Symbol Significance

Many years ago while in graduate school at Harvard taking a course in Counseling Psychology, I first learned that the Chinese Symbol for “crisis” was actually the combination of two symbols; one was for danger and the other for opportunity.

As my work has evolved I’ve often thought back to that course and that symbol, and how emblematic it is during a divorce and the restructuring of one’s life and one’s family. Divorce is certainly a crossroads and a crisis. It is rife with moments of danger- legally, financially and emotionally. However, it is also a juncture of opportunity, and a time that can be harnessed to optimize one’s legal, financial, and emotional goals. What undergirds our work at Consilium® DC is helping clients sift through the danger, and then shift and re-focus their energies toward opportunities that maximize their best futures.

In the spring of 2015, The Consilium Institute, will begin offering a course to teach the Consilium® DC Process to qualified lawyers who would like to become certified as Consilium DC Consultants or Affiliates. Stay tuned for more information to follow, and please feel free to contact us if you’d like to express your interest.


Less is More

My youngest child is sixteen years old. It’s been a long time since she had any real attachment to the multitude of stuffed animals that had found their way into our hearts and home. Somehow though, holding onto them seemed right for a very long time… until this past weekend.

Like the room with my daughter’s stuffed animals, Consilium ® DC has been bursting at the seams. We’re ready to launch a curriculum to teach our unique process that merges psychology and law, and that birthed the Consilium ® Process. We need space to spread our wings and allow ourselves to make CDC all that it has the capacity to be. The most immediate, available space we have is the space that was housing all those stuffed animals. As with all journeys, divorce or otherwise, we needed to start the next chapter of our process by clearing what is, and making room for what is to come. I took a very deep breath in. We then began to sort the much-loved animals. Though it was not an easy process, we found that of the seventy-five collected, only twenty were truly “keepers”. Fifty-five will find their way into new hearts and new homes through Heading Home, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Greater Boston. Heading Home provides life skills, financial literacy and job training, and moves people from homelessness to self-sufficiency. I’ve been fortunate to work with Heading Home to outfit apartments for families who’ve readied themselves, and earned them. And I’ve been privileged to witness resilience and strength in those families.

Giving those much-loved animals new homes gives me an opportunity to make room for the next stage of Consilium’s growth. I can now exhale that deep breath in.


Through the Eyes of Children

Warning: If you choose to watch this video, please do so having been forewarned that it includes language that is graphic and coarse, and will therefore likely be disturbing to anyone sensitive to, or offended by those issues. If you are one of those people, please skip watching the attached video.

Recently my son suggested I listen to a rap song written by Eminem, as he thought it would strike a chord with me and remind me of the time I spent working as a social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (now the Department of Children and Families).

I listened. It was chilling. I listened again. It reverberated and resonated and tore at my heart. I’m attaching it here, Headlights by Eminem as a reminder of what keen observers children are (even, perhaps especially, when their parents are not watching).

The importance of a child feeling loved by his parents knows no bounds. The tragedy of a child feeling unloved by his parents also knows no bounds. The evolution of divorce in our country recognizes how important it is for a child to have access to both of his parents so that he can forge meaningful relationships with both of them. The inability to create those childhood connections can result in an adulthood forever marred by that loss.

The more the Courts have learned about the psychological impact of divorce, the more they have been able to attend to children’s needs. In 1975, Judith Wallerstein and her partners began conducting a longitudinal study about children of divorce. In 2000, she published The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, a body of work that has had a seminal influence on the Courts and society at large. One of her most important findings was that despite the benefits many adults feel they achieve at the time of their divorce, children often feel bereft at the loss of their family (no matter how unhappy the adults were being married to each other). It is unconscionable to ignore what we now know is true for children who experience their parents’ divorce, and therefore it is imperative that we attend to the details of a family’s restructuring and the very real loss children feel when their parents decide to divorce. Divorcing adults and the professionals who work with them to achieve their goals owe children nothing less.

The importance of a child feeling loved by his parents knows no bounds. The tragedy of a child feeling unloved by his parents also knows no bounds.


Give and Take Walls

This past weekend I was privileged to hear the sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, talk about his work and the new installation of a wall he constructed locally. He began by talking about the first wall he built over thirty years ago, and told us it had been created in Scotland on land he leased from a farmer. It was built out of necessity. The farmer wanted a wall to contain his sheep and as a condition of leasing the land, Andy agreed to build the wall. But he did it while being acutely aware of the social nature of the landscape, and as a result he wanted the wall to have “give and take”. Therefore instead of dividing the property by building a wall straight down the middle, he literally created one that required a physical giving and taking of the land.

