The human condition is hard and domestic litigation makes it harder: see a mental health counselor

Posted Sunday, December 20th, 2020 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants

Coming of age as a Jew in the “I’m Okay; You’re Okay” culture of 1970’s Southern California, I’ve never understood the stigma over seeking mental health counseling. In fact, I perceived so little stigma that I invited my counselor to my Bar Mitzvah–something that makes me cringe 45 years later.

The older I get, and the longer I practice, the more empathy I have for the human condition. As the practice of family law demonstrates, most of us can use the assistance of a mental health professional to guide us through stressful times. Many of my family law colleagues see a counselor regularly. Few of them are crazy. We see counselors because the human condition is hard and seeing a counselor can help one understand and manage the irresolvable difficulty of being a social animal who must balance one’s own personal needs and desires with the needs and desires of one’s friends, children, siblings, parents and, in the family law context, one’s spouse or co-parent. A mental health counselor can help one gain insight into how one handles this balance, what “triggers” cause this balance to spiral into conflict, and how to address this conflict in a manner that leaves both parties able to feel okay about the relationship.

As almost any good counselor will tell you, “you cannot change other people, you can only change yourself.” While a counselor can certainly assist domestic litigants in developing coping mechanisms and strategies in distancing oneself from an abusive relationship, a counselor who allows the client to ignore his or her own responsibility in maintaining that dynamic fails the client and encourages the redevelopment of such toxic dynamics in subsequent relationships. A good counselor can help a domestic client develop insight into how his or her own unresolved trauma contributes to the toxicity and how to diminish this toxicity in ongoing and future relationships.

For the subset of domestic litigations with actual serious mental health problems–and serious untreated mental health problems are a significant contributor to relationship problems–a mental health counselor is essential to developing sufficient insight and successful coping mechanisms. Combining domestic litigation and untreated mental health disorders is almost always disastrous. Such folks can rarely proceed through a year or more of contested litigation without engaging in behaviors that undermine their goals. Every year I have a handful of cases where results would have been radically different if a litigant with a serious mental health disorder had actually treated his or her mental health seriously.

There may still be a stigma in certain parts of America against getting mental health treatment but that stigma doesn’t exist in the family courts. The court will see a litigant who takes his or her mental health seriously as a responsible adult–and responsible adults tend to do well in family court. Don’t allow the stigma of mental health counseling undermine your domestic litigation goals.

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