Collaborative Law and the Mental Health Professional

Because most people are unfamiliar with the multi-disciplinary approach of Collaborative law, it is beneficial to look more closely at the professional roles that compose the Collaborative approach. Of course, we’ll do this in the context of Alaska’s six-way team model.  Today, we’ll talk about the role of the mental health professional (MHP).

In Alaska, the mental health professional on a Collaborative team essentially fills the role of the team leader and their involvement is fundamental to the success of the process.

However, they don’t necessarily fill the role you would expect. Meaning, you might think that they act as counselor and provide therapy to the parties involved. Instead, they provide leadership and ensure that all parties are kept “on track” throughout the process. Essentially, they help everyone continue to push the ball forward.  Their training in mental health is employed to provide an insightful, big picture view of the team as a whole and make sure that the emotional challenges that arise don’t derail the process.

Their tasks involve:

  • Developing a proper agenda for the meetings.
  • Keeping meetings on schedule.
  • Ensuring that adequate minutes are taken for each meeting and shared appropriately.
  • Making sure that all team members (parties and professionals) fulfill their obligations between meetings.

This might sound more administrative than anything, but when you are navigating several different personalities who are interacting over a difficult and often tumultuous situation, it can prove very challenging to actually accomplish these tasks. This is where the MHP’s skills really come into play:

As a neutral party, not only are they providing important leadership, but they are also helping the spouses and team professionals identify and address the emotional issues that can bring resolution to a grinding halt.

It’s About the Whole Team  

The MHP really has their radar on all parties involved--because every member has an influence on the outcome. They possess an understanding of how different personalities interact and can assist in helping the attorneys and other professionals understand the dynamics that are impacting negotiations.  Often, these are things we attorneys can be blissfully ignorant about.

In this way, the MHP helps to uncover creative solutions and avoid letting those features below the surface (remember our rafting scenario) inhibit negotiations.

From the Start

It’s critical to set the team up for success from the very start. That’s why the structure of the first meeting is so important. The MHP must employ their skills at the outset, in order to begin to understand the nuances of the team dynamics and address them. The initial meeting involves several important steps that MHPs are particularly adept at executing:

  • Explaining the process without overwhelming the clients.
  • Identifying and attending to client traits that include:
    • Cognitive style
    • Insight
    • Emotional style
    • Interpersonal style
    • General mental health
  • Helping clients identify their emotional “hot spots.”
  • Beginning to teach coping strategies.
  • Observing the early signs that indicate the strength and health of the Collaborative alliance (that is the goal-focused relationship) among the team.
  • Establishing an environment of compassion, empathy and motivation (which is closely linked to the Collaborative alliance).

As you can see, the mental health professional in the Collaborative process is extremely important and their role requires great insight and diplomacy. Next time, we’ll talk about the financial professional’s role in Collaborative law.