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In the recent past, divorce/separation cases have increased exponentially making life coaching essential in dispute resolution. Coaching plays a crucial role in addressing custody disputes and other transition-related issues. A divorce can be a very stressful life event for couples. Coaching allows spouses to overcome the transition challenges that may hamper the divorce process.
It involves two models, the neutral and the allied coach approach (Victor & Abeles, 2004). Both models focus on eliminating negative emotions and feelings through education and support in order to facilitate communication. Coaching, unlike therapy, uses a whole-family approach to arrive at a solution that benefits all family members. It seeks to understand the client’s current situation in order to help him/her develop plans for child custody, financial support, and other issues that may impede the divorce process.
Professional life coaching helps clients achieve the transformation they desire in their lives. It is about helping a client through a journey of self-discovery that would make him/her understand his/her needs in life, personal relationships, and career. Divorce is one area that requires professional life coaching to enable the parents and children to adjust to the new changes.
The life-coaching role can be useful in resolving child custody conflicts or assisting parents through a divorce transition. It can also assist children adjust to the new changes occasioned by the’ divorce (Kelly & Emery, 2003). During a divorce, the family should come up with an agreement that does not disadvantage anyone. Life coaches assist the divorcing parents to comprehend each other’s views and opinions regarding the process.
During a divorce, strong emotions and thoughts can hinder objective reasoning, which may prevent the couple from reaching an agreement. A life coach assists clients to reframe their opinions and emotions so that they can understand each other’s perspective (Williams & Menendez, 2007). Life coaching also allows the clients to be objective and unbiased during the divorce process. This reduces stress, anxiety, and tension, which may affect the children.
The coaches encourage the divorcing parents to agree on child custody issues before making the separation decisions. Thus, unlike in therapy, life coaching involves a whole-family focus to ensure that the divorce does not disadvantage anyone. This research paper will examine the professional life-coaching role in marriage and divorce, and the theoretical models in the coaching field.
The Life-coaching Role in a Divorce Transition
The resolution of issues such as child custody disputes during a divorce requires the services of a life coach. The divorce coach is an expert in “mediation, separation and divorce, family dynamics, and collaborative law process” and thus, is best suited to help couples overcome the “psychological and emotional challenges” that come with separation or divorce (Dunbar, 2010, p. 34).
Divorce is a complex process that involves court battles to resolve child custody issues and terminate the marriage in a legal way. It requires a collaborative approach to guide the parents and children, if there are any, through “an emotional, spiritual, and financial journey” together (Dunbar, 2010, p. 35). The emotional journey entails a change of the old habits in order to adopt new ways of relating with each other.
As a collaborative team member, a life coach encourages continuous communication between the parents involved in the divorce process. A coach’s role is to remove all emotional obstacles that may impede the process or affect communication. According to Thompson and Amato (2005), a life coach plays three major roles during a divorce, which include ensuring that the collaborative team sticks together, assisting the parents to go through the entire process, and facilitating communication.
Research shows that couples involved in a divorce go through intense anxiety and stress because the process is a major life transition (Thompson & Amato, 2005). Thus, the divorce experience can be quite disorienting to the couple. The loss of trust, stability, financial security, and shared friends, among others, can be quite stressful. A life coach helps couples deal with the stressful events that come with the separation or divorce.
The life disruptions that come with the divorce may elicit strong feelings of grief and anger on the part of the couple. Besides anger and grief, divorce also causes anxiety, as couples begin to worry about the future. According to Dunbar (2010), the feelings of anger, anxiety, and grief hamper the divorce process.
Anger may make a spouse to act in a retaliatory way, which will hinder the divorce process. Grief and fear about the future can also affect the ability of the spouses to think objectively and make sound decisions. Thus, life coaching allows spouses to tame their strong feelings in order to visualize the situation objectively for the benefit of all those affected by the divorce process.
With regard to communication, in divorce situations, spouses may find it difficult to accept that their marriage is ending. One spouse, out of denial, may refuse to accept that the marriage is breaking apart and consequently, stop communicating with the other. The spouses may also engage in a blame game over who is responsible for the conflict in the marriage. Competition and intense arguments over their parenting roles and child custody may also hamper communication, which will undermine the divorce process. A life coach promotes communication between the spouses so that they can make decisions that reflect the interests of their children.
Models of Life Coaching
As aforementioned, a life coach plays an integral role during a divorce or a remarriage. He or she facilitates communication, enables the spouses to handle the emotional challenges of the divorce, and helps the couple make sound decisions that meet their own interests as well as those of their children. In divorce situations, life coaching may involve two models: the neutral and the two-coach model (Victor & Abeles, 2004).
