Ten Questions for Joe Shaub, Author of Divorce (or Not) A Guide
- Joe, you are not new to me, and you are well known in the Seattle area, but for those who may not know you please tell us a little about yourself.
Kevin, first of all, thank you for doing this. I love these questions!
I got my education and training down in California, getting my JD from the University of Southern California in ’74 and my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at California Family Study Center in ’91.
On a great road trip after my first year in law school, my buddy, Steven Faulstich and I rolled into Washington in my VW Bus and I fell head over heels in love with this place. It took me about 25 years but, in ’95 when I finally decided to begin my solo practice, it was clear that deep roots had to be plunged into whatever community I was in, and I was really done with the monochromatic climate and familiarity of L.A. I remember thinking, “Wow, I can live anywhere I want.” I was coming off the end of a short-ish marriage and the time was ripe. I arrived in Seattle that January, took the bar exam, got licensed as an LMFT as well and, other than marrying Bev in 2000, it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I maintained a family law and mediation practice for the first 15 years, creating a referral network from therapists for whom I conducted frequent law and ethics continuing ed seminars. I’m not temperamentally suited to practice divorce litigation – I worried too much about outcome – I mean worried. I also got very aggravated at opposing counsel who were unnecessarily aggressive (zealous) and it was really impacting my well-being and quality of life.
When, in 2010, I decided to finally and completely jettison my representational practice and devote myself exclusively to mediation and providing individual and couples therapy and devote my collaborative law involvement to coaching, a huge cloud lifted for me and the last six years have been the happiest and most fun I have ever had.
I was introduced to collaborative practice by a great Pauline Tesler law review piece in the late 90’s and when Rachel Felbeck introduced the concept, finally, to Washington, I latched onto CL immediately – becoming one of the founding members of the original collaborative practice group here.
Initially, I was a lawyer, but have switched completely into being a coach in the last few years. Changing one’s professional persona in a community was a very interesting challenge. It took a while for people to get that I was “for real” as a coach after thinking of me as a lawyer, but I am way, w-a-y more comfortable in that role.
What else? I love to read (mostly non-fiction), play and listen to music, take walks with Bev on the many lovely trails that are only 15-30 minutes from our front door and, actually, work.
I love what I do and particularly enjoy practicing emotionally focused couples therapy and coaching as part of a collaborative team. I am extremely fond of just about every colleague in this community and it is honestly a treat to join with them in various constellations as we support people through their massive life transition.
- You know I think your books are fabulous, and we have broken bread as we talked about where I think the strengths of the books lie, but I have to ask you, why now, where did they come from, and what took you so long to write these books?
Like so many people who like to write, I thought for years, “I want to write a book about ______.” I filled in that blank, naturally, with wanting to write a book about all the things I have been thinking and experiencing in my work life over the years. How ridiculously harmful conventional legal divorce is and (more lately) how certain kinds of couples therapy actually work to bring painfully polarized intimate partners back together.
I was giving tons of continuing education workshops for both therapists and lawyers and I had so much stuff stored up in my head. Then, in April, 2014, I was fishing by a pond in the woods and I heard a voice call from behind a tree, “Joe…Joe you must write your book.” I looked up and a lovely black woman, with kind of glow emanating from her entire body stepped from behind a tree and repeated her admonition. I asked her what I should call it and she said, “Call it – The Collaborative Way to Divorce – The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs and Happier Kids – Without Going to Court.”
I told her, “Great idea…but that one’s already been done and it really can’t be improved upon.” She replied, “Okay, whatever. Have you thought of maybe doing more of a fiction? Maybe a story about a bunch of guys going after a giant white whale or something like that?”
Seeing she wasn’t quite the muse for me, I packed up my gear and came home and since I was having one of my periodic slack business months, I sat at the computer and created a Table of Contents of what I wanted to talk about and the rest of the book just flowed from that.
By the way, I’ve only been visited one more time by my muse. She told me to write a screenplay about 19th Century trapper who is mauled by a bear and left for dead – and then crawls back to civilization and gets his revenge.
I let her know it was a stupid idea and I never heard from her again.
