At this point it seems desirable, even if repetitious to the seasoned practitioner, to consider some of the important principles, techniques, and processes of marriage counseling. In such a young field of specialization there is little likelihood that any set of guides could meet with general acceptance.
The methods of different counselors vary a good deal of course, but there are basic principles which most accept. One of these is that the counselor's job is not to tell John and Mary Smith what to do, but to help them to find their own solution to their problem. Only a solution that comes from them, out of their own thinking and feeling, is of any use. If the counselor dictated a policy to them, he would be taking over the job of running their lives, imposing his will upon theirs. This he must not do, because the work of the counselor is based upon his respect for the freedom of the individual to manage his own life in his own way, in so far as this is in accord with the welfare of others.
The counselor therefore accepts John and Mary Smith as they are. He makes no attempt to put them under pressure to do what he thinks they ought. Whatever they say, and whatever they do, he continues to respect their individuality. He knows that if he fails to do this he has forfeited the power to help them.
The aim of the counselor is to create an atmosphere in which John and Mary are free to talk of themselves, to bring out their hurt feelings, to unburden their disappointments. He may on occasion see them together, but usually he sees them separately, because if there is conflict between them they will feel freer and more relaxed out of one another's presence.
Some marriage problems can be cleared up in one interview. But that is very unusual. As a rule a series of separate interviews will be necessary with each of the marriage partners. It takes time for John and Mary to gain complete confidence in the counselor; and it takes time for the counselor to get to know John and Mary well enough to give them all the help they need.