Professionals Who Can Help

Psychologists, therapists and counselors can offer dispassionate guidance as you attempt to identify and confront the issues creating conflict and difficulty in your marriage. Education credentials will range from a bachelor’s degree to postgraduate degrees. Training and experience will range from generalist to specialist. The education, experience and outlook of counseling professionals can vary widely – a fact that may greatly affect the guidance they offer. Some observers submit that counseling should first seek ways to repair and preserve the marriage, rather than addressing individual internal issues. This is something to consider when the goal is to stay married. It appears that marriage counselors who emphasize conflict resolution skills obtain higher levels of success. Learning to defuse an explosive situation, the art of “fair” fighting and restructuring communication patterns are methods used to improve relationships. Look for professionals who are skilled in these areas.

Marriage and family therapists have extensive experience and training in dealing with marital conflict. Their primary focus will be on the dynamics of the relationship rather than on the individual. The goal will be to identify and resolve the issues causing conflict in the relationship and teach new communication skills and other solutions to improve the dynamics between a couple. Marriage and Family Therapists are trained to help people deal with troubles in their close personal relationships. Like other psychologists and therapists, they generally encourage communication about the conflicts and provide insight into problems. This is done with the goal of improved relationships.

Individual therapists and counselors focus on individuals and the issues each are confronting. The goal may be more toward self-actualization and personal growth rather than the preservation of the marriage. Sometimes, individual therapy is necessary as an adjunct to marriage and family therapy. It is important to tell an individual therapist or counselor of the goal and intent of preserving a marriage. In this way, the individual work may be focused on areas that have the most impact on the relationship. A therapist that can help couples work through “real” and “present time” situations achieve better results than those who focus on dredging up the past. But, sometimes looking into the past is helpful in discovering how it may have an impact on marital choice and the patterns being repeated in the present day marriage. A skilled therapist can discern when this may be necessary. In any case, ask your counselor or therapist to discuss his or her strategy with you and your spouse. Deciding on a course of action as a team with your therapist and spouse allows everyone involved to have the feeling of knowing where things are headed – and why.

Psychologists and Psychotherapists: Psychologists and Psychotherapists perform research, testing and therapy for mental health problems and for emotional problems. Their techniques generally encourage communication of conflicts and insight into problems – with the goals of personal growth and behavior change. They normally focus on the individual.

Social workers: Social workers help improve living conditions for communities and individuals through counseling and assistance with social services. Some social workers are specially trained to provide therapy for individuals or their relationships.

Can Therapists actually threaten a marriage? You should be aware that there are some people who believe that therapists can actively threaten marriages if they fail to recognize and affirm the moral nature of the marital commitment. Among the most influential people with that belief is William J. Doherty, a Professor of Family Social Science, Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota and the author of Soul Searching: Why Psychotherapy Must Promote Moral Responsibility (Basic Books, 1995) To learn more about Professor Doherty’s position on this, please click here to read his article, “How Therapists Threaten Marriages.”

Can Attorneys provide advice about saving marriages? Attorneys can advise you about how to protect your legal rights and the rights of your children. However, attorneys generally do not have the ability to work with you on saving the marriage. Their expertise is in the legal arena, not in the realm of emotions and personal relationships. When seeking the advice of an attorney, remember they are paid for the time they spend with you. If you are working at re-building your marriage, an attorney can help you see how your lives may look if you end up divorcing. Sometimes, this picture is enough to motivate couples (especially where children are involved) to work on repairing and re-building relationships. However, an attorney is not qualified to guide you in how to save your marriage or to help you decide whether you can work on the marriage

Finding a therapist or counselor who can help you. Remember that most marriages go through times of conflict and crisis. In seeking to understand the root of the conflict and to find solutions, many, many marriages survive these difficult times. Marriages and relationships work when both partners are committed to making them work. This often means confronting difficult personal issues and making the marriage commitment a priority. The sources of guidance you choose can support you through this process and influence the final outcome. Be sure you understand the appropriate role of each resource and trust your instincts about your choices.

Each of these fields includes practitioners with a wide range of educational credentials, experience and philosophies. The members of all subscribe to the mission of this organization – to help families in conflict make choices that preserve the dignity of the family. They will acknowledge your efforts to preserve your marriage commitment, or work with you through a divorce in a manner that endorses the preservation of integrity and dignity of all involved individuals.

If you are going to work with a therapist or counselor, it is important that you find a professional who can help you meet your goals.