David Earl Johnson, LICSW

4 minute read

Bad news sells better than good news. Unfortunately, sometimes that means bad articles are created to grab your attention. Here is a good example. Couples in trouble are looking for help. Instead of informing them up front, this article starts out saying therapists may not help and may be incompetent. How many people stop reading right there? [Married With Problems? Therapy May Not Help][1]

Each year, hundreds of thousands of couples go into counseling in an effort to save their troubled relationships. But does marital therapy work? Not nearly as well as it should, researchers say. Two years after ending counseling, studies find, 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced. Sounds bad, but lets crunch some numbers. That means 75% are better off or about the same after two years. Now it doesn’t sound so bed. After four years, 38% are divorced. Sounds terrible. Considering [41% of marriages fail][2], that’s below the average rate. That 38% comes from a group of couples who had marital problems bad enough to seek counseling. The 41% comes from ALL marriages. So that 38% should look more acceptably small.

Many of the counseling strategies used today, like teaching people to listen and communicate better and to behave in more positive ways, can help couples for up to a year, say social scientists who have analyzed the effectiveness of different treatments. But they are insufficient to get couples through the squalls of conflict that inevitably recur in the long term. At the same time, experts say, many therapists lack the skills to work with couples who are in serious trouble. Unable to help angry couples get to the root of their conflict and forge a resolution, these therapists do one of two things: they either let the partners take turns talking week after week, with no end to the therapy in sight, or they give up on the couple and, in effect, steer them to divorce. “Couples therapy can do more harm than good when the therapist doesn’t know how to help a couple,” said Dr. Susan M. Johnson, professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa and director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute. Like any profession, there are good, better and down right lousy therapists.

One couple, in Boonton, N.J., saw two marriage counselors over 13 years. “One therapist hurt our marriage and actually a caused our separation,” said the husband, Jim, who did not want his last name used out of concerns for his privacy. “She told my wife, ‘You don’t have to put up with that,’ ” referring to his battle with alcoholism, he said. Ah, excuse me? I suppose he expected the therapist to tell his wife she HAD TO put up with whatever he had to dish out.

To be sure, many couples credit counseling with strengthening their marriages. And therapists say that they could save more marriages if couples started therapy before their relationships were in critical condition. “Couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy with their relationship before getting help,” said Dr. John Gottman, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington and executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle. “We help the very distressed couples less than the moderately distressed couples.” Finally, we get to useful information! Yes indeed, my experience is that couples I’ve seen wait until the marriage is all but over. One spouse drags the other in to 1. get permission to initiate a divorce, 2. to prevent the spouse from falling apart when the other files for divorce. That isn’t marital counseling, that’s divorce counseling. If my experience is any indication of other counselor’s, that 38% is starting to look really small. Getting help is pretty easy. You may have to pay for it because many insurances don’t cover marital therapy. You may have to shop around to find a good therapist. Just be sure you get into counseling soon after the problem begins. Chances of success go way up! [The rest of the article][3] has good information, if you can reinterpret the excess. Happy reading!

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