Special Report from Psychotherapy Finances -8/99
Wed Aug 18 17:16:49 EDT 1999
from: Smart Marriages
This report on the Smart Marriages July '99 conference is from the current
issue of Psychotherapy Finances. Two reporters worked on the piece:
Candace Glider who attended the entire conference and John Klein who
conducted several follow-up interviews.
(Please see my comments at the end.) - diane sollee
Psychotherapy Finances, Box 8979, Jupiter, FL 33468,
(800)869-8450, web: http://www.psyfin.com. Subscription: $79 per year.
SPECIAL REPORT: A conference stressing marital education over marital
The bottom line on "Smart Marriages" is that it offers something a
little different from "the same old stuff" you hear at the big
association meetings. And whether or not you agree with what was said by
conference participants quoted here, the meeting is rich in ideas for
niche marketing and practice building. This "Special Report" has three
--An overview of the Smart Marriages conference.
--A quick outline of several well known marriage education programs.
--A "niche marketing" story featuring a provider who attracts self-pay
clients with an education program.
Is it possible that many unhappy couples need education rather than
therapy? And are laypeople sometimes just as good as psychotherapists
at teaching the skills for a successful relationship? These are
threatening notions to some behavioral health professionals. But over
the Fourth of July weekend, about 700 clinicians went to Washington, DC,
to attend the third annual meeting of an organization founded on those
"Smart Marriages: Happy Families" is the title of the conference
sponsored each July by the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples
Education. In addition to the mental health professionals, the meeting
drew 300+ clergy, educators, governmental policy makers, as well as
reporters from media outlets including CNN, USA Today, Time, and The
Washington Post. This conference is worth paying attention to for at
least three reasons: First, it's practice-oriented. Second, it's
multi-disciplinary. And third, it's iconoclastic. "Smart Marriages"
eschews the clinical detachment therapists traditionally maintain. The
bias is against divorce, in favor of marriage.
Perhaps because the meeting is devoted to a set of clearly defined
(though not universally agreed upon) ideas, the atmosphere was more
alive and exuberant than most professional gatherings we've attended in
Coalition founder Diane Sollee says the work she and her colleagues are
doing comprise a "marriage and family education movement...It's an
optimistic, cost-effective approach to reversing the epidemic of divorce
and family breakdown...The idea in founding the Coalition was to put
marriage education on the map. I thought there was a whole body of
knowledge that wasn't getting out there...The threatening thing [to some
therapists] is that we've known for 20 years that you don't have to be a
behavioral health provider to teach marriage education."
Keynote presenter Michele Weiner-Davis tells us some therapists are
resistant to the "Smart Marriages" approach because they were trained
under the premise of being neutral toward divorce. "I've gotten some
strange stares when I've spoken (to other groups) about taking a
Sollee says she's received plenty of support from therapists in
general, but not from the various professional associations. She's
approached several, she reports, trying to cooperate on educational
programs. Their leaders said, "Why would we want to support education
and not therapy?"
But an educational approach does not seek to eliminate clinicians from
the picture. "That's like saying that someone who teaches diet and
exercise is against heart surgeons," Sollee says. In fact, behavioral
health professionals are the ones who have done the research and
developed most of the marital education programs featured at the
conference. And they train their therapist-colleagues to incorporate
these skills and workshops into their own private practices.
Below are several ideas, quotes, and statistics we picked up at the
"Smart Marriages" meeting:
--"A large part of marital therapy is not working," according to John
Gottman, a marital researcher at the University of Washington. "That is
a very consistent finding in the research." To learn about good
marriages, he says, the experts should be studying happy couples rather
than couples in therapy.
Gottman claims to have tracked 650 couples for up to 14 years. He
finds that despite what many marital therapists teach, communicating
well and learning how to solve conflicts are not the keys to preserving
marriage. Instead, he says, it is a profound friendship that keeps
--A long-term first marriage is a new status symbol, according to a
report in The Wall Street Journal (April 29, 1999). This is partly due
to the fact that such unions are seen as nearly impossible to achieve,
given the high divorce rate of the last 30 years. 85% to 90% of the
American public will get married at least once, the Journal says. But
the divorce rate for those marrying for the first time in 1999 is still
predicted to be 50%. Meanwhile, research shows that married people are
healthier, wealthier, more successful by all measures--and have better
--"Therapist-assisted marital suicide has become part of the standard
paradigm of contemporary psychotherapy." That's from William J.
Doherty, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the
University of Minnesota. He cites a recent study which finds that only
13% of the country's 352,535 mental health professionals were
specifically taught marital therapy as part of their professional
training. "It is safe to say the great majority of those doing couples
therapy have had no formal training at all."
--Several states are passing laws that attempt to bolster marriage.
