Dr.Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW is someone who inspires trust, which is important when you are feeling vulnerable while going through relationship issues and divorce.
Barbara’s practice is located in New York City. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA), New York Association of Collaborative Professionals (NYACP), LGBTQ Collaborative Professionals of NYC, Family and Divorce Mediation Council of NYC (FDMC) and the New York State Society of Clinical Social Workers (NYSSCSW).
Barbara has been working with traditional and alternative families for over thirty years. She is a family, couple and individual therapist, divorce coach and mediator. She is also a Child Specialist and she works with parents to help them create a loving new dynamic for children of divorce.
In addition to Barbara’s private practice, she has also taught graduate students in her Couple Therapy courses at Hunter and NYU Schools of Social Work for 20 years.
Those are some hefty credentials, but what really helps Barbara’s clients is her empathic soul. Barbara has also integrated Buddhist concepts into her practice.
Barbara is a mother and grandmother. She shares her years of experience to help people cope with one of the most difficult life changes they will ever have to go through.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Barbara about her practice and caring for your emotional health and your children’s feelings during divorce.
What is the difference between a therapist, a mediator and a divorce coach? Many women are confused and don’t know exactly what kind of guidance can benefit them before and during a divorce. How does a woman know what kind of assistance she needs?
Barbara: It is a great question and the information is a bit confusing, as often someone who is a therapist, mediator and/or divorce coach, as I am, wears all the hats, but not at the same time! It would get way too hot! Even though I use many of the same skills they involve independent job responsibilities.
Let me start with a divorce coach. In that capacity, I work with a woman to coach her through the process of her divorce. And that can be somewhat different for different people. For some it might mean offering a lot of support, normalizing the emotions and helping to regulate her emotions when she needs to meet with her attorney and her soon to be ex. It might involve strategizing ways to deal more effectively in joint meetings with attorneys or mediators to understand how buttons get pushed and what to do about it. It might involve helping her deal more effectively with her children as she goes through the process.
As a mediator, I am a neutral with the couple. My goal is to help them understand their needs, develop options that are available and arrive at solutions that are fair and equitable for them both. In successful mediation, there is no winner or loser, the goal is to have the settlement be fair for both parties.
As a therapist, I am in a whole different role. My goal is to figure out what the woman needs and help her understand herself to feel more content, confident and complete. I spend time getting to know her background, the family she came from and her current relationships, and look at the differences and similarities and make connections. This can be a more lengthy process as it deals with daily life as well as historical issues.
A woman can consult a professional and talk about where she is at, and what her current issues are and that will help determine what professional services will be most beneficial.
You’ve been working with couples for many years. Do you find that people are more open to working with a professional to help them resolve issues and manage the emotional trauma of a divorce? Why do you think that we are more willing to seek out professional help than we have been in the past?
Barbara: A divorce is traumatic and everyone knows that. It is up there in the stress tables as number two after death. So, it is easier to seek help as it is a crisis. But I also think that seeking help with emotional issues is more acceptable in our society as we become more sophisticated and more is written about how therapy can be helpful. Of course, there are regional differences, but as the Buddhists say, suffering is a choice.
Deep down everyone knows that you shouldn’t badmouth your ex-partner to your children. There are more subtle ways that parents try to divide and conquer by doing things such as spoiling children with presents. Perhaps one parent buys the children a pet because they know the other individual is allergic and the kids will be more excited to spend time at a house with a dog or cat. How should a divorced parent deal with these situations?
Barbara: It is so important for divorced parents to work together to co-parent effectively. A lot of the work I do is helping parents be better co-parents. The cardinal rule is to never put the kids in the middle, or express your anger through the children. Parents need to know that it is OK to feel angry. It is OK to express anger to your ex, but I work with parents to talk about appropriate ways to do this, not involving the children. If parents can learn there are outlets and ways to express their anger and understand the damage it does to their kids, they can usually control their own behavior.
You are also a member of the LGBTQ Collaborative Professionals of NYC. Families that don’t fit the definition of the so called “nuclear family” have the same challenges, but they also have to deal with discrimination. If a relationship doesn’t work out, not only is there personal pain, but the divorcing or separating couple has to deal with people who don’t think that they should have been married in the first place, and they can be unkind. Do you counsel people who are going through this situation and how do you help them with this problem?
Barbara: This issue is like any other prejudice. Interracial heterosexual couples can face the same kind of "I knew it wouldn't work" attitude from some people. Chances are the couples who are "other" have already dealt with issues of prejudice and discrimination and the most important feelings that they are dealing with in a divorce or separation are the very same ones that everyone else feels.... fear, disappointment, betrayal, hurt, angry etc. The bigger difference is that in the gay community ex partners often remain in people's lives in a significant way, so oftentimes, the ex becomes a close friend and this can become complicated, especially when the separated people re-couple.
Couples fight over everything and anything, but infidelity causes a different dynamic. When there is a third person involved, how does the other partner come to terms with the fact that the other woman (or man) may be involved in their children’s lives. Do you have any advice for people in that situation?
Barbara: Infidelity is a tremendous betrayal. Not only does the partner stray sexually from the relationship, but it generally involves lying and deceit. In some ways, that is the bigger issue as the trust is broken. And to co-parent, some trust is necessary. Jealousy frequently becomes paramount which further erodes any trust. When parents are divorcing, I help them to develop a narrative that they can tell their children and if a third person is involved, I try to keep that out of it, as it will only be hurtful for the child. The general rule in my field is that a new partner should not be introduced to the children until he or she has been with the parent for at least six months and the parent feels that this will develop into a long term relationship. This is very important, as a child may meet a new person who is dating a parent and feel connected and then after a few months of dating, the parent decides this is not working, the child again experiences a loss. And this loss is on top of the primary separation, which is still raw.
Are some issues unresolvable? For example, say one parent wants to raise their children in their religion and the other person is an Atheist, or one parent became a vegan and animal rights activist during the marriage and the other feels that everyone needs animal protein. When they were together maybe they came to a compromise, but after a divorce they don’t feel the need to be so fair. (It would seem odd that these people would get together in the first place, but it happens.)
Barbara: This actually happens... with religion, or lack of it, food and sometimes geography, where one parent wants to move out of state. There is no easy answer. The questions need to be mediated by a professional who can ideally help them understand each of their interests and why their point of view is important. They will then generate options together with the idea that with some understanding and empathy the parents will be able to make some agreement that will be in the best interests of their children. That is the standard to which we adhere and try to separate out the parents' needs from those of their kids.
Thank you, Barbara, for your words of wisdom and compassion. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you!
Are you struggling with your emotions during a breakup or divorce? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.