Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are types of treatment that are based firmly on research findings. These approaches aid people in achieving specific changes or goals.
Changes or goals might involve:
A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like lessening back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.
Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past.
They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life, not on personality traits.
Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists treat individuals, parents, children, couples, and families.
Replacing ways of living that do not work well with ways of living that work, and giving people more control over their lives, are common goals of behavior and cognitive behavior therapy.
HOW TO GET HELP:
If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet.
You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner.
It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist.
It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees.
They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association.
Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state.
You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations.
You may, of course, visit our website (www.abct.org) and click on "Find a CBT Therapist"
The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition.
These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.
The Difficulty of Divorce
There is a 50/50 chance that couples who marry today will divorce, and almost
half of all children now growing up in the United States have seen or will see
their parents’ marriage end. Divorce is one of the most difficult experiences
many people will ever face. A divorce is something that many adults and almost
all children do not want to happen, and it can take a very long time to accept.
Even people who want to divorce often find that they have mixed emotions.
There are marriages that are empty, conflict-ridden, or even abusive, and ending
the relationship is the right decision. But even when it is the right decision,
divorce is only the better choice between two painful alternatives.
Divorce is extremely stressful, but research shows that most people, including
most children, cope successfully with the stress. Newspapers, magazines,
and television shows constantly emphasize the irreversible damage of divorce,
especially for children. This makes for dramatic headlines, but it does not reflect
the reality of scientific evidence. Research studies consistently indicate that
divorce has few lasting effects on children’s mental health or performance in
school. In fact, what is most notable about children of divorce is their resilience,
their successful coping despite life’s difficulties. Divorce poses many challenges
to children; and, after a period of readjustment, most children success in facing
the challenges. Divorce is almost always painful; but, if it is handled properly, it
does not lead to irreversible damage.
Thus, neither one of the common story lines on divorce is accurate. For children
and for parents, divorce is neither easy nor impossible. It takes time for
parents and children to re-establish family life after divorce - at least a year or
two, perhaps longer. It also takes hard work. Parents may have to work harder at
parenting, at a job, or at getting along with each other; and children also may
have to work harder in order to help their family. Still, the work can pay off; and
for most families divorce remains a painful memory, but a memory that is not so
painful that they cannot get on with their lives.
Explaining Divorce to a Child
The meaning of divorce is quite different for children of different ages, and
explanations need to be tailored accordingly. Infants and toddlers obviously
don’t understand what divorce means, but they do understand if their daily routine
changes. Security and consistency are what is most important to them.
Preschoolers and young school-age children may understand the word “divorce,”
but they, too, are more interested in practical things. Some of the questions they
want answered are:
Where will I stay? Am I going to be left alone? Where will my stuff be? When will I see Mom? When will I see Dad? Do you still love me?
School-age children want to know more about the reasons for divorce;
and, as time passes they may ask tricky questions that need to be answered
honestly. Eight- to twelve-year-olds also need answers to their many practical
questions about their daily routines, and they can use a parent’s help with
the tricky question of what to tell their friends. Adolescents want the most
information, and they should get an honest but limited explanation. It is
appropriate for teenagers to know why their parents split up, but it is inappropriate
for them to know all the details of their parents’ marriage. They are
children, not friends.
In thinking about what to tell children of different ages about divorce, it
may be helpful to think about what is appropriate to tell a child of the same
age about “where babies come from.” Children of any age deserve honest
information about both topics, but they don’t need to know every detail. Of
course, repeated and increasingly sophisticated explanations are needed as
children grow older; but, just as with what they learn about sex, much of
what children believe about divorce will differ from what they are told.
Children’s beliefs will be closer to parents’ explanations when parents offer
information designed to help the children, not to unburden themselves or to
blame their spouses.
A few tips may help in making sure that explanations meet the needs of
children, not parents.
Always reassure children that they are loved.
Always try to be neutral (or positive, if possible) about children’s relationship with the other parent.
Always think about the conversation in advance, and maybe even try it out on a friend first.
Most important of all, put yourself in your children’s shoes.
What would you want to know, and how would you want to be told?
Legalities and the Children
Divorced families are still families, and a major task that parents face is
renegotiating their family relationships with their children and with each
other. Deciding how each parent will spend time with the children is one of
the biggest issues that must be negotiated legally. This tricky question may
be tied to other things, such as who will move from the family residence, the
question of financial support, or the desire of a parent to relocate to a different
part of the country.
There is no one type of legal or physical custody arrangement that has
been found to be best for children. Many people feel that the best arrangement
is joint legal and physical custody, in which parents share decisions
and spend approximately equal time with their children. Others argue that
sole custody is best, insisting that children need one home and one parent in
charge. Still other people want different arrangements, such as having children
live primarily with the parent of the same sex.
