Recently, I received a call from Anu (name changed) who was struggling with Emotional issues and psychosomatic pain in her shoulders and lower back. These issues started after her husband informed her of his decision to move out of the relationship. She wanted to check wether Separation/Divorce Counselling will help her.
Separation Counselling – Step-by-step guide
Transcript of the brief received over the call
My husband and I met at university when we were studying Medicine, after graduating we started our private practice together before finally getting married. We both continued working until the birth of our first child, then I took a year off before returning to work part time.
I continued working part time until the birth of our second child, when I again took a year off to care for both children at home. I was about to return to work when my husband came home one night and said he was leaving me for another woman. A week later my husband moved out of the family home. He has not contacted me or even our kids since then. I did not feel well enough to return to my private practice.
From the moment he moved out I have been constantly stressed and worried about the children and their future. I have been constantly experiencing unexplained pain in my shoulders and lower back.
After having an initial conversation over the phone, we planned for a consultation session.
Initial Consultation Session
In the first session of Separation Counselling, after hearing Anu’s challenges, I began by psycho-educating her about the process and the possible implications of counseling.
I informed Anu that the approach will include:
- Defining the Existing Concerns clearly
- Defining the expectations from the sessions clearly.
- Understanding the kind of future, she would like to create for herself
- Awareness of various emotions she may be experiencing as a result of the separation and other resulting changes
- Letting go of the hurt or other emotions and getting a closure from the past relationship
- Planning for the future and the steps she would need to take for the desired future
- Identifying and overcoming any dysfunctional thoughts, fears or other emotions that may act as a hindrance towards her moving on from the relationship
Nitin : So do you have any questions or clarification that you need?
Anu : “No” and just that I wanted to immediately get started with the sessions because it was just too much for me and that I am not able to handle my feelings any longer.
So we decided to start the next session for the next day itself.
I asked Anu to summarize the current challenge she was facing and wanted to overcome via separation counselling in her own words.
Anu: I am not able to understand what is happening in my life any longer and it feels like my life is falling apart.
I asked Anu to reframe her problem statement using the following format:
I feel ……………………. about ………………………… when ……………………
Anu: Nitin, can I create multiple statements in the same format?
Nitin : Yes, you can!
Anu defined the problems as:
- I feel helpless and anxious about my life and future when I think about my and the children’s future
- I feel angry and hurt about what my husband did when I think about him or when I look at my children
I asked Anu to select one problem statement that she wanted to start working with first.
Anu choose the second statement.
I asked Anu to read the second statement a couple of times and tell me what was the desired outcome that she wanted to achieve at the end of these sessions in the format :
I wish ……………………….
Anu: I wish to be able to let go of the past, of the hurt and the anger so that I can focus on doing things that will help me take care of my children and provide them with a better future.
(Nitin) I than began by using a Guided imagination/Hypnosis*1 process in which Anu imagined herself in a room where she felt safe. I asked Anu to also imagine her husband in that room and to express everything she felt towards the husband and the situation. Anu visibly got in touch with the hurt, the anger that she spoke about and expressed it to the husband in her imagination.
Once Anu did that, I said ,
Nitin : Imagine a future in terms of how here on wards you will focus on doing things that will help you take care of yourself, your children and providing for a better future.
At the end of the imagination, I observed Anu looked more settled. She said,
Anu : I am feeling lighter and calmer for the first time after my husband informed me about moving out.
I gave Anu a home work to complete before the next session. As a part of the homework I asked her to make a note of the future (using the format from SOFT SEA®*2 Coaching Model) she would like to create for herself and her children along with the steps she needs to take for creating the desired future.
In the next session Anu noticeably looked more centered and calmer. She said,
Anu : Nitin, you know what? the last few days were better as compared to before.
Nitin : Perfect!
Anu, do you remember about the homework that I gave you in last session?
Anu : Yes, here it is!
I asked Anu questions that helped her describe both the future and the steps in a more specific yet detailed manner.
After getting details about the specific steps that Anu felt she needed to take, I asked Anu to create a planner detailing what steps she will take when in the coming days.
In each session, I asked Anu to select at least three new steps that she will take along with the one’s she was already taking in the previous weeks.
For each step that Anu was not able to take or complete during the week, I asked for the hindrance (specific thoughts or emotions) that stopped her from completing the step. I used emotional anchoring*3 for changing the emotional association with the steps and was also taught thought restructuring*4 to change the hindrance thought.
The steps / plan of action was reviewed after every 2 sessions to check if there were any changes required.
Anu took 8 sessions, by the end of which she said that now she feels more in charge of her life, knows how to proceed from here and is confident of being able to take care of herself and her children.
The guided imagination / hypnotic session used during separation counselling can at times completely turn things around for the client. It was just amazing to see the transformation in client in just a single session.
References for techniques used
The concepts and techniques discussed during this case study are based on the topics covered during the Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching® Diploma and the Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapy® Diploma Program.