This season the podcast will highlight themes with the purpose of not only helping you survive your divorce but to also thrive while you are making your way through the process. Most of the episodes this season will concentrate on self-care and therapy related subjects. In this episode, host Jaime Davis discusses when family therapy might be a good idea for a family experiencing divorce with licensed marriage and family therapist Erin Ballard.
Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.
Jaime Davis: Welcome to Episode 1 of Season 4 of “A Year and a Day.” I’m your host, Jamie Davis. It’s finally 2021. And as we enter Season 4, we’ll be taking the podcast in a bit of a different direction. In prior seasons, we have feature topics focused on helping you survive and get through your divorce without destroying family relationships or the family finances this season. It’s all about you. We want to not only help you survive your divorce, but to also thrive while you are making your way through the process. The podcast this season will concentrate on self care and your emotional health divorce is tough. And if you’re physically and mentally prepared, you’ll be in a better place to make the longterm decisions required during the process of divorce.
To get the season started. I will be speaking with Erin Ballard, licensed marriage and family therapist, and owner of Family Solutions and Wellness Center. Erin and her team specialize in helping individuals, couples, and families navigate family adjustments, such as separation and divorce, and work to create wellness for all members of the family. Located in Cary, North Carolina, they provide in-office services as well as virtual services to residents throughout the state of North Carolina. Erin and I will be discussing when family therapy might be a good idea for a family that is experiencing separation and divorce.
Hi, Erin. Thanks for joining me today. Tell our listeners a little bit about your practice.
Erin Ballard: Hi, thanks for having me. Uh, we are a practice out in Cary, North Carolina, and also currently doing Telehealth as well. Um, and we’re a team of licensed clinical, mental health counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists, and we work with a range of individuals, couples, and families, and that includes kids, teens and adults. Um, and we have clinical interns too, who provide some of our low cost services. Um, and we like to see our clients. We do daytime, evening and weekend appointments. So we really like to be diverse and be able to fit everyone’s needs, both financially, scheduling and their clinical needs.
Jaime Davis: That’s great. I thought today we could talk about family therapy. What is family therapy?
Erin Ballard: Sure. Family therapy is basically any counseling that’s going to be more than one person. So, um, the focus is usually on the relationship or resolving some sort of conflict or interaction or dissatisfaction between you and that other person. It can often be a parent and child. Or two parents. Um, it can be with in-laws. It can be, um, sometimes even with friends or close, um, close people who you might consider family. So we really look at it as systemic work. Um, that includes multiple people who are trying to come together to resolve something that, you know, wouldn’t maybe quite get resolved if you just went to your individual counselor and had some of that one-on-one time.
Jaime Davis: How does family therapy differ from individual therapy?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, there’s a few differences. Obviously one is that there’s more than one person in the room, so you might have to share your time. Um, you might have a session that’s focused maybe mainly on the other person. They’re really, um, using that time to talk through some of their feelings or their history, and he might be more of a listener and a participator in that way, but not using the time as you would in your own individual counseling. Um, you also might choose to withhold a few things. You know, our individual counseling is where we might talk openly and transparently about everything we’re feeling. And when you have a family member in the room, you might, um, you know, not want to upset them or, um, keep a few things personal that you might choose not to share. So, um, we see that, you know, in individual therapy, sometimes you, you feel a little more freedom to voice yourself. Um, and then also with family therapy or your therapist is there to remain neutral. So they do typically have a no secrets policy, something where you can’t really call them up or email them and kind of share a lot of information that you say, well, don’t tell, you know, don’t tell my partner this. Um, and so there’s a lot of transparency, um, versus that confidentiality. Certainly confidentiality is upheld for outside parties, um, but it’s not going to be held for you alone and kind of keep a secret from your, your partner or whoever else is attending that counseling with you.
Jaime Davis: Yeah, I can see how that would be really important to make sure that there is transparency, um, between the parties involved in family therapy. How do you deal with that, if one of the folks is either, you know, not sharing enough information or if they do want you to maybe keep a secret from the other person?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, well, sometimes we’ll do one-on-one sessions to be able to have that openness. And, you know, obviously with the no secrets policy, our goal would be to help you share that constructively and, you know, overcome some of the blocks that you have that are telling you this can’t be shared. Um, so you might have some one-on-one time to get you to that point of comfort. Um, and obviously anything that’s going to help the relationship we want you to be able to throughout the time with your therapist and as the relationship is strengthening and, you know, there’s rapport and trust building, that you would start to feel more comfortable, um, disclosing some things in session, um, and starting to move towards that openness. Um, but ultimately you’re the gatekeeper of your own self and you know, your therapist can’t mind read all the time. so, or ever, I guess, um, but they can’t always pick up on something that you might be holding back. Um, so it would really be something you would want to find a family therapist that is someone you are starting to trust.
