Despite the stigma slowly lifting itself away from individuals engaging in counseling and the therapy process, there still exists one major therapeutic specialty that comes with emotional reproach from those engaged in it, and from the public in general—marital therapy and couples counseling. But, in 2018, there is no reason that this should remain the case, especially since it is a practice that has helped create and maintain countless successful marriages in the past few decades, and only continues to improve as a field as time goes on.
If the practice has improved so greatly, and if countless marriages have improved greatly as well, what is it that marriage counselors do that makes them so effective? Well, a marriage therapist will focus their efforts in three primary areas:
- Collaboration of multiple perspectives
- Understanding interpersonal issues
- Introducing constructive behavior
So, what do these things actually mean to both the marriage counselor and to those going through marriage counseling?
One of the most commonly addressed issues in marriage counseling is the conflicts that arise when the married have different opinions and viewpoints on issues both large and small, such as having a child (large) or how to go about planning a vacation (small). Ultimately, all of these problems boil down to the same root problem—that the two people in the marriage are not engaging in the kind of partnership they agreed to when they got married in the first place. What the marriage counselor must do when conducting counseling sessions in these instances is get thier patients to understand that they are in a partnership, that any success they have is shared and rooted in their ability to look past their own wants and work together as the team they agreed to be. By getting the participants to work together and reach compromise, the marriage counselor can help alleviate many of the common, daily problems that exist in that relationship.
Related to the first point, it is important for the marriage counselor to get their patients to understand the issues and viewpoints of their partners, to try and see things through their eyes and understand why they are acting the way they are acting and saying the things they are saying (or not saying). This is the foundation of all symbiotic relationships, but especially marriage, as there is a connection that obviously goes deeper than many of the other relationships we keep in our lives. With friends, coworkers, acquaintances, there is a comforting ease in letting things lie as, “Agree to disagree,” but, often in marriage, this behavior will just invite more conflict as small problems will begin to compound upon each other and turn into large problems. By informing patients on methods of resolving these small conflicts, the marriage counselor can help prevent the generation of these large problems and help keep more marriages happy and healthy.
Introducing Constructive Behavior
This is where the resolution of conflict and the potential for healing truly lie. This is where it becomes imperative for those engaging in MFT to learn how to apply into action the collaboration and understanding learned and gleaned in the first two steps. To turn understanding into action can be difficult, but if a good marriage is ultimately an enterprise of compromise, then the problem-solving methods in MFT must be rooted in the same things—compromise and understanding. It now becomes the marriage and family therapist’s responsibility to use the couples therapy methods they have both learned in school and in their time working with patients to reach the desired resolution—the coming back together, the often slow coming back together, of couples and families to their past unity (or at least something closer to it).
Now, mind you this is just a very brief, very high-level overview of just some of the points of how marriage and family therapy work, and the desired outcomes of those actively engaged in this therapeutic process, and, is, ultimately, an outline of how these therapies work. For a more detailed explanation of the inner workings of Marriage and Family Therapy, check out some of the other blogs we have on the topic.
And, if your interest in becoming a relationship expert continues to grow, please look into the Master’s- and doctoral-level programs in Marriage and Family Therapy we offer through our California School of Professional Psychology, both on-campus at four of our California campuses, and online for the Master’s-level program.