Q&A about counseling, continued from p. 1 

Q7)  What is "family therapy," and when is it appropriate?

      This YouTube video previews what you'll read here. It mentions eight self-improvement lessons in thus self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      Families have existed in all ages and cultures because they consistently fill a range of human needs better than other social groups. For several reasons, some families "function" better (fill more members' needs more often) than others. When family structure and dynamics significantly stress members more than nurture and satisfy them, family-system therapy is appropriate.

      Signs of significant family dysfunction are obvious and widespread - e.g. addictions, abuse, domestic violence, abortions, bankruptcy, divorce, desertion, welfare, "depression," suicide, murder, law-breaking, obesity, legal battles, domestic violence, etc. etc. Usually, symptoms like these indicate family adults are psychologically wounded and unaware of key knowledge.

      Family therapy aims to improve the functioning of a client family by strategically educating and motivating members to change things like awareness, attitudes, expectations, behaviors, beliefs, roles, communications, and priorities. Sometimes this can best be done by working with combinations of individual members, several members (like couples and parent-child combos), and as many family members are willing and able to meet together at one time.

      Some family therapists only work with the whole family, and others are comfortable meeting with different mixes of members. A useful way to evaluate potential family therapists is to ask questions like:

  • "How long have you practiced family therapy?" (longer is better)

  • "What do you see as the purpose of a family?" (to consistently fill the normal and special needs of all members)

  • Can you help me/us understand what a 'family system' is?"

  • "Have you had training in family-systems therapy"?

  • "How - specifically - do you try to help families function better?"

  • "Do you include improving family communication in your work?"

  • "Do you do assess whether a family promotes healthy grieving in its members?"

  • "What's your definition of 'effective parenting'?"

  • "Do you work with individual members, couples, and the whole family?" (If the answer is "No," keep shopping);

  • "Do you use Inner family systems ideas in working with individuals?" and...

  • "Do you include spirituality as an important factor in family functioning?"

      For more perspective, see the answer to Q13 below. If you're a stepfamily, see these special questions, and the answers to Q19 through Q30 on the next page. Note that Lesson 5  in this nonprofit, ad-free site offers a framework for improving family functioning.

       For more perspective on family therapy, see this.


Q8)  What's required for effective marriage counseling and therapy?

      To get the most from what follows, first review this article on relationships, these Q&A items, and this answer to Q1, and then return.

      Premise: the American divorce epidemic and the professions of marital therapy and mediation exist because many average spouses...

  • are wounded, unaware, and needy; and...

  • made unwise courtship choices, and...

  • can't resolve major relationship and family problems well enough by themselves.

      Marital counseling or therapy are similar in goals, and differ in scope and methods. Technically, marriage (and divorce) mediation (or arbitration) focuses on helping couples communicate effectively and reduce one or several specific relationship barriers. Marital counseling and therapy focus on helping couples fill a broader range of needs than just effective communication and problem solving.

      By definition, effective counseling and therapy fill each client's current primary needs "well enough" by their own (vs. the provider's) criteria. This implies that skilled professionals will help each client clarify what s/he needs early in the work. Then they will respectfully assess how clients are trying to fill their respective needs, and teach them relevant new attitudes and skills to do so.

      When partners' relationship problems come from barriers like these, they usually need the extra training and skills of a marital therapist rather than a counselor or mediator. Paradoxically, typical troubled couples can't identify and admit these barriers without skilled feedback, so they're hindered in choosing an appropriate level of help.

      The moral is - when mates aren't very clear on what they each really need, choose an experienced, licensed marital therapist for effective outcomes. Ideally, such a professional will be well aware of how psychological wounds affect marital choices and communications, and what to do about them.     

      Pre-marital counseling or therapy is best suited to alert courting partners headed toward major relationship problems before they exchange vows and cohabit. This is specially true for courting single-parents and new partners (stepfamily co-parents). See the answer to Q29 on the next page. 


Q9)  When is counseling or therapy appropriate for a child or teen?

