History of Marriage Counseling
Before we can address the question, “does marriage counselling work?” it would be helpful to discuss how marriage counseling, as it is currently practiced, evolved over time. Modern marriage family therapy programs came to prominence in the late 1960s and 70s as divorce rates skyrocketed. The didactic methodology employed prior to that point by marriage “therapists,” who were typically clergy members, medical doctors, or social workers, involved treating one spouse at a time to whom concrete direction and rules for self betterment were imparted. In regards to this old school didactic sort of marriage therapy, the answer to the question, “does marriage counselling work?” is generally no.
In contrast, when asking, “does marriage counselling work” in relation to post 1960s couples therapy, the answer becomes more ambiguous. The new marriage counseling techniques of the 60s and 70s were an offshoot from the family therapies model which concerned itself with relationships as a system, therefore requiring that both spouses be present at appointments and treated simultaneously by the marriage therapist. At the time, there had not yet been any family therapy research conducted on the question, “does marriage counselling work when spouses attend family and marriage therapy sessions jointly?”
Many psychologists were initially skeptical. In fact, a lot of psychologists were openly hostile to the marriage counseling as family systems model, also called conjoint therapy. Academic psychology journals of the day were peppered with dismissive articles about the new marriage counseling written by researchers bemoaning the lack of evidence for its efficacy. Practitioners of the new marriage counseling defended the practice, backing up their affirmative answers to the question, “does marriage counselling work?” with evidence culled from two disparate theoretical models, psychoanalysis and the human potential movement.
Psychoanalysis frames the troubled marriage as a primarily neurotic interaction influenced by pathologies of one or both spouses. In psychoanalytical parlance, the question, “does marriage counseling work” is dependent upon whether sublimated traumas buried deep in the subconscious can be brought to light. The human potential movement, on the other hand, regarded the couples therapy model as goal oriented, not in the sense of striving to maintain the marriage itself, but as an attempt at aiding each individual spouse to develop a greater sense of personal agency. According to the human potential movement, the answer to the inquiry, “does marriage counselling work” is not necessarily positively correlated with whether the couple winds up staying together or not. Answering the question, “does marriage counselling work?” within a human potential context depends on how self actualized each spouse becomes, as opposed to whether the two stay married.
Currently, there is still a lot of disagreement as to how the question, “does marriage counselling work?” should be answered. After years of research, the hard data suggests that couples whose marriage therapist draws on the attachment theory of parenting are more likely to see positive outcomes after going through couples counseling. Attachment theory is concerned with building engaged and emotionally responsive relationships. As well, there is evidence suggesting that when a therapist shares with her patients concrete behavioral techniques that couples can adapt in order to become more accepting of one another while at the same time learning to be less emotionally reactive, marriages become more stable. Unfortunately, though these techniques have been shown to work quite well, the answer to the question, “does marriage counselling work?” is not necessarily a hard “Yes!” The reason for this is systemic. B the time most couples go into therapy, they have already been having problems for six years, on average, at which point the question, “does marriage counselling work?” often becomes moot because too much damage has already been done. Research more like this.