Marriage Friendly Therapists

Questions about Marriage Friendly Therapy

What do you mean by “marriage friendly”?
Are you saying that some therapists are “unfriendly” to marriage?

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Therapists on the Registry support a values statement that holds marriage as an important personal, professional, and social value. These therapists
believe in helping couples restore their marriages to health if that is possible. Most couples assume this is what all therapists believe. But it’s not so. Because of their professional training, many therapists hold a
“neutral” value orientation towards whether a marriage survives or whether the couple
divorces. In fact, this is the most common stance even among therapists
who identify themselves as marriage and family therapists. In a national
survey of over 1,000 marriage and family therapists, over 60 percent
indicated that they are “neutral” on marriage versus divorce for
their clients. Only one-third said they “I am committed to preserving
marriage and avoiding divorce whenever possible.” Disturbingly, 2.4%
said they frequently recommend divorce. (You can contact us for the
citation for this peer reviewed journal article.) The bottom line:
most therapists are neutral when marriages are in trouble, whereas
therapists on the Registry aim to directly support the viability of
troubled marriages. This is a big difference, and it’s
why we use the term “marriage friendly.”

Is Marriage Friendly Therapists anti-divorce? Are you saying that all marriages are worth saving?

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Life is filled with tragedy. Not all marriages can survive, and some marriages
are so destructive to health and human dignity that they should be
dissolved. Sometimes couples come to therapy when one spouse has made
an irrevocable decision to divorce. In other words, there are times when
every experienced marriage therapist knows that the cause has been lost and
that the best approach is to help minimize the damage of an inevitable divorce.
There are responsible divorces, and therapists can assist in that process.
But that does not mean that we hold the view of one prominent therapist
who says, “The good
marriage, the good divorce—it matters not.” Like a surgeon facing
a wounded limb, we first want to find a way to save a marriage, even
if at first a spouse is demoralized and feels like giving up. A good
marriage therapist, in our view, offers hope and works hard to help couples
succeed in their marriage, and then accepts their ultimate decision on the
future of their relationship.

Why do you claim that many therapists are not competent in marriage therapy?

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Many therapists have never taken a single course in marriage therapy and
have little or no supervised clinical training in this form of therapy.
Most academic programs in psychology, psychiatry, social work, and
counseling do not require a single course in marriage and couples therapy.
Even when such a course is offered, it’s an elective. Only therapists
trained specifically in the profession of marriage and family therapy have
required coursework in marriage therapy, but they may not have significant
clinical training specifically with couples—just with “family units”
of some kind. When therapists go into their clinical practice, they often
drift into seeing couples because there is such a demand for this work.
(A national survey of private practice therapists found that 80% do marriage
therapy. But this is a difficult, specialized form of therapy that
should not be done without supervised training. The result often is poor
therapy for which couples often blame themselves rather than the therapist.
Couples are playing Russian roulette with their marriages when they pick
up the phone book and call a random therapist.

Is individual therapy safer for marriages?

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Individual therapy may undermine more marriages than even poor couples therapy.
Because relationship problems are the main problem people bring to
individual therapists, individual therapists are treating marriages
whether or not they realize it. Unless the therapist has values that support
marriage and is careful not to turn the non-present partner into a villain,
individual therapy can undermine a marriage. Every experienced marriage therapist
has heard these stories: a spouse goes into individual therapy, receives
support for a one-sided view of the marriage problems, and becomes increasingly
pessimistic about the marriage. The therapist then questions why the person
stays in an obviously bad marriage. The other spouse is clueless that the
marriage is unraveling in therapy, and is not informed until it’s too
late. These therapists do not intend harm, but often their orientation is
to the personal happiness of their individual client who is distressed
in a marriage, without enough regard for the welfare of the other spouse
and the children—and
for the lifelong commitment that the client once made to the marriage
for “better and worse.” Sadly, it is not uncommon for therapists
to recommend divorce after a few individual sessions without a real
assessment of the marriage and its possibilities for survival and renewal.

Is Marriage Friendly Therapists a religious enterprise?

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The Registry is a secular enterprise, with no connection to a religious
denomination. We are delighted to have a range of therapists on the
registry from across the religious spectrum, from openly religious therapists
who incorporate their spirituality in their practice, to non-religious therapists
who respects clients’ beliefs but do not share them.

Does Marriage Friendly Therapists have a political agenda?

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Emphatically no. We believe that helping couples restore their marriage
to health is neither a Republican or Democratic issue, neither liberal or
conservative. From conversations with therapists on the Registry, we know
they span the gamut of political orientations and even beliefs about controversial
topics such as same sex marriage. It is possible to do good work in today’s
world without everyone holding the same political views.

Are non-married people excluded from Marriage Friendly Therapists?

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Anyone can access a therapist on the Registry and learn about whether there
is a good fit between the client’s needs and the therapist’s
practice. Nearly every marriage therapist sees people at various stages
of relationships, from considering commitment to long-term married,
from first-married to many-times-married. Some therapists on the Registry
work with all kinds of couples, including cohabiting couples and same
sex couples, while others limit their practice to married husbands and wives.
Some see individuals who are part of couples when the spouse will not
go to therapy, while others will work only with both spouses together. It’s
up the consumers of the Registry to look at therapists’ practice descriptions
and to inquire about the right fit for their circumstances.

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