Why So Long Developing Brief Marriage Counseling?

Why has it taken me so long—33 years—to create a very effective brief marriage counseling? This Six Skills to a Happy Marriage seems so simple that people think it was an idea that popped into my mind one morning. Why did it take Gillette so long—decades—to think of manufacturing a two-blade razor? The three, four and five were probably pretty simple after doing the two. Why does it take decades for people to realize certain truths? It’s a process of learning and that takes time, the deepening of knowledge and wisdom. What was I doing for 33 years?

The first year I was learning what I did not want to do. As part of chaplaincy training for hospital work I was required to hire a professional counselor. This was to provide me a model for how to do counseling. The therapist used the Rogerian Method, the most prevalent at that time and certainly the most prevalent since. It is very versatile. The counselor can accept a client with any issue: serious mental illness, eating disorder, depression, anxiety, transitions, grief, anger, you name it. The counselor does not have to know much about the issue. The theory behind Rogerian therapy is that the client has all the resources within to identify and figure out the effective treatment. He or she can do this because the counselor is listening. Unlike friends and family who do not listen, the counselor is allowing the clients to concentrate on what he or she, the client, is saying. This works best when clients have months to years to “self-treat” but clients in the 21st Century are too rushed. They need a quicker method. Anyhow, my first therapist never said anything. I would sit and look at him and he at me until I would talk and then figure out how to do it. He reminded me of a snake about to strike. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to figure it out all by myself. I decided every time I was in there—once a week—that I hated the method and I hated the snake. But I was required to be there if I wanted to pass the course. I decided that I would never make my clients so utterly miserable or waste their time and money. When I got my first client, I began developing a conversational style.

This conversational style was more natural and congenial. We talked like two regular people. I never acted like a snake about to strike. Since I didn’t know much about anything I took a lot of notes and studied those notes every week. I did research on the conditions. Creativity helped me apply theory from my study to each individual. Over 33 years I learned a tremendous amount about people, attitudes and behaviors. But it was still taking me more sessions than I wanted. Using my managed care experiences of the 5-session limit as a model, I continued to be frustrated at the amount of money and time my clients were spending. The first couple took me a year and a half to get them re-married, living in the same home and experiencing the love, fun and intimacy I judged as successful. Of course, I didn’t know about the unconscious barriers I do now. That’s why years of experience is necessary in making a good counselor. We have so much to learn about so many different types of personalitie, mental and psychological conditions.

I found over time that not every counselor was using the Rogerian method of listening. Some others were using similar styles like mine and getting about the same results as I. We were all listening to our clients and trying to help the clients overcome factors holding them back from having what they wanted. Although I was getting faster results than my colleagues, according to them, I was still unhappy with the time and money spent by my clients. We counselors were all suffering under the same advice from our supervisors: keep your clients as long as possible to pay your bills, hold issues back so that when the client is clearing one obstacle, you point out another. Deep down, I thought this dishonest, but didn’t know how to do it differently, basically, because I didn’t yet know enough. But it was my goal always to not let clients suffer any longer than necessary and to save them money.

For most of those 33 years, then, I was “putting out grass fires.” That is, I would ask the client at every session what problems needed addressing. In 2016 I moved to Roswell to join a large group and began accepting health insurance for payment. My income increased quickly because the agency was assigning me new clients every week My specialty of marriage counseling took a back seat to a myriad of issues brought in because insurance clients could afford the $20 a session. And suddenly I was indundated by subjects I had to work overtime to learn about. I was stuck in “putting out grass fires” for about two years when health insurance companies stopped paying and I had to create new ways of making a living. Luckily, a couple called for marriage counseling.

I had long been successful at marriage counseling. I had the reputation of handling the most complicated and difficult, even putting marriages back together after divorce. After two sessions the couple informed me that they were leaving because I wasn’t helping them. I was floored—and crushed. This had never happened before. Unable to understand what was happening, I began reading and found that a new trend was developing. It was like something was poisoing the water—couples were seeking divorce en mass—seeking immediate relief from divorce attorneys. The couples believed that traditional marriage counseling was too slow and they couldn’t wait. I realized that I would have to create a method that would “save the marriage” in the first session or two. Couples were too impatient to wait any longer. On-line divorces were making divorce easier, faster and less expensive. My answer was Divorce Prevention Therapy.

This is how Divorce Prevention Therapy worked: The couple would come in for a complimentary session and pour out everything that was causing problems. I would identify and list them from most critical to least by the next session. My training in treating serious persistent mental illness allowed me to quickly identify their issues. It was not that the clients were mentally ill, but the training made it easiier for me to understand certain “failure patterns” and see the personalities kind of like placing a template for understanding mental conditions over the normal life. They felt the assurance and hope that I could save their marriage and stayed with me. Every week I prepared an exercise to overcome or begin overcoming an issue. There was no more asking what their issues were because I knew. Every session was devoted to overcoming those 20 or 30 that they had identified the first session. I didn’t hold back issues to perpetuate counseling. I did not want couples to come to more sessions than were absolutely necessary. I wanted them to “graduate”. Usually, a couple who had not had sex in a year would begin having sex after the first session—based on hope. By the second session each was feeling more appreciated for who he or she was and for what they had accomplished around the house. One issue after another was resolved. But I was tough. I required a session a week. Those who wouldn’t comply were dropped. I figured that if their marriage was not the most important thing in their lives and they were not working as hard as I every week, they didn’t deserve the work I was doing. I was spending 2 to 3 hours a week on each, learning to teach them more creative and quicker ways to have a happier marriage. More clients stayed with me than I let go. But I was still not satisfied with the number of sessions it took to resolve those 20 to 30 issues that were ruining their marriage.

My goal of saving clients time and money was detrimental to my business plan. It was difficult to get new clients. The main reason was the stigma attached to marriage counseling so that clients refused to give me referrals to their family, friends and work associates. I was saving marriages on the verge of divorce and transforming them into marriages better than what they had before. Couples were now able to attain the eleven modules I had set as the standard for a good marriage. I was losing all insurance clients because insurance companies were not paying, and losing married couples because I was doing such a good job. My colleagues, on the other hand, got to keep their clients for a year or more because they were happy to have clients unhappy enough to keep coming for counseling to pay the bills. But I was confident that I would be able to hang onto my integrity long enough to get clients until my reputation was built by others who came to me by Psychology Today and referrals from doctors who knew about me. I was doing fine until Covid-19 struck. Immediately most of my clients lost their jobs and I was left with too few. I had to give up my office and go virtual. That was one of the best things that had ever happened to me! I had avoided video counseling for years, thinking it was inferior. Now I was finding it far more effective than in-person. Read my article on why. But, it was not the only blessing from Covid.

I awoke one morning with this idea. The idea was to offer to teach clients the six skills they needed to have a successful relationship. Now clients don’t have to go to marriage counseling with me or anybody for a long period of time. They only need to learn the six skills and watch their love flourish. I cannot help but believe that God prompted my mind to discover the six skills at this new time of need.

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