Marital therapists' own marital distress and its perceived impact on their clinical work

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This research investigated basically two questions: 1. the incidence and distribution of marital distress, including the response to distress among marital therapists and 2. how therapists view their personal experience of marital distress and its perceived impact on their clinical work. A questionnaire was designed to address these issues. One thousand members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy were selected through systematic procedures and mailed a questionnaire. A response rate of 58% was achieved. In addition to the questionnaire, five in-depth interviews were conducted to more fully understand the complex phenomenology of marital therapists' own marital distress and the various ways this may be perceived to impact on their clinical work.

The results begin to dispel the myth that marital therapists have "high" divorce rates. Their marriages are of longer duration (those that terminate in divorce) and male therapists, in particular, are less likely to be divorced at any given time, as compared to the survey information supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau. Female marital therapists may be more vulnerable to distress and divorce than other females in the public, but this study did not determine if those findings are just a function of being a marital therapist; the literature indicates that other factors are probably influential.

Cluster analysis revealed that three stable typologies characterize this sample, which provided hierarchical levels of distress and support: low distress with low support, moderate distress with high support and high distress with moderate support. All three clusters are significantly different (p < .001 when submitted to a discriminant function analysis. A factorial analysis of variance tested the effects of 1. cluster membership, that is, levels of distress, 2. sex, 3. marital status, and 4. benefits of therapy together on therapists' clinical work. All the effects were significant (p < .001) with the exception of sex. Most importantly, impact scores overall were low, but the interviews support the assumption that any difference in the marital life of the therapist which influences his or his clinical work is a difference that matters.