       In my experience, many frustrated parents mistakenly label troubled or defiant kids as "the problem." Family-systems therapy suggests that many behavioral or "mental health" problems in kids and adults are symptoms of significant family dysfunction.

      Implication - this theory suggests that the first thing concerned nurturers can do for a "troubled child" is to consult with a veteran family therapist with an open mind. That may involve several meetings of the whole family with the clinician to help her or him diagnose how you all "work" together (or don't).  One or more family adults rejecting or scorning this idea suggests that they're wounded and unaware - and that their family is dysfunctional to some degree.

      Forcing a child into counseling or therapy risks implying "There's something wrong with you - you're defective, and we're OK." This is the last thing that shame-based (wounded) kids need from their adults!

      Reality - some kids do have treatable psychological and physiological problems. I encourage you to get a competent assessment of your family's nurturance level (functionality) first, and then ask for impartial professional guidance on if, when, and what kind of counseling or therapy may be appropriate for a child you're concerned about.

      Caution - most lay people (like your parents and grandparents) and many veteran therapists are unaware of, or reject, the family-systems theory above. Relying on them for an expert opinion about helping a "troubled" child risks (a) shaming the child, (b) creating an unpleasant therapy experience that can inhibit needed adult counseling later, and (c) leaving significant family-system problems undiagnosed and amplifying surface problems (unmet needs).

      Concerned family adults can do some inexpensive self-assessment if their true Selves are guiding their respective personalities:

  • Read and discuss this introduction to high-nurturance families, and estimate your family's recent nurturance level (very low > very high); and then

  • Study this overview of the toxic (wounds + unawareness) cycle with an open mind; Then...

  • use this worksheet to assess your family tree for symptoms of significant ancestral dysfunction (wounds and unawareness); and then...

  • have your adults honestly assess themselves and each other for symptoms of significant psychological wounds, and...

  • use this article and this one to assess your child's need-satisfaction status, and...

  • take these quizzes and see what you learn,

  • try mapping your family's structure honestly. Then combine and discuss all these results, and...

  • you adults decide whether or not to hire an experienced family therapist to help all of you (and your descendents), not just the child/ren.

      If you choose not to invest this time and effort, imagine telling the child some years from now "We didn't care enough about you to do this family assessment."

      Notice your reaction...


Q10)  What is pastoral counseling, and when is it appropriate? 

      In 14th-century Europe, a pastor was a herdsman - someone who provided food and hides. More recently, pastors accept the role (responsibility) of an advisor and/or leader in a spiritual or religious community ("flock"). So pastoral counseling includes special attention to a client's spirituality which other clinicians may not provide.

      Most ordained professionals provide group, marital, and individual pastoral counseling (spiritual guidance). Others have pastoral training and practices but no formal church roles. Pastoral counselors may use unique interventions for common client problems that other clinicians don't use - e.g. focused personal and group prayers and related guided imagery. Devout and pious clients are often more comfortable with like-minded clinicians and agencies.

      A unique aspect of some pastoral counseling is the primal belief that clients' problems can be reduced or removed through pure faith, penitence, and humble worship (Divine Grace). This may work for people who's faith (belief system) and support system is strong enough. 

      There seems to be a growing consensus among professional counselors and therapists that personal and family spirituality and faith (vs. religion) plays an important part in maintaining wholistic health and family nurturance levels (functionality). What do your family members believe about this?

      An interesting type of pastoral counseling is called Theophostic Ministries. For more perspective on pastoral counseling, see this Wikipedia article.


Q11)  How can we tell if counseling or therapy "works"?

      Well-chosen, effective individual, couple, or group counseling or therapy aims to do one or more of these: help participants...

  • clarify and rank-order their primary needs ("problems") and options;

  • clarify and affirm perceptions, roles, and strategies;

  • want to learn and apply relevant new information;

  • dissolve impasses respectfully;

  • facilitate personal healing and growth,

  • facilitate effective communication and grieving; and...

