Saturday, February 12, 2011

Counseling with Dating Couples

I had a dream last night that Rabbi Ed Friedman was conducting a premarital counseling session with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in front of a class of YWAM students. The session was being video taped and we all sat there mesmerized as the Hollywood stars began to answer questions while Ed fleshed out two genograms, side by side on a massive white board at the front of the classroom.

We were in Geneva, Switzerland and I had signed up to participate in a "Counseling with Dating Couples" class in his Family Systems Program. The syllabus highlighted the historic work of the famous Swiss Psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung and his influence on Dr. Murray Bowen, the pioneer of Family Therapy movement in the United States.

Friedman began the class by lecturing for a brief time on the difference between the more traditional symptom oriented counseling that tends to concentrate on the relationship of the dating couple, compared to the systems oriented investigation that focuses on emotional process in the family of origin over several generations.

He scribbled down three key components of the extended family approach to couples counseling:

1. First point - dating couples can't hear much premarital advice as they are moving toward one another at the speed of light and away from everyone else. The best way to assist them during this time is with a focus on extended family genograms that allow them to learn more about their own and their partner's backgrounds.

2. Second point - premarital couples haven't yet experienced the profound fusion (loss of self) that generally happens once they tie the knot. Marriage and having kids are the two most powerful events in life and the degree of fusion and or differentiation they can expect to experience is only predictable from a family systems approach looking over three generations of extended family emotional process. (They will behave much more like their parents than they are wont to believe.)

3. Third point - the typical linear "compatibility" model of dating focuses primarily on the personality of the two individuals and their relationship. A relatively calm courtship often times is judged as proof that the couple are made for each other. Actually a major component of "knowing" your partner is to experience how they operate in a crisis. And exploring family history is a much better indicator of how well individuals might cope with one another during a crisis after they have made the marriage commitment.

As he erased the board in preparation for the construction of two genograms, with stunned disbelief, all we could do was shake our smiling faces at one another as the two famous movie stars sauntered in and took their seats by the white board.

Friedman turned to the class and said, " I hope you enjoyed the recent movie, Vicki Christina Barcelona......because we are in for a real treat today!" With that, I was rudely awakened by Ann as she leaned over said, "Steve, will you quit talking nonsense about Barcelona, we are going to Sevilla."

Agh....shame! That was one (make that two) genograms I really wanted to see.


  1. haha. Nice ending. Good of Ann to remind you it's Sevilla!!! Interesting info too. That's scary about point number two... in my case at least :) my parents are crazy! I enjoyed this post. Sara Renee

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