Definition and Overview

Divorce counselling is a form of relationship therapy designed for married couples on the verge or dealing with the aftermath of permanent separation. Divorce is a serious legal procedure that affects not just the separated couple, but also other members of their family. Divorce is quite prevalent in different parts of the world, but not a lot of couples undergo the proper process to emerge from the separation with their emotional, mental, or even physical health intact. In the United States alone, around half of all marriages end in divorce, with a significant number of people divorcing within the first five years of marriage.

Though common, divorce can cause a lot of stress—not only because of the emotional, mental, legal, and financial factors that the couple has to consider, but also because their lives are bound to change dramatically once the divorce proceedings are over. There are plenty of considerations that have to be thought of and addressed, and many individuals fail to grasp the enormity and gravity of the situation after they have made the decision.

There are plenty of professionals offering services to divorcing or divorced couples, not only in the legal and logistical aspects of the process, but also in the more personal, psychological aspects.

Divorce counselling can come before or after the legal procedure, and can help the individuals involved to resume their personal and professional lives after the ink has dried on their divorce papers. The individuals involved can also be assisted in minimizing the impact of divorce on their children and other family members, and help them go through the emotional and psychological trauma or baggage that might have resulted from this life event.

The aim of divorce counselling is to help individuals adjust to their new lives, and process the negative after-effects of the separation on all aspects of their lives. Divorce counselling is not required for all couples divorcing, but can be extremely helpful in preventing possible destructive thoughts and behaviours.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Couples who are separating or have already separated can benefit by consulting a divorce therapist. If there are children involved, it’s best to work with a therapist who has a background in child psychology . Pre-divorce counselling involves helping all the parties involved to communicate in a civil and effective manner to help expedite the process. This type of counselling will also involve preparing the couple’s children for the event that can potentially have a significant effect on their lives. Some pre-divorce counsellors also offer assistance with parenting concerns, especially in the event where the parents have not told their children yet about the impending separation.

A post-divorce counselling session, on the other hand, tends to deal with the involved individuals’ long-term concerns about the divorce. They will be guided through processing their feelings of sadness, grief, and stress, and turning those negative emotions to more positive ones so they can function better after the divorce. Post-divorce counsellors can help individuals go through the grieving process, and assist in the psychological recovery of the people involved.

Again, not everyone needs divorce counselling, as there are some separations that are civil or even amicable. However, when either one of the parties feels that their daily lives are being interrupted by negative thoughts and emotions caused by the divorce or when an individual cannot help but obsess over every little thing involved in the divorce proceedings, or trying to rush into making serious plans for the future, divorce counselling is highly recommended.

Individuals who feel that they are sinking into depression during the separation process should also undergo divorce counselling. So are people who engage in thoughts or behaviours fuelled by anger, are traversing on a seemingly self-destructive path, have thoughts of self-harming or even suicide, or might be addicted to alcohol and drugs. There are also individuals who suffer from eating or sleeping disorders during the course of divorce. All of these people can benefit from divorce counselling.

Expected results of any kind of divorce counselling is the improvement of emotional and psychological wellness of the couple who are separating or has separated, as well as a positive impact in their relationships with their family. Their attitude toward this life-changing event can also improve.

Some individuals turn to counselling sessions to better understand and express their feelings and to find support in a time when they feel that they are alone. Patients who have successfully completed their divorce counselling sessions can also look forward to coping better with the situation and have smooth divorce proceedings.

How is the procedure performed?

The procedure depends on the training or ideology of the divorce counsellor, but it usually involves several components.

One of the first things that the counsellor will assist the individual with is the grieving process. The individual has to go through this natural process, since there are a lot of investments in the relationship prior to the separation; be it financial, mental, physical, and so on. A divorce is essentially a loss, since nobody starts a relationship, especially a marriage, with his or her mind set on separation. The individual might feel a lot of sadness and regret before and after the divorce, and a counsellor can help in processing these negative feelings and turning them into more positive ones.

The counsellor will also assist the couple so they can effectively handle the emotional baggage caused by the failed relationship. This step is important in helping the individual face his or her post-divorce life. Depending on the counsellor’s approach, the individual might be encouraged to communicate his or her feelings, or participate in activities that he or she enjoys.

Since there are plenty of egocentric negative feelings that the individual might feel during the course of the divorce, the counsellor can help with discovering a new facet of the individual’s personality and prevent the individual from blaming himself or herself for everything that has gone wrong.

The counsellor can also assist in boosting the individual’s confidence to face his or her new life as a single person, and to offer support to the family members affected by the separation.

Possible Risks and Complications

The procedure, which usually starts by consulting a medical professional such as a psychologist, does not come with serious risks or complications, aside from the fact that both parties may feel embarrassed or uneasy to discuss their personal issues with a third-party.


  • Florence Falk, PhD, MSW, psychotherapist in private practice in New York; author, On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone.

  • Robert Alberti, PhD, psychologist; author, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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