Marriage counselling in Australia: An evaluation

Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) Monograph no. 8


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Content type
Research report

December 1989

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The book evaluates the effectiveness of counselling in assisting couples and individuals resolve those problems and concerns about their relationships which bring them to a marriage counselling agency. Differences between clients who benefited most from counselling and those who were less helped are identified. The study explores clients' expectations of counselling, the ways in which they were assisted, and improvements achieved, both in their relationships and in their personal lives. The book presents an overview of marriage counselling in Australia, including a review of the literature; sets out pre-counselling survey results and post- counselling survey results; outlines findings about cost-benefits of marriage counselling; examines implications of the study findings; presents survey questionnaires.

Includes copy of the Marriage Counselling Survey 1987 (part 1) and 1988 (part 2).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • 1 Role of Government in the Provision of Counselling Services
      • Funding
    • 2 Role of Marriage Counselling Agencies
      • Counsellors
      • Related Agency Activities
    • 3 Definition of Marriage Counselling
      • Aims of Marriage Counselling
      • Counselling Theory and Forms of Intervention
      • Social Context of Marriage Counselling
    • 4 Issues in Previous Research - Review of the Literature
      • Research on Effectiveness of Counselling
      • Methodological Questions
      • Follow-up Studies
      • Australian Studies
    • 5 Who Uses Marriage Counselling?
      • Comparison With the General Population
      • Summary
    • 6 Research Design, Procedure and Response Rates
      • Aims
      • Measurement
      • Procedure
      • Response Rates
    • 7 Survey Participants
      • Demographic Characteristics
      • Personal Characteristics
      • Relationship Characteristics
      • Satisfaction with Relationship
      • Commitment to the Relationship
      • Perceptions of Consequences of Breakdown
      • Degree of Consensus and Conflict in the Relationship
    • 8 Why Clients Came to Counselling 
      • Problems
    • 9 Expectations of Counselling
      • Expectations About the Outcome for the Relationship
      • Decisions About Separation and Divorce
      • Coping with Separation
      • Personal and Relationship Expectations
      • Acquiring Skills
      • Gaining Insight
      • Emotional Support
    • 10 Pathways to Marriage Counselling
      • Problem-solving Before Counselling
      • Informal Sources of Assistance
      • Formal Sources of Assistance
      • Referrals to Marriage Counselling
      • Who Attended Counselling First
      • Marriage Counselling as a Resource
    • 11 The Effectiveness of Marriage Counselling
      • The Post-Counselling Sample (Follow-up)
      • Telephone Follow-up of Non-respondents
      • Methodology
      • Comparison of Pre- and Post-counselling Measures
      • Changes in Relationship Status Post-Counselling
      • Relation of Counselling Goals to Relationship Status After Counselling
      • Influences on Relationship Outcome
    • 12 Client Satisfaction with Marriage Counselling
      • Satisfaction With Counselling Received
      • Satisfaction with the Results of Counselling
      • Satisfaction with the Client-Counsellor Relationship
    • 13 Counselling Outcomes: The Perceived Effectiveness of Counselling
      • Resolution of Problems
      • Change in the Relationship
      • Change in Self
      • Effectiveness from the Couple Perspective
    • 14 Predictors of Perceived Counselling Effectiveness
    • 15 Assistance from Counselling
      • Clarification and Insight
      • Acquiring Skills
      • Emotional Support
    • 16 Number and Type ofInterviews
      • Joint or Individual Sessions
      • Retention of Clients
    • 17 Perceptions of Marriage Counselling Services
      • Appointments 
      • Accessibility 
      • Other Comments
      • Costs 
    • 18 Cost Benefits of Marriage Counselling
      • Preventing Marriage Breakdown
      • Assisting With the Separation Process
    • 19 Conclusion
    • 20 Implications
      • Implications for Government Departments
      • Coordination
      • Clarification of Aims
      • Accessibility
      • Scope of Service
      • Implications for Marriage Counselling Agencies
  • List of References
  • Appendices


When the Australian Institute of Family Studies was set up in 1980, I was asked, as Foundation Director, whether we would develop training pro- grams for marriage educators, marriage and family counsellors, family therapists and the wide range ofother professional 'family' service workers. My response in the negative was based on two main reasons.

The first was that the new Institute should use its very limited resources to do research on families rather than to duplicate courses already being run in many tertiary education institutions. We were to have a public education role, not a specific training role. Secondly, we could not really comment on or advise about marriage counselling or other family support services until we had sufficient information about family life itselfand the changes taking place in Australia. The research database was too thin for us to be in any position to say what was valuable or what might help improve 'marital and family stability'.

