Marriage Counseling – Does It Really Work?


When a couple is evaluating marriage counseling, one of the inevitable questions is (or should be) “will this actually work?”

Ask any marriage counselor, and the answer will be yes.

Ask anyone who has actually been through marriage counseling, and you may get a very different answer.

Below is some objective information that was retrieved through a survey of different families, marriages, and counselors, which should bear weight on anyone’s decision to pursue marriage counseling.

The Caveat

Ask any marriage counselor what the most important ingredient to a successful outcome, and the unanimous answer will be the motivation of the couple involved. Good counselors, great counselors, even outstanding counselors cannot help someone who has already made up their mind to leave a relationship. However, most people who decide to leave a relationship do so only after concluding that there is no way to get what they want from their current spouse. In which case, an outstanding counselor can help show that person how they can in fact do just that.

In a study involving 15 states, 526 marriages and counselors, the following information was reported:

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

Now, before we assume that marriage counseling is great and does work, we must keep a few things in mind.

1. As counselors have increased, divorce numbers hold steady at 50%.

WE have more marriage counselors than ever before. The divorce rate is higher than ever. If marriage counseling was all that effective, the divorce rate should go down in proportion to the number of counselors available.

2. Many counselors show bias.

Counselors are people, and while we hope they are objective, the reality is that many counselors will show bias. They will choose a side, and attempt to focus on one “guilty party” to pin all the blame to, while favoring the other party. This creates resentment and increases marital problems and strife. If the favored parties were the ones surveyed, it’s not surprising that there was a high satisfaction rate. Unfortunately, they did not ask the reporting parties if they were in fact still married.

3. Focus

Many counselors attempt to get their clients to stop a behavior, without addressing the underlying need of a negative behavior and giving the client a healthy way to solve the problem. If the focus is on making a client feel good, then they will likely be happy with their counseling, even if the desired result is not achieved. In other words, it represents satisfaction, not if there was significant change accomplished.

As in all studies, one has to bear in mind that the numbers can be shaped to reflect whatever the reporter wants. It does however lend credence to the idea that having a third party intervene and provide professional guidance can accomplish great things.


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