Why Traditional Counseling Doesn’t Always Work … And What You Can Do Instead


I have to get this out of the way up front: I’m a marriage and family therapist and fully believe in the power of the therapeutic relationship.

I’ve been on both sides of the therapy room, as the therapist and as a client. And therapy was part of the process that brought about healing and lasting change when my wife and I almost gave up on our relationship.

But will therapy work for everyone and every situation?

Traditional therapy is still looked down upon by many in society. It’s not something often talked about among friends (even family). And it’s not sought by many people to help them deal with life’s struggles because they don’t view themselves as crazy.

Let me say this … therapy is not just for crazy people.

But therapy doesn’t always work.

Here’s why.

  1. Therapy is something to check off a list. This is especially true when it comes to marriage therapy where a trip to the therapist’s office is seen more as a “last ditch” effort to save something one or both members of the relationship really don’t want saved. Therapy then becomes something that allays the guilt associated with ending the relationship, “Well we tried therapy and that didn’t work.”
  2. The therapist isn’t trained to work with your situation. There are many different approaches to therapy, each one has it’s own focus and training. No one approach is right or wrong – the problem is when a therapist works with people and issues they’re not trained in. One of my biggest peeves is when I hear therapists trained to work with individuals advertising and working with couples and families.
  3. One hour per week. Traditional therapy is one session a week and when you’re working to promote change that’s part of the system of a family or relationship, one hour isn’t near enough time.
  4. Many therapists should be on the other side of the room. Sadly, many people who enter the field should be in therapy themselves. Part of any clinical program necessary for licensure requires students to participate in therapy as a client, but what drives some people to the field is an interest to help others so they don’t have to deal with their own baggage. Everyone does this is some fashion; problems at home so dive into work, conflict in the marriage so live through the kids. But when this happens in the therapy field it’s a recipe for trouble. One of my professors said it best, “some of the most poorly developed humans I’ve worked with have been therapists.”

So am I saying to avoid therapy at all cost?

Absolutely not!

Like I stated above, I completely believe in the power of the therapeutic relationship. But it’s something that must be taken seriously.

Meaning, if you’re in therapy and you don’t feel it’s working well, bring it up in your next session. Discuss your desires and goals and get feedback from your therapist. If they’re not open to the conversation, politely thank them for their help and move on.

Or, if you’re dealing with an issue in life or relationship, seek out a referral from a trusted source. Talk to the therapist on the phone or an initial consultation to see if the relationship between you is a good fit. If you like their approach and they’re trained to work with your situation, schedule future sessions. Check out these two guides to choosing a therapist: Part onePart two.

Think of it this way … you’ve just received a medical diagnosis that requires surgery as part of the treatment.

How will you approach this problem?

Will you head home and Google surgeons and pick the first on the list and schedule the procedure? Will you ask your family doctor for referrals? Will you ask family members or friends who they recommend? And after meeting whoever you choose, will you seek a second opinion?

I recently had surgery to repair a hernia, upon receiving the diagnosis I asked my doctor, two doctors in my family, and a couple of friends who I should go see.

Therapy must be treated the same way!

But what if you’re in an area where good therapists aren’t available?

Thanks to the technology today this is becoming less an issue. Help for your situation can be found online via webcam, phone services for coaching/consulting, specialists that offer fly-in services and/or online courses designed for various life issues – namely Blow Up My Marriage (which begins next week).

The point is … life and marriage have struggles. But you don’t have to go at it alone. There are resources available that can and will help, if you’ll muster up the courage to seek them out.

Frankly, this is why Simple Marriage exists. To be the trusted friend you can turn to for help.

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