Child Divorce Therapist Brooklyn
Families Dealing with Divorce
Many marriages end in divorce. And while it’s a common occurrence, divorce is likely to bring about major changes in the lives of everyone involved. It can impact living situations, relationships, schedules, and more. When parents divorce, it can adversely affect a child’s sense of security or lead to cognitive, behavior, or emotional issues. How a child understands and copes with divorce depends on several factors, but working with a therapist may help. With parents who offer unconditional love and a therapist who provides much-needed support and structure, a child will be better prepared to navigate through new feelings and challenges.
Since this can be a scary time for the adults as well as the children, it might help to know that most children of divorce grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Children are resourceful and resilient, and have the capacity to understand rather complex situations. However, it's important not to overlook the impact divorce can have and how certain cognitive, behavioral, or emotional challenges can persist into adolescence and adulthood if not addressed early on. If issues are acknowledged at the time they arise, a child is more likely to feel they are receiving love and attention, and will be able to access the tools they need to thrive.
As a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW/LCSW) I can help offer support at various stages of this process. If divorcing your spouse isn’t already a forgone conclusion, then I am here to help you see if there is something to salvage. If it is a marriage both you and your partner wish to work on and pursue, then we can move to take steps down that path. However, if you’ve already decided there’s irreparable damage or a mutual decision to move forward in different directions, then we can start helping the whole family adjust to the new normal.
How do I know if my child needs help from a professional?
While it’s pretty safe to say anyone at any age can benefit from seeing a psychologist, counselor, or therapist, there are certain situations where working with a professional can be especially beneficial. A therapist encourages self-reflection, and helps people process their thoughts and behaviors from a potentially new perspective. In the case of a child whose parents are going through a divorce, talking to an adult who provides a neutral, safe space can be comforting in and of itself. Therapy could be productive for all children dealing with divorce, but there are certain signs to look for if you are trying to determine whether it is more pressing or essential.
Since you are already dealing with a whole lot during a divorce, maybe even suffering from depression or anxiety, it might be difficult to notice a behavioral change in your child. However, staying attentive and being responsive during these times can really help everyone with the adjustment. Your child may require professional help if they start to display certain compulsive behaviors, show separation anxiety, suffer severe disruptions in normal sleeping patterns, or are acting out at school. It often helps to have early intervention with many of these behaviors and get to the root cause rather than responding only with reprimands.
I can provide a safe space for your child or children to work through their confusion, questions, and frustrations without fear of judgment or repercussion. It’s often difficult for a parent not to internalize or be defensive when a child expresses their complaints or needs. And often, children won’t be forthcoming about how they really feel. They might not even have the words to convey the complexity of their emotions. I am familiar with these patterns and problems, and can provide a space where they can safely share.
In our sessions, we will make use of the many evidence-based approaches that have had positive outcomes in the past. We all have basic needs that need to be met in order to survive and thrive. With therapy, we can offer vital services that address the current needs, as well as some self- skills for the future. I can provide children with the tools they need to relax, reframe, and reimagine; skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
Interventions and Approaches
As difficult as divorce can be for the adults involved, children are up against some pretty strong emotions and may not yet have the coping skills to confront them. If children don’t gain insight into how to work through these new feelings, they may develop maladaptive behaviors. That basically means they might start behaving in ways that won’t serve them (at least in the long run). If you’ve noticed this is already happening with your child, just know that it's never too late to get help. It’s best to begin therapy so they can start making mental and emotional adjustments, and not carry these issues into adulthood.
In my practice, I try to create a warm and friendly environment, and make evident my deep care and concern for the client. Whether the client is a child or an adult, I want them to feel welcome. I work from an attachment-based psychotherapeutic lens, and draw from a variety of approaches in order to treat the whole child. I often use creative arts therapies, which may include drawing and painting, dance, or the use of puppets. Below I’ll go into a little more detail on how attachment-based psychotherapy and creative arts therapy inform my practice in the context of divorce.
Looking Through a Lens of Attachment
Attachments are the basis of every relationship and the foundation on which we build future connections. The attention we receive from our primary caregivers early on shapes our expectations of how relationships work. If these attachments or emotional bonds we establish are consistently nurturing and provide us with our basic needs, it will help us feel loved and secure. If there is neglect, abuse, or a lot of inconsistency in the provision of care, these attachments may cause insecurities, and negatively impact our self-esteem.
Our attachments affect our ability to form healthy emotional connections later on. Though some of this might sound deterministic, it isn’t the end of the story. Looking at attachments throughout a child’s early life can help provide insight into current behaviors and often provide a roadmap for navigating the way forward. Even if there has been instability in the past or the child is experiencing a sense of uncertainty now, there are things that can be done to mitigate the effects on their life.
So what are some specific ways attachment comes into focus when divorce is in the foreground? Well, since a sense of security and a feeling of trust are both essential for feeling safe, it’s important to tell the truth and explain the situation (keeping it age appropriate). At the core, what’s happening is that the love each parent feels for the other has changed, but not the love that either one feels for the children. It’s critical to underscore that point. This is not about them, and there is nothing they can do or could have done differently. It’s a feeling that has changed between their parents. It’s important to assure them that parents can’t divorce their children, and no one is leaving them. [Though if there is a parent who is absent or will be in their life less, it would be good to talk this through in therapy].
