As I look back on my initial introduction to Collaborative Practice, the word “collaborate” held a multitude of meanings for me, and at the same time, much ambiguity as well. That became ever so much clearer when I attended my first IACP Forum in 2008.
Back then, I was a practicing licensed mental health professional and doctoral student, with little knowledge about Collaborative Practice (CP), yet much curiosity for what this process was really about, how it worked, and how it could benefit the future of families transitioning through divorce. At that time, in my practice, I had been seeing and working with what I call the “casualties of divorce,” in an effort to assist people in healing from their traumatic experience of traditional divorces. That was a painfully challenging endeavor. I discovered through exploring the existing research on CP in a class that I was enrolled in, that as a Mental Health Professional I could participate in a process with a team of professionals working together to assist families through an amicable divorce process. I can tell you, to my mind, and from my experiences, that was an oxymoron. I truly couldn’t wrap my head around how working with divorce attorneys could in any way be amicable, nor how I would be included in that process. I did not know where to begin. That is how I decided this would be an ideal topic for my doctoral dissertation. I initiated my exploration by attending my first International Academy for Collaborative Professionals (IACP) Forum in 2008.
I heard about the IACP at an Association for Families and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) conference where I attended several sessions about the benefits of Collaborative Practice. I was told how the IACP generously embraces newcomers to this process and would likely do whatever they could to assist me in becoming part of the Collaborative Community. That intrigued me. Truth be told, at that time, in my hometown community, that was not necessarily the case. Back in 2008, mental health professionals were only considered ancillary to the Collaborative Process, and not fully welcomed or included in the local practice groups that were predominantly “lawyer only.” Additionally, if there were MHPs in the groups, they appeared to be more hesitant to welcome a newcomer (as the opportunities for cases were few and far between).
What I was told at the AFCC conference could not have been truer! I began my learning process at my first Forum in 2008 by attending a session reviewing the research data that had been gathered about Collaborative Practice to date. I connected with Linda Wray and was invited to participate on the Research Committee. Additionally, I was introduced to many of the leaders in the Collaborative Community, including and not limited to Stu Webb, Ron Ousky, Pauline Tesler, Linda Solomon and many others who were real and relatable people who could not have been more warm, welcoming, and apparently excited about my research project. To that end, I ultimately interview each of these people for my dissertation research, and beyond that, each of these people were instrumental in promoting my project and assisting me in obtaining many participants for my study. Ultimately, the IACP published an article I wrote about my research findings. They could not be more supportive and encouraging. The exact spirit of collaboration. I thought, “These people really do walk their talk!”
I returned from that Forum experience in 2008 excited, invigorated, and engaged, and knew that this would be my trajectory. I brought home a wealth of information and forms, along with protocols for practice and ethical standards that actually enabled me to begin developing my own practice. Over the years since, I cannot even describe how not only my professional but also my personal life has changed and developed. Every year that I return to the Forums it is like “going home again.” My Collaborative family has exponentially expanded along with my practice and my collaborative endeavors. The relationships that I have developed have grown and strengthened, as I have become connected with people from all over the world. I have remained involved in my committee work in the areas of Research and Access to Collaboration. I have become a leader in my statewide and local Collaborative Communities, I have written and teach a course in CP to master’s and doctoral students at Nova Southeastern University (now beginning its sixth year), and facilitate a pro bono collaborative divorce project for Veteran Families in our community. I have presented several times at the Forums and feel that I am continually embraced and encouraged by my community.
If any of this resonates with you I urge you to attend the Forum. I can promise, if you participate and allow yourself to be, you will experience the same warmth and welcome that I have. Every year I look forward to the Forum with great excitement and anticipation. Not only is it always a wonderful learning experience, but it continually ignites my passion for the work I am doing. I know I will not be disappointed in that each year I am both personally and professionally enhancing my life. I look forward to going home again! I do hope to meet you there, and have high hopes that you will be glad that you came!
Dr. Randy Heller received her doctorate in Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Supreme Court Family Mediator, Qualified Parenting Coordinator, Certified Hypnotherapist, as well as the Founder and Clinical Director of The Family Network, Collaborative Counseling Center for Positive Growth and Change, established in 1994. She is a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
Heller is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She also serves as a Board member of The Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida, The Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida, the Collaborative Family Law Institute, as well as an active member on the Research Committee of the IACP since 2007.