So the Institute's initial Research Plan laid out a series ofstudies on family formation, children, divorce and family reformation to be done well before any evaluation of specific family services. Then the full resources of the Institute were to be the fifth year to studies of human relation- ships education, marriage education, marriage counselling and other family support services.

That plan, needless to say, was greatly modified over the years, but its rationale proved to be sound. Our national family formation study iden- tified significant shifts in the patterns of youth-to-adult transition which affected the nature of marriage. Retention in education, prolonged financial dependence, greater sexual freedom, the assertion of women's rights, delayed marriage, delayed and decreased fertility and the movement of married women into the paid labour force, all had implications for the construction of modern marriage, the nature of sex roles, the management of companionship, conflict, work and family responsibilities.

Our early studies of divorce and the impact of divorce on children revealed much about the 'images' of marriage that people held dear, what changed expectations there were, the structural difficulties people were experiencing in sustaining satisfactory relationships. Our studies of eco- nomic and policy impacts on families added to our view that marriage education and marriage counselling had to be seen as just one part of a positive approach to improving the quality of family life. Certainly, the ability to communicate, to show affection, to be tolerant, to handle conflict in a constructive way when it arose, to express one's own needs and feelings were important factors in sustaining a viable relationship; but so too were having a roof over your head, an adequate job and income, access to child care and other support services when needed.

In sum, counselling has to be seen within the wider ecology of social forces affecting relationships within a family. A major correlate of marital and family disruption is isolation of the family unit from networks of supportive kin, friends, neighbours and accessible support services. So it is likely that marriage counselling, a self-determined form ofintervention that comes, often, well down the track to breakdown ofthe relationship, will be most effective if and where other networks of support are available and operating.

In designing this evaluation study, the Institute was very aware of the need to compare relative effectiveness in different settings, to have some sort of 'control' group of those who did not use formal marriage counsel- ling services to sort through their difficulties. As always, ofcourse, financial and staff resources prevented such an ideal design from being realised. Nevertheless, we were able to ensure that the study was longitudinal, with an eight-month follow-up survey, rather than one which only asked about satisfaction and effectiveness at the time when counselling was completed. We also built into the design questions about other sources of advice and help, about pressures beyond the marriage such as work factors and financial troubles, and those essential comparisons between men and women, those with and without children, differing levels of education, income and social status.

So the study does go beyond much of the extant research literature on the effectiveness of marriage counselling. It enables us to say with some surety who is 'helped' beyond the short-term 'Hawthorne Effect' ofexperiencing a sympathetic professional ear. It also el;ables us to estimate, on a broad and conservative basis, the cost-benefits to government of providing financial support to approved marriage counselling agencies, though a cost-effective- ness analysis was not asked for in the original brief from the Attorney- General.

The study focuses even more upon the social and personal benefits of marriage counselling, benefits that are difficult to quantify but represent huge gains in terms of the psychological, physical and long-term harm that can flow from conflicts 'badly handled. Even where counselling does not lead to reconciliation, there can be personal growth and improvement in the quality oflater relationships. We felt it important to counter the tendency to see value only in terms of dollars saved and to evaluate 'effectiveness' on a wider range of factors.

In this light, the findings ofthe study show marriage counselling in a very positive light. The large majority of both men and women have their expectations met, are satisfied with the outcomes, assess the counselling itself as effective. Many marriages improve in quality, couples who may have separated stay together and have an enhanced capacity to cope positively with their problems. Sense ofself-worth improves, often despite a subsequent separation.

But perhaps the more important findings of this study are those which might be seen as the negative evaluations of counselling. There are sig- nificant groups ofclients who were not happy with either the process or the outcomes of marriage counselling. Those, especially men, whose partner- ships ended and where no reconciliation was effected, are less satisfied. Some, both men and women, report that counselling was not sufficiently focused or skill oriented to enable them to cope more effectively. Women overall are more positive than men about the experience and the analysis shows that a combination of 'commitment' to sustaining the marriage and 'pessimism' about the chances of this happening is a recipe for great dissatisfaction on the part of men.

