Why Your Lawyer Is Not Your Therapist (and Vice Versa)

Let’s clear up any confusion about attorneys and mental health therapists: Attorneys are not therapists and therapists are not attorneys. You might be consulting with an attorney about your divorce, but resist the temptation to use their services interchangeably.  What do I mean by that? You’re heading down the wrong street when you pour your heart out about your failed marriage to someone you hired for legal advice. By the same token, you won’t get very far by asking your therapist how to negotiate the proceedings of your divorce.

It seems obvious that the two professionals perform different roles (both therapists and attorneys are sometimes called “counselors”), but because they both administer help to divorcing individuals, sometimes the waters get muddied. One moment you’re giving your attorney some background so they can better initiate filing your divorce and the next moment you’re ranting about how unfair your spouse is and asking your lawyer how to begin getting over the hurt. Then in your therapist’s office, you’re in the middle of a sentence and suddenly a legal question pops into your mind and you throw it out there in hopes your therapist can give you some sound legal advice.

Granted, sometimes there’s a bit of an overlap in the roles that each of these two professionals play. To give an example, say you’re in an abusive relationship and you’re getting counseling to deal with it. Your therapist might walk you through some decision-making about the situation that could directly or indirectly help your case. Another example is your attorney may recommend a therapist or give you a list of therapists to help you with the emotional stumbling blocks so you can keep your sanity and better come to a favorable resolution in the case.

Therapists can serve an essential role in helping you avoid the increased physical and mental health risks before and after a divorce. Divorce can be an emotional challenge, to say the least. Going through the legal process can rub salt into the wound. Therapy lets you cope, repair, and heal those wounds … gain insight and control over your emotions and behavior, and move on to a happier and more emotionally state of mind and stable future.

Even if your attorney is trying to be helpful and sympathetic, s/he may give mental health advice that is unhelpful or counterproductive. The same can be said of your therapist who may offer unsound legal advice. Resist the temptation to blur the lines between two professionals who each want to see you jump a hurdle that life has thrown your way – whether you request the advice or they volunteer it.

Another important lesson: It’s never too early or too late to seek therapy. Whether you’re trying to decide if you should file for divorce, are in the process of divorcing, or have settled a divorce case, a therapist can help you gain clarity, closure, and peace.