Providing Relationship and Marriage Counseling

Faith leaders, ministers, and clergy members are often regarded as sources of guidance and support when making important life decisions. Marriage counseling is just one of the valuable services you might be called on to provide to people in your community or faith organization. If you have never provided marriage or relationship counseling, there are a few things you should do to prepare for this task.

What Do Your Clients Want and Are You Qualified to Provide It?

Marriage counseling

People often seek marriage counseling for very serious reasons. Situations such as infidelity, deceit, criminality, and serious money problems drive clients to seek out professional counseling. These are very delicate situations that are likely to require the assistance of a trained and experience counselor, ideally one who has provided relationship counseling before. Even the most well-meaning and compassionate minister may find themselves out of their depth very quickly.

If possible, try to learn what your clients wish to address in counseling. You must be humble in your assessment of your skills and honestly acknowledge if this is beyond your ability to handle in a reasonable manner. A little bit of online research will no doubt reveal guilds and professional organizations of counselors operating in your area.

Online Marriage Counseling

What if there are no counselors operating in your area that appear qualified to handle your clients' concerns? A counselor specializing in families or general counseling will have some relevant training. You can also always contact them directly and see if they can recommend any providers. New counselors and counselors that have recently relocated in your area may not be listed on community directories but will be known to other professionals.

The wide availability of Skype technology and other video chat software has made remote counseling services possible. This is especially helpful for clients who fear professional bias or who feel unable to speak with local providers for any other reason. For instance, partnerships with homosexual or bisexual individuals may be regarded negatively by local providers. People with a faith background not well-understood by local providers may also wish to see counselors from other areas.

Setting up remote counseling is fairly simple. All that is required is a stable Internet connection and a computer or tablet device compatible with video chat software. Older laptops and desktops may require an auxiliary web cam device. These can be inexpensively purchased from electronics stores. Web cams are equipped with small microphones though some people prefer purchasing separate mics.

Learning More About Relationship Counseling

Trust is key

Some ministers and clergy members may not have been asked specifically for relationship counseling services but want to have something to offer to clients should the need ever arise. In addition to studying the subject through training and education, consider undergoing relationship counseling with your partner, if you have one.

Going through the counseling experience for yourself is one of the best ways to learn just what your clients will feel like when they sit down with you for the first time. Many different emotions will come up. You might not think you need relationship counseling. You might worry that discussing your intimate concerns with a stranger will bring up old conflicts. Your partner might express hesitation or reluctance, too.

Discovering the relationship counseling experience from the perspective of a client will help you approach the concerns and fears of your own clients in a more realistic manner. This experience will give you a perspective that no amount of training or education can provide on its own.

Logistics and Legalities

There are a few things that clients receiving relationship counseling are entitled to, such as:

  • Privacy - Your clients should be offered a space with a high degree of privacy in which to discuss their concerns. A white noise machine can help you create a sound barrier inside a building or home where other activity is taking place.
  • Time - Sessions should begin and end on time and, as much as possible, be uninterrupted. Set aside 30 - 60 minutes for dedicated discussion. Discretion - Some people are quite sensitive over the prospect of seeking therapy, especially for relationship concerns. Your clients should be able to trust that you will be professionally discrete about the assistance you provide.
  • Professionalism - This counseling should be conducted with as much professionalism as possible. The concerns your clients bring are very intimate; they are trusting you with very personal details about their life together. This should be treated with a great deal of care. Also, recognize when you are unable to help. There may be a point at which you refer your clients to another provider or to relevant legal or community entities.

You should also look into what legal limits and obligations affect this particular work. Though a minister's license may be the minimum required for clerical counseling, you should familiarize yourself with the legal and professional guidelines of your state. This will help keep you and your practice on the right side of the law.

What Kind of Concerns Might Clients Have?

Family counseling

Some relationship counseling clients have very particular concerns that they are seeking help with. Suspected or known infidelities are common reasons that motivate clients to seek help, though often the motivations are not so clear cut. Some people feel that their relationship has lost its spark over time. Others fear a creeping dissatisfaction with their relationship and wish to explore the reasons for this dissatisfaction. Money trouble, employment trouble, complex living arrangements, and medical problems all have the potential to heap stress on a relationship. Others might be well into their relationship, but are struggling to adapt to their growing family. Navigating these complicated circumstances takes skill and insight. You might discover that one stress disguises another. For instance, problems with money and employment may go hand in hand with substance abuse and addiction.

Since problems are often highly interconnected, counselors should check themselves when trying to assess the nature of a relationship from the outside. Try to set aside assumptions or predictions and let the circumstances unfold as your clients are ready to disclose them. Being aware of local treatment programs and other resources is helpful.

Also, keep in mind that not every family you are asked to counsel will necessarily be facing a grave problem or impasse... some may feel comfortable in their relationship and are simply seeking advice on improving and strengthening it even further.

Helping Others

Ministers are sometimes called upon to provide counseling within the community they serve. While some ministers have a formal background in counseling, not everyone does. Recognizing the limits of your skills is important. You may be the key that helps people find the help they really need, even if it does not come directly from you.

Note: The ULC cannot directly vouch for any of its ordained ministers to perform marriage counseling, and is unable to provide any form of documentation authorizing its ministers to act in that capacity.