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Relationship counseling is the process of counseling the parties of a relationship in an effort to recognize and to better manage or reconcile troublesome differences and repeating patterns of distress.
The relationship involved may be between members of a family, couples, employees or employers in a workplace, or between a professional and a client.
Relationship counseling as a discrete, professional service is a recent phenomenon. Until the late 20th century, the work of relationship counseling was informally fulfilled by close friends, family members, or local religious leaders.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers have historically dealt primarily with individual psychological problems.
In many less technologically advanced cultures around the world today, the institution of family, the village or group elders fulfill the work of relationship counseling.
Today marriage mentoring mirrors those cultures.
With increasing modernization or westernization in many parts of the world and the continuous shift towards isolated nuclear families, the old support structures are no longer there and the need for relationship counseling is greater than ever.
In western society the trend is towards trained relationship counselors; these are often volunteers who wish to help others, and are trained by either the Government or social service institutions to help those who are in need of counseling. Many communities and government departments have their own team of trained voluntary or professional relationship counselors.
Similar services are operated by many universities and colleges, often staffed by volunteers from among the student peer group. Some large companies maintain a full-time professional counseling staff to facilitate smoother interactions between corporate employees, to minimize the negative effects that personal difficulties might have on work performance.
Before the relationships between the individuals can begin to be understood, it is important for all to recognize and acknowledge that everyone involved has a unique personality and background.
Sometimes the individuals in the relationship adhere to different value systems. Institutional and societal variables (like the social, religious, group and other collective factors) which shape a person's nature, and behavior must be recognized.
A tenet of “relationship counseling” is that: It is intrinsically beneficial for all the participants to interact with each other and with society at large with the least conflict possible.
Occasionally the relationships get ‘strained’, which means that they are not functioning at the optimum extent. There are many possible reasons for this, including ego, arrogance, jealousy, anger, greed etc.
Often it is an interaction between two or more factors, and frequently it is not just one of the people who are involved that exhibits such traits.
Some say the only viable solution to the problem of setting these relationships back on track is to reorient the individuals' perceptions - how one looks at or responds to situations. This implies that they make some fundamental changes in their attitudes - much easier said than done.
The next step is to adopt conscious structural changes to their inter-personal relationships.
The duty and function of a relationship counselor is to listen, understand and facilitate a better understanding between those involved. The basic principles involved are:
non-judgment on any of the issues or incidents narrated to them as counselor.
Confidentiality of the persons being given the counseling.
A successful counselor is someone who has a mature and balanced state of mind and disposition, who can place themselves in the shoes of those they are counseling, and the ability to respect their opinions, thoughts, feelings and (more importantly) emotions.
After evaluating the story as it is narrated, a realistic, practical solution can be developed; individually at first if this is beneficial, and then jointly to encourage the participants to give their best efforts at reorienting their relationship with each other.
It has to be remembered that the change in situations like financial state, physical health, and the influence of other family members can have a profound influence on the conduct, responses and actions of the individuals.
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