  • lend temporary emotional, spiritual, and social support in times of special need.

Each client person brings a unique array of surface and primary needs to the work.

      Guideline: if all people affected by the initial ("presenting") problems feel consistently "better" when counseling ends, it probably "worked." If some people feel better and others don't, it worked "partially." If everyone is dissatisfied or frustrated, something about the counseling "didn't work." Be alert for protective false selves trying to avoid pain, fear, guilt, shame, or loss by trying to give responsibility for feeling better to a stranger (e.g. a clinician) or someone else. 


Q12)  When is participating in a self-help group appropriate?

      The number and range of self-help groups in most cities and towns testifies to how widely needed they are. Typical self-help (or mutual-help) groups strive to fill participants' needs for...

  • empathy, encouragement, and inspiration;

  • belonging, acceptance, socializing, and concern; and...

  • relevant information and effective suggestions. 

      Group leadership may be professional, but is often one or more devoted lay people or couples with enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment, but modest or no training. The most helpful groups offer a consistent, balanced, flexible format to intentionally meet the needs above.

      They usually meet regularly in a comfortable, accessible setting, are financially self-supporting or sponsored, and have a clear charter (mission statement), and a framework of policies  and rules (e.g. "start and stop on time, and no smoking, gossiping, interrupting, or swearing.")

      Groups may be local, or affiliated with similar groups in the region or nation - e.g. any of the "12 step Anonymous" groups for addicted persons and families, "Compassionate Friends," for grieving parents, "Parents Without Partners" for single parents, and Rainbows for members of divorcing and bereaved families. Some groups are for people with physical problems, and others focus on emotional, spiritual, or relationship, concerns.

      Typical support groups are much less expensive than professional counseling or therapy. They can help fill some needs effectively, but usually can't provide the assessments, wisdom, and strategic interventions that trained and experienced clinicians can. Much advice in typical lay-led groups is "common sense" suggestions to surface problems, which often don't acknowledge or satisfy the unfilled primary needs.

      Options: do some preliminary self-assessment to decide specifically what you need - e.g. "I need to stop exploding at my family members, and feeling so guilty and frustrated with them and myself." Then ask in your community if their are groups available that focus on similar needs - e.g. an "anger management" group.

      If so, (a) ask if people you know have any information about the group (helpful or not?), and/or (b) go to at least three meetings with an open mind to get a feel for the people and process. If one group doesn't suit you, don't write off all similar groups, because each has it's own unique character.

      Most common personal problems have several Internet sites devoted to people with similar needs. Many offer free "chat rooms" or "chat" - i.e. online support groups. When there is no physical group to attend (e.g. in a rural area), this can be a real help - despite lacking the visual communication and social interaction that "real" groups offer (e.g. group hugs)

      If you try out one or more groups and find your needs aren't being met well enough, then consider individual or group counseling or therapy. After assessing you, a veteran clinician should be able to advise you on the usefulness and availability of relevant community and/or Web groups.

      For more perspective, see this series of articles on effective support groups for stepfamily co-parents. Much in these articles applies to any self-help group. Also review the answer to Q1.


Q13)  When is Group Therapy Appropriate?

      Well-run professionally-led group therapy offers several advantages compared to individual work. Each person can get nonverbal and probably verbal feedback from several people, not just one. Hearing other people talk about their situation and coping strategies can help to...

  • put your own situation into perspective ("Ah - I guess I'm not alone with this problem"); and...

  • reveal resources and options that you wouldn't have thought of alone or with a counselor. And for many,

  • belonging to a group (being known, accepted, and valued) can be very satisfying - specially to socially isolated people.

      Other benefits: Professionals running groups can observe each person's way of interacting directly, rather than relying on clients' subjective descriptions. They also have some useful intervention options that they can't do in 1-on-1 clinical work - e.g. group role plays. A reality is that some skilled therapists may not be effective group leaders, and vice versa. A final consideration: typical group therapy is less expensive, since the clinician's fee for each meeting is split up among several people.

