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Is Your Marriage Counsellor a Home Wrecker?

posted Feb 6, 2015, 1:30 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

I recently read an opinion, expressed on the internet, by someone proclaiming to be a marriage expert. They were clearly trying to make a case against marriage counselling. Instead, this person argued the marriage mediation they offered was far superior. These allegations are so serious, and I believe so inaccurate and misleading, I needed to set the record straight. First, marriage counselling, as practiced by appropriately trained and specialized counselors, has been very thoroughly researched and  has been found to have an approximately 70% success rate. This means that 3 out of every 4 couples who attend such counselling report improvements at the end of counselling. Unfortunately, because there are many people providing marriage counselling who are not appropriately trained, it isn't possible to say this high success rate will apply to everyone who provides couple counselling. Second, marriage counselling takes a very different perspective on both the goals and the process  from individual counselling. Couples counselling isn't focused just on the emotional health of the individual. The focus is on how the couple are functioning. But this can be a challenge when a couple presents with goals that seem incompatible. Sometimes one person wants to make the marriage work, but the other already has one foot out the door. In these situations its necessary to respect both parties and not simply jump on one side and argue against the other. Third, it was argued that counselling isn't a male friendly experience. Though this can be true, its also true that more effort has gone into making counselling something men can enter into more willingly, even to the extent that articles have been written specifically addressing this concern. I have noticed a change in how many men I now see in counselling compared to 20 years ago.  Fourth, the author of the article tried to argue that often people who do marriage counselling are generalists who may have training to work with concerns like anxiety, depression and addictions, but they aren't marriage experts. Even worse, the counselor may be divorced or possibly single and never married. The truth is that since marriage concerns often go hand in hand with other concerns like anxiety, depression and addictions, its a very clear advantage to be knowledgeable in a multitude of areas beyond just the processes of intimate relationships. And its also a huge advantage to have life experience that contributes to healthy ways to understand the issues you deal with as a counselor. This may mean counselors who have been successfully married for many years are better than counselors who have never married. Yet, research has not been done to show this is true. Fifth, the self proclaimed marriage expert questions why psychological counselling should have a monopoly on providing marriage help. This statement is simply not true. What is true is that virtually anyone can provide marriage counselling and charge clients a fee for their services. What non qualified counselors can't do is get hired by government agencies to provide counselling, and so far insurance companies have not been willing to pay for the services of non qualified counselors. This does not indicate a "monopoly".  Instead it indicates that governments and insurance companies aren't willing to take the risk of paying for the services of people who are not trained and do not belong to professional associations that govern their counselling practice. You, as the client, can take the risk with anyone you wish to see, but you can't expect the government or your insurance plan to take that risk. The author of the article ends by saying that many people feel that marriage counselling is ineffective yet it remains the prevailing approach to relationship troubles. What I have shown, is that research demonstrates marriage counselling is effective, and that is partly why it remains the prevailing treatment option to treat distressed marriages. While some people may "feel" let down or disappointed by the results they obtained when seeking marriage counselling, well documented research results show a very different picture. So the answer to the question,  appropriately trained and experienced marriage counselors are not home wreckers!                   

Caveat Emptor- let the buyer beware

posted Jan 25, 2015, 1:12 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

Canadian laws put a certain amount of responsibility on the buyers of goods and services to be aware and somewhat knowledgeable about the goods and services they are buying. Becoming knowledgeable often involves some shopping around and asking questions and comparing features and costs. When it comes to buying counselling services, I notice clients don't do much shopping around, and even when they do, they don't seem to know what to ask. Some clients assume counselling is regulated, like medicine for example, where services can't be offered by someone untrained. But in Alberta, counselling is not regulated. This means anyone could open a counselling office, and charge clients for their time. If you want a qualified counselor, then you are going to have to ask some questions. Besides asking general questions about specific training and experience, I think clients should ask about areas of specialty and what areas are beyond the capabilities of the counselor. I have found that people who are not properly trained tend to overstate their abilities and not be aware of their limitations. On the other hand, people who are well trained and experienced tend to be more comfortable acknowledging the areas where they are not proficient. If you speak with a counselor who can't identify areas that are beyond their abilities, thats a good sign they lack training, experience or both. You are the buyer, and its up to you to beware.           