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A neutral coach does not support either party involved in the divorce process; instead, he encourages communication between the spouses (Victor & Abeles, 2004). The coach also removes any emotional obstacles that may prevent the couples from functioning effectively. Williams and Menendez (2007) identify three roles of a neutral coach, which include giving emotional assistance to the couple during the divorce process, helping them to function as a team, and coordinating meetings to address various issues, including child custody and financial matters.
A neutral coach organizes regular meetings with the spouses to obtain information regarding the dynamics of their relationship. Meeting with the spouses separately can help the coach understand their concerns, fears, and viewpoints about the whole situation. Victor and Abeles (2004) suggest that the talks during a coaching session should center on the spouse’s level of preparedness for a divorce, communication barriers, and parenting skills, among others. A neutral coach helps each spouse to understand what aspects of his or her life provoke negative emotions or hate in another person and how he/she can overcome them in order to facilitate the divorce discussions. The spouses are also made to understand why such actions or feelings are not in their best interests.
In a case where the couple has children, the coach takes the role of “a neutral child specialist” in educating the spouses on “co-parenting” skills (Williams & Menendez, 2007, p. 56). The coach can also collaborate with the divorcing parents in developing a parenting plan for the children. To do this, the coach utilizes the collaborative principles, which dictate that one has to share important information with the team members in order to guide the parents towards the achievement of desired goals. Communication between the spouses during the joint meetings allows the coach to monitor their behavior and manage their expectations.
In the neutral model, the coach represents an impartial voice that does not side with either party. In contrast, a divorce attorney usually sides with the client and advocates for his or her interests (Victor & Abeles, 2004). This hampers the collaboration and may even stall the divorce process. On the other hand, a neutral voice promotes collaboration that is necessary for the process to move forward. A neutral life coach also removes barriers to effective communication during joint meetings. Spouses may be embroiled in a conflict that hampers communication between them. This can affect the divorce process. A neutral coach urges the two parties to work together to resolve any conflict between them.
The second approach is the two-coach model. In this model, one life coach serves each spouse during the divorce process (Victor & Abeles, 2004). In this model, the coach acts as “an ally to the couple while still keeping the interests of the whole family in mind” (Noble, 2006, para. 5). In this way, each coach can focus his/her efforts on the needs and interests of the individual spouse. An allied coach ensures that each party is honest and accountable to the others during the process.
This approach differs from the neutral one in that in the allied model coaching occurs in separate meetings. In subsequent four-way sessions, the each allied coach encourages the client to air out his/her interests and needs during the joint meetings. They then address the concerns and problems raised by their respective client in meetings that include the “clients, allied coaches, attorneys, and other professionals” (Hedeen & Salem, 2006, p. 604). In this way, the clients are able to communicate and make decisions that benefit them and the children.
Initially, allied coaches organize meetings with their respective clients to assist them in identifying individual needs. The clients are also taught on how to communicate their perspectives and manage negative emotions in order to act objectively without personal prejudices (Hedeen & Salem, 2006). Allied coaches identify the strengths and weaknesses as well as the unique challenges of their respective clients in order to formulate communication plans. They also collaborate with a child specialist to help the parents develop a post-divorce parenting plan. As aforementioned, divorces create much anxiety over the future. Allied coaches can guide each spouse to develop a future relationship plan. This can help a couple cope with the challenges associated with a divorce.
Life Coaching Consultant Role
In family law, professional life coaching is a service offered to one spouse and his or her lawyer during a divorce. The consultant role of a life coach encompasses “parental education and psychological support” to help the parents go through the divorce (Ellis, 2000, p. 118). As a mental health professional, a life coach also offers forensic services, including child abuse or custody information, to the attorneys and parents. However, such information is confidential and cannot be revealed to other parties (Ellis, 2000).
According to Noble (2006), the consultation role encompasses “coaching principles and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) concepts” (Para. 11). The author further states that the parties involved in a dispute often seek to improve their communication and manage their disagreement before it escalates into a full-fledged conflict (Noble, 2006). In this regard, the consultation role integrates the educational, psychological, and therapeutic aspects of conflict management.
The consultative role is built on the premise that the conflicting parties, with a little help from the attorneys, allied coaches, and other professionals, can resolve their disputes (Mayer, 2004). Mayer (2004) further notes that the assistance the “disputants want is not neutral, process oriented, or facilitative” (p. 217). Rather, the kind of assistance a spouse needs is one that can help resolve the conflict with his/her opponent. In this context, the opponent is the mother or father.
This perspective affects the relationship between the parents, which, in turn, hurts the children. Mayer (2004) identifies three forms of help that a couple needs in the event of a divorce: “(1) the ally, (2) the third party, and (3) the system roles”. As an ally, a life coach assists the spouses to engage each other in a fruitful discussion. In contrast, as a third party, a coach facilitates a more productive engagement between the parties. In this context, the coach serves as an arbitrator and a mediator. System roles include “case management, training, and research” that help change the conflict environment (Mayer, 2004, p. 223).
