Marriage Counseling

views updated May 29 2018

Marriage Counseling


Marriage counseling is a type of psychotherapy for a married couple or established partners that tries to resolve problems in the relationship. Typically, two people attend counseling sessions together to discuss specific issues.


Marriage counseling is based on research that shows that individuals and their problems are best handled within the context of their relationships. Marriage counselors are trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and focus on understanding their clients' symptoms and the way their interactions contribute to problems in the relationship.


Marriage counseling is usually a short-term therapy that may take only a few sessions to work out problems in the relationship. Typically, marriage counselors ask questions about the couple's roles, patterns, rules, goals, and beliefs. Therapy often begins as the couple analyzes the good and bad aspects of the relationship. The marriage counselor then works with the couple to help them understand that, in most cases, both partners are contributing to problems in the relationship. When this is understood, the two can then learn to change how they interact with each other to solve problems. The partners may be encouraged to draw up a contract in which each partner describes the behavior he or she will be trying to maintain.

Marriage is not a requirement for two people to get help from a marriage counselor. Anyone person wishing to improve his or her relationships can get help with behavioral problems, relationship issues, or with mental or emotional disorders. Marriage counselors also offer treatment for couples before they get married to help them understand potential problem areas. A third type of marriage counseling involves postmarital therapy, in which divorcing couples who share children seek help in working out their differences. Couples in the midst of a divorce find that marriage therapy during separation can help them find a common ground as they negotiate interpersonal issues and child custody.

Choosing a therapist

A marriage counselor is trained to use different types of therapy in work with individuals, couples, and groups. American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) training includes supervision by experienced therapists, a minimum of a master's degree (including specific training in marriage and family therapy), and specific graduate training in marriage and family therapy.

When looking for a marriage counselor, a couple should find out the counselor's training and educational background, professional associations, such as AAMFT, and state licensure, and whether the person has experience in treating particular kinds of problem. Also, questions should be asked concerning fees, insurance coverage, the average length of therapy, and so on.

Normal results

Marriage counseling helps couples learn to deal more effectively with problems, and can help prevent small problems from becoming serious. Research shows that marriage counseling, when effective, tends to improve a person's physical as well as mental health, in addition to improving the relationship.



American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 1133 15th St., NW Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005-2710. (202) 452-0109.

American Psychological Association (APA). 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. (202) 336-5700.

Marriage Counseling

views updated Jun 11 2018

Marriage counseling

A clinical specialty of family and marital therapy.

There are many different approaches to marriage counseling, which may be used alone or combined with other methods by the therapist. Among the oldest is the psychodynamic approach, which attributes problems within a marriage to the unresolved conflicts and needs of each spouse. Each client's personal history and underlying motivations are central to this mode of therapy. Therapists using this approach apply the principles of psychoanalysis in their treatment; they may either treat both marriage partners individually, or treat one spouse in collaboration with another therapist who treats the other.

Marriage counseling that follows a systems approach stresses the interaction between partners as the origin of marital difficulties, rather than their actions or personality . Behavior and communication patterns are analyzed as well as the interlocking roles portrayed by the couple or members of the family . Family members may be conditioned to consistently play "the strong one" or "the weak one," or such other roles as "scapegoat," "caretaker," or "clown." Although initially it may seem that only one member of a family system is troubled, on closer inspection his or her difficulties are often found to be symptomatic of an unhealthy pattern in which all the members play an active part. Systems theory is actually an umbrella term for a range of therapies, and systems-oriented counseling may take a variety of forms, including both short-and long-term therapy.

A popular individual treatment approach also used in marriage counseling is Rogerian or client-centered therapy , also referred to as humanistic therapy. Here, the emphasis is on communication and the open sharing of feelings. Through specially formulated exercises, couples work on improving their speaking and listening skills and enhancing their capacity for emotional honesty. Another widely employed mode of marriage counseling is based on a behavioral approach, in which marital problems are treated as dysfunctional behaviors that can be observed and modified. Couples are made aware of destructive behavior patterns, often by systematically recording their behavior until certain patterns emerge. The therapist then coaches them in various modifying strategies with the goal of achieving positive, mutually reinforcing interactions. Behavior-oriented therapy also focuses on improving a couple's problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.

Marriage counselors may conduct therapy sessions with both spouses, treating one as the primary client and the other one only occasionally, while another therapist treats the other spouse. An increasing number of therapists counsel couples in pairs, with married therapists sometimes working together as a team. Theoretically, the relationship between the co-therapists is supposed to serve as a model for their clients. Marriage counseling in groups, which is becoming increasingly common, offers clients some of the same advantages that group therapy offers individuals. Sex counseling, which had previously been part of marital therapy, emerged as an independent field following the pioneering work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1950s and 1960s. Couples seeking treatment for sexual dysfunction have the option of working with a sex therapist.

Marriage counseling is usually practiced by licensed individuals with specialized training in psychology, psychiatry, and counseling, or by persons without such training, including members of the clergy. The first marriage counseling centers were established in the 1930s, and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (formally the American Association of Marriage Counselors) was founded in 1942.

Further Reading

Brammer, Lawrence M. Therapeutic Psychology: Fundamentals of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Ronch, Judah L, William van Ornum, and Nicholas C. Stilwell, eds. The Counseling Sourcebook: A Practical Reference on Contemporary Issues. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

Marriage Counseling

views updated May 23 2018

Marriage Counseling

See:Therapy: Couple Relationships

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