      Three options to choose from are to use:

  • individual or group counseling or therapy only,

  • individual and group counseling concurrently, or use...

  • individual and group counseling at separate times.

      The best choice depends on a client's personality, problem/s, past experience, finances, other supports, and the availability of appropriate professional help. In my experience, individual and group therapy in some combination is most apt to yield long-term satisfaction. Trying a group is guaranteed to teach you something useful about yourself and the process if you're self-aware.

      Note the difference between a therapy group (usually led by a professional, and focusing more deeply on people's issues) and a self-help group (usually led by a lay person or couple, and staying more superficial). Each can be helpful, depending on a participant's mix of primary needs.  


  Answers to Trauma-recovery Therapy Questions

Q14)  How can I tell if I've been "traumatized" and need professional help?

      This brief YouTube video previews the answer below.

      Let's define a trauma as "a sudden or expected event that causes someone (a) psychological upset and/or (b) physical injury that (c) significantly reduces their ability to function normally. Significantly is a subjective judgment.

      For most people, trauma and traumatized are emotionally provocative ("hand-grenade") terms like sick, diseased, raped, and "mentally ill." This unpleasant association causes some people to discount or deny the personal effects of a traumatic event, and to ignore, avoid, or defer appropriate self-care.

      Many people find psychological injuries in themselves and loved ones to be much harder to assess and admit than physical ones - e.g. admitting a broken arm from a car crash but denying related depression, guilts, frustrations, and anxieties. Also, some psychological traumas happen over months or years - e.g. growing up in a low nurturance environment. These realities can make it hard to answer "Have I (or has someone I care about) been traumatized?" accurately.

      From 36 years' clinical experience with over 1,000 average American adults, I propose that three more relevant - and measurable - questions are:

  • do I have significant symptoms of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?"

  • do I have symptoms of significant psychological wounds? and...

  • do I have symptoms of significant unfinished grief? (because some losses can be traumatic)

If you get anything other than a solid "No" on any of these questions, you may benefit from hiring a qualified professional to check your trauma-assessment and advise you on appropriate self-care options - including some type of counseling or therapy. Shop for qualified trauma-recovery and grief clinicians - see the answers to Q1 and Q5.


Q15)  How can I choose an effective wound-recovery therapist?

      I suggest you study this five-page article first, to gain useful perspective for what follows.

      This question presumes that you (a) accept the idea of psychological wounds and (b) believe such wounds can be reduced (vs. "cured"). If so, then the first step in getting effective help is to find an experienced clinician who believes the same thing, and is professionally devoted to wound-reduction ("recovery"). The next step is to agree on what wounds you want to reduce, specifically - e.g. "I want to stop living a fear-based life, and grow my self esteem and self confidence." 

      I am a veteran wound-reduction therapist, and am biased about answering this question. My experience and research since 1979 strongly suggests that most (all?) common forms of "mental illness" are symptoms of one cause: false self dominance, or a disabled true Self. I have seen parts work (inner-family therapy) reduce psychological wounds often enough to recommend it as the therapy of choice. Other types of therapy can also be effective. To see if there is a parts-work therapist near you, see this Web site.

      Since the advent of family-systems therapy (Q7) in the 1950s, there is increasing agreement that growing up in a "dysfunctional" (low-nurturance) family promotes most psychological and relationship "problems." There is much less agreement on the nature of such problems (called "wounds" here) and how to reduce them effectively. If you can't find an acceptable parts-work therapist, I recommend investigating clinicians experienced with these types of therapy:

      Other therapists promote various ways to "heal from toxic parents," nurture your "Inner Child," (singular), and "Let Go of the Past." Each has unique benefits and limitations that depend on the clinician's personality, style, wisdom, and wholistic health, as well as the brand of counseling or therapy they offer. 


Q16)  When is grief-counseling appropriate?

