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Collaborative Q&A Part 3 — Navigating issues of mental health/substance abuse

Question #3:

Can you conduct a collab matter where one party has mental health/substance abuse problems? If so, how are the family’s therapists involved?


A collaborative matter can definitely be conducted in circumstances where one party has mental health and/or substance abuse issues provided that the parties are carefully screened for suitability by a coach.

This is to identify how the issue is addressed and managed and which therapists/ treatment is involved with that party. From experience, parties who suffer from a serious personality disorder or other significant psychotic mental illnesses are not particularly suitable for collaborative practice as they often lack the insight necessary to harness and be engaged with the process. Also, if the party with the identified mental health or substance abuse issues has also perpetrated domestic violence on the other party, then usually not suitable as the other party may not have the trust and respect needed for a successful collaborative practice matter.

If the issue is well managed, collaborative practitioners should familiarise themselves with the treatment regime and encourage that party to regularly check in with their therapists and support network. It may be that during the process, the practitioners require assurance from the therapists/doctors that their client is able to proceed and can make cogent decisions. The advantage of using the collaborative process is that there can be frank discussions between the practitioners if it is perceived that a party is struggling. In this regard, collaborative practice can be a very appropriate forum to assist people with such issues as it can ‘hold’ parties in a safe space allowing them to ‘dip in and out if necessary to attend to their mental health and wellbeing.

In summary, whilst conducting matters with such complex issues are difficult, it is possible to do so with a reliable and trustworthy team of skilled practitioners who can respond to the issues as and when they arise.

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