Florida's "Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act" rewards couples
for getting premarital counseling and requires 9th and 10th graders to
receive a marriage skills class. Louisiana and Arizona offer couples
the option of a "covenant marriage," which requires premarital
counseling and sets stricter conditions for divorce. In Utah, Governor
Mike Leavitt has created a "Commission on Marriage" to study these and
You can contact the Coalition's director Diane Sollee or get more
information about the "Smart Marriages" conference, at the Coalition for
Marriage, Family and Couples Education, 5310 Belt Rd. NW, Washington, DC
20015-1961, (202)362-3332, fax (202)362-0973, www.smartmarriages.com,
e-mail: cmfce at smartmarriages.com. The Web site features a directory of
programs and providers in areas including marriage, premarital, couples,
parenting, sex, and stepfamily education; info about training courses
with locations, schedules, prices; links to program Web sites; plus
reports, research summaries, and legislation.
"Smart Marriages: Happy Families" isn't against marital therapy per se.
But it does explore a variety of educational alternatives to therapy.
The basic idea behind many of these programs is that if couples learn to
master skills that are present in good marriages--effective
communication, conflict resolution, and being friends--they can work on
building healthy marriages.
The idea that therapy is good, but not the whole answer, was best
articulated by Howard Markman, co-founder of a marriage course called
In a study he conducted, called "What we Know About Preventing Divorce:
Helping Couples in the Community," he finds that clergy and laypeople
are often more successful than therapists. "Most couples in trouble
don't see therapists," Markman says. "But they do see other
professionals in the community."
In his study, couples trained by clergy and lay leaders had more
positive communications skills post training than couples trained by
marriage counselors at Denver University.
Psychotherapy Finances, P.O. Box 8979, Jupiter, FL 33468, phone
(800)869-8450, fax (561)624-6006, web: http://www.psyfin.com. Current
subscription rate: $79 per year.
Clarifications from Diane Sollee on the article:
1) The International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors
American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) and the National
Council of Family
Relations (NCFR) have supported the Coalition for Marriage, Family and
(CMFCE) and the Smart Marriages conference from the beginning. I
apologize to these organizations and their members that I failed to point
that out to Psychotherapy Finances during the interview.
2) The heart surgeon analogy was part of my answer when I was asked if
and the therapy organizations were AGAINST marriage education. I said
NOT at all, that that would be like heart surgeons being against teaching
exercise and diet. That therapists - like heart surgeons - would
completely support helping people avoid needing their services. That I
couldn't imagine any therapist who wouldn't be delighted if we can take
what they know and get it to people in a cost-effective, widely
accessible, preventive approach. The educational models were developed
by therapists/counselors and most of the 170 presenters at the Smart
Marriages conference are therapists or counselors.
And more from Psychotherapy Finances:
PRACTICE ISSUES: A selection of couples education programs
If you want to add couples education material to your practice
repertoire, there's no need to develop your own. Below, we take a quick
look at eight of the better known marriage education programs. Most
offer some kind of training for therapists, and many offer books and
tapes to help you get started fast. For more complete information about
these and other programs, get in touch with the Coalition for Marriage,
Family, and Couples Education, (202)362-3332, www.smartmarriages.com.
(Note: In addition to the marital education programs outlined nearby,
the Coalition's Diane Sollee says you should look into these four
programs, which she identifies as among the "hottest" in the field: 1)
"Compassion Workshops"--growth and cooperation; 2) "Becoming
Parents"--for first-time parents; 3) "Stepping Together"--a step-family
program; 4) "Hot Monogamy"--on sexuality.)
--Couple Communication, developed by Sherod Miller in 1968, was one of
the first couples education programs. The signature component of
Miller's approach is a device called "The Awareness Wheel," a map
printed on a floor mat that prompts partners to systematically review
the different "zones" of inner information that influence any problem
they may confront: thoughts, feelings, wants, actions, sensory data.
"The learning isn't just intellectual; it's kinesthetic," says Miller.
Couple Communication requires four 2-hour classes and costs $230-$320,
depending on where it's taken. Contact: (800)328-5099,
--IMAGO is an empathy-based program often offered as a weekend
educational seminar. The basis is personal growth and the premise that
romantic relationships are based on the underlying relationships with
caretakers in the past. Relationships are nature's plan for us to grow
as people. The ideas and format are similar to therapy. It has two
prongs: 1) safety in the relationship; 2) passion. Some therapists say
Imago concepts can be readily applied to gay and lesbian relationships.
Contact: (800)729-1121, www.imagotherapy.com.
