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Does Marriage Counseling Work?

When considering marriage counseling, it's difficult not to wonder whether seeing a marriage counselor will actually work. This article provides some objective information based on data obtained from a national survey of marriage and family counselors and their clients. Also presented are several interesting opinions provided by individuals who have actually been through marriage counseling and were asked to comment on whether or not seeing a marriage counselor proved effective in helping their relationship.

An honest marriage counselor would agree that the motivation of a couple may be the single most important factor in determining the success of marriage counseling. It's unlikely that even a brilliant counselor would be able to save a marriage where one spouse has already decided upon a divorce, and a mediocre marriage counselor can probably help a couple who are utterly committed towards making their marriage work. With this in mind, research has been made in an effort to determine, on a more scientific level, the effectiveness of couples counseling.

In an article published by Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, clients of marriage and family counselors from 15 different states reported on their experience with counseling. The findings indicated that marriage and family counselors treated a wide range of issues in relatively short-term fashion, couple and family therapy are briefer than individual therapy, and that client satisfaction and functional improvement are quite high.

[*] Specifically, of clients from 526 marriage and family counselors in 15 different states:

  • 98.1% rated services good or excellent
  • 97.1% got the kind of help they desired
  • 91.2% were satisfied with the amount of help they received
  • 93% said they were helped in dealing more effectively with problems
  • 94.3% would return to the same therapist in the future
  • 96.9% would recommend their therapist to a friend
  • 97.4% were generally satisfied with the service they received
  • 63.4% reported improved physical health
  • 54.8% reported improvement in functioning at work
  • 73.7% indicated improvement in children’s behavior
  • 58.7% showed improvement in children’s school performance

[*] Excerpted from "Clinical Practice Patterns of Marriage and Family Therapists: A National Survey of Therapists and Their Clients", Journal of Marital and Family Therapy--Volume 22, No. 1

While the above study provides raw data that supports the effectiveness of marriage and family counseling, a very interesting discussion on the question "Does Couples Counseling Work" from a public forum devoted to this topic offers a less clinical, but still positive view. Based on what seems to be a very honest and frank discussion among couples "who've been there," the answer to the question of whether or not marriage counseling is effective is a positive one. Read these posts on the Berkley Parents Network.

Regardless of the studies and opinions which seem to support the effectiveness of marriage / couples counseling, there are those who question it's effectiveness. An article on the portal, had this to say:

The science of marital counseling is being studied in great detail these days. Research is showing that it is not as effective as people think, that women seem to get more from it than men, and that it might not have a lasting effect on the couple's marriage.

What type of couple gets the most from couple therapy? The answer is young, non-sexist, still in love, open couples.

Which couples receive the least from therapy? Some factors that can make couple therapy unsuccessful include couples who wait too long before seeking help, and often one or the other is set on getting a divorce and is closed to any suggestions that may save the marriage.

Excerpted from the portal

Unfortunately, the data supporting the above-mentioned research is not specifically cited in the article. The article seems to imply that couples who seek counseling because they want their relationship to work are more likely to succeed with marriage counseling than are those who enter into counseling with the (perhaps hidden) truth that they already want out.

More opinions from folks "who've been there" can be found on the alt.marriage newsgroup. The following collection of discussion threads offers several interesting and insightful responses from people who have actually gone through couples counseling. View some threads on the subject on the alt.marriage newsgroup:

Marriage Counseling? - Opinions/Advice please!

Does Marriage Counseling Work???

Does marriage counseling help?