Promoting Mediation, Not Litigation, in Divorces

What makes a good therapist: It’s empathy, it’s being able to be transparent. It’s being able to think and to feel and to help people do the same. I have a good ability to roll up my sleeves and be with people, not at them. Therapy is not surgery.

Changes in the job: The therapist I was trained to be at Ackerman 30 years ago is very different. Our stance is much more collaborative with our clients, much more transparent.

Explain collaborative divorce coaching: People can become as traumatized by the process itself as knowing a marriage needed to end. We try to operate in a nonlitigious, nonadversarial process that engages people and brings them together in a problem-solving way that helps them come out emotionally healthy. You can’t threaten to go to court.

The contemporary family: We are no longer in a place where children should be seen and not heard. People want to live in families where children have a voice. At the same time, the pace of life is so frenetic. When I was pushing my daughter in a stroller, I realized it was a great time to sing a song or say, “Look at this.” Now they’re on their iPhone or texting. Where I grew up, you open the back door and say, “Come back when it’s dark.” In New York, there’s a lot more available, but people are more programmed and it’s harder to develop your own rhythm.

Did being a therapist make your divorce easier? Totally. We used mediation, so we did not go through the adversarial nightmare and did a lot that set up a structure that was going to make us both highly involved parents. There was not going to be winner-take-all.

Therapy begins at home: Right now, my father is pretty seriously ill. The fact that I can lean on my brother and support him, the fact that I can share that story with people who care about me, that’s huge. We can’t sometimes control a lot that goes on in our lives. But there’s a phrase: If it’s shareable it’s bearable.

Practicing what she preaches: We’re mammals. We’re wired to protest in some way — flight, fight or freeze — when something goes wrong. Sometimes I’ll slip, but the difference is hopefully I catch it sooner.

No more stigma: When I was growing up I knew almost no one who was in therapy, and the subject would be kind of whispered. Now it’s hard to find people in a certain stratum of New York who haven’t been through it. Most people would benefit, but it’s not the Woody Allen school of therapy where you do it for 20 years.

Why so many therapists in New York? The city has people who want a lot of excellence. They’ll consult about a lot more things. Maybe there’s a greater willingness about going for help. If it’s any comfort, there are more per capita in Buenos Aires.