The Benefits of Divorce Therapy for Healing Emotional Wounds

Divorce therapy, sometimes called divorce counseling, is a therapeutic process for navigating the end of a marriage. Individuals, couples, and families can all work with a divorce therapist.

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 13, 2024

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A wedding day is full of promise, and each carefully planned moment suggests bright hope for the future. On the surface, the day you sign divorce papers may look — and feel — like the polar opposite. But amidst the pain and legal logistics, many people find opportunities for healing and growth. Seeking divorce therapy is one powerful way you can find healing from these emotional wounds. 

Understanding Divorce Therapy

Divorce therapy, sometimes called divorce counseling, is a therapeutic process for navigating the end of a marriage. Individuals, couples, and families can all work with a divorce therapist.

For individuals, divorce therapy can help in processing the changes, grieving the losses, and adjusting to life after divorce. Couples can work through conflicts in therapy, such as co-parenting or finances or legal proceedings. Family members can also benefit from divorce therapy because divorce affects the whole unit. 

Not everybody who divorces a partner will need divorce therapy, says Kristina Anzell, a licensed mental health professional with Grow Therapy who also offers an eight-week course in couples therapy. “There can be other ways of getting support rather than just individual therapy. You can go to a support group or have trusted friends that you lean on,” she says.

Working with a therapist can provide additional accountability and structure for moving toward healing and personal growth

How Divorce Therapy Works

In technical terms, getting a divorce means dissolving a marital relationship. But the reality of disentangling two lives is much more complex than this simple legal definition suggests. 

“It’s just like any other life transition,” says Anzell. “You are typically going through a grieving process along with trying to separate your finances and maybe co-parent if you already have children.” 

Divorce therapy can provide a safe space for processing each of these factors — especially if you’re having trouble co-parenting or noticing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Together with a mental health professional, you can practice advocating for yourself in negotiations; you can learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for enduring difficult moments; you can rebuild self-confidence apart from romantic affirmation. If you start to notice any anxiety or depression, you can address and manage these symptoms in divorce therapy as well.

Types of Therapeutic Approaches in Divorce Therapy

Divorce therapy can take different forms depending on your relationship dynamics, your mental health and well-being, and your goals in counseling. You and your therapist will partner together in finding the right approach — or combination of approaches — for you.

Collaborative Therapy for Co-Parenting

Co-parenting can be challenging for ex-spouses who share one or more children. Working with a therapist can help the parents find solutions that balance responsibility and prioritize the children’s well-being. In collaborative therapy for co-parenting, each parent gets to articulate their values and perspectives in raising their children. The therapist guides the couple through creating a “series of mutual agreements.” With this shared understanding, the parents can better collaborate and care for their children. 

Individual Therapy for Emotional Well-being

Divorce is a stressful life event. Even the most emotionally balanced individuals may struggle to cope, and individual therapy can provide support when you need it most — especially if you have a history of mental health challenges. 

For instance, a landmark 2013 study of midlife depression in Clinical Psychological Science found that divorce increases the risk of depressive episodes for people with a history of depression. About 60% of these participants reported a depressive episode during the study period, compared to just 10% of participants without a depression history. Getting therapy and treatment when needed can bolster your emotional well-being, even when stressors come.

Family Therapy for Healing and Rebuilding Relationships

Divorce affects the whole family for better or for worse, according to the authors of a 2019 World Psychiatry perspective. Some theorists say divorce is a positive change, especially for children of high-conflict marriages; others counter that parental divorce and separation are associated with a higher risk for adjustment problems. Family therapy can help parents and children in either scenario, creating a space for honest conversation and emotional healing.  

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Benefits of Divorce Therapy

Navigating divorce and rebuilding your life in the aftermath can be overwhelming. “It’s a huge loss,” says Anzell, “and there might even be some trauma if it ended poorly.” 

Therapy can offer structure and a safe space for healing from emotional wounds and mapping out the future you want. Benefits of divorce therapy include:

Processing the Emotional Effects

First and foremost, divorce therapy can help you work through the complex emotions that often come with ending a marriage. Your therapist can acknowledge and validate these feelings, while also keeping them in check. Together you can work on connecting your present experience with your life’s bigger picture, a key part of healing. 