In this model, the life coach appointed by a divorce attorney serves as an ally. He or she interacts with the parents and educates them on how to resolve disputes without hurting the children. As a mental health professional, the coach creates an atmosphere that allows the parents to reveal their concerns, avoid being defensive, understand each other’s expectations, and make informed choices that are in the best interests of the children. In this regard, the central aim of the ‘coaching’ is to enhance the spouses’ emotional intelligence so that they are able to make informed choices. Divorce attorneys often advise their clients to seek the services of a life coach (mental health consultant) before the divorce process begins or when there are issues surrounding child custody (Mayer, 2004).
Regardless of the stage at which consultations begin, coaching must involve whole-family perspective, whereby the coach teaches the spouses the strategies of interpersonal engagement in the home (Williams & Menendez, 2007). At this point, life coaching aims at providing each parent with a way of relieving his or her emotions so that he/she can make effective decisions during the divorce process. The coach encourages the parents to reflect on the consequences of their actions (Kelly & Emery, 2003). He or she guides and teaches the client to respond positively when faced with verbal attacks. The client should give positive responses to the evaluator, as these have a bearing on child custody decisions.
In this view, the coach should be one who has “good communication skills, understands cultural and gender issues, and is knowledgeable about conflict resolution strategies” (Mayer, 2004, p. 234). Additionally, a life coach should fully understand the custody evaluation process in order to advise his/her client appropriately. Conflict mediation and resolution are the other essential skills of a consultant. The coach gathers relevant data and empirical evidence about good parenting plans, which he/she presents during joint meetings. The aim is to minimize protracted legal battles. He or she should also collaborate with the divorce attorneys in mediating the conflict between the spouses.
Divorce Coaching Vs. Psychotherapy
A collaborative coaching process is often mistaken to be psychotherapy. However, many aspects of coaching make it different from therapy. In a client-therapist relationship (person-centered model), the therapist serves as “the client’s advocate” and thus, supports his/her perspective (Aronsohn, 2010, para. 3).
In contrast, in a ‘client-coach’ relationship, the coach only seeks to protect the needs and interests of the client. Moreover, a coach understands that the other party may have distinct or opposite needs to those of his/her client. Often, after holding separate meetings with the spouses, the coaches communicate with each other in order to develop a broader picture of the conflict situation.
The purpose of life coaching is to help divorcing spouses to come to a form of arrangement that benefits them and the children. In the allied model, the coaches strive to enlighten each spouse about the needs and viewpoints of the other in order to make the divorce process less detrimental to the family unit. Thus, coaching takes a whole-family approach when addressing the problems at hand (Aronsohn, 2010). In contrast, therapy focuses on individual needs and interests.
In particular, the person-centered model emphasizes on the client’s needs and not those of others directly affected by the divorce. In order to understand, the present situation, therapy focuses on the client’s “values, goals, relationships, and job satisfaction”, which reflect his/her past experiences (Aronsohn, 2010, para. 6). In contrast, coaching largely focuses on the client’s current situation, not his/her past. Its aim is to help clients to plan for the future after a major life event such as a divorce or separation. Thus, coaching engages, teaches, and directs clients towards developing a co-parenting plan that serves the interests of the entire family.
Separation and divorce require coaching in order to help the parents to understand how they can resolve disputes relating to child custody and financial support. Spouses embroiled in a child custody conflict can overcome their negative emotions through the education and support services given by a life-coaching professional. Besides education and empathy, the coaching role entails confidential consultation to resolve parental conflicts.
It involves two main models, the neutral and allied coach approaches. The coaches in both models facilitate communication so that each partner can understand the other’s perspectives and needs. This allows them to develop a co-parenting plan that benefits them and the children. Unlike therapy, coaching centers on the client’s present and future needs. Moreover, a coach does not advocate for the spouse’s perspective; rather, he or she ensures that the ultimate solution benefits the entire family unit.
Aronsohn, M. (2010). Divorce Coaching: How is it Different from Therapy? Web.
Dunbar, A. (2010). Essential life coaching skills. New York: Routledge.
Ellis, E. M. (2000). Divorce Wars: interventions with families in conflict. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Hedeen, T., & Salem, P. (2006). What should family lawyers know? Results of a survey of practitioners and students. Family Court Review, 44(4), 601-611.
Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352-362.
Mayer, B. S. (2004). Beyond neutrality: Confronting the crisis in conflict resolution. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Web.
Noble, C. (2006). Conflict coaching: When it works and when it doesn’t. Thompson, R., & Amato, P. (2005). The post-divorce family: Research and policy issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Victor, T. L., & Abeles, N. (2004). Coaching clients to take psychological and neuropsychological tests: A clash of ethical obligations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(4), 373-379.
Williams, P., & Menendez, D. (2007). Becoming a professional life coach; Lessons from the Institute of Life Coach Training. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.