A Divorce Therapist turned us away? Why? When we clearly need help!
It’s confusing and frustrating when you can see that your child needs emotional support and yet you can’t find a divorce therapist to work with you. You’re in the throws of a divorce, and life is already challenging enough, without someone turning you away. So why don’t therapists agree to see you right away, and why are they so specific in wanting to set things up in a specific way?
1. Consent to treatment
A Marriage and Family Therapist in California cannot legally treat your child without your parental consent. When you are married, the consent of one parent works, though in my opinion no therapist should be working with a child before meeting both parents. It’s a matter of respect, and of understanding who your child is in the context of your family. When you are separating or divorcing, the matter of consent can change. Most often parents who are divorcing, will share legal custody, but not always. A therapist can’t take your word for this, but will need to see court documents to understand who has the legal right for your child to enter treatment.
2. Creating a safe and healing environment for your child, means not alienating either of the parents
Even when you have legal consent, it’s good practice for the therapist to at least try to obtain consent from both parents. If a therapist meets with your child, and your ex finds out that it was done behind their back without their permission, they will likely be upset, and will not view the therapist is trustworthy.
Consider for a moment how you would feel, if a therapist met with your child, and you not only had NO idea that this meeting was taking place, but the therapist didn’t once contact you to introduce themselves, and to invite you to be a part of the process. It’s alienating!
A therapist meeting with the child without letting both parents know, is alienating that parent. This is likely to undermine the child’s therapy in various ways. Firstly, the therapist has taken sides, and will not be considered credible if they ever go to court on your behalf. Secondly, without hearing from both parents, it’s harder for the therapist to understand the environment your child is a part of, and understanding who your child is, is a big part of therapy. Thirdly, if the parents aren’t in agreement about parenting decisions, then presumably your child is already caught in the middle, and feeling this stress.
The whole point initiating therapy is to give your child a neutral, and a safe space, where they can process their pain.
Now imagine this child is introduced to a neutral, safe space of a comforting play therapy office and starts a relationship with a therapist, with whom they bond, and then they are pulled out of treatment or are conflicted about being there. This is likely to happen when the excluded parent gives the child negative messages about therapy. The child feels guilty about being in treatment, they know their parent doesn’t want them there, and they feel confused about trusting the therapist. Now there is nothing that the therapist can do. The therapist rushed into treating the child, without first trying to get both parents on board, and is now stuck.
3. Ways to Move Foward
Understand that the therapist is doing what is in the child’s best interest, by trying to get the buy in from both parents. Give the therapist a little time to reach out to your ex, and to try to get their permission. If this doesn’t happen, know that in your court proceedings, you can ask the court to rule on this. In the meantime, there is nothing stopping you from seeking treatment, from getting parenting support. The therapist can work with your child indirectly, by giving you the resources to make a difference in their life. Remember that you have the stronger relationship with your child, and that you can be the one to help them with their adjustment.
It’s excruciating to need help, and to feel turned away. Try to imagine how you would feel if someone took your child to a doctor for you, and then the doctor refused to talk with you, and to let you know what was going on. How would you react in this situation? Your ex is likely to do the same, and this simply makes an already difficult situation more contentious, and the person who will feel it the most, is your child. Understand that the therapist needs to remain neutral, and to be available for your child. By setting up a structure with boundaries, might mean you have to wait a little for treatment, but it’s ultimately in the best interest of the family well-being. At the end of the day, your child needs both parents in their life (unless a parent is abusive and dangerous). If your divorce is contentious, the therapist might have a chance to bring you into a co-parenting relationship during this process of tapping into the concern and love you both feel for your child’s well-being.