The authors of the report tease out the significance of these findings for future directions in marriage counselling. One of the most interesting implications is that the 'language' of counselling is better suited to women than to men and needs to be rethought. Women, it seems, have discussed their relationship problems widely with others before coming to counsel- ling. They understand the language of self-disclosure and feel less uncom- fortable about it than men. This does not mean that men are necessarily hopeless communicators or less insightful about self, though there is plenty of evidence that this is so. In some cases, wives have talked in detail to others, but not to their husbands who are shocked to find the 'uncoupling' process has already proceeded so far in the minds of their wives that counselling becomes a sort of ritual justification for ending the marriage.

What is suggested by such findings is a need for marriage counselling to be rethought in terms of how it deals with men compared with women. Can earlier forms ofadvice be developed? Should more male counsellors be trained? Would separate, more frequent sessions for men be preferable to allow some 'catching up' on the language and the nature ofcounselling itself be desirable? Would group sessions at times be more acceptable/effective than couple only counselling? Certain dogmas about what is or is not marriage counselling have emerged which may be challenged by the findings of this study. No sudden revisions are called for, but a pragmatic rethinking in the light of the experiences people report in this study.

The Marriage Counselling Evaluation Study was requested by the Hon. Lionel Bowen, Attorney-General, in his capacity as Minister responsible for the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The Board of Management agreed to the request but, because no additional funds were available, the study was delayed until staff and money became available. We are very grateful to the approved marriage counselling agencies and their peak bodies for their cooperation with this study; to the Marriage Counselling Section of the Attorney-General's Department for their assistance in design and access to administrative data, to members of the Steering Committee and, of course, to the many men and women clients who agreed to participate.

My congratulations go to the authors, Institute researchers Bene Wolcott and Helen Glezer, for successfully bringing to a conclusion what proved to be a complex task of both organisation and analysis.

Don Edgar
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Executive Summary


In January 1986, the Attorney-General requested the Australian Institute of Family Studies to conduct a study to measure the effectiveness of marriage counselling. The brief stated the study was to look at 'the effect of marriage counselling on marital status and the long-term stability of relationships'. The study design incorporates components that enable some assessment of direct and indirect cost savings to the community. However, the study was not intended to measure the cost-effectiveness of marriage counselling services provided in the approved agencies in comparison with other counselling and family support services in the community.

Aims of marriage counselling

The aims of marriage counselling as defined in the Family Law A/1Ie/ld/1le/lt Act 1983 include the counselling of a person in relation to:

  • (a) entering into marriage;
  • (b) reconciliation of the parties to a marriage;
  • (c) separation of the parties to a marriage;
  • (d) the dissolution or annulment ofa marriage; or
  • (e) adjusting to the dissolution or annulment of a marriage, whether that counselling is provided in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of that person or in relation to the proposed marriage, marriage, or former marriage of another person or other persons, and whether that counselling is provided to that person indi- vidually or as a member of a group of persons.

The operational definition of marriage counselling in use by the Attorney-General's Department as a guide for agencies states:

Marriage counselling is operationally defined as a process where a neutral third party, focusing on the emotional dynamics of relation- ships and the stability of marriage within a family unit, assists parties to deal with the stresses they encounter as they move into, live within or move out of that family unit. (Fox 1988)

Survey sample

All new clients presenting to the approved agencies for marriage counsel- ling in Australia during a four-week period in October-November 1987 were approached by the counsellors to participate in the study prior to their first interview. Clients who agreed to participate in the study were followed-up eight months later.

The response rate to the pre-counselling survey was estimated to be around 40-45 per cent of all new clients (n = 1302). The post-counselling response rate was 41 per cent (n=540). Sixty-eight per cent of the post- counselling respondents were female (365) and 32 per cent (169) were male.

Aims of the study

In order to determine effectiveness, the study concentrated on the following outcomes:

  • change in relationship status;
  • change in level ofcommitment to the relationship;
  • satisfaction with counselling; and
  • improvement in problem area, personal life and viability of relationship.

Key Findings

Who comes to counselling?

While there is an overall deficit in total agency clients ofrecent non-English- speaking migrants and a surplus of persons of upper socio-economic status (particularly women), marriage counselling clearly caters for substantial proportions of migrants and persons of lower socio-economic status. With a little more emphasis upon the deficit groups noted above, marriage counselling would be broadly representative of Australians in general.

Expectations of counselling

For 89 per cent of men and 77 per cent of women, the major goal of counselling was to remain in the relationship. Conversely 11 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women came to counselling with the intention to separate or to remain separated.

In addition to help in preserving or ending the relationship, respondents wanted assistance in acquiring skills to improve communication, handle conflicts and develop better personal relationships. They wanted to gain insight into their relationship and understanding of their own, and their partner's, contribution to the situation. They also hoped to gain emotional support.

