Sherry Miller Sept. 17, 2020

Feeling angry, depressed, sad or anxious are all normal when going through a divorce. But at what point does it become necessary for professional help? My experience as a family law attorney has taught me to recognize signs that may put my clients or their children at risk. Below are some examples of when I recommended professional counselling.

1. After seeking guidance from close friends, relatives or any other trusted support system, the client still can't seem to deal with negative feelings, and the negative feelings interfere with client's ability to parent, or perform everyday routines. For example, a parent, who is too depressed to care whether or not the child attends school, and/or neglects their well-being and/or exposes the child to unsafe individuals, needs professional help. A parent who is depressed but can otherwise function and has good judgment may not need professional help.

2. Clients who excessively drink alcohol, abuse prescription drugs or use illicit drugs to cope with their negative emotions. For example, a parent who picks up a child from school while intoxicated needs professional help as opposed to a parent who occasionally smokes marijuana or drinks a glass a wine to unwind.

3. Any mysterious changes in children's behavior are red flags, therefore discovering the cause of the change is necessary. A simple conversation with the child may be all that is required. However, if my client's child is cutting herself, threatening sucide, or theatening to run away from home, professional help is needed.

4. If my client or client's child has been exposed to domestic violence or some criminal offense, professional help is needed. For example, if my client is a battered spouse and/or the children have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, professional help is needed.

5. If my client's child is suffering from parental alienation caused by the other parent constantly talking negatively about the other parent, or putting that other parent down, or blaming the other parent for the breakup, professional help is needed for that child. If the child (normally a teenager) doesn't want to visit because of involvement with sports or extracurricular activities, or just wanting to hang out with friends, professional help is generally not warranted.

I have dealt with clients who are reluctant to get professional help because it's too expensive, or they are embarrassed, or they fear seeing a therapist is evidence of being weak or unfit. I usually dispel these notions by emphasizing how damaging it would be to leave emotional issues untreated not only to their family but to their case as well.