“We’d all be dead or long separated without counseling.”
– Betsy, 35, Vermont
“Counseling helps. An outside person notices more because he’s not caught up in the situation.”
– Katy, 40, Florida
“The counselor helped us realize it wasn’t all me. We should have gone years ago.”
– Marjorie, 35, Washington (Artlip et al., 1993, p. 207)
There are many instances in which we caution people about psychotherapy, since it is often useless and frequently does more harm than good. This is not one of those situations. In fact, this is one of the few times we would recommend professional counseling for everyone, including as a pre-emptive and precautionary measure for those just starting out who might not be experiencing any problems yet.
If you take this step, you’re not alone. I the Artlip et al. study, 50% of parents and stepparents sought outside help in working through the problems they were having. Ninety-five percent of people who resorted to some type of counseling found it helpful, and in many cases it saved their marriages. Elaine Shimberg found a similar phenomenon in her interviews with stepfamilies, stating that “Many families admitted that their greatest help was from therapy sessions (both individual and as a family) with a qualified therapist who was experienced in dealing with blended family issues.” (1999, p. 134)
Choosing a stepfamily therapist or counselor
- See the more extensive material we offer in our section on family therapy, which provides detailed information on different types of therapy and some guidelines to use when choosing a therapist.
- This is a common problem: So look for counselors that specialize in blended families, who are going to be more knowledgeable about the problems you face.
Stepfamily support groups
Stepfamily support groups are another option, although they aren’t as ideal as counseling. Our main concern about support groups is that they often morph into gripe clubs, where people do little more than go and complain about their stepfamily. Such environments do more harm than good, conditioning people into antagonistic views. So you need to be cautious about this going in. But if you can find one that focuses on resolving problems rather than complaining about them, they can be a valuable resource for you or the kids. Around a quarter of all American stepfamilies attended some type of support group.
Stepfamily support groups for kids
Stepfamily support groups are offered for children as well, and some kids will find them especially helpful. They allow them to see that they’re not so different after all and form relationships with other kids who have had similar experiences and know what they are going through.
Finding a stepfamily support group
To find a support group in your area, simply do an Internet search on the term: “Stepfamily support groups in (your city, state).” If nothing comes up, try the city or town closest to you. You can also call around to local churches and ask if they offer (or know of any) step family support groups.