In July of 1999, at a conference for professional marriage counselors, a credible marriage counselor by the name of Dr. William J. Doherty, gave a shocking report on the state of marriage counseling to his fellow professionals.
According to Doherty, most marriage counseling is HAZARDOUS, not helpful to your marriage.
Therapy-based, American style marriage counseling (practiced by most marriage counselors) can actually do more HARM than good in your marriage.
All hope is NOT lost however, for the rising number of struggling couples. There ARE more effective alternatives to marriage counseling – they are so effective in fact that even professional marriage counselors are admitting that couples need MARRIAGE EDUCATION more than they do marriage therapy.
In June of 1999, USA Today reported that, “Even fans of marriage counseling are saying disturbing things. Research shows that it doesn’t work as well as we once thought and it might not last.” That report reinforce the research that shows a great majority of marriage counselors conducting therapy have had no formal training at all.
This research further documented that two years after couples went through marriage counseling, 25% of the couples were WORSE OFF than before they started the therapy.
Up to 38% of them actually divorced.
Perhaps what’s even more shocking is the fact that therapists who actually work with COUPLES, are in the minority.
80% of all private practice marriage counselors in the U.S. say they conduct marriage therapy, yet only 12% are in a profession that requires them to take EVEN ONE course on dealing with couples.
If you ask marriage counselors about their approach, the vast majority will tell you that they find working with individuals much more “productive” than working with couples.
Dr. William J. Doherty stated, “Couples therapy is the most difficult therapy of all because every session starts with the threat of divorce”.
After training marriage counselors for a living, in his 1999 address at the conference for professional marriage counselors, Dr. Doherty called the methods of marriage counselors, “Hazardous to your marital health.”
He established four ways that marriage counselors have produced DESTRUCTIVE outcomes in marriages.
According to Doherty, there are four ways marriage counselors can do more harm than good in your marriage…
1. By being incompetent
2. By being neutral
3. By pathologizing (telling you why your marriage is “sick”)
4. By being overtly undermining (attempting to break up the marriage)
INCOMPETENT: In the case of incompetent marriage counselors, the counselor has not been trained to work with couples together. They believe working with two people is an expanded version of working with one, but it is not. An individual is easy to listen to, but a battling couple is not. Working with couples requires skill, structure and a very different approach than one-on-one therapy.
NEUTRAL: These marriage counselors, Doherty claims, are not neutral about marriage at all. When a counselor appears to be neutral, but actually takes sides with the more self-oriented spouse, they are undermining the marriage. “When a counselor uses the language of individual self interests, it undercuts the moral commitment that is owed to the marriage.” Doherty stated.
PATHOLOGIZING: Pathologizing is when marriage counselors build a case insisting that the couple has a “sick” relationship. They actually ENCOURAGE couples to get a divorce by saying things like, “Why SHOULD YOU hang in there? Why be a victim?” These marriage counselors make couples believe that they’re being abused, which causes both spouses to draw their only conclusion: “If the professional thinks this is over, then I should too.”
UNDERMINING: While telling couples what they should do is against the code of ethics of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, many therapists still do it. These therapists say phrases like, “You should probably end this marriage.” or, “If you’re going to stay sane, you should move out.” Undermining therapists urge husbands and wives to sever their relationships with family members and spouses.
If you’re looking for a good marriage counselor, Dr. Doherty urges you to ask questions first. Learn about the therapists’ values by asking questions like these:
1. Are you self taught, workshop-trained or college educated in working with couples?
Bad Answer: College educated.
Good Answer: Self taught or workshop trained and they speak convincingly about how their program saves marriages.
2. What is your attitude about saving a troubled marriage vs. helping a couple break up?
Bad Answer: “It’s not my decision. Couples have to make their own decision.” (This is an evasive answer…not a good sign.)
Good Answer: “I help couples find ways to stay together and help them understand and overcome their problems.”
3. Where do you stand when one spouse wants to stay and the other wants a divorce?
Bad Answer: “I try to get people to understand their own feelings.” (This is a focus on the individual, NOT the couple.)
Good Answer: “This is normally what I see with couples. I have ways to help them both handle this in positive ways.”
4. What percentage of your practice involves both husband and wife?
Bad Answer: “I find working with husbands and wives individually to be more practical.”
Good Answer: “All of it. When both people are with me and following my process, I find they have the greatest success rate.”
5. Of all the couples you treat, what percentage stay married and have a better marriage in the end?
Bad Answer: “100%” or “I don’t keep that type of information.”
Good Answer: About 70 to 80% stay happily married, while the rest drop out of my process and are unwilling to finish.
The difference in the answers you receive from marriage counselors is the feeling you get when you talk with them. Bad answers feel evasive or vague while good answers are confident and positive.
Now that you know the right questions to ask, you can confidently screen marriage counselors, separating the GOOD from the bad. But if you’re hesitant about bringing a marriage counselor into your marriage, as Dr. Doherty suggested, marriage education might be the answer you’re looking for.
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