the road. You really need to Think Financially, Not Emotionally® during divorce.
I don’t mean that emotions are unimportant or shouldn’t exist. On the contrary – your emotional state deserves as much attention as your legal and financial situations. You just need to compartmentalize, and enlist professional help for each compartment. To steer your case through the legal system, you’ll have a divorce attorney. To forge the best possible financial settlement, you’ll hire a divorce financial advisor. And to help you cope with the extraordinary emotional situation that divorce represents, you should have an experienced therapist on your team.
How do you find a therapist?
First, determine whether you need a psychiatrist (a medical doctor who can prescribe drugs), a psychologist, or some other type of licensed practitioner. If you have medical needs, such as for antidepressant or anti-anxiety medicine, or a sleeping aid, be sure you see a psychiatrist.
New York City psychologist Kristin Davin, who has been helping people through divorce for more than a decade, suggests online resources like Psychology Today, Therapist Locator and Good Therapy are a good starting point. “These websites offer a profile on each therapist (master’s level, doctoral level) and provide valuable information. You can do a ‘search’ according to area, zip code, or key terms,” she says. “Also, divorce attorneys may have other connections and relationships with mental health professionals. They are also a great resource.”
Dr. Davin has appeared on NPR as part of its Health Smart Series segment “The Science of Love,” to discuss the importance of staying healthy during divorce. She believes it’s essential to ask questions of any therapists you’re considering.
“Do they have experience? How much? What is their style of treatment when helping people go through a divorce?” Davin says. “Aside from having experience, importance is placed on the therapeutic alliance, the relationship that is created between the therapist and the patient. Do not be afraid to interview more than one therapist. It is about the ‘fit.’ If you feel comfortable with the therapist, then therapy is often beneficial on many levels. Much good work can occur when this relationship has been established.”
Rami Kaminski, MD, a psychiatrist with over 25 years’ experience working with divorcing women, has excellent advice, as well. Dr. Kaminski is the Director and Founder of the Institute for Integrative Psychiatry in New York, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and has served as the Commissioner’s Liaison to Families and Community and Medical Director of Operations at the New York State Office of Mental Health. He says it’s important to find out early on whether the psychiatrist/therapist would testify in court if necessary. “Often, divorce proceedings, especially when custody is a focus, can require expert psychiatric testimony. Many mental health professionals are reluctant to testify in court… clarify this aspect with your future mental health provider at the outset,” Dr. Kaminski explains.
While Dr. Kaminski considers a recommendation from a friend to be very valuable in finding a therapist, he also notes that the practitioner your friend loves may not be a good match for you. “If you feel stuck, or unrelated, you should not hesitate to bring it up with the therapist, and if nothing changes, seek another one,” he suggests. “Most of us can tell, instinctively, whether the psychiatrist we work with is helpful or not. Ultimately, the feeling of being genuinely helped is the crucial criterion in treatment.”
What kinds of emotions can you expect to work through in therapy?
Dr. Kaminski identifies two groups of emotions you’re most likely to have: 1) feelings about your husband, and 2) feelings about yourself. Feelings about the soon-to-be-ex are universal, and run a broad spectrum from rage to relief. “You may find yourself going through the entire gamut several times a day, or maddeningly feeling all of them together. That is normal and a common part of almost every divorce process,” he says.
What about the divorcing woman’s feelings about herself? “These feelings are complicated and nuanced rather than intense; particular to you rather than universal; much less clear and poorly defined,” he continues. “However, the way you feel towards yourself during and after the divorce, is a determining factor regarding your personal recovery. Even more so, your inner dialogue determines your ability to forge a trusting relationship with a future person. Indeed, one of the issues that haunts women in divorce is the sense that they had made a mistake in choosing their mate: left unaddressed it can lead to a loss of confidence in their ability to make future choices.”
Dr. Davin stresses the importance of self-care. “People often forget to take care of themselves and often many of the healthy habits they had prior to the divorce, quickly go by the wayside due to stress, anxiety, depression, and feeling simply overwhelmed by the process.”
She encourages divorcing women to exercise, eat well, and take time to decompress. “Create and/or maintain structure in your day. Too much unstructured time equals negative thoughts, more anxiety, and sadness,” she advises. “Be in the moment. Accept your feelings as they arise. Journaling helps.”
She also encourages maintaining connections with family and friends. “That supportive network is invaluable,” she says.
Without question, divorce can be one of the most emotionally difficult experiences of modern life. However, working with an experienced, compassionate therapist who’s a good fit for you ensures that you’ll emerge in the best possible emotional health.
“Expect that divorce is a roller coaster ride,” concludes Davin. “However, over time and with the help of friends, family and professionals, it really does get better. You will probably be amazed at how strong and resilient you have become. Do not expect to have it all figured out… the healing process varies for each person, and you are your own person.”
Jeffrey Landers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.