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|Clinician's Digest - Page 4|
MFTs Endorse Myths about Marriage
A study finds that a surprising number of marriage and family therapists (MFTs) believe the same myths about marriage that many nonprofessionals do. Two hundred and twenty-three MFTs surveyed by therapists Benjamin Caldwell and Scott Woolley of the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University correctly identified on average only about 9 of 21 statements as untrue. Among the myths most frequently endorsed: college educated women are less likely to marry than women with less education (only three percent got that one right); if divorced parents put forth positive attitudes about relationships, their children are no more likely to divorce than are children of married parents; single women are at less risk for violence than married women; and men reap far greater benefits from marriage than women.
The study, in the December American Journal of Family Therapy, suggests that the life experiences and theoretical perspectives of marriage and family therapists influence their beliefs more than research findings do. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapists, who focus on communication patterns, often endorsed the myth that high-conflict couples are likelier to divorce. Single therapists were likelier to erroneously believe that single people's sex lives were better than those of married couples. And while Christians knew that cohabitation before marriage increases the chances of divorce, their more worldly colleagues said that was a myth.
This news may not be as bad as it seems at first glance. Caldwell and Woolley point out that no research has demonstrated a link between therapists' erroneous beliefs about marriage and adverse therapy outcomes. And MFTs might not be as uninformed as the survey suggests. Several of Caldwell and Woolley's 21 "myths" about marriage were boiled down from a large body of nuanced and conflicting research. Is it really a myth, for example, that "Children are better off with divorced parents than with parents who are unhappily married?" Psychologist Paul Amato, whose research on this issue is among the studies that Caldwell and Woolley cite, insists the issue is too complicated to merit a true or false answer. And therapist Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, adds that some of the statements Caldwell and Woolley designate as myths may say more about their own values than about what the research says. But Caldwell insists that each statement's true/false designation is backed by a considerable preponderance of evidence. They may be based upon averages, he says, but "we're confident about our statements."
Nuanced research questions aside, the study does suggest that there are serious deficiencies in the knowledge base of MFTs. The survey included four "common knowledge" statements—factual statements based on hard, quantifiable data that every therapist ought to know. Although the therapists did better on these, about 20 percent didn't know that couples who marry before they're 18 are likelier to divorce, that the divorce rate increased from 1960 to 1990, and that nearly half the couples marrying this year will divorce. Only 64 percent knew that most young, single, never-married people will eventually marry.