Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Infidelity Counseling- How Effective Is It?

infidelity counseling

Have you ever done something that just didn't work? When I was nine, I dared my six-year-old brother to kiss a snapping turtle. Somehow, neither of us anticipated the outcome. That turtle grabbed Jay's lip, and what followed is the stuff of legends..... He was running around screaming with the turtle hanging from his bottom lip, and I was working like crazy to get the darn thing off before mom discovered my dastardly deed. As you might imagine, it cost me a pretty penny to keep Jay quiet about my failed experiment.

I'm older now and hopefully a bit more thoughtful. Along the way I've learned that if you want to run, you've first got to tie your shoes. It's not okay to risk making a mess of someone's life on a hunch, and yet, that's what happens with individuals trying to recover from infidelity. When it comes to the services offered by many general marriage and family therapists, there seems to be little positive momentum gained. I think people genuinely mean well, but when it comes to the topic of infidelity there is little to no training offered by the graduate schools. Unfortunately, there are many who profess to be experts in treating infidelity, however they’ve treated but a few cases and attempt to use such minimal experience as grounds to label themselves ‘experts.’ My staff and I hear stories like this about every day.

Our affair analyzer alone has over 850 different outcomes associated with the results. If there’s one thing you’ll continually hear from my staff and I here at AffairRecovery.com it is that every situation is uniquely different. Sure, there are trends and there are markers associated with the actions of both unfaithful and betrayed spouses. However your situation is going to be highly subjective in how it plays out in your own individual world and requires an expert approach.

Peggy Vaughn (www.dearpeggy.com) published a wonderful little piece of research for therapists, Help for Therapists and their Clients. Her research was based on the results of a survey of 1,083 people whose spouses had affairs. I would highly recommend that you go to her website and buy a copy, as well as The Monogamy Myth A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs by Peggy Vaughan.  Peggy has since passed on, but was one of the foremost early researchers on infidelity and affairs. Her work is still practically unrivaled when it comes to researching the effectiveness of general therapy among those suffering the pain and hurt of infidelity.

What I found interesting was the lack of effectiveness of counseling. On page 32, there are 861 responses to the question below:

"Was the counselor helpful?"

57% - No, mostly frustrating
23% - Yes, but not as much as I'd like
20% - Yes, very helpful


Something is wrong when over half of the respondents not only say their experience wasn't helpful, but frustrating. (based on first or only therapist/counselor)

On page 33, there are 725 responses to the question asked below:

"Did the counselor focus directly on the issue of affairs?"

59% - No, mainly focused on general marital problems
28% - yes, but not as strongly or clearly as I'd like
13% - Yes, very directly dealt with this issue.

 

Again, it's sad that only 13% of therapists knew how to address infidelity. I suspect the others fell into the "cause and effect" trap, which blames the marriage (or the hurt spouse) for the affair. Generally, that approach is disastrous when it comes to couples' recovery. Couples walk away feeling not only frustrated but often times more hopeless and angry at their inability to gain ground in both their individual recoveries and their marriage.

In all of our resources we want both spouses to feel safe and validated. An objective atmosphere is pivotal if we’re going to create space for individuals to find healing and new life, even after such a difficult past. Utilizing a one size fits all approach causes more damage and not only frustrates, but can further traumatize as well. Spouses wrongly receive the message that if they only had more physical intimacy their spouse would have never cheated. Or, that if they would simply stop talking about the affair, they could finally develop new momentum in the marriage. Alternatively, unfaithful spouses can hear the message that it’s totally normal for their betrayed spouse to physically abuse them and harm them, hearing a message of ‘you should have never cheated and this would have never happened.’ Not to mention it’s about every week we hear of a therapist informing someone to simply divorce their mate as ‘that’s what they would do.’

Traumatized lives like yours and mine are far too important to generalize. Infidelity and addiction require a delicate yet expert approach to address issues in both spouses while providing hope for the future. It’s true, hurting people hurt people. Even as therapists, if we’re not free of residue from our own situations, we can damage those who are looking for expert, objective insight. 

I hope you’ll enjoy some of our most recent resources below. My expert Q&A resource where I answer your questions is found in our Recovery Library which you can subscribe to here.




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