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22 August 2005


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Bill Ware

Hi Erin,

I was pointed here by Sara at Family Scholars Blog. I am enjoying your posts.

I mentioned you in a comment I left there, so I thought I'd best post a version here too:

“Psychotherapy techniques for young, unmarried couples are no different from those for marital therapy.”

This would be the case when we think of therapy as a process. This basic process would apply to individuals and couples alike.

Therapy is based on the reality of the situation the couple finds themselves in, so of course the marital status and the number and ages off any children would be of primary interest during any discussion. It would be off base to suggest that these important factors aren't taken into consideration.

Suppose a couple goes to a real estate agent looking for a house. The agent finds out about the family members, what their needs and interests are, and shows them the the houses available that might meet their payment capabilities and living requirements. The agent provides information about the local schools, the neighborhood, taxes, restrictions and so forth, and answers any questions as hsr knowledge allows. In the end, though, it has to be the couple who makes the decision as to which house to buy. They have to be satisfied that they used the information available to make the best possible choice in light of their capabilities and needs since they will have to live with that decision well into the future.

I practiced a form of therapy referred to as "client centered therapy" which works in a similar way. The couple comes to therapy with certain objectives in mind and it is the therapist's responsibility to help the couple reach these goals. Information is exchanged; communication, goal setting and other skills are enhanced; options and their consequences are discussed. In the end, though, it has to be the couple who decide on which course of action to take. After all, the couple know more about themselves than a therapist could ever presume to know, and it is the couple who will have to live with these decisions for the rest of their lives.

When you ask, "In what circumstances is it ethical for a therapist to recommend that the couple separate?" the answer is no, no, no, no. A competent therapist would never do such a thing. It's arrogant and counter-therapeutic.

Just as in the real estate example, therapy is a communication among adults. Treating the couple like children by telling them what they ought and ought not to be doing is resented, resisted, and the individuals will do what they want later anyway. They might have started out mad at each other, now they're mad at the therapist as well. This approach is a recipe for disaster.

A function of therapy is to help each individual become a competent adult. That is, a person who recognizes hsr needs, gathers and analyses information in a rational way, who can set realistic goals and can pursue them successfully. Making decisions (suggestions, recommendations) for them is the opposite of this. It fosters dependency and allows them to avoid responsibility by making the therapist at fault if something goes wrong.

The therapist can provide all the best information possible, but the individuals have to make the decisions themselves and take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Note: hsr = his or her

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I think I read something somewhere about this

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