       Premise: grief is a natural three-level process which allows eventually accepting all major life losses (any broken bond, not just deaths) and resuming normal life activities. Many people bearing significant wounds from childhood and/or who were not raised in a ''pro-grief'' family are hindered or blocked in healthy mourning. For some, this is because they're unable to form healthy bonds with other people.

      Incomplete grief produces common behavioral symptoms, and can promote significant psychological, relationship, and medical problems. So the answer to this question is: "Grief counseling is appropriate when you (or someone) have too many of these symptoms that interfere with productive living."

      I suspect that what is often labeled as "clinical depression" is really a combination of psychological wounds and normal or blocked grief. Implication - if you or another person is "too depressed too often," explore the possibility that effective grief counseling is more useful than anti-depression medication. Such medications may reduce the symptoms, but may slow or block healthy mourning..

       Some counselors and therapists specialize in assessing for incomplete grief and helping to finish it. For better perspective on hiring such a helper, first study this article. I suggest you learn the ideas in this quiz before starting to shop for professional help. Searching the Web for "grief counselors" will bring you many useful choices.

      My experience is that three factors can hinder healthy grieving: (a) psychological wounds and (b) unawareness, and (c) living in a family and/or working in a social environment that discourages normal mourning. This suggests that a competent grief clinician will assess all three factors and offer appropriate interventions.

      For more perspective and options on healthy grieving, see self-improvement Lesson 3 in this Web site.


Q17)  When is addiction-counseling appropriate?

      Premises: true addictions are reflexive (vs. intentional) attempts to numb intolerable inner pain. For perspective on this, please read this series of articles and return.

      A simplistic answer to this question is "Addiction counseling is appropriate when you feel you have - or may have - a compulsion that degrades your health and life." A wiser answer is "When someone in your family may have - or has - any of the four types of addiction." This is a better response because true addictions are not a disease - they're a symptom of (a) a low-nurturance family, and (b) adult unawareness and psychological wounds. Some substance addictions do have physiological component - e.g. bodily "cravings" for nicotine, heroine, and fatty "comfort" foods.

      From this view, the best way to answer this question in your unique situation is to (a) learn addiction basics, and then (b) hire a professional addictions counselor to evaluate whether individual and/or family therapy (Q7) is warranted. Note that forcing an addict to get counseling usually won't improve anything. The desire to "get sober" must come from within, and usually requires ''hitting bottom.''  


Q18)  When is "anger management" therapy appropriate?

      For perspective on the answer, read this two-page article first and then return. I propose that "anger outbursts," "road rage," and "rageaholism" are all symptoms of an underlying primary problem: unawareness of a disabled true Self, probably formed in a low-nurturance childhood. This is the real meaning of "lack of impulse control."

      A related problem is that the "angry person" may be "stuck" in the anger phase of normal grief. This usually occurs from a dominant false self and growing up and/or living in an ''anti-grief'' (wounded, unaware) family.

      I propose that personal, marital, and family "anger problems" probably won't permanently recede unless individual and/or group therapy focuses on...

  • personal-wound assessment and reduction,

  • possible healthy-grieving inhibitions, and...

  • the person's current family 'anger policy.'

      With this opinion in mind, I suggest that "anger management" counseling, classes, and/or therapy are only appropriate with a professional provider who includes all three of these elements in his or her work. Family-law judges who order attendance in an anger-management class or program are usually unaware of this, and aren't trained to evaluate the effectiveness of the provider's service.


Q19)  When is divorce mediation and/or counseling appropriate?

      For perspective on the following answer, first read this article and scan this worksheet on divorce recovery.

      Psychological or legal divorce is traumatic for typical kids and adults, including grandparents. The degree of trauma depends on key factors like...

  • how bonded family members are (weakly > strongly);

  • how wounded family adults are, and whether they're reducing their wounds effectively or not;

  • the pace of the divorce process (very slow > very fast);

  • the number and kinds of changes, losses, and conflicts related to the divorce;

  • how spiritual and/or religious key family adults and supporters are;

  • family adults' knowledge about grief, and their grieving policy (healthy > unhealthy);

  • the effectiveness of family adults' communication and problem-solving skills; and...

