Marriage Counseling an Aid to Strengthening Family Life

Marriage counseling is indeed an "expression of our times." More and more individuals and families who might perhaps be able to work out their adjustment to their environment in a less complex society, find the stresses and strains of modern-day living too intense, too complicated, and too demanding for them. They do not know how to use their potential inner strengths and resources to be able to cope adequately with the conflicting and competitive demands for their attention and energies. Nor do they have the knowledge and experience needed for an objective analysis of the disturbing elements, an evaluation of the destructive and constructive factors at work, and a marshaling of the positive forces for solving the problem or problems which face them. The individuals involved feel a deep need, therefore, to seek the aid of professionally skilled outsiders, uninvolved and more "objective" persons for help in their difficulties.

To be sure, marriage counseling has been carried on through the ages, by families and friends, doctors, ministers, teachers -- informally, semiformally, and more recently formally. Yet in one sense it is new -- new in the sense of a developing awareness of its own special area within the whole field of education for marriage and family living. It is new in its insistent emphasis on high professional standards of training, experience, and performance. At this stage of its development it is not a new profession per se, in any technical, academic sense. But it is an emerging area of specialized skill in many professions. And because it is interdisciplinary in character, it offers optimal advantages for research and new learnings in the various fields of medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social work as aids in resolving complex problems of personal relationships.

In this country, the formalization of marriage counseling has developed concurrently with the growth of courses in education for marriage and family living in schools, colleges, and universities. Collaterally, family conferences and councils organized for the general dissemination and exchange of ideas, information, and techniques in the different fields of specialization related to marriage and family living almost universally include special committees or sections devoted to marriage counseling.

Specifically, marriage counseling has developed along a number of lines: as a by-product of the daily practice of professionally trained individuals -- doctors, ministers, social workers, psychologists, and so on; as a development of already established community services, notably the family-service type agencies, child study and parent education groups, Planned Parenthood centers, social hygiene programs, university counseling services; as a service specifically focused on marriage counseling; and more recently full- or part-time private practice of professionally trained persons in a variety of disciplines, who specialize in marriage counseling. Marriage counseling is becoming more clearly defined through examination of the processes involved, and its potentials are becoming more generally recognized.

From the point of view of agencies and organizations, a recent survey of existing services undertaken by the American Association of Marriage Counselors seemed to point to a tendency to what might be termed specialization within specialization.

This tendency to recognize marriage counseling as distinct from other inclusive types of family counseling or family casework services is important to note. (The very process a person goes through in identifying the problem and seeking specialized help is often a first step toward resolution of the problem. Agency structure may thus become a dynamic factor in marriage counseling.) This is perhaps one important factor in the development of marriage councils, unattached to other existing organizations, but supported by a variety of persons, clients, and community organizations and serving as a resource to a total community.

Development of specialized in-service training in marriage counseling, on the postgraduate level is also progressing -- all part of the increased emphasis on higher professional standards. There is wide variation in the selection of candidates for training, in procedures, in scope of training programs and in opportunity for academic credit. But again, the fact that there is no stereotype is undoubtedly healthy at this stage of development, predicated of course on the assumption that there is a deep commitment to the proposition that wherever and by whomever marriage counseling is practiced, it should be done under the highest possible standards of professional and personal ability and integrity.

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