As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce” I had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Josephson. Meg Josephson is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in NYC. As a therapist, she is committed to providing therapy that is both compassionate and practical. Some of her clients seek therapy to address a concrete issue such as the dissolution of a marriage or relationship; others come out of a more abstract sense that something in their lives could be different or more fulfilling. By exploring and defining their personal values, Meg works with her clients to take the necessary steps in developing richer, more rewarding relationships and lives.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As the daughter of two therapists, the idea of going into the “family biz” was always in the back of my mind. When I graduated from college, I worked for a high-end matchmaker in NYC ( Lisa of Lisa Ronis Matchmaking) and became immediately enthralled by the idea of helping people navigate relationships and figure out what they were looking for in a partnership. Lisa was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to develop the part of myself that was intrinsically drawn to helping people heal from their past relationship disappointments so that they could become the best version of themselves, both as individuals and within a partnership. I had a brief stint at Brides Magazine at Condé Nast, but continued to crave the kind of personal interactions I experienced while working in matchmaking. After seeing a career counselor and exploring my interests and proclivities, returning to NYU Silver School of Social Work was the natural next step. I have been at Mount Sinai Hospital for 5 years, supporting chronically ill populations and their families.
With the completion of additional psychodynamic training, I finally felt ready to open my private practice. When thinking about what population I want to work with, I have continued to gravitate toward working with people in transitional times, encouraging them to develop a deeper understanding of what matters most to them. I find that in doing this, they become clearer on their needs and suddenly have access to a new set of coping mechanism when times get tough.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce” or “breakup”?
I’d prefer to refer to myself as a authority-in-training in this realm. As a child of “good” divorce, I always felt that my unique perspective of divorce could be useful to others. No child ever wants their parents to get divorced, but I can honestly say that my life was enriched by watching my two parents lead separate, full lives while remaining united as parents. It didn’t hurt that they were able to find partners with whom they were more compatible and who were tremendous value-adds to our “modern family.” This experience instilled a desire to help people shake the belief that a divorce was all-bad and see it instead as a difficult transition to a potentially more meaningful life
I also enjoy working with this population because in my experience, going through a painful breakup or divorce leads many to experience sustained periods of distress (with more reported intensity than typically associated with concerns over career or fractures in familial relationships). I think those who have not fully experienced it can be somewhat dismissive of the actual emotional turmoil that they cause. Being able to support someone through this incredibly difficult time and giving them hope for a better future is one of the most rewarding things I can imagine doing both personally and professionally.
Use this as an opportunity to define your values and make decisions that move you closer to a relationship and life based on these values
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Invest in therapy. Even for people who have no history of anxiety, depression, or trauma, going through a significant breakup or divorce is life-altering and access to a professional who can give you the tools to help you navigate this transition is invaluable. Don’t view it as something you need, but as a resource that aid you in stressful or unpleasant situations (which will arise). It’s also a safe space to process what you are going through with someone who ideally makes you feel held and supported. If the price is daunting, there are options for low-cost or sliding-scale therapy. And if you really can’t stomach “therapy,” consider hiring a life coach as an alternative.
- Get off social media. The first large-scale, ecologically valid study of its sort has just been published from Penn University showing the causality between social media consumption and anxiety, depression and loneliness. The bottom line was reduced exposure to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter led to decreases in both anxiety and depression. When people are vulnerable (as those going through a significant breakup or divorce typically are), the impact was even more pronounced.
- Rally support and be direct about your needs (your loved ones are not mind readers). For example, I work with my clients on “assertiveness scripts” that provide them with a blueprint to feel confident approaching these conversations and being clear about what it is they are asking for. Maybe it’s not the most appealing to you to join your best friend for dinner with her husband like you did in the past because it’s reminds you of what you are losing. There’s nothing wrong with suggesting a girls night or one-on-one dinner, and if you ask in the right way, you can communicate your needs without risking a misunderstanding or hurt feelings.
- Use this as an opportunity to define your values and make decisions that move you closer to a relationship and life based on these values
- Pursue passions or friendships that you may have put on hold during your relationship. It will feel good to connect to a new (or long-forgotten) part of yourself.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
I think many people lose sight of what it is that they need in a relationship and become more focused on feelings of failure and fear about what the future holds.
Providing mechanisms for understanding and making value-based decisions has informed a lot of my work with clients, especially those going through a painful divorce or breakup. I find it allows them to get a better handle on the “big picture” and avoid spending excessive time ruminating.