  • the availability and quality of appropriate supports for all affected family members.

      Professional divorce mediation and counseling is appropriate for a couple (a) trying to repair their relationship (i.e. to avoid divorce), or for (b) trying to minimize the trauma of the divorce process for all family members. The latter should include grief therapy (Q16) when any members are hindered in mourning divorce-related losses (broken bonds).

      Mediation and/or counseling may occur voluntarily or by court order when divorcing couples can't agree on the terms of a co-parenting agreement. Common disputes are over child custody, visitations, financial support, vacations, education, geographic moves, and related issues.

      In such cases, counseling works best (fills all adults' and children's primary needs) when clinicians and any legal professionals involved consider...

  • the whole family system and it's nurturance level,

  • psychological-wound impacts,

  • communication and grieving basics and skills, and...

  • the primary needs of each adult and child involved.

Because normal divorce mediation is focused more narrowly on one or a few specific disagreements, it is less likely to be effective than family therapy, long term.    .


  Questions you should ask about stepfamily counseling

      The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce below notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means all part-time and full-time bioparents and stepparents in any family with resident or visiting stepchildren.

Q20)  What is "stepfamily counseling"?

      Multi-home stepfamily systems are much more complex than typical intact biofamilies. Because most step-adults and supporters aren't aware of the complexities and what to do about them, (re)marital, co-parental, and kin-folk problems are common.

      Stepfamily counseling and family-life education aim to do some or all of these...

  • advise on making wise courtship-commitment decisions

  • dissolve denials of stepfamily identity and what that identity means

  • clarify who belongs  to a stepfamily, and reduce inclusion/exclusion (loyalty) conflicts

  • convert stepfamily myths into realistic expectations

  • promote stepfamily role-clarity, harmony, identity, and pride

  • assist in merging and stabilizing three or more biofamilies over time   

  • assist in grieving inevitable losses from (a) divorce or death and (b) stepfamily formation,

  • teach effective communication and problem-solving skills to adults and kids, and...

  • diagnose psychological problems that merit individual or marital therapy.

Without informed training and experience in all these topics, many stepfamily counselors provide ineffective (biofamily based) or even harmful help. Informed training is scarce. See this for perspective. 

      Stepfamily therapy adds assessment and treatment of psychological wounds and incomplete grief in family members. "Systemic" stepfamily therapy focuses on the functioning (nurturance level) of the entire multi-home, multigenerational network of homes related by genes, names, histories and ancestries, contracts, laws, marriages, and divorces. For more perspective, see Q1.

      Lesson 7 in this nonprofit Web-site is about evolving a high-nurturance stepfamily.


Q21)  What is effective stepfamily counseling?

      Counseling is effective when all agree that (a) the clients and the counselor/s got enough of their current primary needs met, (b) in a way that left all participants feeling heard, respected, dignified, and empowered enough. This includes all nuclear-stepfamily members, even if some weren't directly involved in clinical work..


Q22)  Do typical stepfamily members need counseling more than "other people"?

      From working clinically with members of well over 500 typical Midwestern-US stepfamily members, I believe they do need more clinical help for at least two reasons:

  • Most divorcing-family and stepfamily adults seem to come from low-nurturance childhoods, which promotes psychological wounds that usually need professional help to heal; and...

  • stepfamilies have more members, more stressors, extra developmental stages, and fewer effective social supports than average intact biofamilies.

      Sociologists generally agree that the U.S. re/divorce rate is significantly higher than first-divorces. Most re/marriages involve one or more prior kids - i.e. they are stepfamily unions.


Q23)  When should we consider professional counseling?

      The best time is during courtship, before exchanging vows and/or cohabiting. Qualified counseling and/or stepfamily-life education is the first step toward guarding against these five common re/marital hazards. I recommend focusing such counseling on learning how prepared all affected adults and kids are for their complex stepfamily challenges.