Establishing Clear Boundaries

In marriage, two people combine their lives. Separating them again takes intentionality and discipline. A therapist can help you define, communicate, and establish boundaries that support your healing and your family’s well-being. Anzell offers several examples of clear boundaries including:

In the safety of counseling sessions, you can practice communicating these boundaries with clarity and confidence.

Navigating Rebound Relationships

When you’re at the point of divorce, you are likely getting more negative attention than positive affirmation from your partner. Given this deficit, getting attention from someone new can be deeply reassuring. “And it’s really hard not to jump back into a fun relationship that makes you feel good about yourself,” says Anzell. While starting a new relationship isn’t always unhealthy, you may be better served to take this time for emotional healing — a stronger foundation for your next partnership. 

Fostering Self-Growth and Personal Development

Getting a divorce can be a season of pain, loss, and confusion; it can also be a time for self-reflection and growth. Therapy can offer a protected space apart from the negotiations, a time that’s just for you to reflect on the relationship and its challenges, your contributions and those of your partner. 

Planning for Your New Future

When you’re ready, your therapist can help you reimagine life after divorce. Who do you want in your life? How will you invest your time? What activities do you enjoy, and what skills do you want to build? All of these questions can help you transition into this last phase of divorce recovery, when you can let go of the past and find hope for a happy, stable future. 

What to Expect in Divorce Therapy

If you are considering or processing a divorce, you may be familiar with couples counseling or marital therapy. Generally, these types of therapy are about preserving the marital partnership, building and healing and strengthening it. With divorce therapy, the goal typically shifts. Instead of trying to make the marriage work, the client is navigating its ending. 

The particulars of your divorce therapy will depend on your goals, your situation, and your therapist’s approach. But generally, here’s what you can expect in divorce therapy

How to Help Children Heal After Divorce

If you and your ex-spouse have children, you can expect that they will need emotional healing, too. A professional with family counseling services tailored to kids will be best equipped to evaluate their needs and help them cope, but you can take steps at home to support them through the transition. The University of Missouri’s Activities for Helping Children Deal With Divorce provides several ideas for helping them process their feelings and frustrations, including:

Asking Intentional Questions

Talking about your divorce can feel vulnerable, but keeping open lines of communication can help your children adjust to what’s happening. Because they may not always know how to put their feelings into words, these thoughtful questions from family science specialist Jessica Trussell can help them open up: 

Creating a Personal History Timeline

Children learn about the world through stories. Empowering them to express their own personal stories, including how it’s changed, can help them work through their feelings and concerns after the divorce. 

Russell suggests creating a timeline together of significant life events — siblings’ birthdays, family vacations, getting pets, starting school. Also mark events you hope will happen in the future. Gently point out the fun, good times alongside the difficult ones; this can help your kids see that they can get through the divorce and more good times are coming.

Drawing Pictures Together

Younger children may find it easier to draw pictures than to talk about their emotions. Prompt your kids with questions such as:

When they finish, try asking specific, supportive questions about their artwork. What have they drawn and why? This has the double benefit of giving you clues about their emotional well-being and giving them opportunities to process their emotions.

How to Find the Right Divorce Therapist

Finding a good-fit therapist for navigating and healing from a divorce may take time, but the search is worth the effort. The right provider can help you heal and empower you to move forward stronger, even after your sessions end. Here are three considerations for finding the best fit for you: 

Look for a Specialist

While there’s no certification in “divorce therapy,” look for mental health professionals that include couples and/or marriage at the top of their specialties list. Putting these first suggests the provider has extensive experience working with couples on their relationship challenges and will be better equipped to serve you and your family. You can use the filters on Grow Therapy’s search page to easily find therapists in your area who specialize in couples counseling. 

Check the Credentials

Before investing in a session, double-check the provider’s credentials. Do they have a master’s or doctorate degree from an accredited university? Was the program or degree specialized in marriage and family therapy, or a related field? Also, do they have an active license in your state or territory? All of these are essential for a safe, effective mental health practice. 

Realistically Consider Your Capacity

Before you book a session, consider both your budget and schedule. How many sessions can you afford, and how many do you have time for in a month? Will your employer or your insurance cover any sessions? You can use the filters on the Grow Therapy website to find a therapist who accepts your plan to ensure the cost is as low as possible. 

Divorce is unavoidably painful, but you can recover from the emotional wounds. A therapist can be an invaluable partner in this healing journey, for you, your partner, and your family. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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