Who initiated counselling?

In 46 per cent of cases women stated that they had initiated counselling compared to 28 per cent of men who claimed they had made the decision to come to counselling.

Counselling outcomes

Changes in the relationship

Before counselling:

  • 70 per cent of men and 73 per cent of women were together in their relationship;
  • 29 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women had already separated.

After counselling, of those who came together:

  • 81 per cent of men and 78 per cent of women remained together;
  • 19 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women had separated since counselling.

Amongst the initially separated:

  • 11 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women had reconciled after counselling and were back living with their partner;
  • 89 per cent of the separated men and 70 per cent of the women remained apart.

Counselling was significantly more successful in assisting women to get back together with their partner than it was with men. Overall, 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women were together; 35 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men were apart.

Commitment to the relationship
  • 91 per cent of men and 79 per cent of women still in a relationship post- counselling were committed to their relationship. One-quarter of men and 30 per cent of women stated they were more optimistic about their relationship continuing after counselling than they had been when they started counselling.
  • 34 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women had never considered divorce a possibility, but of those who had, 79 per cent of women and 91 per cent of men consider it less likely after counselling.

Amongst the men and women who remained together there were significant improvements in relationship satisfaction and relationship con- sensus. Their self-confidence and sense of wellbeing also improved.

Separated women significantly improved in self-esteem and wellbeing whereas separated men did not. The separated women were also more likely to report that life after separation was better, particularly in relation to their social life, parenting and career than separated males. The improve- ments post-counselling in these measures are all significantly related to counselling effectiveness.

Satisfaction with counselling
  • 71 per cent ofwomen and 62 per cent ofmen indicated they were satisfied with the marriage counselling they had received;
  • 58 per cent of women and 54 per cent of men were satisfied with the results of counselling.
    Satisfaction, however, was significantly related to the status of the relationship post-counselling particularly for men.
  • 61 per cent of men and women who were in intact relationships were satisfied with the results of counselling;
  • 57 per cent of separated women and 41 per cent of separated men were satisfied with the outcome;
  • 70 per cent of women and men in intact relationships were satisfied with the counselling received;
  • 68 per cent of separated women and 48 per cent of separated men were satisfied with the counselling received.
    Another indication of satisfaction with counselling is whether people would return to counselling or recommend it to others.
  • 63 per cent of men and women stated they would return to counselling if the need arose;
  • over 80 per cent of men and women would recommend counselling to others.
Improvement in problem area, personal life and quality ofrelationship

In terms of improvement and change in the relationship the same pattern emerges:

  • 78 per cent of women and 83 per cent of men in intact relationships thought the problems they came to counselling about had changed for the better;
  • 49 per cent of women compared to 37 per cent of men who were separated thought the problems had changed for the better.

Overall, two-thirds of all men and women believed counselling had contributed to the resolution ofproblems. However 55 per cent of separated women and 61 per cent of separated men felt marriage counselling did not make any contribution to resolving their problems.

Counselling is predominantly about the couple or the relationship and so there is a need to examine joint levels of satisfaction and improvement. For example, in 47 per cent of cases both parties had changed for the better as a result of counselling. Individually, 69 per cent of clients had changed for the better, women significantly more so than men.

Satisfaction with and effectiveness of counselling were not related to individual characteristics such as education, income or availability of social support. Men with children gained more from counselling, but the presence ofchildren did not influence counselling effectiveness for women. Younger women benefited more from counselling but age was not a factor for men. Relationship outcome is the main determinant of effectiveness for men - those who remain together said they benefited to a greater extent.

Counselling was also perceived as assisting clients individually as distinct from assisting the relationship, particularly for women. Men who separated subsequent to the start ofcounselling were the least satisfied with their lives as a whole, whereas women in the same situation gained in self-esteem and appeared more able to be assisted in coping with the process of separation. Nevertheless, almost half of separated men and two-thirds ofseparated women indicated they had changed personally for the better and 45 per cent of separated m::n had received some assistance with the separation process, compared to 59 per cent of women.

Cost Benefits

The government's contribution to marriage counselling services should be a reflection of the importance of helping couples to maintain their relationship or separate with a minimum amount of conflict.

In 1989-90 the Attorney-General's Department provided $7.695 million to subsidize the w"ork of marriage counselling agencies throughout Australia. Department policy, approved in 1986, is to fund no more than 75 per cent of an approved organization's marriage counselling expenditure and to encourage agencies to raise at least 25 per cent of expenditure from fees.