--Marriage Survival Kit was created by marriage researcher John Gottman,
who says couples need to focus on repair attempts. What makes repair
attempts work is not how couples fight, he says, but what goes on in the
everyday non-conflict situations. In those moments, couples are making
what Gottman calls Love Maps--knowing one another and updating the
information regularly. Part of his "Tool kit" is a Love Map board game
couples play as a way of learning. He charges couples $300 for the
complete Kit, including workshops. Contact: (206)523-9042.
--Mars and Venus, developed by John Gray, author of the book by the same
title, has the advantage of enormous name recognition. M&V is based on
gender differences which affect relationships and communication. It
incorporates a variety of marital therapy and education concepts.
Clinicians at the "Smart Marriages" conference made the point that
couples who wouldn't consider other programs come to Mars and Venus due
to the popularity of the book, and the simplicity of the concepts of
gender strengths and deficits. Contact: (888)463-6684, www.
--PAIRS, Practical Application of Relationship Skills was developed by
family therapist Lori Gordon. It was designed as a 120-hour, 16-week
course, but has evolved into a variety of formats. PAIRS teaches
communication skills using reinforceable tools that help individuals
organize their thoughts to communicate in a caring, effective manner.
These include a five-step "Daily Temperature Reading" and a "Dialogue
Guide" or wheel. And like PREP's "The Floor," these are printed on a
wallet sized card for participants to carry. PAIRS ties the cognitive
and emotional components of love to their historical background,
especially addressing family of origin. The 120-hour program can be
taught in 3-hour weekly segments for a period of 4-5 months or as a
total immersion 3-week program. Shorter programs can be offered over a
weekend or in 3-hour sessions for several weeks. Costs for the PAIRS
program vary, but average about $2,000 per couple. Contact:
--PREP, Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, developed by
Howard Markman, revolves around partners' differences. It takes fighting
as a given, but establishes ground rules for conflict. His
speaker-listener technique is called "The Floor" and is taught in a
series of group lectures alternating with extensive private coaching
sessions. Rules are summed up on wallet sized cards which participants
carry to remind them of what they've learned. PREP is taught in a
two-week version, involving one full weekend day and two weekday
evenings, as well as in a two-day weekend version. The program is also
available by videotape, audio-tape, and in book form. A version of PREP
using Christian theology has been developed by The University of
Denver's Scott Stanley. Contact: PREP, (303)759-9931, www.prep inc.com.
--RE, Relationship Enhancement, was developed by Bernard Guerney when he
was a professor of psychology at Penn State in the late '60s. Its
starting point is empathy, or compassion-training (i.e., learning to see
things from a partner's perspective). First and foremost in RE is
empathic listening, then comes empathic responding. Couples learn how to
express themselves in an honest way that helps the other preserve
self-image without invoking defensiveness. "You need to present your
pain--pain the other has caused--in the context of your love so that he
or she will be willing to make changes," says Guerney. Trained coaches
work closely and privately with each couple. RE is taught in a variety
of formats, including weekend courses priced at $350. In all formats,
the course includes four hours of individual coaching by phone. Contact:
RE National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, (800)432-6454,
--SYMBUS, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, is a year-long mentor
program developed by Les and Leslie Parrott. It prepares engaged and
newlywed couples for life-long marriage. It presents seven questions
every couple should ask, and offers exercises to put insights and skills
into practice. The PREPARE inventory/assessment tool is included in this
and it also uses a family genogram and "Personal 10 Commandments."
Contact: (800)286-9333, www.realrelationships.com.
NICHE MARKETING: Helping singles find their mates
Finding the perfect mate is a challenge for most single people. Either
they don't know where to look, have trouble meeting people, or seem to
meet and attract the wrong people. There are singles clubs out there
that create networking opportunities for singles. But a therapist we
spoke to at the "Smart Marriages" conference says singles need more.
They need guidance to understand who they are and what they're looking
for. And as a practice specialty, he continues, this niche attracts
"functional, motivated, goal oriented clients with discretionary time
David Steele is a San Jose, CA, therapist who found himself single when
his 10-year marriage ended in divorce. At that point, he realized there
was a paucity of useful information on how to "find the perfect mate."
After doing much research and training to become a personal relationship
coach, Steele developed a program called "LifePartnerQuest: Solution for
Singles." This is a structured workshop offering tools for "finding the
love of your life and the life that you love." He spends about half his
work week on the program.
--Marketing: The gateway to Steele's program is a "Friday Night
Social," which he co-sponsors with several other therapists and
relationship coaches in Silicon Valley. The socials feature guest
speakers on topics like nutrition and stress management. On a typical
Friday night, 25 to 40 people show up, paying $10 each. Many attendees
pick up his marketing packet--which features a picture of a happy couple
basking in the sunlight.
