Marriage Counseling

The 2010 US Census estimated that half of all marriages will end in divorce and thus marriage counseling is big business, with options ranging from individual, couples or family therapy to support from the clergy and ‘e-therapy.' Marriage counseling is usually practiced by licensed individuals who have been trained in psychology, psychiatry, and counseling, or alternatively by representatives of the clergy. There are various approaches to marriage counseling, which may be used alone or combined with other methods.

Early reports of the practice came out of Germany in the 1920s as part of the eugenics movement, which originated in England in 1883 with Sir Francis Galton (1822 - 1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin who helped found a British society to study eugenics. A sister organization, the American Eugenics Society, was formed in the United States in 1935. The first marriage counseling institutions were established in the United States during the 1930s. The practice was promoted by eugenicist Paul Popenoe (1888 - 1979) and others in this field. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (formally the American Association of Marriage Counselors) was founded in 1942. It is the largest relationship counseling organization in the US.

American gynecologist and psychiatrist Lena Levine (1903-1965) was a pioneer in the field of marriage counseling. She teamed up with Abraham and Hannah Stone to run sessions at the Community Church of New York. After the death of Hannah Stone in 1941, Levine worked with Abraham Stone to pioneer a group counseling program on sex and contraception. Prior to that Levine had worked at the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau, a major birth control clinic in New York City where she ran group therapy sessions for clients with sexual problems. Levine is widely believed to have made a major contribution to the mental and physical health of Americans with her honesty in discussing subjects previously considered taboo. Sex counseling, which was originally part of marital therapy, later emerged as an independent field.

Among the oldest method of marriage counseling is the psychodynamic approach, which attributes problems to unresolved conflicts with the couple's personal history and motivations at the center of the therapy. The principles of psychoanalysis are applied here and the couple can be treated individually, or two therapists may work together to treat them. A growing number of therapists are following this example, with married therapists sometimes working together as a team, representing a ‘role model' to their clients. Another option is the systems approach, whereby the interaction between partners is seen as the origin of marital problems. The therapist examines behavior and communication patterns are analyzed as well as the roles played out within the family. This form of therapy may be short-term or long-term, depending on the needs of the couple being treated. A popular individual treatment approach is Rogerian or client-centered therapy, sometimes also referred to as humanistic therapy. The central theme here is communication and the sharing of feelings, with couples encouraged to improve their speaking and listening skills. Meanwhile, the behavioral approach is another form of marriage counseling therapy in which couples are made aware of any destructive patterns. The therapist will coach them on how to modify this behavior and improve their problem-solving skills, as well as helping them to resolve conflict.

Historian Eva Moskowitz (1964-) author of the popular book In Therapy We Trust, describes how "Americans developed an intense preoccupation with psychological well-being," and claims that "there are more than 260 [different kinds of] 12-step programs in America. No other nation in the world puts so much faith in emotional wellbeing and self-help techniques."

According to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, depression and anxiety are the top mental health conditions patients bring to therapy sessions. The organization reported frequently counseling patients on issues relating to depression (86.1 percent), anxiety (81 percent), self-esteem/personal growth (75 percent), post-traumatic stress disorder (58.9 percent), grief (46.7 percent) and parenting (44.9 percent). Marriage counseling has been played out in dramatic style in American homes, with the rise in popularity of TV talk shows, from Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey to Jerry Springer, with emotional individuals discussing their personal issues in front of an audience of millions. The worldwide web also plays a role, with clients of dating sites being offered ‘e-counselling' services if they go on to encounter relationship or marital problems.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy
Alan S. Gurman; Neil S. Jacobson.
Guilford Press, 2002 (3rd edition)
Family Psychology: The Art of the Science
William M. Pinsof; Jay L. Lebow.
Oxford University Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Part I "Marriage and Marital Intervention"
The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection
Susan M. Johnson.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Contexts and Connections: An Intersubjective Systems Approach to Couples Therapy
David Shaddock.
Basic Books, 2000
Healthy Marriage Programs: Learning What Works
Dion, M. Robin.
The Future of Children, Vol. 15, No. 2, Fall 2005
Marital Therapy, Retreats, and Books: The Who, What, When, and Why of Relationship Help-Seeking
Doss, Brian D.; Rhoades, Galena K.; Stanley, Scott M.; Markman, Howard J.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 2009
Understanding Marriage: Developments in the Study of Couple Interaction
Patricia Noller; Judith A. Feeney.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Action Methods in Marriage and Family Therapy: A Review
Wiener, Daniel J.; Pels-Roulier, Laurie.
Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, Vol. 58, No. 2, Summer 2005
Religious and Spiritual Values and Moral Commitment in Marriage: Untapped Resources in Couples Counseling?
Nelson, Judith A.; Kirk, Amy Manning; Ane, Pedra; Serres, Sheryl A.
Counseling and Values, Vol. 55, No. 2, April 2011
Marital Therapy: Qualities of Couples Who Fare Better or Worse in Treatment
Hampson, Robert B.; Prince, Catherine V.; Beavers, W. Robert.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 25, No. 4, October 1999
Preliminary Estimates of Cost-Effectiveness for Marital Therapy
Caldwell, Benjamin E.; Woolley, Scott R.; Caldwell, Casey J.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 33, No. 3, July 2007
The Narcissistic / Borderline Couple: New Approaches to Marital Therapy
Joan Lachkar.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Improving Outcomes and Preventing Relapse in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Martin M. Antony; Deborah Roth Ledley; Richard G. Heimberg.
Guilford Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Couple Distress"
The Art of Strategic Therapy
Jay Haley; Madeleine Richeport-Haley.
Brunner-Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Strategic Therapy with Couples"
Essential Psychotherapies: Theory and Practice
Alan S. Gurman; Stanley B. Messer.
Guilford Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Marital Therapies"
Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States
Kristin Celello.
University of North Carolina Press, 2009
Librarian’s tip: The history of marriage counseling is discussed throughout.
Remarriage in the Catholic Church: Implications for Marriage and Family Counselors
Sauerheber, Jill Duba; Ponton, Richard F.
Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 2013
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