Marriage counselling is thus a very inexpensive way of reducing later costs in litigation, social security benefits and personal and social conse- quences. If couples can be assisted in reconciliation or conciliation through counselling they will be less likely to have recourse to legal costs associated with the Family Court of Australia and Legal Aid. In addition, couples with children who are assisted to remain together rather than separate will reduce the number of parents requiring Supporting Parents Benefits. While there is no guarantee that marriages will continue to remain intact amongst the clients in this study, 91 per cent of men and 79 per cent of women who were in an intact relationship and had considered divorce, considered it less likely after counselling.

A cost-effectiveness argument developed in the report estimated an annual cost saving to government to be around 47.5 million in Family Law courts, Legal Aid and Supporting Parents Benefits. This estimation does not necessarily imply that a doubling of government expenditure on marrige counselling would lead to a doubling of these savings, because the population using the additional marriage counselling services may not behave in the same way as those currently using these services. In addition:

  • almost half(29) ofseparated men and two-thirds ofseparated women (77) indicated they had changed personally for the better;
  • 45 per cent of separated men had received some assistance with the separation process compared to 59 per cent of women;
  • approximately one-third (23) of separated men and half (58) of separated women stated their problems were at least somewhat better since counselling;
  • 30 per cent (33) ofseparated women and 25 per cent (15) ofseparated men said the relationship between them had changed for the better as a result of counselling.

For the separated men and women whom counselling did assist, there are clear cost-benefits. From the cost-benefit perspective, individuals who have been to counselling may, even if they do have recourse to legal and other services, use them more appropriately and effectively, with less litigation, and more sensitive handling of custody and access - thus saving court counselling costs. In this study very few who separated had used lawyers or entered the litigation process.


The majority of marriage counselling clients who participated in the study came to counselling with the expectation or hope that marriage counselling could improve the relationship and prevent its breakdown. These clients looked to counselling to understand what was happening in their relation- ship and to find a solution to their problems that would enable them to live together more harmoniously. A significant minority of Clients, particularly women, approached counselling to make decisions about separation or for assistance in coping with the consequences ofseparation.

Counselling appears to be highly effective for the majority of clients who come to improve their relationship or manage to prevent breakdown. It is seen as less effective in dealing with situations where breakdown has occurred, particularly by men who do not want the separation.

Counselling appears to be less effective for many men, particularly in cases where their partner was not interested in continuing the relationship. Fewer of these men remained in counselling, so were unable to benefit from potential assistance in coping with the separation and its consequences for themselves as individuals, as fathers and as a future marital partner. Women tended to see more value in these personal aspects of counselling whatever the outcome of the relationship.


Clarification of aims

  • It should be made clear to clients at the outset that marriage counselling is about not only 'mending' but 'ending' marriages. This may have implica- tions for further training of counsellors in separation counselling and education may be required.
  • The provision of clear explanations of the counselling process and what it can and can not do would be useful to ensure that clients do not retain unrealistic expectations of what counselling can achieve.
  • The place of marriage counselling along the continuum of services to families needs to be addressed. This raises the question ofwhere marriage counselling belongs along the continuum of preparation for marriage, marriage enhancement, adjusting to life cycle transitions such as parent- hood and coping with the consequences of family breakdown.

Since the provision of marriage and family supports cross government departments ofhealth, education, community services and the law, coordi- nation across departments should be explored to avoid duplication of resources and services across all communities.


  • More attention should be given to access in rural and outer metropolitan areas.
  • There is a need for adequate provision of interpreters and outreach to ethnic communities to improve the accessibility of these populations. Weekend and evening times for counselling are necessary ifworking men and women are to be able to take advantage of the services.
  • A better balance between male and female counsellors may increase access and usage by men.
  • Some consideration should be given to linking marriage counselling services with other services such as parenting education, financial coun- selling, or even recreational programs. This may reduce the stigma that sometimes attaches to attending a marriage counselling service. Cost- savings on rental and ancillary administrative supports may be possible in a multi-service centre.


Although studies have revealed that men who are separated could benefit from social services, men do not seek or receive help as often as women. Since men appear to be less comfortable or motivated to attend counselling, information about marriage counselling in a format appealing to men should be available where men tend to gather, at sporting clubs and work centres, even pubs. For both men and women marriage counselling infor- mation should be accessible at work locations and in community venues such as child care centres, neighbourhood houses, schools and community social centres.