For example, for a patient who is fixated on the stigma or sense of failure associated with splitting up, I ask them to think about what it is they look for in a partner and honestly evaluate if this person was able to give that to them. Most people want to feel supported, loved and that they can trust their partner. Once they realize that staying married or in a relationship with this person can’t provide them with these things, the option of staying feels infinitely less appealing. Then, with hard work and realistic expectations around the likelihood of setbacks, I work with them to recommit themselves to looking within to find happiness and ultimately take steps to find a partner. Once you know what you value and can get behind that, the idea of divorce seems less catastrophic than settling for a relationship in which you are unhappy, feel unloved, or are distrustful.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
I love and highly recommend the podcast “Divorce Sucks” from celebrity divorce lawyer Laura Wasser. She has expert insight and curates dynamic roundtables with other experts on how to successfully navigate a divorce. I can a contributing writer for her latest project, “It’s Over Easy,” which is the only online, full-service divorce platform and support community. It offers users a cost-effective, fair and legitimate way to get divorced online without losing their lifesavings or their sanity. They also have an incredible index with resources and support unique to individuals who are going through divorce — everything from financial planners, real estate agents and therapists to a great blow-dry, massage or meditation class. They really understand the kind of support required to heal during this difficult time and are committed to providing resources for recovery, renewal and reinvention.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
I’m a huge reader, and am known for pulling out my favorite literary quotes when I feel they can accurately capture a moment or feeling in the room. Two that come to mind right now are:
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” — Cheryl Strayed
“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck.” — Rumi
These quotes resonate with me in my work because recovering from a breakup or divorce is rarely easy and often extremely painful. However, approaching these situations with acceptance and self-reliance is tremendously curative and empowering. I also like how these quotes encourage visualization, which has been proven to be immensely helpful to people going through difficult times
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently started an Instagram account @citytherapist as a way of providing concrete, behaviorally-based mental health tools and insight for those who may not be engaged in regular therapy.
Instagram is a wonderful platform to connect with other clinicians and learn what is working for them in their practices. Working in private practice can be kind of lonely as you are typically working alone in an office and seeing client after client. This is a way to exchange ideas and get support.
Historically, therapy has been more “behind closed doors” and clinicians haven’t typically disclosed much about themselves or how they practice. The truth is, therapy has gotten a bad rap as being stuffy and inaccessible. So this account is my attempt to reconcile what I used to believe therapy was and what I envision it could become.
By normalizing the use of therapeutic techniques in everyday situations, I’m hopeful that I can empower people to get curious about ways they can incorporate aspects of behavioral therapy to quiet their inner voices and lead more meaningful, engaged lives. You can’t even imagine how many messages I’ve gotten from friends, colleagues and people asking for help finding a therapist. If my account encourages even one person to try therapy, then it’s a success in my mind!
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think the major issue with therapy is access. People don’t know where to begin to even look for a therapist, let alone one that is financially and logistically viable for them. The medical field has been revolutionized by ZocDoc and other resources that allow you to search, learn about, review and book appointments with licensed clinicians at your convenience.
I would love to be involved in the development of a location-based app that gives users up-to date information on availability, pricing and specialties. I know in NYC, everyone is in overdrive, and for many, a lack of convenience is enough to make therapy unappealing. I would love the opportunity to work on a project aimed at making therapy both accessible and convenient.
While Psychology Today is my go-to resource, I think it lacks features that make it accessible to people who don’t have the time and patience to sift through hundreds of therapists and start reaching out to confirm availability and fees. In my personal experience, it’s a time-intensive and arduous process and can be discouraging given that for many, admitting a desire or need to enroll in therapy is a challenge to begin with. For this reason, many people I know who express a desire to enroll in therapy end up losing their drive prematurely, turned off by process.
Whereas most people rely on referrals from friends, family or colleagues for doctors, dentists, or beauticians, there’s a certain stigma associated with asking for a therapy referral. Additionally, your best friend may love her therapist, but given the intimacy and unique dynamics of the therapeutic relationship, it’s not the kind of thing you should share.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have a moment with Arianna Huffington. I recently read her book “Thrive” and can’t think of a more timely or important message. She is incredibly articulate and I really admire that she acknowledges her own vulnerabilities and uses her influence to inspire people to shift the zeitgeist.