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 Why Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work  

This is kind of a strange topic to come up in a relationship focused newsletter by someone who practices a lot of marriage counseling.  If you do a Google search on that question you will come up with a lot of hits.  One, interestingly enough, is a recent post from the new “Divorce” section of the Huffington Post.  I got a chuckle out of that, though it turned out to be a pretty good article.

Unfortunately, there is a good deal of truth to the idea that marriage counseling doesn’t work.  It frequently doesn’t.  There are reasons for that, but today I am going to focus on reasons having to do with the counselors who serve married couples.  These reasons have to do with training, experience, and attitude.

The majority of psychologists and counselors say they treat couples, but many of them have not had any training whatsoever in marriage or couple counseling, and some a single class in graduate school.  What happens for the vast majority of these counselors then is they apply what they do with individuals to couples.  Psychology in general is very focused on individual growth and pathology.  Those are not great focuses for couples counseling.

Marriage counseling needs to make the relationship a priority and not just the individuals.  It is also important to focus on strengths and skill building and not just what is wrong with people.  While I believe relationships can contribute to individual development, and healthy ones should (I’ll talk more about that at a later time) making individual development the focus of marriage counseling can be the death knell for the marriage. 

The good news is that there are good models for doing marriage counseling and there are good marriage counselors.  I’m biased in this, but I believe marriage and relationship counseling is enough of a specialty that those seeking marriage or couple counseling should choose someone who has taken the time to learn the specialty and makes it a significant portion of their practice.

Finally, let me talk about one attitude that is important.  Much of psychology and counseling makes a point of counselors needing to be neutral and try and not assert their own values, but the best marriage counselors are not neutral.  The best marriage counselors don’t say they are neutral about what happens in a marriage.  They say they come down on the side of the relationship and will work as hard as they can to help the couple find ways to heal and maintain their relationships.

Next month I will write about ways to find the best counselor and get the most out of marriage counseling.