Community forums and media programs on typical marital problems and strategies to resolve them should be considered. Community educa- tion is a priority. It is essential to get across the message that assistance with marital and family stress is not equated with failure or that only the disadvantaged and 'real' problem families go for assistance. 


High rates of divorce and the emotional and financial consequences that can follow family disruption for men, women and children have focused attention on the provision of services to assist people. Services may be directed toward preventing the breakdown of relationships or coping with the effects of separation and dissolution of relationships. Marriage counselling is one such service. Although marriage and family counselling services are available through a variety of sources (for example, private psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers in community centres, the clergy, the Family Court and mediation centres), marriage counselling agencies approved by the Attorney-General's Department are approached by a large number of people who seek help with their relationships.

During 1987-88 approved marriage counselling agencies handled 43857 cases involving 156502 interviews. Concerns about accountability and the cost-effectiveness of social services provided by the government have led to increased interest in the evaluation of these services.

Rationale for the Study

This study was undertaken by the Institute in response to a request from the Commonwealth Attorney-General to develop a project 'to measure the effectiveness of marriage counselling' and to provide 'evidence on the effect of marriage counselling on marital status and the long-term stability of relationships'. Such a study was to provide the Attorney-General with information on which to base future govemment decisions regarding financial support for marriage counselling activities.

Information collected annually by the Psychology and Counselling Section of the Attorney-General's Department indicated that in 1987-8883 per cent of male and 88 per cent of female clients who completed an outcome form reported a positive outcome at the end of the counselling sessions. However in approximately 30 per cent of cases, the client's perception of outcome was unknown. Except for several small studies conducted by individual agencies, the long-lasting effects of counselling have not been examined. In addition, until 1987 when a revised Face Sheet was developed, the Attorney-General's Department did not collect any demographic or socio-economic information about clients. This limited the ability to analyse the conditions under which marriage counselling is more or less effective.

With the approval of the Institute's Board of Management, the Institute agreed to set up a Steering Committee to define the nature and scope of the study. In addition to the Director, Deputy Director and research staff of the Institute, members of the Steering Committee included representatives from the National Marriage Guidance Council, the Australian Council of Marriage Counselling Organizations, the National Catholic Association of Family Agencies, the Attorney-General's Department, the Family Law Council, the Department of Social Security and the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Aims of the study

The study aimed to assess the efficacy of counselling services offered by the approved marriage counselling agencies by examining to what extent marriage counselling enabled clients to resolve the problems and concerns that brought them to counselling, to determine what aspects of the counselling process were considered most or least helpful, and to ascertain whether the benefits gained from the counselling experience were maintained over a period of time. More specifically, the study aimed:

  • to investigate the characteristics of those who make use of marrlage counselling services;
  • to determine what impact counselling has on resolving marital and relationship problems of couples and/or individuals who present as clients to approved marriage counselling agencies, and to examine what changes, if any, have occurred;
  • to examine what client characteristics (for example, relationship status, demographic factors) are related to counselling outcomes;
  • to determine how counselling assisted individuals and the relationship;
  • to examine how selected aspects of the counselling process (for example, number of sessions, joint or individual interviews) are related to counselling outcomes;
  • to determine what aspects of the counselling process clients found most and least helpful, and what would have been more helpful;
  • to determine what aspects of service delivery clients found satisfactory or unsatisfactory;
  • to determine what other factors in the client's life situation (for example, new baby, new job, other forms of help) might have contributed to the resolution of marital problems.

Limitations of the study

The study has several limitations. It does not compare marriage counselli~g as provided by approved agencies with other forms of marriage and family support services (for example, the Family Court, family conciliation and mediation centres, community health centres). It does not compare the effectiveness of one specific counselling approach or intervention with another (for example, behavioural therapy with psychoanalytic therapy). Finally, the study does not examine the questions of how couples with marital problems cope if they do not attend marriage counselling, and whether or not they seek and find appropriate help elsewhere.

Initially it was hoped the study could explore marriage counselling services within the wider network of family support services available in the community in order to better understand the place of marriage counselling in a range of formal and informal services used by people to help them cope with family and personal crises. It was also hoped that the study would include components to measure the cost effectiveness of marriage counselling services provided by the approved agencies in comparison with other counselling and family support services in the community.

The complexity and cost of this broader approach was considered beyond the Institute's fmancial and staff resources at this time and also went beyond the requested brief; however, the study design incorporates components that will enable some assessment of direct and indire.ct cost savings to the community to be made.