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Divorce Recovery Workshop - an Interview with Michele Curtis, Coordinator

Divorce Recovery Workshop - an Interview with Michele Curtis, Coordinator
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Divorce Recovery Workshop is a nationwide registered Charity and a non-profit organisation, it is a series of 6 sessions; aimed at helping people come to terms with the break up of a relationship. They don’t have to have been ‘married’, people can also have been living together, and even people with same sex partners.

So, the 6 weekly sessions are in a certain order – what do they cover?

The first one is – ‘Is This Really Happening To Me?’ and then there’s ‘Dealing With our Ex Spouse’, the next one is ‘Assuming New Responsibilities’, the next one is ‘Family Matters’ where we talk quite a lot about children, the fifth one is ‘Forgiveness And Letting Go’ and the last one is ‘Building New Relationships’

Seems that there are some sessions that are pretty difficult?

Yes, I would say that ‘Dealing with the Ex’ is quite a hard one, but the most difficult one is ‘Forgiveness and letting go’ particularly if you’ve been the one left and you’re asked to forgive, it can be tough, but there is a lot of healing and moving forward in that session and some of the people did find it difficult but have equally all said though it was challenging, they were so glad they looked at it from that point of view.

You’ve just now completed your first 6 sessions, how did that go?

Very well, we started off with 14 people and kept 14 up until the last 2, where one elderly lady felt she didn’t really want to do the ‘Building New Relationships’, she was also going on holiday. All of them responded very positively in the feedback forms, all said how much it has helped them, several of them want to be volunteers.

So what would they need to do to become volunteers?

It can be getting involved and helping with the sessions, admin, talking to people on the phone, at the moment I’m doing most of this, but gradually sharing out the load. It’s just generally getting involved – we have one lady that makes the tea, somebody else is just there to welcome people, someone else is there just in case someone gets upset and they need a cup of tea and a box of tissues, so very varied. A lot depends on where the volunteer sees themselves fitting in, we welcome any volunteers. Some people want to be a facilitator and they get training. None of us are professional counsellors, The skill is very much like hosting a dinner party, we run the DVD, we have a set of questions and we use that to stimulate discussion.

Have most of the people running the sessions been through a divorce?

Yes, everyone must have experienced this to go on the course and subsequently become a volunteer or facilitator. You have to be able to say everyone in this room has gone through/is going through what you’re going through. That’s what makes the difference, people understand what others are going through. Yes you must be separated or divorced.

First of all they’d need to attend the DRW sessions, there are the 6 weekly sessions or a weekend residential (only 3 residential locations) which is a little more expensive. They then go through training and get the packs, then it’s all about finding a venue etc. The Norwich one is in a church hall, but it’s not religious in any way. Then I had an open day and had 10 volunteers to help set it all up, I took them through the 6 sessions myself and from that I trained the volunteers.

What mix of people attends the sessions?

Mostly over 40, some over 50, there’s a higher ratio of women than men, but we had 5 men on the last course, one lady had been divorced 30 years, one 20 years, some had just separated 6 months, one of the ladies who had been divorced a long time said to me: 'I really thought I’d dealt with that'.Because we have the ones who are further down the road, they are an encouragement and support to the ones where it is still fresh.That helps a lot of people.

We quite often say here, that this process is like a rollercoaster, good days and bad; is this covered in any of the sessions?

It’s touched on, but I do think it’s part of the journey we all have to go through and there is great support among the others in the group. You can talk with the group about things, maybe you find your friends who have not been separated or divorced get a bit fed up after a while.

What support is there afterwards?

It’s very much up to the participants, all personal data is destroyed by DRW after the sessions, unless they request it is kept for information on future events etc. But it is up to the individuals to swap details with the other participants, we encourage it, but it is not obligatory if someone doesn’t want to. Sometimes the way people deal with recovery is they go through it and then put it to one side and don’t want to revisit it and for some people working through this may be the same “I’m over that, I don’t need to deal with that any more” After each session there is a hand out for reflection on the session and a worksheet if they want to work through that, but there’s no pressure – it’s up to them. They are something to go back to over and over again, if needed.

How long does a typical session last?

