Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Does Therapy Ruin A Marriage?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 24, 2013

Ten students, two absent, made for a vibrant class discussion last evening. My class is titled  “Psychoanalytic Technique”. My students have engaged in a two-year Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy program, in which they attend class from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm every Wednesday night for two years, with a two month break in the summer.  There are psychiatrists, social workers, MFTs and psychologists, all together with a common purpose: trying to understand how to help folks who suffer. As per my previous posts, our class began with understanding Transference. Yet, as the conversation unfolded, in ways that are interesting to reconstruct, we went down a path in which we outlined how if one person in a couple goes into treatment, that it could, cause significant relationship tension for a variety of reasons. If, for example, there is a ‘idealizing transference’ then the partner in the relationship could begin to feel competitive with the therapist. Alternatively, if the patient experiences significant personal growth, then he/she may turn to his/her partner and feel a large emotional disparity in terms of their maturity levels. Of course, this change in maturity level can happen in any relationship, but psychotherapy is one way in which that can happen. “Should the therapist feel good or feel bad if patients who come to therapy without conscious issues with their life-partner, but over time, develop these issues?” One student asks, highlighting the dilemma, that therapy, as the movie suggests is a “Dangerous Method”. “Therapy is a journey,” I say, “and so we never quite know where we are headed. As Freud instructed his patients, therapy is like a train ride where we narrate what we see out the window, not knowing what is coming next.” My students were sophisticated and intelligent, and clearly dedicated to their work. These classes don’t increase their prestige or their fees. This is a labor of love, for all involved. Yet, at the same time, all of us in the room are aware that our good intentions sometimes cause others, either in the consultation room, and/or their collaterals, significant distress. “Personal growth is a challenging experience,” I say, “and next week we will talk about ‘resistance,’ the unconscious fight against such a challenge.” I do learn by teaching. The adage holds up.

7 Responses to “Does Therapy Ruin A Marriage?”

  1. Jon said

    In short, does therapy ruin a marriage? Perhaps, but only if the marriage is ripe for ruin.

    • Shelly said

      I disagree, Jon. If one partner in the marriage changes emotionally in ways that makes him or her think that he is emotionally superior to the other, and he or she acts disdainfully towards the partner, then the marriage is not already ripe for ruin but becomes ripe for ruin through the therapy. I think the therapist should be aware of this change through the therapy and discussions that ensue and to guide the patient in how to keep the marriage alive by including the spouse in the growth of patient.

    • Shirah said

      Dear Jon,
      Yes….but it is hard to see that clearly when one is in the midst of turmoil.
      Dear Shelly,
      I think it is always hard to say if the patient is using his new found “therapeutic tools” in a condescending manner or if he/she is using it to re-evaluate his/her relationship. Yes, the therapist needs to be aware, but the ultimate life-decisions lies with the patient. As when one puts together an estate trust, the lawyer serves as consultant. The person must decide his priorities. The same would be true with psychotherapy, albeit it is a more intense relationship. Each situation is so unique, it is a struggle to make grand generalizations. These are all important things to think about. Hence, it is a pleasure to teach to have this opportunity.

      Thanks to you both.

  2. Roger Kaza said

    I suggest you read this sobering article. I’m quite convinced therapy—several therapists acting in unwitting collusion—ended my 24 year marriage.

  3. Robert said

    My spouse began to descend into a slurry of despair and dysfunction when our child turned the same age as my spouse was when significant abuse took place. We went to a counselor. The counselor excluded me from sessions. Within weeks… in fact just after the counselor had my spouse write letters to her abusers… a mere two months into counseling… my spouse imploded. I would soon learn that a resurgence of trauma (PTSD, dissociation, anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts of death, paranoia, etc.. .) was something that is real and is something that one would need a trauma informed therapist to work through. The counselor we chose is naive, untrained and inexperienced after 35 years in the profession. Real harm was caused to my spouse and my family as we watched her run away from everyone and everything she ever knew. It’s not a crime to be uninformed, inexperienced and naive… it is a crime, so to speak, to think of yourself more highly than you ought… practicing therapy beyond the limits of your competence causing real harm to your client and their family. I’m disappointed, heartbroken and feel hopeless as I have tried everything to preserve my family. The counselor continues to play God with my spouse and refuses to bring into the picture someone with real competence. There should be a way to address the counselor without harming my spouse further.

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