Maybe they’re managing the session well, so it’s not feeling chaotic and you feel like, okay, next session I think I do want to start talking about this, this big thing I’ve been holding.
Jaime Davis: For folks who are participating in family therapy, um, do they often have their own individual therapist as well? Or does that vary?
Erin Ballard: It varies, but it’s often recommended, you know, and certainly when we’re talking about life adjustments, um, things like separation and divorce, there’s a lot of personal grief. Um, and you know, changes that you might not be focusing on necessarily in your family therapy, but you’re carrying it and it impacts how you guys are gonna make decisions and how you’re going to, you know, find your new normal. And so, um, there are definitely times that we would recommend individual therapy as well as family therapy. And then there’s other times we would recommend it first.
So if, if things are too tense and they’re really not productive, um, we might recommend that individual therapy happened before the family therapy, but, but oftentimes they can be, um, you know, currently happening at the same time.
Jaime Davis: I really love that you shared that point. Um, so is it fair to say that there are some situations where individuals may just not be ready for family therapy yet and they have their own issues they sort of need to work through first, before they get to that point?
Erin Ballard: So, yes, if the conflict is just too high and the session is feeling unmanaged and unsafe, um, we might not get the outcomes you’re hoping for. And so sometimes the individual therapy to help, um, process your own emotions, develop some strategies of how do you want to communicate once you guys come together, um, that can be really helpful, um, ahead of time. Um, also if sometimes we have some high conflict situations where you’re coming to family therapy, but one partner has a motive and maybe they want to use some of this against their partner in, in court, um, and it just feels unsafe to, for that partner to really talk about anything or they feel like it’s going to be misused, therapy can’t really be successful when we have these guards up, um, and these, um, threats, whether it’s been, um, overtly made or co covertly kind of insinuated.
Um, and so if those things are happening, the family therapy process either takes much longer or is not as successful.
So we might do some individual therapy, um, ahead of time for that. Um, and then the third kind of scenario that we’ve sometimes come across is that one partner, maybe wants family therapy to try to get the relationship back. Um, maybe they’re not the one who initiated a separation or divorce and they, um, are still in that early stage of grief and shock and bargaining, and, you know, we can make this work. And if the other ones made up their decision, um, your family therapy can be really unsuccessful with those different end goals in mind and motivations. Um, and so that’s when we might want each partner to be able to talk in their individual therapy about where they’re at. Um, maybe they do decide they want to work on the relationship, but we want you to come to family therapy with the goal being mutually agreed upon.
Jaime Davis: Tell me more about when family therapy can be appropriate for the divorcing family.
Erin Ballard: Yeah. There’s a lot of scenarios that I’d love to talk through. One is when co-parenting might feel difficult or sometimes impossible. Um, and obviously, you know, co-parenting is that adjustment to, you know, being business partners in some ways. Um, and so part of that is learning strategies, not to be husband and wife, or spouses anymore, and that emotional lean that you might, um, tend to have in the relationship and really transitioning to decision-making, collaboration, negotiation, and putting the kids first and what’s going to be best for them.
Um, we also use family therapy to help, um, improve that communication without it being high conflict. So obviously if you know, a few sessions in, um, things are just not being managed, that’s when we might refer the individual therapy first. But if you’re experiencing high conflict and in your conversations at home just are not going well and feeling productive, then family therapy is the perfect, um, space to, to figure that out and to have someone help guide you so that you can be successful co-parents for however many years you have left in that journey.
Um, We also find that family therapists can help when you’re kind of battling some legal decisions or issues that, um, maybe a mediator could help with, but maybe there’s deeper rooted feelings that are going on. Um, and a therapist can really help us get to the root of where are we non-negotiable and why, and where can we be flexible? And you can use those counseling sessions to kind of make some of these decisions that you can bring back to your legal team and kind of put those, um, in writing. Um, and we also help, you know, with some of those big decisions that might come along, whether you’re divorcing now, or you’ve been divorced for some time, um, sometimes some big issues like moving or relocating, um, changing the parenting plan. Some of those things might come up, um, and a family therapist can really help make those, uh, help you make those decisions and take into account some child development concerns that one or both of you might be having, um, and to really make, um, a good adjustment for your family and the unique ages and stages that you all find yourself in.