- Part 1 of Divorce (or Not) a Guide focuses on what to do when the decision to divorce is made. Part 2 is about Saving the Salvageable Relationship. Excuse me, but isn’t the order of the books reversed?
Extremely good point, Kevin.
When I wrote the one volume Divorce (or Not): A Guide, I had the Saving the Salvageable Relationship material in the first part. Over the ensuing months, my discomfort with that placement grew. As I say in the current Introductions to both Parts I and II, I think it is discordant and even a bit mean to invite someone, who has made the painful, irrevocable decision to end an intimate relationship, to sit and read about ways to heal that relationship. My experience has been that when you’re done, you’re done. Reading about the difficulty – and ultimate joy – in healing a wounded attachment bond isn’t what the divorcing need to hear about. To really make this incompatibility of messages clear (and also to construct the message consistent with the project’s title – which I had become (excuse me) wedded to), I made Part I of Divorce (or Not) about “Divorce” and Part II about “or (Not).”
- Let’s talk audience. Who should be reading these books? And why?
There are four audiences for these books:
- People in deeply wounded relationships in which neither person is done. It is my hope that these people can gain some insight and, more importantly, motivation to seek out and work with a couple’s therapist. That’s why the subtitle for “or (Not)” is “How to Choose and Use a Couples Therapist.” I honestly believe that many couples who have experienced years of disconnection and loneliness or a relationship trauma (Sue Johnson’s excellent phrase) can heal that rupture. Also, I think these people might benefit from a deeper understanding of what people are subjected to in conventional legal divorce. It isn’t pretty and people need to know that as they consider whether to stay or go.
- People who have decided to divorce. I’ve got this little soapbox I’ve been carrying round with me for many years now, which I can climb up onto at the slightest provocation and expound on how conventional legal divorce is tantamount to torture for the participants. It’s not because the lawyers are evil or cruel people. It is the system, which has evolved in its particular manner for a series of good reasons, but isn’t suited to the emotional trauma that accompanies almost any divorce. I have found over the years that my workshop Family Law for the Mental Health Professional has been extremely well-received by people who do not understand the dynamics of conventional legal dispute resolution and why it is that way. I want people going through this extremely challenging life transition to have as much information as possible because information reduces anxiety and divorce sets off a nuclear bomb of anxiety.
- Divorce Lawyers. My hope is that there are certain ways I describe things or anecdotes I share in Part I: Divorce that divorce lawyers or mediators may find helpful additions to their language, thinking and communicating with their clients and one another. I also hope that Part II: (or Not) may help divorce lawyers (a) gain a firmer grasp of the emotional blow that intimate conflict visits on people and (b) consider the feasibility of maybe getting help for themselves if their own relationships are undergoing what feels like terminal stress.
- Therapists: I particularly want therapists to read Part I so they can better guide their clients through their divorces. After more than 25 years of CP’s establishment and growth, I remain amazed that any therapist who works with struggling couples does not have a clear understanding of what mediation and collaborative practice are and how they differ dramatically from the conventional approach to legal divorce. Since I am very comfortable speaking in language that is recognizable and comfortable to both therapists and lawyers, it is my hope that these books may help a bit with the translation process.
- We are getting quite a collection of books focused on collaborative practice. What do you think your books add to this base of knowledge?
Good point. I hadn’t thought about that. Never mind.
- I know a bit of a secret. The first time I read Divorce (or Not) the two books were combined into one. What made you change the book’s format and what was your goal in doing so?
Since I kind of answered that question earlier, let me seriously answer Question No. 5. I believe that everybody has a unique voice. I’ve always been a bit of an academic and I love “law” as a reflection of our culture’s attempts to solve problems and figure out how we millions can live together as a society and not blow apart. I never really liked “practicing” law but how law works is a constant fascination for me.
I also like to have fun and figure out different, helpful and sometimes playful ways to convey information. Teaching is a very important activity for me and I love it. I have always said that if you came to me and asked me to teach a class starting next month on anything – Elephant Hair or Footstools – I’d say “yes” and then figure out a way to make it interesting to me and then convey that to others.
