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Marriage counseling is a type of psychotherapy for a married couple or established partners that tries to resolve problems in the relationship. Typically, two people attend counseling sessions together to discuss specific issues.
Marriage counseling is based on research that shows that individuals and their problems are best handled within the context of their relationships. Marriage counselors are trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and focus on understanding their clients' symptoms and the way their interactions contribute to problems in the relationship.
Marriage counseling is usually a short-term therapy that may take only a few sessions to work out problems in the relationship. Typically, marriage counselors ask questions about the couple's roles, patterns, rules, goals, and beliefs. Therapy often begins as the couple analyzes the good and bad aspects of the relationship. The marriage counselor then works with the couple to help them understand that, in most cases, both partners are contributing to problems in the relationship. When this is understood, the two can then learn to change how they interact with each other to solve problems. The partners may be encouraged to draw up a contract in which each partner describes the behavior he or she will be trying to maintain.
Marriage is not a requirement for two people to get help from a marriage counselor. Anyone person wishing to improve his or her relationships can get help with behavioral problems, relationship issues, or with mental or emotional disorders. Marriage counselors also offer treatment for couples before they get married to help them understand potential problem areas. A third type of marriage counseling involves postmarital therapy, in which divorcing couples who share children seek help in working out their differences. Couples in the midst of a divorce find that marriage therapy during separation can help them find a common ground as they negotiate interpersonal issues and child custody.
Choosing a therapist
A marriage counselor is trained to use different types of therapy in work with individuals, couples, and groups. American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) training includes supervision by experienced therapists, a minimum of a master's degree (including specific training in marriage and family therapy), and specific graduate training in marriage and family therapy.
When looking for a marriage counselor, a couple should find out the counselor's training and educational background, professional associations, such as AAMFT, and state licensure, and whether the person has experience in treating particular kinds of problem. Also, questions should be asked concerning fees, insurance coverage, the average length of therapy, and so on.
Marriage counseling helps couples learn to deal more effectively with problems, and can help prevent small problems from becoming serious. Research shows that marriage counseling, when effective, tends to improve a person's physical as well as mental health, in addition to improving the relationship.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 1133 15th St., NW Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005-2710. (202) 452-0109. http://www.aamft.org.
American Psychological Association (APA). 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. (202) 336-5700. http://www.apa.org.