Advice Blog / About

Can Therapy Lead to Divorce?

Individual Therapy Can Lead to Divorce

It is unfortunate, but individual therapists can sometimes subtly lead married couples to divorce. Sometimes this is intentional by the counselor and sometimes it is outside the counselor’s awareness.

Individual Therapy May Hurt Your Marriage

An individual therapist can very subtly lead you to divorce, or help you be firmer in your resolve to divorce, even if you’ve only been pondering it as a choice.

Too often, even marriage counselors give subtle and sometimes direct messages for the client with a problem marriage to divorce. Some clients either want to please the counselor, or don’t want to appear stupid in the counselor’s eyes. The client could easily feel pressured to think and move in the direction of divorce in order to stay with that counselor.

Counselors Are Well-Meaning

These counselors might have wonderful credentials and probably mean well.

Sometimes, the counselor is thinking, “I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a relationship like that,” or “I wouldn’t know what to do in a relationship like that.” The counselor thinks that the best advice is to steer my client away from those problems.”

A related motivation is to see the client’s marital problem(s) as too severe or perhaps irreparable, meaning that the solution is beyond what the counselor can imagine facilitating. This thinking also leads the counselor to conclude, whether spoken aloud or not, that divorce is the only option.

Counselors Have Their Own Strengths and Weaknesses

Each counselor has his or her own prejudices and personal experiences, as well as his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, if a couple comes into the office and they start screaming at each other, a counselor might have trouble with that situation for any number of reasons, such as:

  • …having left home that morning in a screaming battle with her or his spouse,
  • …or perhaps the counselor was physically abused as a child,
  • …or the counselor might never have had success when couples were actively arguing,
  • …or the counselor might be squeamish about raw negative emotions for other reasons.

Relief from Immediate Pressure (Not Necessarily Good!)

If the client begins to comply with the counselor’s suggestions to emotionally and physically retreat from the spouse, there will be a relief of immediate pressure.

That relief can be directed by the counselor into feeling better in the short term. The risk is that the client and the counselor both think the counseling is working.

Family, Long-Term Relationships and Children’s Best Interests Get Lost

The concepts of family, commitment, long-term relationships, the children’s long-term best interests, and the person’s character get lost in the process.

How Therapists Harm Marriages

Dr. William Doherty has an excellent article on this topic. He was the co-founder of the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists (Full Disclosure: I am an approved Marriage Friendly Therapist and certified in the registry). He also recognized the problem of therapists harming marriages as being too common, and wanted to do something about it. With several others, he created a registry of fully-credentialed marriage therapists who are committed to supporting marriages.

Dr. Doherty’s Essay

Some of Dr. Doherty’s important points in his scholarly essay “How Therapists Harm Marriages and What We Can Do About It” (PDF) include the results of studies showing the lack of commitment and knowledge in the field of marriage counseling.

He also points out that the majority of those doing marital counseling who were trained as individual counselors have their commitment to doing what is best for the individual, not for the couple or the children.

His article is written as a scholarly work. There is also an easier-to-read transcript (in HTML) of a talk given by Dr. Doherty entitled How Therapy can be Hazardous to Your Marital Health.

I wish you much success in finding therapists that will advocate for your marriage.