      Such preparation is more apt to be effective if divorcing bioparents and perhaps kids and key relatives have had qualified post-divorce and/or grief counseling first. Consider investing in the guidebook Stepfamily Courtship - how to make three right choices (Xlibris.com, 2003).

      After re/marriage, consider qualified professional help if ...

  • one or both mates feel your relationship is significantly stressed and you can't find effective solutions; and/or...

  • one or more minor children are having significant psychological, social, school, and/or medical problems and co-parents can't negotiate an acceptable way to reduce them. See this and this for more detail and perspective.


Q24)  Do stepfamily counselors need special training to offer effective help? 

      YES, in order to work effectively with the unique mix of problems typical stepfamily members encounter. In my experience since 1981, well over 80% of educators, clergy, legal and medical professionals, and licensed counselors and therapists have no meaningful education in the uniquenesses of typical stepfamily norms, realities, structures, adjustment tasks, problems and hazards, stepkids' needs, and the education average co-parents need for long-term success.

      In 36 years as a family-systems therapist, I have never met one clinician who could describe the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle, its toxic effects, and what to do about them.  

      Restated: most human-service professionals have never systematically studied and applied information like you're reading in this nonprofit Web site. That leaves them and their clients (you) vulnerable to trying to resolve complex stepfamily conflicts and problems with inappropriate or harmful biofamily concepts and tools - and not knowing what they don't know.  


Q25)  Is there a pattern to how stepfamily counseling usually progresses?

      Yes. Though there are many variables, full "stepfamily counseling" may evolve through two or three phases:

  • Someone initiates counseling because...

    a child is "acting out" at home or school; and/or...

    a co-parent is alarmed, scared, and/or weary of the conflict between a stepparent and a stepchild and/or between divorcing co-parents (ex mates); and possibly...

    one partner is thinking or talking " divorce." If the clinical work is effective and continues, focus often shifts from a non-marital focus to...   

  • Marital therapy. The couple breaks protective denials, and admits that the main problems are between them - e.g. a mix of these + loyalty and values conflicts + an inability to problem-solve effectively. Marital therapy is more likely if one or both partners have been divorced (vs. widowed) and strongly want to avoid re/divorce.

          Alternatively, both partners are ruled by false selves which co-create a cyclic blame <--> defend, counterblame festival. Because of excessive shame, guilt, and reality distortions, the couple can't find an acceptable way to own responsibility for their part of the stepfamily conflicts. One or both mates quit therapy.

          If courage, money, and stamina hold out, and if the pain, fear, and weariness is high enough (i.e. if they hit true bottom), one or both partners courageously realize that the main problem is within them. The focus then shifts to...

  • Individual therapy, which may lead to (a) gradual recovery from inherited psychological wounds, (b) thawing frozen grief, and (c) admitting painful stepfamily realities. If both partners are psychologically wounded (which seems to be the U.S. norm) and choose to work at true (vs. pseudo) recovery, their relationship can become exceptionally strong and rich.


Q27)  Is it a good idea to try to get all three or more co-parents into counseling at once?

      It may or may not be a good idea. It can be good if each co-parent...

sees potential value to counseling for themselves, their mate (if any); and/or other people they care about; and each...

trusts that the counselor will not allow the process to become unproductive finger-pointing and arguing; and if each co-parent...

also trusts the counselor (a) will not take sides and (b) will facilitate them all toward building mutual respect, co-parenting trust and teamwork, and communication effectiveness; and if...

all co-parents have agreed on who should pay what part of the counseling expense; and if...

each co-parent has had the option of talking to the counselor alone to request special guidelines or safety limits - e.g. requesting topics to be postponed or prioritized, and if...

all co-parents and the counselor are fairly clear on the main (surface) reasons for meeting; and if...

no one feels pressured or shamed into coming, or excessively anxious about doing so; and if...

any clinicians working with any of the co-parents are (a) aware of the potential group meeting/s; and (b) have discussed them with their clients and the new counselor, if appropriate.

