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Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples
10 CEUs Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples

Section 10
Divorce Stress

Question 10 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples CEU Courses
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed the "Hanging Judge" syndrome in divorced or separated clients and its components, self-hatred, injustice, and a lack of compassion for oneself.

In this section, we will discuss separation stress.  Generally speaking there are two types of stress symptoms shown by divorced clients.  Two types of stress symptoms are common symptoms and unique symptoms.

2 Types of Stress Symptoms

♦ #1  Common Symptoms

Would you agree that far too often divorced clients ignore stress symptoms, denying their potential consequences and avoiding having to address their causes?  My colleague Greg often counsels stressed clients.  Greg has explained to me that his stress clients identify physical signs of stress as Insomnia, Headaches, Allergies (hives, hay fever, and congestion), Teeth grinding, jaw clenching (temporomandibular joint muscle spasms, or TMJ), Nausea, indigestion, and heartburn, or Backaches and stiff necks. 

When the clients were asked about their physical symptoms of stress, Greg found that one of the few symptoms they consistently reported noticing was that they perspired more under stress!  

Would you agree that divorced clients seem to add new stress symptoms to old ones as they progress through the stages of separation?  For example, does your divorced client think each stress symptom is a sign of a malignancy or premature aging rather than stress?  I find that in clients who attribute physical signs of stress to illness or aging, fears will compound their stresses and multiply their symptoms.  If divorced clients are avoiding medical checkups as well, more se­rious stress-related disorders may actually develop.

♦ #2  Unique Symptoms

In addition to the more general stress symptoms, which are shared clients under stress, divorced clients under stress show some symptoms that are uniquely theirs, more frequently theirs, or more dangerous when they are theirs. These symptoms are as follows:

Six Unique Symptoms

•           Hypertension (high blood pressure)

•           Atherosclerosis (high cholesterol level)

•           Heart attack (myocardial infarction)

•           Heart failure

•           Peptic ulcer (gastric or duodenal)

•           Alcoholism


Some of these ailments and disorders may relate to the client’s physiology.  Some reflect social, sexual, and psychological demands associated with being a newly single adult in this culture.  Some are affected by early upbringing and developmental history.  Some reflect lifestyle.  And yet some are brought on by the life changes and events that are part of a divorced client’s experience.

Clearly, each of your divorced client’s stress factors effects his or her stress level.  How do you relate your client’s physical symptoms to his or her stress levels?  You might try the Laugh at Stress technique.

♦ Technique:  Laugh at Stress

The laugh at stress technique uses humor to help foster an acceptance of the adversity which causes stress.  Suggest to your divorced or separated client that he or she look for the irony or absurdity in the painful situation. Perhaps the client can draw cartoons of the situation or make a good news/bad news joke out of it.  One client, Randy, when told he had choices, said, "Yeah, which wrist to slash, my left or my right."  This sense of humor eventually led to flashes of acceptance and Randy began to learn to decrease his stress levels through humor.

Would you agree that laughter is one of the best ways to open a blocked acceptor.  Perhaps your stressed divorce client might, for example, make a point of telling or exchanging two jokes a day.  Could she ask people she meets if they have heard any good jokes lately?  If they tell him a joke, she can pass it along to others. Think of your Randy.  Could he benefit from laughing at stress?Perhaps playing this section for your client might help.

In this section, we discussed separation stress.  Generally speaking there are two types of stress symptoms shown by divorced clients.  Two types of stress symptoms are common symptoms and unique symptoms.

In the next section, we will discuss substance abuse and misuse.  I find that there are five steps in the adjustment stage of substance abuse and misuse following a divorce or separation.  These five steps are the erosion of trust, avoidance and control, the family becomes reactive, communication breakdown, and monitoring. We will also discuss the frustration towel twist and the feelings excavation technique as ways to begin to treat substance abuse and misuse. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Hald, G. M., Ciprić, A., Øverup, C. S., Štulhofer, A., Lange, T., Sander, S., Gad Kjeld, S., & Strizzi, J. M. (2020). Randomized controlled trial study of the effects of an online divorce platform on anxiety, depression, and somatization. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. 

Jamison, E. C., Bol, K. A., & Mintz, S. N. (2019). Analysis of the effects on time between divorce decree and suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 40(5), 309–316. 

Krumrei, E. J., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). Spiritual stress and coping model of divorce: A longitudinal study. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(6), 973–985.

Nash, B., & Chapman, N. A. (2019). Building a culture of caring: Lessons learned from managing professional expectations while navigating the emotional upheaval of divorce. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(2), 95–107.

Question 10:  What are two types of stress symptoms regarding divorced clients? To select and enter your answer, go to the Test.

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