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Relationship counseling is the process of counseling the parties of a relationship in an effort to recognize and to better manage or reconcile troublesome differences. The relationship involved may be between members of a family, couples, employees or employers in a workplace, or between a professional and a client.
Relationship counseling as a discrete, professional service is a recent phenomenon. Until the late 20th century, the work of relationship counseling was informally fulfilled by close friends, family members, or local religious leaders. Psychologists and psychotherapists have historically dealt primarily with individual psychological problems. In many less technologically advanced cultures around the world today, the institution of family, the village or group elders fulfill the work of relationship counseling.
With increasing modernization or westernization in many parts of the world and the continuous shift towards isolated nuclear families, the old support structures are no longer there and the need for relationship counseling is greater than ever. In western society the trend is towards trained relationship counselors; these are often volunteers who wish to help others, and are trained by either the Government or social service institutions to help those who are in need of counseling. Many communities and government departments have their own team of trained voluntary or professional relationship counselors. Similar services are operated by many universities and colleges, often staffed by volunteers from among the student peer group. Some large companies maintain a full-time professional counseling staff to facilitate smoother interactions between corporate employees, and prevent personal difficulties affecting work performance.
Before the relationships between the individuals can begin to be understood, it is important for all to recognize and acknowledge that everyone involved has a unique personality, and background. Sometimes the individuals in the relationship adhere to different value systems. Institutional and societal variables (like the social, religious, group and other collective factors) which shape a person's nature, and behavior must be recognized. A tenet of “relationship counseling” is that:
- It is intrinsically beneficial for all the participants to interact with each other and with society at large with the least conflict possible.
Occasionally the relationships get ‘strained’, which means that they are not functioning at the optimum extent. There are many possible reasons for this, including ego, arrogance, jealousy, anger, greed etc. Often it is an interaction between two or more factors, and frequently it is not just one of the people who are involved that exhibits such traits.
Some say the only viable solution to the problem of setting these relationships back on track is to reorient the individuals' perceptions - how one looks at or responds to situations. This implies that they make some fundamental changes in their attitudes - much easier said than done. The next step is to adopt conscious structural changes to their inter-personal relationships.
The duty and function of a relationship counselor is to listen, understand and facilitate a better understanding between those involved. The basic principles involved are
- non-judgment on any of the issues or incidents narrated to them as counselor.
- Confidentiality of the persons being given the counseling.
A successful counselor is someone who has a mature and balanced state of mind and disposition, who can place themselves in the shoes of those they are counseling, and the ability to respect their opinions, thoughts, feelings and (more importantly) emotions.
After evaluating the story as it is narrated, a realistic, practical solution can be developed; individually at first if this is beneficial, and then jointly to encourage the participants to give their best efforts at reorienting their relationship with each other. It has to be remembered that the change in situations like financial state, physical health, and the influence of other family members can have a profound influence on the conduct, responses and actions of the individuals.
Couples counseling involves a couple meeting with the psychologist, social worker or other type of mental health professional for counseling to address the dysfunction in their marriage or other type of relationship.
It is commonly observed that many couples who seek counseling dissolve their relationship despite their clear intention to avoid this extreme emotional trauma and expense. The most successful work in counseling involves the study of couples whose relationship has been restored and who have found a counselor capable of creating an appropriate relationship education milieu. There are many studies indicating that troubled couples have great difficulties with a "value neutral" approach, when they are diligently seeking to resolve difficulties in their marriage. The neutrality is seen as therapeutic vacuum. The dearth of table of contents entries pertaining to the restoration of marital health in psychiatric, psychological, social work, and counseling text books and journal articles indicates a specific professional de-emphasis on relationship education, restoration, forgiveness, and healing. A general denial of couples goal to restore the very positive values and experiences that characterized their relationship in the past may represent a significant part in the negative assessment of the Consumer Reports respondents mentioned below.
Occasionally, divorced couples use mediation to resolve the matters of custody, spousal support and the division of property. The use of the same professional to re-build a marriage or to end it might appear incongruous and troublesome to the majority of couples who are seeking help at a very distressed time in their lives.
Many individuals refuse to seek counseling because of the feeling that they are admitting that their marriage has failed or that locating a counselor capable of restoration can be accomplished readily. However, many couples in minimally-distressed marriages seek counseling to resolve difficult concerns, to confront problems in the context of couples therapy or to find a neutral location to improve their relationship. The most successful marriage counselors may meet with the partners separately before meeting with them together, or may even have individual counselors who meet with the partners and then have a group session with all the counselors and the partners. In common practice, though, the latter is rare, and it is over-wrought with concerns about confidentiality and cost management. Having one assistant to see each party separately, to assess strengths and weakness, and then to reconvene with both to discuss what each can do for the other to rebuild is a most helpful technique.
The internet has added new dimensions to traditional face to face counseling. It is now possible to engage in counseling sessions with therapists in other states or even other countries via web cams, email and the telephone. Websites can easily outline the service intervention approach and provide free and widely accessible readings that may challenge inappropriate and resentful assumptions about a partner, all the while re-establishing the common ground and reinforcing the strengths that brought the couple together, initially. This step, alone can be very helpful.
Most studies purporting to show counseling effectiveness do not provide parallel study of placebo groups and do not track improvement that may come with the mere passage of time, in the absence of treatment. A 1995 study by Consumer Reports, with a sample size of over 15,000, while indicating some value in counseling by the North American consumers of these services, indicates substantial dissatisfaction with marriage counseling. Marriage counseling was seen as the least effective intervention offered. (Many counseling agencies will not provide longer term studies of their work, and have no means of inquiry as to the marital status of couples in subsequent years.) The type of counseling that was reported as the most valuable by consumers was Alcoholic Anonymous, a lay, peer support. The work of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, also reports substantial improvement for couples by means outside of traditional, pathology-based psychotherapy.
Counseling or therapy that is reimbursed by health insurance in the United States, requires a diagnosis of mental illness. Psychotherapy methods rarely involve instruction to the couple, or to the husband or wife regarding specific methods to correct behaviors which have led to deterioration in the marriage. This void is being met by the marriage education movement which dates its beginnings to 1995. This movement, while not seeking to supplant therapy or counseling, sees nearly all individuals and couples, including unmarried, dating couples, as capable of learning improved relationship skills, from a variety of means, including self-study. Intensive follow-up at the University of Denver has shown repeatedly, that educational efforts, when presented by lay persons, can often be more efficacious than therapy given by pathology-bound psychotherapists.
- Counselling psychology
- Family therapy
- Marriage guidance
- Relationship Education
- Samaritans (charity)
References & Bibliography
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