The family in India occupies a central position in the life of people and is one of the basic units of the Indian society. Family counselling prepares individuals and families for the roles and responsibilities of family living within the existing socio cultural and economic context. The foremost feature of family is that it consists of a definite system of role relationships and sentiments that bind its members together. It is a process through which the family as a whole is enabled to change its patterns of interaction so that all members feel less pain and become freer to develop in the directions more satisfying to them.
The formal beginnings of marriage and family counselling are traced to the 1940s and
the early 1950s, but its real growth occurred in the late 1970s and the 1980s.
Psychoanalytic therapists began to extend their approach to include a family orientation in the late 1940s. The work of Nathan Ackerman (1958) was especially important in focusing the attention of psychoanalysis on family units. The early pioneers in marriage counselling are Paul Popenoe and Emily Mudd and they established an Association of Marriage Counsellors in 1942 which is now known as Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In marriage counselling, three entities were considered: two individuals and one couple.
Family as a Social institution
The family in modern society is an institution with many functions.
- The family provides the sexual needs of the marital partner and provides the
emotional support and nurturance of these individuals.
- The family produces and economically supports children.
- It also meets the emotional as well as the physical needs of the children.
- Shelter, warmth, food, medical care, clothing, recreation etc are also satisfied in
- The family develops a pattern of division of labour in meeting its needs.
- It is the responsibility of the family to transmit the culture to the children, acceptable role behaviour according to the age and gender, the ability to communicate verbally and non verbally, appropriate means of expressing emotion, coping with the external environment, both physical and social.
Family as a System
The family stands in a unique position between the larger society and the individual. A family system conceived as having an invisible boundary which encircles it, within its boundary, any movement toward change in one of the parts, or in the order of the parts, will tend to activate the governing processes which have previously kept the system stable.
Systems can be characterized as open or closed. An open system tends to exchange new information relatively easily across the system’s boundaries and can adapt to accommodate new information. An open system can develop a new homeostasis that incorporates new information. A closed system tends to inhibit any flow of new information across the system’s boundaries and the system will tend to become rigid and atrophy.
The Functions of Family as a System
- It is within the family system that children experience their first feelings, experiment
with their first thoughts, and are reinforced for their first behaviours.
- The children observe their first models of their adult behaviour within the family system.
- Children will learn or unlearn their behaviour through modelling by their siblings
and their parents as well as through reinforcement directed specifically at them. Issues in Matrimonial and Family Counseling In India, the marriage and family is the place where we can see tenderness, sympathy, understanding and affection. Presently, it is characterized by strife, resentment, discord, disharmony with implicit or open aggression.
- The marital relationship is under strain and becoming complex and demanding. Women are more educated, economically independent and contributing to the work force. Now marriage is considered as a matter of mutual agreement. The family background is one factor. The other factors include dowry problem, consider sex as dirty, inadequate men and women, alcohol or drug dependency
Causes of Marital Disharmony
1. Family: The social family in which the young wife enters have high handedness of mother-in-law and the husband will be unable to respond to the needs of the wife. The single family which have economic crisis also contributes to the marital disharmony. The lack of space, poor communication and outburst of temper by other people within the family can also create problem.
2. Expectations: Couples will have lot of expectations from the other and if that is not
gratified disharmony will take place.
3. Psychiatric Disorders: The psychiatric disorders include Paranoid disorders,
depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism or drug addiction, mental retardation, sexual
4. Personality and Behavior patterns of sexual partner.
5. Physical defects: If the physical defect was hidden before marriage that can lead
to marital discord.
6. Industrialization and Urbanisation: Most people come to cities for their livelihood
where life is so fast and the breadwinners have to devote their most time to the job
which decreases their quality time spending with the family which is the primary
7. Separation of marital partners: the long periods of separation lead to infidelity and
lack of love between them.
8. Demand for Egalitarian stereotype: The woman has a dual role as working women
and home maker. This created stress in women and she wanted her partner also to help in household chores
Stages of Family Counseling
The Stages of Family Counseling include:
i. Initial information gathering and assessment
ii. Defining the problem
iii. Developing a working contract between Counselor and Client
iv. Further data gathering and assessment for the purpose of formulating alternative
plans for intervention
v. Choosing a plan for intervention
vi. Intervening for problem alleviation
vii. Stabilizing the results of the change effort
Beginning the Counseling Process
At the initial interview, the anxious family may spill out the entire problem as they see it, or, at the opposite extreme, they may be unable to speak coherently at all. The initial session may be spent largely in helping the family feel comfortable in this new environment so that they can function more or less in their own normal manner. Of primary importance is building a relationship between therapist and family which will involve essential trust and goodwill.
The basic purpose of an initial session is beginning problem definition, at least to the stage of presenting problem, basic fact finding related to the presenting problems, which hopefully will reveal clues as to contributing underlying systemic factors and helping the
family to begin to trust the therapist. The counselor and the family also need to work
out a tentative initial contract, defining the initial problem for work, the respective roles
of therapist and family, specification of who will be included in the interviews.
Continuing the Counseling Process
The counselor should create an atmosphere in which all the members will be able to reduce their fearfulness and will recognize that their attempts at communication will be
received empathetically and non-judgmentally. Reducing fear reduces need for defensiveness.
Advantages of Marriage or Family Counseling
Family counseling interventions are more effective than individual interventions and lead to greater durability for change.
Some forms of family counseling are more effective in treating problems than individual counseling sessions.
The presence of both parents in family counseling situations greatly improves the
chances for success.
The effectiveness of marriage counseling when both partners meet conjointly with the counselor is nearly twice that of counselors working with just one spouse.
When marriage or family counseling services are not offered to the couples conjointly or to families systemically the results of the intervention may be negative and problems may worsen.
This form of treatment is logical, satisfactory, fast and economical.
All families have to deal with family cohesion and family adaptability. The families which
are balanced seem to function more adequately. Families that are most successful, happy, and strong are not only balanced but are:
ii. Appreciate each other
iii. Spend time together
iv. Have good communication patterns
v. Have a high degree of religious orientation
vi. Are able to deal with crisis in a positive manner.
Bowen mentioned two types of family dys – functionality:
a. Enmeshment refers to family environment where members are overly dependent on each other or are undifferentiated.
b. Triangulation refers to the family fusion situations where one person is pulled in two different directions by the other members of the triangle.
Approaches to Family Counseling
There are numerous methods of couple counseling depending upon the clients, problems
and skills of the therapist. There are six types of approaches:
1. Individual: one spouse is counseled in one-to-one counseling sessions.
2. Individual-group-one of the spouses is treated in group sessions.
3. Concurrent: both the spouses are counsel led but in separate individual sessions.
4. Concurrent-group: both the spouses are counseled within the same group at
5. Conjoint: both the spouses are counseled together in the same individual sessions.
6. Conjoint- group: both the spouses are treated together in the same group session.
The requirements for sound and effective counseling include:
The counselor should have a sense of commitment and respect for humanity.
The counselor should be emotionally accepted by the parties concerned.
The counselor should respect the counseled.
The counselor should have a non-judgmental attitude.
The counselor should help the parties to reach a reasonable settlement that is
acceptable to both parties.
The counselor must hear the client patiently.
The parties should be given a chance and encouraged to talk each other freely and
The counselor must maintain objectivity.