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Jill Klotz Flitter, Ph.D. is a Madison psychologist and a member of CFLCW for nine years. She serves on the CFLCW Board and is a past member of the Training Committee.

Jill was also was one of the first members to serve as a Facilitator on a Collaborative Divorce client team, an emerging model that some practitioners have embraced.

This interview appear in the July Edition of the CFLCW Bulletin

If you have a highly functioning team, a team that is working together, then you can work to prevent issues that brought all those therapy clients to my couch.

-Jill Klotz Flitter, Ph.D.

Editor: What drew you to Collaborative Practice?

Jill:

As a therapist, I see a good number of college age clients in my practice. I was struck by how many of them were still experiencing negative impacts from their parents' divorce, even if it had happened 10, 15 years prior.

So that was kind of an impetus for wanting to see if there would be a more proactive way to prevent some of that pain in these kids who were still having this awful experience as young adults. It tainted their perspective on romantic relationships.

Not only was it painful dynamics with situations such as  “it's graduation, but I'm not even looking forward to it because mom and dad are just going to be fighting about who's going to sit where when they come to Madison” but  also some real shading and clouding of what relationships could look like for themselves.

I had a colleague in my practice who was already in the collaborative, in CFLCW and so those two things together really helped me get on board. It helped that she informally mentored me and I did some of my earliest cases with her and it was a nice way to get into it.

CP training used to rely upon the phrase “paradigm shift” to [explain] the role to practitioners. How much of a shift was it for you?

I definitely think about wearing a different hat. It's certainly wearing a different hat in that you use your training, knowledge, and skills in a different way. You know that this is a short term, really focused activity and with a specific outcome and it is much more in a closed time frame than therapy, which can be more wide open and broad in that way.

You said it was a shorter timeframe and focus. Other than the time allocated, how else is it different?

 When serving as a child specialist, I’m asking these people to think about their divorce from the perspective of their kid – “what is this going to be like for your child? Can you be your best self now for your child in five years, in ten years?”

And if they can get out of themselves and out of their own pain and anger and hurt at their spouse and put on their parenting hat and be their best parenting self, they're likely to make decisions that are better for their kids and for themselves in the longer run. It can be challenging trying to do a parenting plan with kids who are four and two, and this plan has to follow those kids for 15, 16, 18 years.

One of your colleagues said that the high conflict case is the best place for a collaborative process as opposed to litigation. Why do you think that is from the perspective of a mental health professional? Why is it a better process?

I think that is very true and certainly if you have a high functioning team. If you have a team that is working together, then you can work to prevent issues that brought all those therapy clients to my couch. If the team is working well together, they can help those high conflict people not get in their own way and ultimately make decisions that are going to be better for their kids and better for their families.

Really, what is the alternative? The alternative is those folks would fight it out in court for years and years, all the time dragging their kids through that mud the whole…the whole way.

That's tough. People have a hard time thinking that far into the future. In the private therapy world, you find yourself meeting with parents about their child's immediate problem.  In collaborative you have to rethink doing the same thing but with a different, and much longer, timeline.

In a therapy case, I will be more likely to spend time with folks talking about or thinking about how they got here. You know, what about being this kind of parent or parenting in this kind of way is important to you? Where did you learn that? Do you want to keep that, is that working for you or not?

Do you think clients in collaborative reach an “Aha” moment in the process where they start to see that the processes making sense?

Not uniformly, but I certainly have seen that. You know, I should say in my experience, it has often been triggered by something that does happen with the kids. Perhaps a child specialist has met with the children and they are able to take some of that feedback and information back to the parents and the coach in a meeting. And the light bulb goes on. That is when it happens most often.

Parents can be caught up in the moment because their feelings are so strong right now. It is a time of intense pain.  Some say that people are at their worst during the divorce, and we have to find them and reach them so that they can be at their best for their kids. That is a real juxtaposition; be the best for their kids now, and up until they turn 18.  That is asking a lot of a person so to remind them of that, and I think it is critical to ask them questions in that forward-looking way.

Diane Mader was always good at those kinds of questions, with ones like “what do you want your kids to remember at their high school graduation? What do you want your kids to remember about this time period in their life?” and to really push them to think ahead and to get out of the pain that is locking them into the present moment.

Discuss an issue or consideration that might make sense at age five for the kids, but does it make sense at age 15?

Well, probably the biggest one is placement. Not in terms of how much, but when do you switch back and forth between the two homes? Because kids’ perceptions of time is very different from teenagers’ perception of time.  You want to be able to maintain attachment and connection with both parents and for smaller kids, it is important to, to maintain that attachment. You need to see them more frequently.

A teenager from a cognitive and emotional development perspective has an established attachment. Also many teenagers don't want to spend time with their parents and have a lot going on in their lives.  The idea of moving back and forth between homes multiple times per week just becomes a source of frustration and irritation.

That's probably the most obvious one to think about it from an attachment perspective, but also from the perspective of what's going on in the kid's life

The Collaborative Model used to mean two lawyers, 2 coaches and a financial neutral. Today there are several variations to that theme and you have served as a facilitator, as well. What has been your experience?

I think it has been positive, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think it depends more on the team and most certainly upon the clients.

There are still some cases for which the two-coach model would be better. If you have a client who needs a lot of support a two coach model might be better for that. If you have a client who is not going to believe that anyone can be neutral, a two-coach model might be better for that.

One of the things that is so appealing about the facilitator role is that the job is to not only help the clients in their divorce process, [but also] the job is to also help the team in their process right.  You have to make sure that things are on track, in terms of timing, movement progress, and team communication. The goal is the team is working together.

If we are really explicit and clear about what is each person's job is, then that can be really helpful.

When you first finished building blocks and you went back to Monroe Street, walked in your office and sat down, what was the first question that came in your head?

How do I get my first case? What was helpful for me - and more difficult for the attorneys I imagine - and easier for me was that I worked with someone in my practice who served as a coach and mentored me right from the start.

So I had my first couple of cases with her. She had worked with Janice and others quite a bit and that helped a great deal. She and I could meet off the record/off the books separately and discuss this is what should be the goal for the next meeting. This is what just happened.

It was super convenient and very helpful. We were in the same office but in a one-coach model that would be much harder to do. That is one thing that I think is unfortunate or harder about a facilitator or one coach model, because it doesn't lend itself to that quite as easily. But there are advantages to those models as well. That is the key – a team, a model, an approach that works for that specific client.

In the end, that is the ultimate goal isn’t it?  That seems to me what “client-focused” is all about.