That’s why I wrote these books. Conflict, attachment relationships (their maintenance or repair or dissolution), legal history, good and bad couples therapy, the psychological divorce process – on and on, they all fascinate me and I wanted to convey this.
Back about three years ago, I was working with an excellent and immensely kind therapist named Leonard Shaw. I told him that I wanted to write this book about divorce and I was afraid that I’d have nothing of value to add to the many books which have already been written. He told me that if I put myself out there, lots of people may find what I have to offer not very helpful or new, while lots of other people may find something in what I have to say helpful – even valuable and meaningful. Those are the people I am writing for. That seemed like a great way to think about it and why I decided to add my thoughts to the wealth of ideas already swirling around in our collaborative world.
- We are talking to a Collaborative / Dispute Resolution audience here. Can you give us some ideas of how to use your books in our practices? What about in our practice groups?
Well, I’d say, read ‘em and see if they have anything in there you find valuable and share the helpful stuff with clients and if it makes sense in any particular case, suggest they get one of the books and read it. Our colleague, Karen Bonnell, has written a Parenting Plan Workbook which is useful by definition. My books aren’t so much that as providing a helpful, and I hope healing, way to think about approaching the enormous life challenges of intimate relationship repair or, failing that, divorce.
- You are both an attorney and a therapist. What do you enjoy about each role? Do you have a preference between the two professions?
As I mentioned earlier, I really never liked practicing law so much, as it was a challenge to my temperament, but I deeply value much of the training I received as a lawyer. I am not a naturally analytical thinker, but the training I received in law has honed that skill for which I am most appreciative. The sharpness of analytical thinking is much rarer among therapists and I find that a strength and gift from my years as a lawyer. I was hopeful that my transition to collaborative legal practice would feel more congenial for me and, while it most certainly did, I still felt out of synch with the tasks and role of the attorney in the process.
However, as a therapist – particularly a couple’s therapist – I feel that I have come home. I can honestly say that I have finally found an activity that I can sit back with a sense of marvel and think to myself, “I actually get paid for doing this?
How incredibly lucky I am.” I include my work with couples as one of the things I do for fun in my life. It is, for me, an ultimate “flow” experience. I fundamentally like people and feel honored when someone opens up in my office and shares their yearnings, fears and accomplishments. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is an approach which garners, easily, as much enthusiasm among therapists who practice it as collaborative practice does for the readers of The Collaborative Review.
Finally, since therapy can be a bit isolating – aside from involvement with consult groups – I very much enjoy the collegial environment we create in our collaborative teams. That’s quite special, as well.
- Putting on your seer’s hat (or whatever they wear), give us five predictions of what you think will happen in the future for the fields you are involved with.
First, and most importantly, the Seahawks will win their second Super Bowl on February 5, 2017. Mark my words!
Second, the energy and insights of collaborative practice will continue to expand in the coming years to allow professionals to provide effective, supportive, unbundled services, making the divorcing process more accessible to people.
Third, within 10 years, the philosophy and practice models underlying collaborative divorce will be mainstream and conventional litigation will ebb dramatically.
Fourth, have I mentioned the Seahawks?
Fifth, Donald Trump, when he loses in November, will personally apologize to all women and donate $50 million to Planned Parenthood
- How is your book doing so far?
Well, I received a really gratifying review of the single volume edition recently in The Therapist, the magazine of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Some excerpts from the review are:
“Divorce (or Not) is a true guidebook. It is dense with history, background, and case examples, yet Shaub’s conversational style makes easy reading of this thick book.”
“As an attorney at law and a practicing LMFT, Shaub’s experience in both fields lends this self-published gem a high level of credibility.”
“As an LMFT specializing in couples therapy, I am trained in EFT and draw on it heavily in my work. It is comforting to come across a book that addresses ways to support clients who have decided to uncouple in a way that is more consistent with the values of EFT.”
- I asked you what your favorite ice cream at the end of our lunch together and you replied “purple”. Am I missing something or do we need to sit down for a 50 minute session?
I’m sorry. I misheard your question. What I should have said was “yellow.”
Thanks for your thoughtful questions and for a great lunch.