Coparenting counseling / coaching can be awkward, messy, and combative. Divorce Mediation taught me a lot about working through those impasses with divorced couples.
Why do I want to work with families of divorce?
After graduating from graduate school with a Masters in Counseling in Couples and Family Therapy in Birmingham, AL, I decided I wanted my niche to be helping families of divorce. This is a result of my personal experience with my divorce. Therefore, while in graduate school, I studied a lot about the effects of divorce on children. Research says that while the divorce can be difficult for children, it is the ongoing parental conflict that can be devastating. My passion is helping kids of divorce not feel stuck in the middle between their contentious parents.
I went to a training to become a Certified Parenting Coordinator with Susan Boyan at the Cooperative Parenting Institute. A Parenting Coordinator develops a structure for high-conflict divorced parents to work through their parenting issues. At the training, I learned about the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). As a Parenting Coordinator, I learned it is vital to be apart of this organization, because they set the standards for Parenting Coordination around the country. In these standards, Parenting Coordinators need to be trained mediators. So, I went to mediation training. In the state of Alabama, lawyers and mental health professionals can be mediators. I did two other workshops in Divorce and Family mediation with mediationmedia.com. First, I did the 40-hour Divorce and Family Mediation training. Following that, I did the 14-hour Domestic Violence training, so I can mediate divorces with DV. The training consisted mostly of lawyers, except for one other counselor in the training with me. After attending a few other workshops, I now have over 70 hours of mediation training. This training has helped me immensely in my work with families of divorce.
Mediation training helped my work with families of divorce in 5 ways:
1) It taught me to be a creative, family problem-solver
Often, in a divorce, emotions are running high and problem-solving is thrown out the window. People want to protect their stuff, kids, and future. Mediators, who are counselors, can take the time to calm the family’s fears and frustrations and help them move forward in a much more amicable way. As mediators, we have learned how to solve problems with creative solutions. We look at the goals of the family and try to build solutions from that goal.
2) It helped me educate parents about the long-term benefits of using mediation
Getting parents to see the long-term benefits of mediation is part of my work. Research shows that mediation is successful in keeping both co-parents working together longer than litigation. Click here to read about Dr. Emery’s 12-year Divorce Mediation Study.
Mediation vs. litigation:
- Costs less
- Focuses on the future and not the past
- Has less emotional trauma on the whole family
- Takes less time with faster results
- Allows for you to come up with YOUR solution and families are much more willing to abide by their solution than a judge’s solution.
Read my blog post called “9 benefits of mediation vs litigation from a Co-parenting Counselors perspective”.
3) It helped me be more direct and create structure for co-parents
In co-parenting counseling / coaching, I am often talking with two opposing parties that have one goal: to raise thriving, healthy children. As a counseling student, I learned empathetic listening, reframing thoughts, and reflecting feelings. In mediation training, as well as Parenting Coordination training, I learned how to be more direct with my co-parents, which they need. We can often get hung up with past feelings and resentments. This is an essential skill in co-parenting counseling / coaching. Mediation has also helped me have more structure in my co-parenting sessions. So that, at times, it is run more like a business meeting. This seems counter-intuitive for counseling, but co-parents need structure. They need to know what to expect when they are meeting their ex-spouse for counseling / coaching. Therefore, I am very upfront about the kinds of things we will be addressing in co-parenting counseling / coaching.
4) It taught me that co-parents need new skills of relating to each other
I often do a psych-educational piece for 20 minutes in the beginning of my co-parenting counseling / coaching. It sets the tone that each co-parent has things to learn about redesigning how you both interact with each other. We talk about things like treating your co-parenting relationship like a business, learning to let go of the past and move forward, anger management, transitions and pick-ups between homes, and how to let go of resentment. These skills are essential to a successful co-parenting relationship.
5) It assisted me in helping co-parents to work through issues as they develop
My goal as a co-parenting counselor / coach is to help parents solve parenting issues as they arise. We all know that in raising children issues will arise that we did not anticipate in our divorce decree. Instead of calling an attorney and going back to court because Dad is always late or Mom wants to add a weeknight visit, or the child needs a tutor, co-parents can call me to mediate this issue. I have developed a rapport with this couple, so as an impartial third party, I can help them put their emotions aside and come up with a plan that is beneficial to them as well as the children.
Helping co-parents have other ways besides court to mediate parenting issues is at the heart of my work. I love mediation and the long-term benefits it offers families of divorce. There is hope that a family can thrive after a divorce. Things do not always have to be so ugly. Co-parents can learn how to re-design their parenting relationship with the help of divorce professionals.
If you need help with Divorce Mediation or Coparenting Counseling/Coaching, email Sara at [email protected] for an appointment.
Sara Dungan, MEd, ALC, NCC, MFTA, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL. She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation. Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful co-parents, so their children can thrive after their divorce. Contact Sara at [email protected].
Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.