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Why marriage therapy fails for many

I’ve been back and forth about whether or not I want to continue in the marriage and family therapy field. It can be rewarding sometimes when I see families or couples changing in front of my eyes, but a lot of times, I see them leaving the room no different that when they came in. That’s when my self-doubt and insecurity speak up. “You’re obviously a bad therapist.” “You haven’t done anything to help these people.” “Everyone would be better off if you just quit.”

These types of thoughts take a toll on you, no matter how confident you may have been at the start. It wasn’t long before I found myself desperately searching for another job, one that had nothing to do with therapy. Now, close to a year removed, I’m able to see the situation a little differently. I know that, for a lot of those clients, the lack of movement had little, if anything, to do with me. I was trained as a therapist, not a magician. There’s no magic wand I can wave to make everything perfect. A lot of the work has to be done by those seeking help, not the helper. And if they’re not prepared to do that, therapeutic success is virtually impossible.

When someone needs help, they need it sooner rather than later. In most cases, we understand this concept. If we’re carrying a big load, we ask for help before we drop it. If our houses catch fire, we call the fire fighters before it burns down. But when it comes to our most important personal relationships, our minds seem to go blank. We forget that sooner is better than later. We wait until we’re at our wits end and can’t stand the sight of the other person to seek help. At that point, there’s little that can be done. The window of opportunity is nearly closed.

Other times, people try therapy just for the look, not for the benefit. People in this category already know they want to end the relationship, but agree to therapy just to say they tried. In a case like this, no amount of work done by the therapist or other party can fix the problem. Therapy turns out to be nothing more than a cover up and a set up. Without truly motivated participants, there is no room for positive change to enter the relationship. This rule applies inside and outside of the therapy room. No one person can save a relationship, no matter how determined. This can be a hard pill to swallow for gung-ho types that see ending the relationship as a non-option. They, like me, may see the end of the relationship as a failure on their part, a definitive flaw in their being.

We are so used to being defined by what we can do, that our self esteem often takes a serious hit when we come across something we can’t do, regardless of the fact that relationships are interpersonal and cannot, in any way, be created, maintained or improved by one party alone. Perhaps when we destigmatize the idea of therapy (which doesn’t have to be administered in an office setting), people will be encouraged to act sooner rather than later.

When things are going well, couples tend to be more social, making their easy love visible; but, when things get hard, the barriers go up. They disappear into seclusion, shielding themselves during the most vulnerable and fragile time. That is when we should be reaching out the most: when we’re frustrated, angry, hurt and confused. This is when we should take advantage of the rich resources we can find within our parents, close friends, therapeutic professionals and religious leaders. But, because of the shame our egos make us feel, we deny ourselves the very things we need the most. It’s okay not to have all the answers. It’s ok to love someone and not know how to make it work. You don’t have to do it alone. It doesn’t have to fail.

Sending beautiful energy your way,

~Nadirah Angail

Got a marriage question? Looking for some advice? That's what I'm here for. Feel free to email me at or leave a comment here. (Don't worry. It can be anonymous.)

All Kansas City Marriage Advice Examiner content ©2010 by Nadirah Angail Habeebullah; reposts permitted with copyright notice and link back to original article. All other rights reserved.



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