What Makes
Good Marriage Counseling

Read Part 1 here

The Second Major Ingredient

Your conversation with the therapist during marriage counseling is the main way he/she gets to know and understand the problems and symptoms you have, and the goals you want to achieve. It’s not just the “what” that they look for. Many of them also want to uncover how the problems persist, what previous steps the two of you have taken to “fix things,” and what resources you have available to you. Some also look at the cultural context in which the problems live. Religious and ethnic background, race, gender, and social class can be part of the problem, as well as part of the solution.[1]

The therapist also observes how the two of you interact with each other and with him/her. How you talk, the words you choose, and especially body language all give important clues for figuring out the problems and how to go about finding their solutions.

Questionnaires are another way the therapist can get to know you, though not commonly used. But they are useful for identifying personality traits that may otherwise take weeks or months of sessions to reveal.

So, what can be accomplished by all of this talking to a marriage counselor? If you haven’t been there yet, read about the advantages of marriage counseling.

The information therapists seek, and what they think is relevant, depends on their theoretical orientation, that is, what types of couple therapy they believe work best. More on that in a second. But, even though the theory used is important to the success of your marriage counseling, and the conversation too, neither is as important as the therapeutic alliance.

The Third Major Ingredient

So, if the therapeutic alliance is so important, should you care what theory the therapist uses? Well, yes and no. Many therapists tend to be eclectic and use whatever they think will work for your situation.[2] This is not a bad thing. They are tailoring their service to fit you. Other therapists are gung-ho on a particular theory. This is not a bad thing, either. They get better results overall, probably because of their specialized expertise.[3]

If a particular theory appeals to you, using a therapist who is an expert on it can improve your chances of success.

Just know that different theories work better on different problems. Sometimes, a combination of factors will indicate that one therapy is called for; swap out just a couple of those factors and that therapy could be useless. It can get fairly complex deciding what approach to use for any given couple. You’re probably better off letting the therapist suggest a treatment she thinks will work for the two of you, and then you decide if it feels natural, useful and right. Express whatever concerns you may have if it doesn’t feel that way. Unless you like wasting money and time, and gambling with your marriage.

Next: What Are Your Chances of Success With Marriage Counseling?

Previous: What Makes Good Marriage Counseling Good? - Part 1

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[1] ^ Alan S. Gurman, editor, Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy, 4th Ed., The Guilford Press, 2008. P. 16.
[2] ^ Jay L. Lebow, Handbook of Clinical Family Therapy, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. Ch. 1.
[3] ^ Neil Jacobson & Michael Addis, “Research on Couples and Couple Therapy,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Feb. 1993.