If you’re early in the divorce process, sometimes the family therapist can help if you’re disagreeing or feeling stuck on, you know, when and how to tell the children that you were separating. That can be a really, um, you know, heavy conversation and one that we want to go well. But if you know that your kids might be having a hard time with that, or you just want to make sure that you can share it well, maybe there is infidelity and we don’t want to share that with our little ones. Um, how do we want to communicate that and make that adjustment, um, if you’re new in the process,
Finally, sometimes we come to family therapy for the betterment of our kids. We realize that they’re really struggling. We realize that maybe for a little while now we’ve been putting them in the middle or just putting some pressures on them that might be impacting them. And so as adults, we might realize, you know, let’s figure this out. We don’t want this impacting them. Or you might come to therapy with, um, with your children and make it more of that whole family experience, where we can talk about some feelings, um, and you can really show up as a cohesive unit for your kids, even though, um, the divorce might be happening still.
Jaime Davis: As a divorce attorney, I am feeling really good about the ways that you have, um, discussed how family therapy can really help folks get through the divorce process. I’m sure our listeners would be curious to know about how you can help parents in family therapy, you know, when they’re there for the betterment of their children. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Erin Ballard: Sure. So your family therapist is probably going to want to know a little bit about the ages of your kids and the emotional experiences that they bring. Some of our kids are more sensitive. Some of them are more parentified, so maybe they’ve kind of taken on roles in the family system that, um, they kind of weasel their way in and want to know some of the adult conversations and changes. Um, and so your family therapist will really look at your unique situation and where your concerns lie. And also what we would just consider just healthy family functioning. There’s some hierarchy that is helpful in a family system and boundaries and communication, emotional intelligence, all these things that we can bring to our family and to our kids, um, to help them with such an adjustment. Um, really divorce itself doesn’t impact kids’ outcomes as much as the way we divorce. And so your family therapist will really be keeping an eye on the health and wellness of all the individuals in the family. And certainly whatever concerns you guys openly bring to the table they’ll want to help you kind of figure out how to manage some of that.
Jaime Davis: I think that’s great. So if a family decides that family therapy may be appropriate for their situation, how does the process work?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, so, you know, there’s a lot of different family therapists out there and some specialize in helping, you know, the parents with high conflict divorces. Some are really specialized in helping littles or your teens in that sort of adjustment. And so, you know, the first step is to really search for a family therapist that sounds like a good fit. Give them a call, maybe get a brief consultation. Um, and for, you know, the two of you, assuming it’ll be the two of you, um, adults making this decision, um, to really both agree on who you want to see. And that might, um, take into account that therapist’s training or their availability, maybe their location and cost or insurance that they take. So really finding a good fit that meets all of those logistics so you can go on a regular basis and, um, and be able to kind of get the support you’re needing, which often includes coming a little more regularly at the beginning, and then slowly spacing that those appointments out as things are getting better or being managed well.
Um, and some, some families even choose to pop back in every so often, um, just for some boosters, right? If you’re, um, if you’ve had a good experience with your therapist and now a year later, you’re kind of running into a new struggle, you might pop back in later. Um, but really finding the right fit for your, your personalities and your preferences, um, being able to schedule those routine sessions at first. Um, and then both of you planning to attend those first sessions. Now, if you’re going to have your kids involved, you can talk to that therapist about, you know, when and how all the members should attend, and when it should just be parent sessions. We do want to have some adult conversation without our kids hearing. Um, but that therapist will be able to get you set up with a plan, um, for your family and, um, and be able to, you know, get you guys on the same page as you attend those sessions, um, together and openly. Um, and that’s when you might discuss some one-on-ones later on, but definitely plan to attend both of you together those first few times and, um, be a really cohesive, transparent unit.
Jaime Davis: In your experience has Telehealth made this process more effective or have you found it to be a bit of a hindrance?
Erin Ballard: I’ve had a lot of success with it. Now I’ve been a board certified Tele-Mental Health provider for a few years now, so it’s not necessarily new to me, though the volume is new to me, you know, everyone’s doing it now. But, um, you know, with some of our systems, you and your partner can log in from different locations. And so that can feel really, um, stabilizing, especially in those high conflict situations, um, where maybe it’s tense when you get together in the same room. Um, and you know, certainly you have to wait your turn to talk a little bit more virtually as we all probably have experienced. And so there can be a lot of benefits to Telehealth. Um, and then we still have a few people who really do want to come in office and they want that privacy, that safety, that security that comes with an office. We definitely recommend that privacy, um, being instilled virtually too. Um, but if you have kids, you know, downstairs watching TV and that they might interrupt you or they might hear you talking, um, sometimes people, um, do prefer coming to the office. And so it’ll really depend on, you know, how your setup is and what’s going to be the most effective for these focused and productive conversations.