Research does not strongly support any one of these alternatives over the
others. What works best depends on a family’s circumstances, not on some
abstract legal term. When determining what will work best, some principles
to consider should be:
Keep conflict to a minimum
Maximize quality contact
Keep it simple
Fighting With a Former Spouse
Research makes it very clear that the more parents fight with each other
— before, during, and after a divorce — the more psychological problems
their children experience. This is especially true when children witness or
overhear the conflict, or when they are put in the middle of a dispute. Even
very young children feel tension, torn loyalties, and mixed messages when
their parents are struggling. Obviously, disagreements are expected between
divorced partners. Different philosophies about raising children can become
difficult to manage, and old hurts and new jealousies can create many reasons
for anger and pain.
Getting angry often feels good to a parent (at least for a while), but children
benefit if their parents cooperate. This makes for one of the trickiest
emotional balancing acts in divorce. The solution usually is not for former
spouses to be “friends.” In fact, it often works better if parents have a polite,
businesslike approach to working together in rearing their children. The
point is that although some fighting may be good for a parent, it is not good
for children. Therefore, a simple and very important rule about fighting is:
Keep children out of the middle.
Children’s Relationships With Both Parents
As a rule, more contact with both parents is better for children, but only
if the parents’ conflict is contained. If fighting is uncontrolled, children may
do better to see one parent less — and be exposed to less fighting as a result.
More contact with each parent may mean sharing time with the children
equally; but that arrangement is the exception, not the rule.
Many divorced families maximize contact between children and both parents by keeping a
stable routine during the school week but then coming up with creative
options for using weekends, school vacations, and summer holidays.
Other parents recognize that major changes are likely to take place as children grow
old, and this helps them to accept less attractive options for the time being.
Consistency in schedules and rules makes life less stressful for everyone.
Once parents agree on a plan for spending time with their children, they do
well to stick to it religiously. Children want to know where they are going to
be at what times, and, while a change or delay may seem small to a parent, it
can be a big deal to a child. Everyone needs some flexibility, of course; but
flexibility works best if it follows long after a consistent routine has been
A few rules on parenting alone can be useful to keep in mind. Children
need love, but they also need discipline. Each household needs a few clear
and reasonable rules about such things as bedtimes, responsibilities, and
appropriate behavior; and parents should expect these rules to be followed.
No means no, and parents make a big mistake if they let their guilt turn no
into “maybe not.” Of course, a positive focus is the best way to discipline.
Praising children for doing things right works much better than criticizing
children for doing things wrong.
Finally, get children involved in taking responsibility for their actions
and duties. Call a family meeting, explain the problem, and ask children what
they (realistically) think is an appropriate solution. Children can discipline
themselves pretty strictly if given the chance, and it is hard for them to argue
against rules that they set for themselves.
Some children develop psychological problems following their parents’
divorce, and many more have trouble making an adjustment. Crying, worrying,
and constant questions about the divorce are obvious signs; but
increased aggression, disturbed sleep, spending more time alone, or lower
grades also can be signals. Parents often have a hard time being objective in
evaluating how their children are coping, and obtaining an outside opinion
can be a great help. Child-care providers or teachers, for example, see many
children and can give valuable feedback.
While all children are upset to some degree when their parents first separate,
if the children have ongoing problems, their upset is frequently tied to
continuing problems in family relationships. The parents may still be fighting;
one parent may be inconsistent in spending time with the children; or
the schedule may be too complicated. Alternatively, one or both parents may
be disciplining the children ineffectively; the children may not be getting
enough affection; or parents may be putting too many emotional and practical
burdens on the children. Because of these possibilities, three good things
that divorced parents always can do for their children are:
To work on coping better themselves
To work on maintaining a positive relationship with theirchildren
To work on finding a way to stop fighting with each other.
Ways to Get Help
Friends and relatives flock to aid a family during a crisis, but many people
do not know how to react to a divorce. As a result, instead of helping out,
many potential supporters move away from the divorced family. For this reason,
parents and children often have to ask for help in coping with divorce,
and this is the time to ask. In addition to seeking the help of friends and relatives,
many parents also find self-help books useful at this time. Parents
should call on professional helpers, too, if there seems to be a need. Lawyers
can give advice and negotiate agreements for parents, or parents may want to
seek out a divorce mediator.
Divorce mediators usually are either mental health professionals or
lawyers, but they specialize in helping divorcing or divorced parents negotiate
their own legal agreements in a more cooperative manner. Therapists
who are familiar with divorce and comfortable in offering direction also can
provide objective opinions, support, and advice to individuals, to parents and
children, or to former spouses.
Finally, groups for parents or children may be especially beneficial in
divorce. Self-help groups for parents are available in most communities, and
more schools are offering groups for children of divorce.
For more information or to find a therapist:
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