This past weekend I got into an interesting discussion with my brother and sister-in-law regarding counseling and specifically Christian counseling. I'm not entirely sure how we got on the topic only that my suggestion that one of my good friends needed to do some marriage counseling was met with a harumph and a "I'm not convinced that marriage counseling actually works." After all, they have several anecdotal experiences in which people they know went to marriage counseling and they still ended up divorced. This, of course, made me want to know the actual statistics because anecdotal evidence is not exactly the most reliable source of information. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, families and couples who have attended family or couples counseling have indicated high levels of patient satisfaction. Over 98% report that they received good or excellent therapy and over 97% believe they got the help they needed. Counseling is not an indicator of whether a marriage will hold together though. Of the couples who go to counseling, almost a third will end up divorced. This does not mean the counseling didn't work. Most couples go into marriage counseling/couples therapy because they are having relational issues already, some bordering on collapse. I would say that the fact that two thirds of couples end up staying together after seeking therapy tells me that it works.
Their argument went further than this though. Try to follow me on this logic. If you are going to go to a therapist it should be a Christian one. Non-Christian/secular psychologists and therapists don't care if your marriage stays together. They are more concerned about the individual and meeting the needs of the individual within a relationship. Therefore, they encourage divorce. Christian counselors at least understand the sanctity of marriage and will encourage couples to stay together. And if the person isn't a Christian, why do they care anyway? Why even bother getting married? Marriage is a gift from God and is holy. If you are already sleeping and living with someone, what is the point of getting married? And if it isn't working out, why would you bother to salvage that relationship? Without God, marriage is pointless, which is probably why marriage counseling doesn't work (according to them).
I did at this point try to point out that marriage existed long before Christianity or even Judaism. Job of the Bible-fame is described as being married and it is believed that this story was written before Abraham. Nevermind that people of all religions and philosophies have gotten married for a long time. "But it was just a contract," my brother said. "They're only getting married for the tax benefits and a piece of paper." I wanted to reply with something like, well if all marriage is is a holy exchange with a god, then why did you get a marriage certificate? Shouldn't your vows in front of a pastor have been enough for you? But I held my tongue. As for people living together and then getting married...well, we live in a western society in which the way that we show our love for someone is to eventually make a lifelong commitment to them through something called marriage. Not everyone does this and in my mind, that is fine, but marriage is usually seen as the goal in a relationship, healthy or not. Why would someone who is Buddhist not want to make that commitment too? I was a Christian when I got married, but even if I hadn't been, I would have married my husband because I loved him and wanted to spend my life with him.
The conversation then deviated from coupes counseling to therapy in general. Sister-in-law has two cousins who are currently seeing the same therapist and have both declared that they are gay. Since sister-in-law and brother believe being gay is unnatural and a sin, they are automatically assuming that it is the therapist who has somehow convinced them of this deviant lifestyle. They don't actually know anything about the therapists religion, but have assumed that if she encourages homosexuality, she must not be a Christian. Also, oldest cousin is now admitting that she likes guys too and is very confused about this since she believed herself to be a lesbian. There are several explanations for this revelation in my mind though. 1) Both girls are gay. The fact that they have the same therapist and both came out as lesbians is purely coincidental. 2) Oldest cousin is bisexual and being sixteen is still trying to sort it all out as she ages and matures. 3) Both girls are seeing a bad therapist who has planted ideas into their heads about sexuality that they aren't really struggling with. 4) Both girls are gay, but are seeing a bad therapist who isn't helping them walk through this minefield of sexuality.
I know there are bad therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists/counselors out there. We all do. They are humans and some bring way too much of their personal opinions into the job, rather than approaching it in a clinical and scientific way. My son's bio mother had a therapist write a note to the court stating that she shouldn't have any contact with her son for her emotional well-being. Who writes a letter like that? I know bio mom lies. A lot. And it is possible she has lied out her ass to her unsuspecting therapist. It is also possible she has a crappy therapist who actually encouraged the idea of a mother and son (a minor mind you, who had no say in it) never talking to each other again. It was with this knowledge that I challenged my brother and sister-in-law with the notion that Christians make better counselors. What about pastors? Ones who took one course in college and are now doing marriage counseling? Or a psychologist who firmly believes divorce is a sin and so she would encourage someone in an abusive relationship to stay married, just because she has such an issue with it? (coincidentally, this is the kind of advice that brother and SIL give all the time) "Well," my brother huffs. "Abuse is different. We're not talking about such extremes here." I mentioned Marc Driscoll, the ex-pastor of Mars Hill church and best-selling author, who used to give marriage counseling. He is such a misogynist though that the "counseling" turned into him telling the woman that everything wrong with their marriage was her fault and that she was demon-possessed. He also accused her of having an "affair of the heart" because she was having a hard time having sex with her husband. All of this while her husband sat in the room with a smug expression on his face. In the end, she got a divorce. It wasn't because she didn't go to a Christian counselor. It wasn't because her pastor didn't believe. It was because her pastor had such strong opinions that ended up making him a fucking awful counselor. Christian does not equal good counseling. All it means is that they may share your values. That's it.
What I wanted them to understand is that marriage is marriage. Some people take it more seriously then others. Some Christians take it more seriously than others. It's also super tricky. This is all purely subjective. What works for one person may not work for another. And just because you are a Christian does mean you are qualified to offer advice or counseling nor does it mean that your counsel will be good. They are living proof of good Christian people with good intentions who are offering terrible advice. There are therapists and counselors out there who are just like them. This is not the movie War Room. Prayer is not going to magically make your marriage better or stop your husband/wife from cheating on you. Believing in a god isn't going to stop your significant other from hitting you or being a narcissist. And just because you believe divorce is wrong, doesn't mean it is.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.