Is Good Advice Good?

posted Apr 8, 2014, 1:23 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

While it is true that all counselling involves some advice giving, its also true that giving advice isn't always helpful. Sometimes clients want someone to tell them what to do. Maybe they don't trust their own judgement. Maybe they have made bad decisions before and they believe they will do so again. Having someone else make the decisions can seem safer.  But, there are some really good reasons not to get dependent on others to make important decisions for ones life.  First, no one else is going to have to live with the consequences of the decisions. If the advice is poor, you are the only one who will suffer. But more importantly, having someone else make the decisions is giving up the power and control.  Its like having someone drive your car and just hoping they will go where you want them to go. If you aren't a very good driver, having someone else drive is a very temporary solution. A better solution is to learn how to drive your own car. And that means practicing making your own decisions and learning, even from the mistakes. Being in charge of ones own life is a more mature and adult way of living.  Allowing others to be in charge is remaining more like a child.  So, do you want to remain like a child and expect others to tell you what to do, or do you want to take the risk and make your own decisions?  Even good advice isn't always good!     

Relationship Maintenance

posted Mar 8, 2013, 2:13 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

Some men seem to hope they can find a relationship that requires no maintenance.  Much like having a battery in ones car that works until it dies, such "no maintenance" relationships just don't need any attention.  I believe the no maintenance relationship is a myth.  In my experience all relationships require some work.  Sometimes most of the work is done by the woman.  In these situations, the one doing most of the work may eventually become tired and resentful.  They may complain.  They may demand some increased effort on the part of their spouse.  They may even threaten to leave.  At that point a man may decide the effort just isn't worth it and they may move on to another person who appears to require no maintenance.  This is usually very unfortunate and short sighted.  Putting effort into something shows we value that thing more.  When we put effort into our relationships, we are more likely to also benefit as it causes us to learn and to grow.  Men who just walk away, often remain immature and irresponsible.  As time goes on they find it harder and harder to find anyone who wants to be with them, because they have become very selfish, self centered, and inconsiderate.  Doing relationship maintenance doesn't just make men better husbands, it makes them better men. 

Counselling Sometimes Hurts

posted Feb 8, 2012, 1:52 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

Most people come to counselling because some part of their life is really hurting and they want the hurting to stop.  In many of these situations counselling will help and either the emotional pain goes away, or it is greatly reduced.  But in some cases, people come to counselling and, as their story unfolds, they realize things are even worse than they thought.  This discovery often leaves the person feeling worse after the session, than when they came in.  It may be tempting to think counselling made them feel worse.  What happened is counselling opened their eyes to some painful realities they had previously not seen.  And, as much as counsellors don't want to make people feel worse, sometimes its better to be facing the reality of a bad situation, than to continue  feeling fine because you just don't know whats really going on.  Sometimes counselling can be like surgery.  Before you can feel better, you will feel much worse.     

A Real Story About Extra-marital Affairs

posted Jun 2, 2011, 11:52 AM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

She says..." When your spouse says their vows, its with the hope from that day forward you're the only one that will ever be on their mind and you're the only one they write special notes of affection to, and you're the only one they whisper 'I love you' to, and the only one they give a ring to.  What happens when you find out your marriage vows have been broken?  That which is meant to be sacred is gone.  Everything you believed about your relationship now seems to be a lie.  Believe me, it's a pain so intense both physically and emotionally that some people just don't make it through.
...when you enter into an affair your decision doesn't just affect you and the other person.  You may feel like its just the two of you in that passionate moment, and no one else, but the reality is you have made a decision that has a profound effect for the other people in your life, your spouse, your children, even your parents and your extended family.  You don't realize you have taken their rights away.  Like driving recklessly down the highway crossing the midline and hitting head on with another vehicle that was also driving in the same fashion.  Some marriages don't make it through and end in divorce.  In my case we chose to stay together, and start over.  I was able to forgive and we walked through the pain we both were in, and God's love and grace became the glue that holds us together."
He says..."poor decisions can cause devastation for oneself and those you claim to love.  In my case it was a co-worker I befriended, spent quite a bit of time with and found myself attracted to.  This is where a person needs to be careful because very subtly, and over a period of time your feelings become stronger.  I guess you're sending signals that you are interested.  And over time the closeness grows.  The pat on the shoulder becomes a hug, the look into the eyes becomes a light kiss.  All happening, and yet in your mind you try to convince yourself its still innocent.  You have not crossed the line.  But knowing deep down you have.  That other person is on your mind more than they should be.  Eventually the line is crossed and you find yourself in a full blown affair.  Cheating on the one you professed to love.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be involved in an affair.  I should have been strong enough to stop it.  But I didn't.  I was drawn in hook, line and sinker.  It cost me my dignity, it nearly cost me my wife and family.  Thank God my wife believed in the vows she spoke 15 years earlier and found it in her heart to forgive.  But forgiving is not forgetting.  Trust is broken.  They question who you really are.  They wonder if what you had was really a lie.  The healing process is slow, takes time, takes commitment.  But most of all it takes God's love."
She says ..."So if you find yourself wondering what an affair would be like, don't buy into the lies saying affairs are becoming the 'New Normal'.  An affair is not a way to bring excitement into your life or marriage.  If you are unhappily married, be responsible, get counselling, or get out before entering another relationship"   

