In my role as Professional Counselor, I am often called on to help individuals and couples dealing with relationship issues. Clients bear their souls about their marriages, children, and parents. They want healthy and positive connections and experience heart-breaking frustration and hurt when they don't have the solid bonds they need. Marital issues can be some of the most difficult problems to help people with as a counselor, but helping people have healthy and meaningful relationships is why I went into this work. Since this is what I am most passionate about, I'm willing to take on the difficult and often exhausting and thankless task of helping clients heal hurts, stop negative patterns of relating, and strengthen bonds that are fraying and crumbling.
During my counseling graduate program at the University of South Carolina, I specialized in Marriage and Family Therapy and have a license in this specialized work, as well. This means I have specific knowledge and training that is supposed to guide me as I help clients with their relationship concerns. Book learning and counseling experience, combined with some common sense and a capacity for insight, have taught me a lot. I wish my graduate program had addressed the area of couples counseling in more detail, though. I learned about family therapy theories, including Transgenerational Family Therapy, Structural Family Therapy, Experiential Family Therapy, and newer models including solution focussed and narrative approaches. These included some information about helping couples, but that particular relationship did not receive the specialized instruction it deserves, in my opinion. The breakdown of solid marriages causes stress and hurt for children, which often leads to behavioral issues and other problems that bring families into counseling. Preventing such problems means preventing couples from falling apart and disrupting the entire family's sense of stability. For this reason, I believe the marital relationship deserves special attention.
Fortunately, early on in grad school, a classmate introduced me to the SmartMarriages website.
The point of the folks who believe in the SmartMarriages philosophy is that marital success is about knowledge and skill, and doing what works. SmartMarriages folks believe love and mushy feelings are not enough for marital success and that marriage in America is in a state of crisis. Our national average that half of all marriages (42% of first marriages and 67% of second marriages)will end in divorce kind of makes this a no brainer.
This resource exposed me to a whole new cast of characters than the ones I was learning about in my counseling classes. Over and over, I heard about John Gottman, Susan Johnson, Peggy Vaughan, Bill Dougherty, Scott Stanley, Pat Love, Michelle Weiner-Davis, and so many others. SmartMarriages folks believe that having a strong and healthy marriage is about commitment and skills. They believe most people want good marriages, but simply don't know how to have them. Their passion is to help couples understand what is "normal" or "expected" in marriage and ways of communicating and relating that are intentional so that the relationship stays close and positive.