Almost every time a couple comes to us for stepfamily counseling one or both parties have their bags packed and are ready to head for the hills. Often times, they’ve tried to make it work either by just sticking it out, duking it out or visiting a traditional therapist. When they get to us they are frustrated because they think they’ve exhausted all their options and feel as if nothing else will work. But Diane and I try to assure them that if they are giving us a call or sending an email to inquire about counseling and both parties are willing to come to us, then all is definitely not lost. It means that although one or both of them may THINK it won’t work doesn’t mean that they don’t want it to. We know that if we get them when both parties are willing to go through with counseling by actually applying the advice that we give, we can get them back on the right track, and have a 100% success rate with doing so.
That being said, there are times when counseling doesn’t work and for various reasons. First off, we live in a day and age when people expect instant results. They want to take a pill to lose weight, make a delicious meal in 30 minutes, have instant financial transactions and want everything with the touch of a button. These people think that they should be all “fixed” after 2 or 3 sessions and if they aren’t “fixed” by then, they give up. The problem with this type of thinking is that counseling is more of a marathon than a sprint. It takes longer to get to the finish line and you may get exhausted and frustrated along the way, but eventually you get there as long as you finish the race.
Another reason counseling doesn’t work is because couples may get the advice but when they leave the session, they refuse to apply it to their lives. What they don’t realize is that the advice alone will not work. Yes, you are better informed when you leave but the point is to apply that advice so that you are both informed and taking steps to heal your marriage and family. It doesn’t work if you only take half of the medicine. For example, when a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, he tells you to take the medicine until it’s gone or your illness will return. Counseling is no different. If you only go to one or two sessions and then go home and refuse to take the medicine, your problems will continue.
It’s also important to choose the right counselor if you want counseling to work! Not all counselors are qualified to deal with stepfamily issues. It is the reason that many couples feel like counseling doesn’t work when they’ve gone to a traditional marriage and family therapist. Academic credentials alone doesn’t mean that he or she is qualified. Interview your therapist ahead of time. Make sure he or she is not only academically trained but also has personal experience dealing with stepfamily issues. It means that he or she has also applied what they’ve learned to their own marriage and family and can therefore tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Overall, it’s important to realize that counseling is not a magical answer. When we sit down with you, we can’t snap our fingers and make it all go away in one session. We are there to give you helpful advice but you have to do the work. We then guide you as you apply that advice individually and collectively. Just remember that as long as you apply the knowledge that your coach gives you and finish the race, you will come out a winner.