Family and Marriage Counseling
Family counseling is a type of psychotherapy that may have one or more objectives. Family counseling may help to promote better relationships and understanding within a family. It may be incident specific, as for example family counseling during a divorce, or the approaching death of a family member. Alternately family counseling may address the needs of the family when one family member suffers from a mental or physical illness that alters his or her behavior or habits in negative ways.
Family counseling often occurs with all members of the family unit present. This may not always be the case. A family member who suffers from alcoholism or drug addiction might not attend sessions, and might actually be the reason why other family members seek out family counseling.
Part of the goal of the therapist is to observe interactions between family members. Another part is to observe the perception of non-interacting family members. Thus if two family members get into an argument in a session, the therapist might want to know how the other family members are dealing with the disagreement or the way in which the two fighting members comport themselves.
In addition to observation, the therapist often helps the family reflect on better ways of communicating with each other. So family counseling may in part be instruction and encouragement. In fact, family counseling often teaches family members new and more positive ways to communicate to replace old, negative communication patterns.
Observations may also be used to point out how poor communication, especially when particularly filled with strife, affects the behavior and happiness of children. Children benefit from the safe forum of a session. They may get to for discuss the things they don’t like about behavior of caregivers and/or siblings. Such discussion might not be permitted in the home setting.
As in group counseling, the therapist also acts as moderator in family counseling. He or she attempts to ensure that each family member gets fair time for expressing concerns and contributing to the conversation as to how the family can do better. Sometimes the therapist may identify one or more family members who need more than the family counseling model, and might benefit from individual therapy. The personal issues of one member of a family may affect all other family members.
The therapist may identify that the family cannot progress to a better relationship format without some individuals receiving more help, and possibly medication. A family member with a bipolar chemistry may want to be a better parent, but may be physically unable to change radical mood swings without a combination of individual therapy and medication.
Family counseling may not take a long time to complete. Often families benefit from four to five sessions. Sometimes families require more help and might need 20-30 sessions to resolve significant or ongoing family issues.
For families, family counseling often helps because it involves a disinterested third party who does not favor any one member of the family. This is generally why a therapist for one family member will not agree to be a family counselor for the client’s family. Display of partiality can render family counseling ineffective.
Different theoretical models exist in family counseling. A therapist may work from a behavioral stance, from Gestalt principals, or from a combination of therapeutic approaches. Whatever the approach, the main goal continues to be to improve the relationship of each family member to the others, so that the family progresses as a harmonious unit.
Marriage counseling is a type of relationship therapy that focuses on building and maintaining a strong, healthy marriage. The goals sought through marriage counseling are as different and varied as the individuals who seek them. In some cases, couples who have suffered a trauma in their relationship, such as infidelity or unemployment, seek marriage counseling in order to repair broken bonds. Other couples whose marriages are minimally stressed use counseling as a way to deepen communication and further strengthen their relationship. In still other situations, couples who are engaged to be married choose to attend marriage counseling as a way to start off on the right foot, so to speak.
The goals of a particular couple may influence the type of marriage counselor that would best suit their needs. It is important to understand what credentials a counselor may have and what those credentials mean. In addition, individuals in search of marriage counseling should meet with potential counselors in order to find someone with whom both parties feel comfortable.
Marriage counseling may be administered by a Master of Social Work (MSW). An MSW is a social worker who focuses on restoring the social functioning of individuals within a group. A counselor with a degree in social work may be best suited to couples who have had problems with domestic violence or substance abuse.
A marriage counselor may also obtain a professional degree. Also known as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor (MFCC), a licensed marriage counselor has spent three to five years studying the workings of familial relationships in depth. A licensed counselor may be helpful for couples with communication problems. An MFCC may also be particularly beneficial when children are involved.
While the techniques used in marriage counseling vary drastically depending on the individual couple and counselor involved, most counselors seek to act as a neutral entity, offering unbiased insight into problems that can be wrought with strong emotions. The neutrality of the counselor and the location chosen for therapy is important in order to avoid "taking sides" on the part of the counselor. Marriage counseling may be particularly effective when the therapist meets with both individuals separately before meeting with them together.
Research on the effectiveness of marriage counseling is a difficult area of study, as the very personal, individual nature of the subject makes it nearly impossible to compare the success of those who seek it with a control group. In general, research has shown that while many couples have found marriage counseling helpful, a majority of them still end up turning to divorce. Therapy has been found most effective for younger couples who seek marriage counseling before their problems escalate.