What Qualifications are necessary for a Therapist

posted Feb 8, 2011, 2:46 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith   [ updated Feb 8, 2011, 5:56 PM ]

It can be confusing when looking for a therapist.  Even trying to understand what qualifications a person has, and what qualification are probably necessary can be a challenge. 
Let's start with the letters that appear after a person's name.  Most well-qualified professional therapists want to let clients know about the training they have.  The letters after a person's name are usually the university degrees they earned and the professional accountability they maintain.  Going to university and getting a degree doesn't mean they are better therapists but it can mean they are a little more knowledgeable in certain areas than others.  Training in psychology, social work, and marriage and family therapy are common areas of training for therapists.  Usually it's not considered enough to just get the first level of degree in these fields because it provides a general base to build on but doesn't allow a person time to specialize.  Some people think a medical doctor must be the most qualified professional because it generally takes years of study to become a medical doctor but that is not quite accurate.  A medical doctor is a specialist in some field of medicine.  They are not specialists in counselling.  It's a good idea to ask your therapist what university training they have. There is a second set of letters that you need to ask about.
A professional will belong to a professional association that governs their practise.  For example, the Social Work Association governs my work in the area of counselling.  People who do not belong to a professional association are not governed in their practise, so if you have a problem with anything they have done, your only recourse is to see if what they did is illegal, or talk to a lawyer about a law suit.  Again, if you have any questions or doubts about your therapist's qualifications, you should ask, because a properly qualified peofessional will be pleased to let you know whereas unqualified people won't want you to know.       

Why some couples get along better than others

posted Nov 9, 2010, 11:16 AM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

Have you ever wondered why some couples get along better than others?  If you watch Hollywood movies, you may think its just a matter of finding that one special person out there  that you will fall in love with and everything will turn out great.  But in real life, that seldom seems to happen.  So when it does  happen, we really should wonder how.  Fortunately, some research has been done in this area.  And the results aren't surprising.  There are probably three main reasons why some couples get along better.  First, some personalities and temperments are more compatible.  Some peoples ways of communicating, ways of resolving conflicts, and expectations for how relationships will work, are a good fit.  This means when a good fit happens there are less major differences needing to be worked out.  And that means more of the time together is positive.  Second, some people have better relationship skills.  When two people with good relationship skills get together its like two people who are really good dancers.  They seem to move effortlessly to the music.  They are coordinated in so many ways its almost beautiful to watch.  Third, some individuals begin their marriages with less emotional wounds and as a result are at a higher level of maturity.  Such couples come together with less "baggage".  This means there are less sensitive issues and less dysfunctional thinking and behaving that can get in the way.  It may be that easy relationships aren't so much what people have created, but what they were fortunate to be given.  So, for the rest of us, we will just need to work at it!     

Finding The Right Therapist

posted Sep 20, 2010, 2:28 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith

This may sound strange, but finding the right therapist is somewhat like deciding on a restaurant when you want to go out for dinner.  Some people want fast food.  Some are looking for the least expensive.  And sometimes people want the most expensive, even if its not the best value for the money.  This means everyone is looking for something different.  I think the best approach is to find out about the restaurant before you plan to go.  Ask people who have been there before.  Call and ask some questions.  And certainly don't go back to a place you didn't like.  The same applies to finding a therapist.  People who do some research before they attend are probably further ahead.  At least they know what to expect.  And that makes the whole experience better.  

Relationship Restoration Following Betrayal

posted Jun 27, 2010, 12:11 PM by Bruce Cowper-Smith   [ updated Aug 17, 2010, 12:41 PM ]

It should come as no surprise that therapists are often confronted with couples in which one, or even both spouses, have had sexual affairs.  There is always a lot of pain involved.  Often, these couples doubt their relationship can be restored.  They worry that trust may never return.  They wonder if they can ever have loving feelings again.  Unfortunately, not all therapists know how to be helpful in these situations.  Some think cheating means the relationship is over.  Some push for quick forgiveness.  Neither of these options is necessary.  Good therapy can help couples address the problems that allowed distance to develop and assist couples to slowly work through the questions that need to be answered to make trust and loving feelings return.  Betrayal is heartbreaking.  But hearts can be mended.    

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