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.

All Content © 2005 - 2014 The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists, LLC SM
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