Steele tells us this market is very receptive. "When people are single
and looking for a mate, they're motivated and open." People want
happiness, he says, but don't know how to get it. "You get it by having
a clear vision and a life purpose...If you define your vision for life,
and live your vision as a successful single person, the right person
will come. When you let go of the need and are less desperate, it
--The LifePartnerQuest program begins with the identification of traps
that singles fall into: co-dependency, entitlement, trying to "sell"
yourself using a false image, virtual reality (as opposed to seeing
things realistically), and looking for a potential mate without
cultivating other friendships.
LifePartnerQuest uses inventories to help singles define their
requirements for a mate, and to use them to "scout, sort, and screen
potential partners." You shouldn't try to convert a recreational
relationship into a committed one, says Steele, unless 100% of your
requirements are met. And, you should initiate contact and be the
"chooser" rather than merely reacting to people who choose you.
Steele also helps clients figure out where they are most likely to meet
a suitable mate, depending on their interests. He rates venues from on
a scale from 1 to 4: 1) public venues such as the supermarket; 2)
generic singles settings such as singles clubs; 3) settings where you
share a common interest with others, such as in a club; and 4) the
"creme de la creme," or places most closely aligned with who you are--a
religious organization, an organization for a cause you've devoted your
life to, etc. All singles should have at least three "Level 4" venues
in their lives, says Steele.
Steele offers LifePartnerQuest in two formats. One is a six-session
seminar (two hours per session); the other is an 8-hour teleclass. Both
cost $195, including workbook. Steele also does individual coaching and
instruction, either in person or on the telephone.
Singles training and relationship coaching has offered Steele an
alternative to traditional therapy. It's proven to be a successful
practice builder--as well as a welcome change from working with
distressed couples who often come for therapy when it's too late. He's
now training other therapists to do the LifePartnerQuest, charging $295
for an 8-week training "tele-class." He tells us he's affiliated with
Therapist University, and will be offering his relationship coaching
curriculum through that organization as well.
You can contact David Steele at LifePartnerQuest, 4020 Moorpark Ave.,
Ste. 204, San Jose, CA 95117, (408)261-3332, www. lifepartnerquest.com
With his LifePartnerQuest program, Davis Steele offers elaborate
assistance to singles in search of a mate. But potential clients don't
have to buy the whole program right off. For just $90, singles can have
a "membership" for three months in the Friday Night Social club. That
--Free admission to the Friday night gatherings for members, and for
any newcomers they bring.
--An hour of relationship coaching, face-to-face with Steels (a $90
value by itself).
--A free book or tape.
--Discounts on selected workshops.
***Keys to happiness
David Steele identifies ten elements in a successful life partner
1. Clear vision and life purpose.
2. Thoroughly defined requirements and needs.
3. An effective relationship plan, including strategies for scouting,
sorting and screening.
4. Taking personal responsibility--being the chooser.
5. Being ready and available for commitment.
6. Self-awareness; conscious choices, traits, values, habits/patterns,
7. Relationship knowledge: experience, skills, understanding.
8. Community: network, support, coaching.
9. Living your vision--being a successful single.
10. Assertiveness: boundaries, disengagement, saying no to what you
"Around the Coalition" shares information on marriage and divorce and on
skills-based educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by members of the Coalition.
-To UNSUBSCRIBE to this list, send a message to: majordomo at his.com
The subject line is unimportant. In the message body, on the very first
line, write: unsubscribe smartmarriages. Send this message and you will
no longer receive mail from this list. NOTE: we can not unsubscribe you.
-To SUBSCRIBE to the FREE CMFCE on-line newsletter, send a message to:
majordomo at his.com The subject line is unimportant. In the message body,
on the very first line, write: subscribe smartmarriages
- to CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS, follow the directions above to unsubscribe the
old address, and the directions to subscribe the new address.
- this is a moderated list. When you send a reply message it is read by
Diane Sollee only.
ALL past newsletter postings are archived at:
Search the archive to find topics, people, etc. The search
engine at the top of the page searches inside documents, not just
Visit the website Articles and Informatin page at
for many important pieces that have been shared with the list.
The 3rd Annual Smart Marriages/Happy Families conference was held
July 1-4, 1999 in Washington, DC. Dates and location are not yet
for the 4th annual conference. Those dates will be shared with the list
them minute they are set.
To order tapes of all presentations at the conference, as well as the
1997 & 1998 Smart Marriages conferences: call 800-241-7785, at
tapes at the-resource-link.com or on the web at:
Audio tapes are $10, video tapes are $24.95.
To locate a couples program or to list your program in the Directory of
Providers visit the Website:
Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC (CMFCE)
Diane Sollee, Director
5310 Belt Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20015-1961
202-362-3332 (FAX 202-362-0973) Email: cmfce at smartmarriages.com
More information about the SmartMarriages