That concept got me thinking about co-parenting and restructured families after divorce. Oftentimes when people begin working with me they tell me that they want 50:50 custody. That always leads us to a discussion about children not being property or divisible assets, and then a further discussion ensues about their children’s unique needs, schedules, sensitivities and best interests. It becomes less a discussion of shared time and more a discussion about crafting the best possible homes for their children.

Co-parenting is a “give and take” wall.

Andy then discussed how his work began with impermanence as a theme. He would create something in nature, perhaps out of leaves or twigs or stone, something that time would inevitably alter. After creating whatever it was he was making, he would photograph it and then his work was done. Time and the elements would take care of the rest.

Eventually his work evolved to the creation of stone sculptures, and working in stone made him consider the geological and human passage of time. He cited two examples of that interplay. First, he described to us the meticulously maintained wall he built at Storm King in New York, and talked of it as perhaps being loved a bit too much. He then recalled one of his first projects, built long ago in Scotland, and how it had been largely ignored and was now overgrown and had taken on a life of its own. He described it as “a bit refreshing”. He seemed to like the idea that what were once new seedlings had now become trees, and other forest elements and animals had taken up residence in the wall.

It seems to me that both walls represent the next generation. One adheres strictly to its immediate forbears and strives to continue its traditions, and the other, more of a free spirit, grows in tandem with nature.

Both are supported by their undulating walls….Co-parenting is a “give and take”.

And Then We Switched

Just like in a marriage, during the course of a divorce husbands and wives sometimes find themselves switching perspectives. Sometimes the reason for the switch is clear, but often times it’s not so clear. Sometimes the switching is based on facts and financials, and sometimes it’s based on emotions and murkier terrain. Sometimes it’s based on style and sometimes on substance. It’s a complicated dance.

Sometimes when I meet clients they are questioning whether or not to stay in a marriage. And sometimes they are resolved to leave. However, it is always true that they have invested a part of themselves and their lives into a relationship, and they are at a vulnerable and trying juncture in their lives. I recall Kirsten’s anger at, and compassion for her husband. Her shattered dreams and financial woes. At times she felt she could never leave him, and at other times she felt certain it was the only thing she could do. Her heart and her head were in a tug-of-war.

I think the poet, Taylor Mali, succinctly captures the essence of this quandary in his poem called “And Then We Switched”. In reference to the breakup of his own marriage, and in talking about that poem he says:

“When one person seeks a greater connection through exploration and the other through introspection, the fights will always be about who is “remote” and who is “clingy.”

For Kirsten, initially navigating the path and forging ahead seemed paralyzing. There is no question it was difficult. The Consilium Process helped her create clarity out of chaos so that she and her husband could restructure their family and optimize their lives.

Follow this link to listen to Taylor’s reading of: And Then We Switched

Your Children Come Through You But Not From You

I can still envision the look on the face of my 10th grade English teacher when he passed back my excellent grade on The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It said: “Why wasn’t the quality of your work the same when we had been studying A Tale of Two Cities?”

With all due respect to Charles Dickens, and no matter how compelling his characters, I simply found the psychology & philosophy of Gibran’s prose to be much more interesting than Dicken’s perspective on The French Revolution. I still do.

Much of Kahlil Gibran has stayed with me through the years, and there are times I recall his words when parents begin to discuss or dispute custody or shared parenting. “Your children come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Kahlil Gibran- On Children- narrated by Dorna Djenab

We are not our parents and our parents are not us. However the lines are not hard and fast, but rather like a watercolor where the images seep between each other. To enable parents to bring their best selves to bear as they raise their children, it is imperative they gain clarity on their relationships with their own parents, and with one other. This is a difficult task for happily married people. When you layer that task on top of argument and strife it’s easy to understand how quickly tempers can flare and reason can become riddled with emotion.

It is my experience that when parents are reminded of how fleeting time is with their young children, they are better able to gain perspective on co-parenting: What’s worth fighting for, what’s worth fighting against, and what’s not worth a fight at all.

The Stories We Tell…

After seeing Neverland at the American Repertory Theatre, I got to thinking about how we tell stories- to ourselves, to our children, to our families and to our worlds.
What we choose to say, and what we choose not to say.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan and the inspiration for Neverland, certainly experienced his share of disappointment and tragedy. Nevertheless, he chose to write the fantastical Peter Pan, a story about hope and hardiness, as much as one about not wanting to ever grow up. Barrie’s first marriage was unsustainable, and the great love he subsequently discovered was cut short by his lover’s early death. From that loss he created opportunity, and made meaning from his sorrow. One hundred and ten years later, we can now read, watch and learn from the power of how he framed that story.

