Coach, Neutral Facilitator or Family Specialist?

Coach, Neutral Facilitator or Family Specialist?

From the desk of My Collaborative Team President, Edward S. Sachs, CPA

On our Happy Hour call on Friday Teresa Kulat of Chicago raised the question of how the term Facilitator found its way into the Collaborative Process.  We had a great discussion on the various options for describing the role of the neutral mental health professional.

In Florida, the term Neutral Facilitator came into being about four or five years ago.  We used to use the term neutral mental health professional.  Many practitioners found that their clients didn’t like the idea, or feel they had the need, of a mental health professional.  They looked on this professional as a therapist and saw that in a negative light.  So, the term Neutral Facilitator was born.  In truth, the team has two facilitators of the Process, the team and family facilitator and the financial facilitator.

In other states, the term coach is used.  However, many on the happy hour call expressed concerns that the term coach had become watered down in recent years with the rise of life coaches, business coaches and the like.

So now many are beginning to consider the term Family Specialist.  After all, when needed we bring in a child specialist.  Isn’t the role of the neutral mental health professional to help guide the family through the Process and beyond?

What are your thoughts?

7 Responses

  1. I think this is a fantastic idea. I love the name “family specialist” as it makes the role sound more than just someone who is facilitating a process (and what does that even mean to the average client?) I often describe the facilitator role as similar to the mediator’s role, but different in approach and tone, since mediators are seen as the “deal brokers” and facilitators most certainly are NOT deal brokers.

    I vote we make that change RIGHT NOW! I’m going to start referring to all my neutral MHP colleagues in collaborative practice my “family specialists!”


  2. I’ve been a collaborative mental for ~15 years. I like facilitator as it best and most succinctly describes what I do. I’ve lead the charge over the years to not label us mental health professionals (while, as a psychologist for 35 years I must own up to that, too). My legal colleagues listen with rapt attention and nod appropriately, but seem locked into either MHP or coach. So clients begin with either no clue (Coach) or wrongly clued (MHP, or decline full stop) when our first conversation begins. While defining my role (coach) is eminently useful, undefining what it is not (mental) is a drag. I patiently explain that the ‘PhD’ & ‘psychologist’ label are there, and that, should I do or say anything therapeutic, I don’t mean it, utilizing my skills and expertise in a different vein altogether. Not to say I’d don’t do a little diagnosing and strategic planning, but I pretend I don’t. The most useful things I do are rather more pragmatic and don’t look that psychological in any event. But, I love most of my legals, so it is a small (tho aggravating) price to pay.

  3. Great topic, Ed! I’ve always been a believer that we need to find the best ways to communicate and relate with prospective and current Collaborative clients. Choosing — and periodically updating — our terminology is an important part of that.

    As a historical note, we actually proposed the term “Collaborative Facilitator” in Tampa almost eight years ago and presented the concept at the FLAFCC Annual Conference in 2013. I will send you a copy of the original proposal, which outlines the rationale for the new term. (If anyone else would like a copy, please feel free to email me at Since that time, there have been engaging discussions about finding even better labels for the role, including the term “Family Specialist” that you mentioned. I hope that our whole community will continue to discuss this issue for the betterment of our field!

    Thanks for starting the conversation!

  4. i will start with eliminating family facilitator as the “coach” or “facilitator” offers the same direction, support, and investment to the professionals on the team.
    i did like (although had not thought about it much before until heard from stu webb) “coach as it does provide a wrap around approach. i do see, however, the term is now used in other therapeutic formats (sounds a bit like ‘go team’ rather than being in the team.
    i have been using the word neutral facilitator and do feel consistency is important. gosh, anything to take out the mental health verbiage as that sets the wrong message and puts up instant barriers.

  5. I I prefer the term Facilitator, because this person both facilitates better communication between the spouses and also is of invaluable assistance to the lawyers for the spouses. I called the financial expert on the team the Financial Professional.

  6. I like “family facilitator”. I agree that the term, mental health expert, is not accepted well by clients. Neutral facilitator, to me, is too general of a term. When you add “family” to the term” facilitator”, we know that person is working for the family and is a neutral facilitator. the term facilitator, to me, is a always a neutral term anyway.

  7. I appreciate all of the previous comments. Our practice group in Southern California has always used the term Collaborative Divorce Coach. We also use Neutral Financial Specialist and Child Specialist, so the term Family Specialist would be in alignment with the other terms. I have recently begun this discussion in our community and at a later date I will report back. 🙂

Leave a comment