Given that there are a lot of changes taking place or about to occur, it is critical to clearly communicate what’s going on as far as logistics. Again, this speaks to creating or bolstering a sense of security and trust. Where will their new rooms be at Grandma’s house? Who are they with on weekends and holidays? Do they have a say in the matter?
In a clinical setting, this could involve breaking out the calendar and talking about which days will be spent with one parent, and which days will be with the other, and how does all of this make them feel? Knowing what’s coming next can help a child identify potential bumps in the road, set expectations, and enable them to plan out possible responses. Though it doesn’t do away with all the negativity or sadness, it helps them to have a head’s up. It’s okay to acknowledge loss and fully feel all the feelings as everyone moves forward.
Though it will be a challenge for parents who have intense and very possibly negative feelings between each other, it’s important to convey unconditional love and support for the children, and establish how life will look. We all continue to crave a sense of acceptance and security, so going into detail as far as future family dynamics are concerned will help serve the mental health of everyone involved.
Positive Impacts of Creative Arts Therapy
The varied options under the creative arts therapy umbrella provide ample ways to help clients process thoughts and emotions. Creative arts therapies might include making visual art, sand play therapy, or the use of puppets. These tools offer an alternative, and open up new lines of communication. They allow for different forms of expression when words fall short. It may even be useful for families to engage in some of these activities together as a group, with the guidance or advice of a therapist.
If you ask a young child how they feel about their parents separating, they might say “sad,” or nothing at all. However, with art therapy I might ask them to draw a scene from their day or a picture of their house, and that might provide a starting point for digging a little deeper. Perhaps they draw a family picture that doesn’t include one parent, and it provides an opportunity to talk about how the love of a parent is always there, even when they physically aren’t. I can help them think about, visualize, or draw a way to show that a parent’s love is always there, even if they aren’t there physically. They can take their picture as a reminder, or just let it be one of many ways they process this information.
When working with children, some tactics from the creative arts therapy toolbox can open a door when it seems like there isn’t another way in. Some children may be hesitant to talk to a new grown-up, but it’s almost magical how young children will share their thoughts and feelings when a puppet is the one to pose the question. Perhaps it’s because a puppet has a particularly trustworthy Kermit the Frog-like face. Or maybe there’s a puppet whose parents also got a divorce, and can share some stories of their own. Whatever the reason, it’s just another option to assist with working through tough emotions.
Children dealing with their parents’ divorce are going through a lot, and in some cases it can affect their day to day functioning as emotions weigh heavily on all of us, especially if we do not have a space to express them. Sometimes art or play therapy can act as a space away from arguments at home, and a time for children to feel free to express themselves. They can work through specific feelings if that’s what they bring up, or it can serve as a healthy break from their new reality.
Adults Dealing with Divorce in their Past
When parents divorce, children may feel the effects years down the road. There can be lingering pain and ongoing challenges. Emotional scars formed in childhood may not have healed properly, or received the care and attention needed at the time. What felt like abandonment by a parent during one's childhood may now emerge as an inability to trust that a romantic partner will choose to stay when faced with challenges.
If you as an adult continue to feel confused by the effect the past has on your present, or if your parents’ divorce is a more recent occurrence and has thrown you off balance, you don’t have to dismiss these feelings. It’s not something that you should have “gotten over” by now or that shouldn't impact you because you're not living in the same home.
Some people who come to therapy as adults are able to reflect how a divorce years ago may impact their life today. You may be just realizing how some of your behavior patterns have roots in that early and possibly traumatic interruption in your family life. If you learned to hide your feelings to not add to the guilt you sensed in your parents, and now feel the need to placate or please everyone, it’s important to pause and reflect.
Maybe you notice that when you’re in a relationship that gets serious, you experience feelings of doubt and anxiety. Is your desire to distance yourself actually about issues in your current situation, or might there be sounds from the past echoing in your present? It may be time to face the fear of a fractured family moment so that you can imagine a home for yourself that’s safe and lasting.
If it’s still your responsibility to communicate between your parents and you no longer want to straddle those two worlds in that way, it’s okay to establish new and healthier boundaries, even if they’ve been that way for a long time. I have experience as a therapist helping clients who are still impacted by a divorce in their family's past. I've seen many of the above scenarios, and have helped clients move along on a path to hope and healing.
Reach out with questions or to start sessions
I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what it might look like to work together. Though my in-person practice was based in Brooklyn, NY, I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients in New York, from Park Slope to Park Avenue, or from anywhere across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe space, wherever it is.
I have a Master of Social Work from New York University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. When working with children, I aim to establish an authentic connection so they can feel seen and understood, and we can move through challenging times together.
Becca Leitman's lens and therapeutic approach are rooted in Attachment Therapy. I believe there is great importance in developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is. Let’s talk. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest , Psychology Today and LinkedIn for mental health guidance, stress and anxiety tips, therapy resources and more.