So how can marriage counseling be a hazard to someone’s marriage? William Doherty, who trains marriage counselors at the University of Minnesota, made a speech on this subject, and in that speech he quoted a national survey of therapists that found 80% of counselors say they do marriage counseling. But only 12% of them had even one course in how to do marital counseling, or had any direct supervision in marital counseling. Most are trained to work with individuals, and they often approach marriage therapy as simply an extension of individual counseling.
Let me give you an example of how that happens. There are times when a counselor begins working with a couple but only the wife can make the first appointment. As the counselor listens to her describe the problems she is experiencing in her marriage, the counselor can easily begin to think that she must be married to a total jerk. How, the counselor wonders, could this competent woman have married such a hopeless character?
The next week, the husband comes in alone–trying to start the counseling on even footing. As the counselor listens to him describe the marital issues, he or she begins to be impressed with the fact that the husband isn’t the “jerk” the counselor imagined him to be the week before. As the counselor hears his take on the problems, its easy to start thinking, “How could I have missed seeing how messed-up the wife is when I talked with her?” Who really is the problem person is in this marriage?
That may be the thinking of a counselor who was trained to focus on the individual issues rather than to focus on the interactional patterns of a husband and wife. One of the important things emphasized in the training of a couples and family counselor is that typically neither the husband nor the wife are individually responsible for the marital distress. The core of the problem is what happens when they come together. In other words, the relationship is the patient, and the counselor needs to work with the couple together in order to bring healing and hope to the marriage.
Doherty points out that someone whose training was focused on working with individuals often finds that they get overwhelmed when there is more than one person sitting across from them in the room. As the tension builds in the counseling session, they quickly revert to being an individual counselor, and suggest that one of the marriage partners see an associate counselor, and they will continue to work with the one spouse.
That’s when the marriage begins to be sacrificed to the goals of individual growth. We’ll spend the next two postings looking further at how marriage therapy can harm your marriage. When marriage therapy is done right, miracles can take place, and hope can be rebuilt when all seems so hopeless.
Have you ever seen examples of how a counseling situation threatened rather than encouraged the marriage relationship? Hopefully it wasn’t yours. What were the mistakes you think were made?