Q: My husband just dropped the bomb on me that he wants a divorce after 22 years and three children. I really don't know where to turn. I am hurt, embarrassed, and afraid. I am 47 years of age and, although trained as a teacher, I have not worked outside the home for 20 years and have become totally dependent on my husband. I know that I should see a lawyer, but I don't think I'm up to that yet. How can I best begin to cope with this huge problem?
A: Statistics tell us that the psychological devastation of separation and divorce often continues for not only parents, but also children, and grandparents. Ongoing stress is caused not only by continued contact with the estranged spouse, but also by loss of friends, dating, remarriage (which bring on more stress when new personalities are introduced), financial issues, moving, contact with relatives from two conflicting sides, social pressures, sexual pressures and indecisiveness.
If you're not used to making decisions, you're in for a big surprise at the worst time. Although rational decision-making is easier in a calm environment, you do not have that luxury. But vacillation and uncertainty cause additional stress.
That's why you may want to consider using a professional to assist, but first you should understand what professionals are available and what they offer:
Social workers. They have master's degrees in social work, which normally includes marriage and family counseling courses.
Ministers, religious-oriented counselors: They may be but are not necessarily college- and graduate-school-educated, but training and educational in this area varies significantly. Sometimes, their background may dictate counseling philosophies that may include reconciliation, regardless of the circumstances.
Counselors. This is a loosely used term for a group of individuals whose educational backgrounds and training vary.
Psychologists. Most have either master's or doctorates that require two to five years of post-college degree training. They are generally trained in marriage and family counseling, but do not prescribe medication or have the authority to make hospital admissions.
Psychiatrists. These professionals are medical doctors who can address both psychological and medical issues related to emotional disturbances.
Physicians. Family doctors may offer support, but since many will not take the time, expertise or desire to listen to your problems, they may tend to refer you or medicate you.
Lawyers. Attorneys are generally not trained to give psychological or emotional-related advice, which needs to be addressed. While lawyers may listen and give practical suggestions, they generally make referrals.
No matter whom you may choose, the professional should be licensed. Psychiatrists and medical doctors should be licensed to practice in your state, so check with the state medical association to make sure that your choice is licensed and has not been suspended. Other professions have licensing boards that are affiliated with state government, and you should call and ask similar questions about your choices.
You may want to find out if the therapist you choose has been divorced. And you should consider whether you would be more comfortable seeing a professional of your same sex and religious faith. Try not to see a friend who may also be a therapist. It might end an otherwise good relationship.