Family Counselling

“The Prophet”, 1926:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. A Poem by Kahlil Gibran
Mediation is a structured process in which a neutral third party assists the disputants in reaching a negotiated settlement of their differences. The mediator encourages open discussion of the issues and uses a variety of skills and techniques to provide a forum within which the disputants can construct their own agreement. Mediation is a voluntary process that results in a signed agreement which defines the future behaviour of the parties. The mediator is not empowered to render a decision. Most parties in conflict cannot afford protracted litigation. They often lose any apparent gains that they achieve in courts. Mediation provides disputants with a less costly and time – limited intervention. The main advantage to mediation is that it empowers the parties to solve their own problems in a fair and equitable manner. The best of all forms of family mediation is comprehensive mediation (which addresses the psychological, the family – related and the financial matters simultaneously) done by one professional who is cross – trained in the psychological, family and the legal aspects of separation and divorce. Lawyers rarely have any training at all in the complex psychological and family issues involved at this time of crisis and transition for the parties. Also lawyers, who act as a mediator, require each party to retain a separate lawyer and thus the family is involved with three lawyers! A highly skilled and cross – trained non – lawyer mediator will only occasionally require each party to retain their own lawyer. Of course, individuals are always free to draft and sign contracts with or without mediators and/or lawyers. However, if a mistake is made, the contract is still binding because ignorance of the law is never an acceptable defence. Thus, it is a good idea to have a neutral third party as described above.
Aside from family counselling, there are ways for loved ones to cope on their own. The following are a list of helpful tips that can help a family going through a separation or divorce:
  1. Good communication between the parents is best for the chlidren.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open with the children.
  3. Maintain the “universe of the children” as much as possible.
  4. Keep the children immune to adult, spousal problems and issues.
  5. When the parents are relaxed and positive the children will be too.
  6. Take one day at a time.Let the past go.Don’t worry about the future.
  7. Delay big, major decisions until the separation has settled down.
  8. Learn some of the methods of coping with stress. Humour helps.
  9. Stay healthy. Maintain a good diet and exercise often.
  10. Take the long view. The relationship with one’s children is forever.
Mediation is most often used for separation and divorce. It can also be used quite effectively in many other types of family conflicts, for example, inter – generational issues, sibling rivalry situations, teenagers acting out, step family tensions, etc. When a neutral third party is involved family feuds that have been going on for generations can often be resolved. In divorce mediation about 15% of the couples learn so much in the mediation process that they end the mediation and switch back into marriage counselling and/or go back to their relationship and attempt to resolve their differences. In every type of mediation the single most important determinant of success is the couple’s trust in the mediator and trust in the mediation process. If a couple is not sure whether they want to separate or not they can do separation counselling. In this form of counselling all of the options are on the table and the couple explores together which option is the best course of action for them. If the couple decides to mediate and one of them is not emotionally ready then the mediator can do pre – mediation counselling with the member of the couple who is not yet ready. If the couple gets stuck on one or two issues during the mediation they can empower the mediator to act as an arbitrator and make a decision for them on their impasses. This type of intervention is called “med – arb”. It is particularly suited to a couple who are chronically codependent. They can work out most of their problems with mediation and then they can get closure with the arbitration of the issues over which they are hopelessly fighting.
Some of the main advantages of family counselling are:
  1. The whole extended family can be considered and involved.
  2. The parties can set the timing of the negotiations to fit the families special needs, feelings, budgets, etc.
  3. There is sensitivity and attention to emotions as well as to issues.
  4. With all the issues on the table there is a higher probability of success.
  5. In a relaxed, quiet and more therapeutic environment clients are much more inclined to speak freely about what they really want.
  6. There is plenty of time for the mediator to explain everything to the clients when they are overwhelmed by the separating process.
  7. If the mediation is at the family home then the children can observe how two people can fight and separate and still be civil and co – operative. This, in the long run, is probably the best reason of all to mediate rather than litigate.