As a society, we often discuss divorce as a failing, and a time of destruction. There is no doubt that it is a sad juncture, a time of regrets and destabilization. However what if we also began to talk about it as a time of rethinking, rebalancing, and restructuring? How would that process change the paradigm? Could it then be seen as a time of opportunity? A time to evaluate not only what went wrong, but how to now make things go right. How different would that story look and feel to those experiencing it? Could that reframing give the children of divorce a construct of resilience?

The only option is not Hook’s threat that the “plank” must be walked alone, and over the jaws of a hungry crocodile. Just as when a sea captain confronts stormy seas, with great skill she can also realign her vessel, cut through the wake and chart a new course. It is our goal at Consilium DC ® to help you navigate your journey through divorce, and to help you optimally rethink, rebalance and restructure your family.


Rain and Rainbows

A beach vacation, time away, sunny days and sandy toes.

Those images had been swimming in our minds for a few weeks before actually heading off to North Carolina. However as our flight was landing the pilot’s message confirmed my weather app…a slight drizzle was currently coming down and more rain was expected as we were near, but not directly in the path of Hurricane Bertha. Soon after, the pouring rains began.

On day one it was fairly easy to be in good humor, remain optimistic and catch up on lost sleep.
On day two as the rain continued, disappointment reigned.
Day three left us with two stark options: Doom and gloom, or Agility.

We chose Agility. Think winter snowfall, pancakes and maple syrup, food, good books, board games and movies. It wasn’t what we’d expected for a summer vacation but we were all together and there was still fun to be had.

Day four. It’s not winter, and this really isn’t fun anymore. Two more options. Head home as my weather app tells me the weather is quite nice in Boston, or Iterate?

We chose to Iterate. After all, on days like today we don’t need sunscreen, and it’s just water coming down. We came here for the water so perhaps whether it’s falling on us, or we’re jumping in it doesn’t really matter so much. It’s warm out. We’re waterproof. Let’s go take a walk on the beach. I can still have sandy toes.

To add to my soaked body and my dampened mood was the fact that tonight was the eve before the second anniversary of my mother’s death. We walked up the beach and back down again trying to put context around life, and this particular night. And then just as the sun was about to set, I looked up and saw through the sky a partial rainbow. It was almost as if my Mom was checking in to say in her own inimitable way “tomorrow will be a sunny day”.

Day four was still overcast. Our options were now bearing down on us.
It was time to Reframe.

We only had three days left at the beach. Bertha was sending huge waves our way, and with the sun chasing off the clouds it was time to surf and swim. And then having reframed and prepared to move on, the sun began to shine, the sunscreen was needed, and the past three days seemed to fade away as quickly as the sun had dried the sand.

And almost like a poem written in the hidden quiet of time, a rainbow appeared. It covered the ocean’s breadth and took our breath away.

The philosophy of Consiium ® DC includes agility, iteration and reframing. To learn more please visit our website at

Hidden Treasures

Recently as I was looking through my father’s old law office safe, I discovered
a 71 year old letter written from my grandfather to my father. A letter I never knew existed. A letter that held enough value to my father that he had put it in a place for safekeeping. I practiced law with my father for ten years and he had never mentioned it to me. Perhaps he’d forgotten about it. Perhaps during the course of the ensuing years, its impact had lessened.

In any event, when I read it I understood on a deeper level why our practicing law together meant so much to my father. By the time he’d begun practicing law, his own father had very debilitating Parkinson’s disease. Over the years, my dad had told me that although he had been able to rely on his father’s wisdom and counsel, they had never been able to cement their law practice by regularly being in the same office.

I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born, and the letter he wrote to my Dad preceded my birth by many a year. However, finding it explained to me why I think my father so treasured our having worked together. It was a sort of coming full circle of something he’d wanted and never had before. So much of life seems to be the unwrapping of gifts we never expected to receive.

When I work with clients who are just beginning to journey down a path borne of disappointment, I do so with the knowledge that there will be gifts yet to unwrap. There are events we can predict in life, and many things we cannot. However, when clients are able to structure a path of their own making and restructure their families in thoughtful ways, they can remain alert to the treasures they are likely to discover and know that unlikely gems may happily appear as well.



Toolbox: Arbitration


A private courtroom. A way to resolve a dispute when you can agree that you disagree, and that someone other than yourselves will be better able to bring clarity to your situation.

Arbitrators are experienced practitioners, often times retired judges. They can create a private courtroom setting where clients can set the time schedule, and the parties and their lawyers can present the facts as they see them to be. The arbitrator can then streamline the process by making an Order that the parties agree will be binding (although they can also agree in advance that is does not have to be).

The arbitration process can be used to more speedily overcome a stumbling block, for instance, the division of multiple parcels of real estate, so that the parties can then move on to more amicably reach their remaining agreements.

Arbitrators can timely untangle a dilemma that otherwise left to fester could become a more complicated rift.