Jaime Davis: Sounds like there are a lot of different ways that a family can make family therapy work for them, you know, in office, Telehealth, whatever works for the family. It sounds like you guys can be really flexible and make that happen for them.
Erin Ballard: Yes. And I hope that flexibility grows as the pandemic, um, moves forward with, um, you know, making it safe for all of us to get back in office, but we do still have some office opportunities. Um, you know, you’re wearing a mask and other things, but, um, definitely once it’s safe to me in office. There are still, um, Telehealth providers out there. Some practices are only Telehealth and certainly, uh, practices like ours, um, always offer that Telehealth. And so you do have a lot of personal choice.
Um, now, typically you have to be in the state of North Carolina. So I will just, you know, kind of highlight that, that, you know, if your partner is in a different state, you do need to find a therapist who’s licensed in that state, in both of your states for them to do that Telehealth with both of you. Um, but you know, if you’re here in Raleigh and your partner’s in Charlotte and, you know, Tuesday nights at 5 work best for you, then Telehealth would be a really great fit. Um, so it’s really, um, kind of unique and set up for each family and what they’re needing.
Jaime Davis: That’s great. Um, I’d like to switch gears now and talk a little bit about when family therapy might not be appropriate. In your experience, are there times when family therapy is not appropriate for a particular family?
Erin Ballard: Yeah. And, you know, I touched on it briefly before, but certainly if your goals are misaligned, if one of you is wanting to rebuild their relationship, whereas the other one’s wanting to transition through the divorce, um, that can be, um, a really hard time for family therapy to feel productive and for both partners to still want to be coming. And, you know, if you’re, if you have different goals and, you know, session after session, you’re feeling that, um, then, then it might not be something that you’re wanting to continue. So make sure your goals are aligned, um, and that, you know, you, you come prepared wanting it to be productive. And so some skillset to manage your emotions, um, to make sure it doesn’t just erupt into conflict and get way out of control.
You know, we certainly don’t want violence, um, and anything that would be unsafe, but there’s, there’s emotional safety to consider as well. Um, so if your therapist gets started with you and see some of those things happening, um, then they might pause the family therapy and refer out. Um, and there are also times I didn’t mention this, but, um, if there’s active substance abuse or, um, you know, a domestic violence history, or certain things that complicate the safety of the family therapy, um, you know, your therapist is gonna want to look at some of those things and make sure that we don’t proceed with family therapy until some of these other things might be addressed or safety can be upheld, um, in your sessions.
Um, and then, like I said before, if someone’s trying to use your therapy against you, um, you know, try to get your records pulled and, and to, um, court later on, it’s just going to be really toxic to keep coming to family therapy. And, um, you’re, you’re maybe gonna feel like the process had the opposite effect of what you were hoping. Um, so we want to eliminate all of those, you know, bad intentions or, um, barriers. Um, and at any time in your family therapy, if those things are coming out, your therapist will talk to you and come up with a plan of what we do. Do we pause or do we have individual therapy on top of family therapy? Um, because we’re really here to support the wellness of the whole family. Um, and we want to make sure the conditions are there to do so.
Jaime Davis: So as the therapist, do you ever find yourself in the position of being the one to notice that one party may be trying to use the family therapy against the other party?
Erin Ballard: There are times that you can tell. Now our practice, um, we are very, um, ethical in how we get everything set up. Um, everyone over the age of 18 does have to sign the consent, and at least here in North Carolina to release those records every family member over the age of 18 has to consent for those to be released. So the good part about that is, you know, if partner a, wants to pull those records and bring them into court and partner B does not, then, then we can’t release them. Um, now a judge certainly could request something, um, but we really lay out the foundation early on in our work together, and it’s spelled out in our consent that this is here to be helpful and a support.
Um, when now we are mandated reporters, um, of, you know, safety risks, child abuse, and neglect, that sort of thing.
Um, but if, if we’re not encountering those things, then we really try not to release records. Um, it will just skew why you’re coming and what you’re bringing to your sessions and really interfere with the process more than it’s helpful. So our therapists are trained to pick up on some of those nuance things, but also to set those boundaries from the beginning.
