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Paradigm Shift – The Mental Health Professional as Point of Entry for Collaborative Practice

October 18, 2015

I provided a workshop for mental health professionals at the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals’ 25th annual conference in Washington, DC. The focus of the workshop was helping them develop their practice and range of services to better serve separating couples and their children.

Collaborative Practice was developed as an approach to resolving disputes respectfully between couples who were dissolving their relationship. It used to just involve two lawyers, one for each person, who would sit down together with their clients to sort out the challenges of their relationship dissolution without the threat of court. Over time, and recognizing some of the unique challenges and specialty issues, mental health professionals and financial professionals were brought into the mix to bring their expertise to the creative problems solving process.

While originally a lawyer centric process and despite the inclusion of other allied professionals Collaborative Practice still remains largely a lawyer centric process. The inclusion of other allied professionals still requires the referral from the primary lawyer team. There are some jurisdictions where a team approach has evolved to include the allied professionals from the get-go, but these inclusive teams are still far and few between and most allied professionals still rely upon referrals from the lawyers to either ply their trade away from the collaborative table or by invitation, to take a seat at the collaborative table.

Of the 35 attendees at my workshop, virtually all were dependent upon a referral from a collaborative lawyer to work on a “collaborative case” whether as an outside resource to the team or as an invited team member. This dependency by the mental health professional for referrals from collaborative lawyers limits their scope of practice, service offerings and work in the field of helping separating couples and their children adjust and transition. To add, those in attendance lamented their sense of dependency and lack of referrals.

My workshop helped the mental health professional appreciate that they can turn the referral model on its head. The collaborative lawyer need not be the centre of the collaborative process for a resolution process to be collaborative in nature.

Instead of waiting dependently upon a referral from the collaborative lawyers, the mental health professional can be the point of entry for service. They can help resolve interpersonal and parenting issues ahead of clients meeting with collaborative lawyers. Thereafter, the mental health professional then becomes the referral source to the collaborative lawyers who would review resolutions for formalization into binding agreements.

At the discretion of the mental health professional and in part depending on the complexity of financial issues, the mental health professional can also refer to the divorce financial specialist who can facilitate the resolution of financial matters prior to the separating couple taking both the parenting and financial resolutions to their collaborative lawyers to incorporate into a binding agreement.

To be clear, I do refer to a short list collaboratively trained lawyers for finalizing agreements as they tend to better respect the integrity of the work performed by other allied collaborative professionals. Collaboratively trained lawyers typically won’t seek to undo what couples have achieved by trying to get that elusive better deal for one over the other. Collaboratively trained lawyers appreciate that in the long run, a lop-sided agreement isn’t good for either party. The more durable and workable agreements are those that both parties mutually accept. By working with collaborative lawyers, the couple will meet jointly to complete and formalize their agreement and that provides for a more successful outcome.

In addition to helping the mental health professional with this referral and service paradigm shift, I also provided strategies for marketing ones practice to attract the kind of referrals they prefer. I offered a multitude of additional services for them to consider in order to expand their practice. I also provided tips for developing relationship and working with the media: radio, print, TV and Interment.

It is empowering for the mental health professional to be the point of entry for service, to know how to attract the referrals they want and to be sought after by collaborative lawyers for their referrals. This workshop marked quite a turn-around in their thinking.

If you are a mental health professional looking to expand your practice, working with couples dissolving their relationship, feel free to view my website for my list and explanation of services. Other professionals are always welcome to use any of my services as their own. I believe in sharing. This helps strengthen our practice and provides a better range of services to help separating couples and their children. We as mental health professionals should be successful in our practice because as we are successful, we are of better service to others.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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One Comment
  1. Shane Adamson permalink

    Hi Gary

    Great article… Very interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing… D.C. Is a great place for sightseeing … Hope you had a chance to see the sights and museums ….

    Have a great day and see you soon.

    Sincerely ,


    Check us out at


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