      An essential requisite is that the counselor have adequate training and experience in working  with (a) stepfamily systems; (b) several conflicted adults at once (vs. 1 on 1), and (c) a multi-problem  environment, without getting confused and/or overwhelmed.

      If these conditions are met well enough (by group consensus), then having all co-parents present can speed mutual learning and accepting stepfamily basics, realities, and implications. Reality: getting typical new-stepfamily co-parents to want to meet the criteria above and risk confronting their problems together with a clinician is usually too daunting - specially if (a) their true Selves are paralyzed and (b) they aren't agreed on their stepfamily identity and/or membership yet.


Q28)  What is post-divorce counseling, and when is it useful?

      The broad goals of effective post-divorce counseling are to...

  • facilitate each adult and any affected kids grieving (fully accepting) their losses and life changes;

  • help adults understand why they divorced, and forgive themselves and each other; and to...

  • help parents...

    • acknowledge and reduce any significant barriers to effective caregiving,

    • agree on each minor child's divorce-adjustment needs,

    • agree on who is responsible for helping to fill each need over time; and...

    • learn how to master values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles related to child custody, discipline, visitations, education, health, and financial support.

      This work is useful if any family members are significantly conflicted by the divorce process and its effects. It's also valuable as a preparation for divorced adults forming a healthy new partnership. Parents controlled by a false self (i.e. most divorcers) are unlikely to seek or fully participate in post-divorce counseling until they're well along with personal wound-recovery. There are surely exceptions to this.


Q29)  What is pre-(re)marital counseling, and when is it useful?

      Pre-re/marital couples counseling is having a clinician help partners  make three wise commitment choices. An individual can use pre-re/marital counseling to confirm that childhood and prior-relationship wounds and losses are healed enough, and that partners are making a balanced-enough choice to re/commit to a primary relationship.

      Because there are major hazards in typical stepfamily re/marriages, I highly recommend qualified pre-re/marital therapy for engaged couples. Online Lesson 7 here is designed to help each partner commit to the right people (adults, kids, and relatives), for the right reasons, at the right time. The unique guidebook that integrates these key ideas is Stepfamily Courtship (Xlibris.com, 2003)

      Counselors who offer FOCCUS (Catholic) or "Prepare MC" pre-remarriage assessments may be helpful, tho they don't prepare couples to understand and combat the five hazards that this divorce-prevention Web site proposes. To find qualified counselors for "Prepare MC" the latter in your area, contact Life Innovations, Inc. Also check the National Stepfamily Resource center (NSRC) for stepfamily-trained clinicians in your area.

      For more perspective and resources, review these courtship danger signs, and these Q&A items on stepfamily courtship.


Q31)  Can you recommend specific counselors in my area?

       Probably not. Options:

  • Get educated! Invest time and effort studying (at least) Lesson 7 in this educational Web site. It's free, and has NO ads. Invite all your stepfamily adults and supporters to do the same, and discuss what you learn together. Ideally, you all should study and discuss Lessons 1 thru 7 over several months.

  • Review this article on evaluating stepfamily advice; then...

  • Consider consulting with me via Skype or phone;

  • Use this article as a shopping guide to help research clinicians that your friends, and/or local churches, hospitals, and public and private mental-health agencies may recommend.

      It's unlikely anyone they recommend will know much of the information in this Web site - and they may still provide significant help. Keep in mind your option to use or share any materials in this site with any professionals you hire.

  • Check the National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC) for a listing of trained therapists in your geographic area. And...

  • Check with local divorce-support and single-parenting self-help groups to see if they can recommend competent professionals who work with stepfamilies.

      And if you're interested in personal parts-work therapy, check the Self Leadership Web site to see if there are trained professionals in your area.


reminder Option - copy this and any linked articles for your partner and/or supporters as discussion-starters...

      Reflect: why did you read this - did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self or ''someone else''?

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