Many of my clients come to me after having tried marriage counseling or therapy. Other people often ask me how what I do is different than therapy. Others assume they are the same thing. Here is my attempt to clarify what the difference is (and if one would be better for you and your relationship than the other). Keep in mind this kind of comparison risks oversimplifying things!
10 ways Relationship Coaching and Marriage Counseling are Different Marriage Counseling/Therapy Relationship Coaching
A few important thoughts to consider if you are looking for support with improving your relationship:
Therapists are wonderful at helping people with real diagnosable mental challenges to cope and even feel well again. They are also experts at dealing with past wounds that are overly consuming and majorly affect one's life. Sometimes in a marriage one person will need such support so that the whole relationship can improve. If there is mental illness of any kind, having a therapist is important, sometimes for both parties individually.
The differences between therapy and coaching in actual experience are often less cut and dry than the above can illustrate. The approaches can overlap a bit, depending on the type of training the therapist has (there are many types).
Because coaching is a new innovative form of transformational support (its been a distinct profession since the 1990's), and it synthesizes the latest scientific insights into the brain and human behavior with the best tools of the human development and potential movements, it is very relevant for the modern couple and the specific challenges we face in this moment in history. Whereas therapy as we know it was born in the late 1800's and is heir to that outdated model of seeing and supporting relationships.
It is my opinion that couples counseling is becoming a thing of the past, at least as it has been done. As one leading relationship coach teacher said, "No one ever improved their marriage by complaining in front of each other about each other for an hour every week."
I know marriage counseling did nothing to help my first marriage when it was in trouble, but actually may have lead to it's quicker demise ( because I thought, "Well, darn, if therapy isn't helping us, than I guess we really are broken!" If only I had known about relationship coaching back then!).
It is also true that the divorce rate has not declined since the advent of couples counseling decades ago. Though counseling may be useful during a certain stage of re-building connection in your relationship (and only if your partner is willing to actively participate), I would not recommend it as a first stop (unless there is mental illness, of course, but then I recommend going individually to a good therapist).
What's right for you?
Just because someone has a fancy degree does not make them more capable of helping you, or that they are the right support for you. Nor does their title as coach or counselor mean they will actually help you restore loving intimacy in your relationship. When looking for help for improving your relationship, trust what past clients say about them, as well as your own gut. The important thing is that you resonate well with the human that they are -- with what they say and how they "feel" to you.
And the very most important thing? Know that support is instrumental in making the changes you want and deserve to see in your relationship. Though it takes courage to ask for help, it's way better than sitting back and just hoping things will change on their own.
Did you know about how different these two seemingly similar professions are? If you have had experience with marriage counseling, what was it like? Let me know by commenting below.