We earmark a couple of hours, start at 7pm, finish at 9pm. We have a 15min chat about how everyone is, anything they want to talk about from the previous week, any news etc. Then we run the DVD – the DVD lasts about 25-30 mins, then we break after that and have coffee, then break into 2 groups for about an hour, then we come back and if anyone has any questions or anything they want to say, we hand out the hand outs. Then they can go. It’s not a therapy session. There’s no pressure for people to talk if they don’t want to, but quite often these people still gain a lot just by listening to the others.

How much does the course of 6 sessions cost?

The charge is around £50 for the 6 sessions, this covers hand-outs, advertising, hire of venue, coffees teas etc. DRW is a non-profit making organisation, so this just covers expenses.

What do the attendees gain from the sessions?

Most of them said they felt that they weren’t alone, that some of their bereavement feelings were quite normal and that they found the materials very helpful. Although the material has been around for some time, it’s still very relevant. It’s very good the way it’s presented, the guy on the DVD has a wry sense of humour, it’s good stuff! They get support from the other attendees and most said they had a lift in confidence.

You’ve explained one of the sessions touches on children and family, how did the members in the session deal with that?

We had a chap who was PWC for his children, he has a very demanding job – doing shifts, so we have seen this from many angles – in fact because we have the mixture of men and women at the sessions coming from different angles, it helps each one of them see things from a different point of view. The family session in America actually run workshops for children and it has come up on many occasions – ‘Why aren’t we doing something for the kids?’ so this is something we’re looking into at DRW, I actually think running something like that for young people – would be invaluable. Workshops where kids talk about their issues and voice how they feel could help.

The DRW model has been around for about 20 years in this country – is this same model valid today?

The material is still as relevant today as it was when it was created, although the fashions that appear on the DVD have changed. It is a way of helping people see Divorce as a process and dealing with it as a process, I’ve worked with death and worked with terminal care as a nurse for ten years and it is similar to going through bereavement – which itself is a process. It’s a tough process, but if someone can say – ‘What you’re going through is a process, this is what happens and you will come out the other side’ – there is a way of dealing with it. This has been working for quite a number of years.

Is anger or revenge dealt with during any of the sessions, are people encouraged to behave dignified?

It is touched on. There is a discussion around it. It’s an opportunity for people to say – this is how I’ve been thinking and feeling, it may be daft – but perfectly normal. It’s not just me feeling like this. There are a lot of strong feelings – especially the second session ‘dealing with the Ex’ – it’s heavy – a hard one to deal with ‘Assuming new responsibilities’ is about shifting from being in a relationship to how do I cope alone? You can either be a mussel and just take what’s coming through, or you can be an eagle and soar – OK it’s tough up there, but actually you don’t have to stay taking everything that comes. It’s about starting a new life, goal setting and that kind of thing, encouraging people to look forward. The last session as well is not just about looking for a new partner but asking yourself – what other new relationships can I build? What can I do to change my situation? All kinds of positive outlooks.

Was everyone at the sessions well supported with family and friends?

They were all reasonably well supported, but all found comfort being with other people who know and understand what you’re going through with Separation and Divorce. The toughest session is the ‘Forgiveness’ one and we don’t expect that to happen overnight, that is an ongoing process. We accept some people will never get to that place, what the session says is that sometimes to be able to move forward you may need to do that – it isn’t an easy thing to face.

Someone will look at the sessions and see the ‘Forgiveness’ one and say ‘Forgiveness? Really – Do you know what they did to me!’- I was one of them – believe me! That was my first comment – ‘I’ve got to forgive him!???’ As I worked through this it was a process of letting go, if you don’t let go you end up dragging it all round with you. You aren’t really ready for another relationship until you have dealt with all of that stuff.

What about ‘New Relationships’

Don’t rush into new relationships until you’ve let go of the other one, you need time to get over this because that is where you make another mistake.There is a book – ‘Finding the Right One After Divorce’ – co-written by Jim Smoke – I wish I read that years ago!Fantastic book – how people drift into another relationship or marriage.I recommend it.

To make a new relationship work – it’s about not making the same mistakes again and also communication.

Thank you so much for your time Michele

Michele Curtis is a volunteer Coordinator at the Norwich branch of DRW

For more information about Divorce Recovery Workshop (DRW) click here:


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