Finding a counselor who shares your values


Tulsa Christian therapist Bowden McElroy mentions that he's off to Dallas for the Smart Marriages conference. One of the conference speakers is Bill Doherty, who was featured in a story in Wednesday's USA Today. This week Doherty is launching the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. The purpose of the registry is so that couples who are seeking help to save their marriages can find a counselor who shares their commitment to the sanctity of marriage and who actually has the skills and training to help them.

"The registry is about training and competence and about values, because most couples assume the therapist is pro-marriage, but many therapists feel they have to be neutral," he says. "The values thing comes into play when there seems to be a discrepancy between somebody's personal happiness and their commitment to the marriage."

A Christian couple in trouble knows that it would be wrong, however tempting, to abandon their vows and just walk away, but they may need help so that staying together isn't just a matter of grim endurance. They may need help clearing away years of accumulated grievances so that something resembling joy can return to the relationship. They need encouragement, suggestions for getting around obstacles, and the occasional kick in the seat of the pants. Such a couple isn't going to be helped if the therapist they hire turns out to be open to divorce as a possible solution, or if the therapist believes personal happiness and individual autonomy are the highest aims in life. I suspect some couples delay seeking help for fear of getting a therapist who will lead them down the wrong path.

In any kind of therapy, for that matter, you'd want a therapist who shares your values and world-view, not someone who will work to undermine it. You'd also like to know something about the therapist's credentials and experience.

Doherty's registry seems like a very sensible and helpful idea, but of course there are objectors who seem to feel that the name of the registry is too judgmental:

Some therapists question the need for an additional service. The fact that Doherty is calling his list "marriage-friendly" irks others, who say it suggests some therapists are biased in favor of divorce. Still others are concerned about what they see as an underlying conservative message with the name and the values statement.

"I don't know of any body of research that suggests therapists who sign a values statement are going to be better at keeping couples together than those who don't sign a values statement," says Alan Hovestadt, a professor of family therapy at Western Michigan University and AAMFT president.

And David Schnarch, who directs the Marriage & Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo., disagrees with Doherty's assessment of his peers. "Certainly, there was a period in the '60s and '70s where there was tremendous focus on individual growth at the expense of relationships," he says. "But to position marital therapists as doing that is completely inaccurate."

We're still dealing with the fallout of that "tremendous focus on individual growth."

The registry will be available for free to prospective clients looking for a therapist. There probably aren't many listings yet, but the website has some articles that look interesting:

  • What to Look For in a Marriage Therapist
  • Divided Loyalties: The Challenge of Stepfamily Life
  • How Therapists Harm Marriages and What We Can Do About It

A tip of the hat and best wishes to Bill Doherty and the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 24, 2005 10:28 PM.

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