Can You Trust Your Marriage Therapist?

| September-October, 2009

  • Marriage Councelor Myths

    image by Anke Weckmann /

  • Marriage Councelor Myths

Relationship advice dispensed by family and friends is understandably framed with popular wisdom. That’s why people have therapists: sage professionals armed with research, data, and experience in resolving life’s quandaries. There’s just one hitch. Therapists are human too.

Many marriage and family therapists, it seems, subscribe to the same mistaken beliefs about relationships that vex their clients. Researchers at the California School of Professional Psychology recently surveyed 223 therapists, reports Psychotherapy Networker (May-June 2009). Presented with 21 myths about marriage, they bought into an average of seven erroneous statements. Among the falsehoods: High-conflict couples are more likely to split; single women are at less risk for violence than married women; men reap greater benefits from being hitched than women do.

Some mental health professionals argue that the survey myths reflect issues too multifaceted to format into true or false questions. Plus no one has demonstrated a link between therapists’ beliefs and poor therapy results, the researchers carefully note. People seek therapy in their most vulnerable moments, though, and professional advice inevitably weighs more than maxims doled out over coffee or pints. As a result of the survey, therapists worth their salt are no doubt hitting the books.

Annie Ory
10/9/2009 5:44:16 PM

@Hayley, I am sure you have good reasons to believe the things you list will ensure you a good therapist, and maybe they will. Realistically speaking many therapists with just such a list of qualifications regularly see couples who divorce and get no real results from couple's therapy. A study completed several years ago asked respondents going in to therapy, during therapy and after a two year course of therapy how they self evaluated the results of therapy on their overall mental health. The people interviewed had generally common problems, were not addicts and were not deemed to need medication. Their therapists were tracked for education, membership in professional groups, licensing, etc. The group included controls who received no therapy and a vast selection of therapy styles, professionals from clergy to doctors. The single thing the study concluded was that those who self reported that therapy had helped them were those individuals who felt that their therapist truly cared about them. Period. Nothing else mattered. This is not conclusive of anything obviously, other than that degrees and licenses do not assure efficacy. It could mean that a caring therapist is needed, or that the patient needs to believe s/he can be cared about, or both, or something else. Most couples who begin therapy have waited too long, an average of 7 years after problems begin. Most therapists realistically have no idea, any more than any of the rest of us do, what makes a good marriage.

Hayley X.
10/5/2009 5:12:26 AM

You must choose your counselor in order to really trust them. A counselor must have a degree that meets certain standards on counselor theory, practice and ethics. It must be someone who is licensed in your particular state and who has graduated with a Ph.D., a Masters degree in counseling, or a Masters in Social Work from an accredited university. For some couples, spirituality and faith is an important part of their life and they want to be able to bring their spirituality and/or faith tradition into the counseling process. If this is true for you then it is important to ask whether the counselor is comfortable addressing these issues. To read more:

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