Jaime Davis: So it sounds like there are some safeguards in place so that folks really can come into family therapy, feeling comfortable and wanting to share in order to try to resolve whatever the issue is. Is that right?
Erin Ballard: Yes, absolutely.
Jaime Davis: So now it’s time for the final four. This season, I will be asking each guest the same four questions so that we can learn a little more about them and get their personal perspective on self-care. Erin, what are your self-care go-tos.
Erin Ballard: Yeah, that’s important and something, we preach in therapy for everyone to have those. Um, for me, it’s, um, you know, body relaxation like massage. Um, it’s also going to my own counseling when needed. So taking care of the physical and the mental health, certainly exercise is helpful for me. Um, and then recently here during the pandemic, and it’s been so cold, I really look for some of those small things like a warm cup of tea, something that can just be relaxing mentally and physically soothing, um, during the middle of maybe a crazy day. Um, and then this is one I preach to everyone that I work with, but saying no without guilt. And so being able to say no to certain things, Um, and obviously I’m not having to say no as much during a pandemic, there’s not as much activities, but sometimes it might just be some, you know, someone who wants to spend time with you, who you don’t necessarily feel as following the same safety guidelines or something. And so just that permission to say no without guilt and, um, you know, do whatever your body’s wanting to do that day, whether it’s sleep or watch TV or go for a walk by yourself.
Jaime Davis: Yeah you bring up such a good point. Boundaries are so important, especially during the pandemic. Um, that brings me to my second question. What have you discovered about yourself during the pandemic?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, I think I’ve discovered how beneficial it is for me to slow down. I used to love, you know, taking my kids places on the weekends and traveling to see family and you know, it, you’re just kind of the go, go, go. And I, and I do, you know, I do like that in many ways. Um, but I have definitely loved a slower pace. Um, and I’ve found some gratitude in, um, that slower pace in the mornings with my kids and not, you know, I certainly miss family, but not, you know, being in the car on the weekends. Um, and just being able to, um, yeah, slow everything down and, and have a lot more rest than I thought I ever needed.
Jaime Davis: Yeah. I agree with that too. I’ve had the same experience. I’ve really enjoyed, um, slowing down on that hustle and bustle and you know, not being in such a rush to get everywhere.
Erin Ballard: Yeah.
Jaime Davis: Okay, question number three. Have you acquired any strange pandemic habits?
Erin Ballard: Yes. I, uh, well, if you ask my husband, um, you know, rearranging the furniture too often. We’ve painted a few rooms, you know, I’m sure other people can, um, relate in many ways. You’re just home so much and you’re not going anywhere. So I have picked up a few projects and, um, rearranged a few bedrooms and things that aren’t, aren’t typically my, my go-to task.
Jaime Davis: So when this is all over, where would you like to travel?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, uh, well, I have family in all different states. So the first thing that comes to mind is just anywhere I can go with them, even if it’s just their house. Um, but I always love somewhere warm, somewhere relaxing. Um, and also somewhere though that there can be some, some hikes or some, um, good, good things to go and view. Um, we did Colorado a few years ago and just love, um, seeing different landscape and different things that we, we don’t, um, get everyday here at our home. So I definitely right now we’ll go anywhere warm and, and anywhere where I can connect with family.
Jaime Davis: Yeah. That sounds great. Hopefully travel is, um, in the near future for all of us.
Erin Ballard: Yeah, I sure hope.
Jaime Davis: Well Erin, thank you for joining me today. If any of our listeners would like to contact you, what’s the best way for them to reach you?
Erin Ballard: Yeah, you can definitely reach me with my direct email, which is just my first name, email@example.com. Um, but you can also visit our website, raleighfamilysolutions.com and, um, read about each of our therapists. You can schedule appointments online, and you can contact each of the therapists, um, independently. And if you thought they might be a good fit and you want to, um, do that brief consult or see, you know, um, you know, if they’re able to take on new clients, that sort of thing. So our website should have a lot of information. And then, um, I’m here with my direct email to, um, be a resource and answer any questions that people may have.
Jaime Davis: Well, thanks, Erin. That’s great. I hope you all found this episode of “A Year and a Day” to be helpful. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As a reminder, while in my role as a lawyer, my job is to give folks legal advice, the purpose of this podcast is not to do that.
This podcast is for general informational purposes only, should not be used as legal advice, and is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have questions before you take any action, you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.