A Christian Counselor Explains Assessment Tools in Premarital Counseling
Andrew Engstrom, MS, LMFTA, Bellevue Christian Counseling
Premarital counseling is very likely to include several assessment tools that reveal to the engaged partners more about who their fiancée is, who their family is, what their relational dynamics are, and hopefully who they are as a person. There are some popular tools and assessments that are commonly used, yet each premarital experience is unique since counselors will shape the direction of the counseling to fit the couple. In addition, some counselors also create their own assessments and tools. This article outlines some of the key tools used in premarital counseling.
PREPARE/ENRICH Provides a Relationship Inventory
PREPARE/ENRICH is a very popular premarital tool and is perhaps the tool most commonly used by both professionals and lay-persons in the US. The PREPARE/ENRICH relationship inventory is a program intended to guide topics and conversations in premarital counseling. PREPARE is specifically intended for premarital couples, whereas ENRICH is for married couples looking to enhance their work together. To administer the PREPARE, a trained and certified counselor or pastor will have the couple take an online survey (the couple or the counselor/church pays $35) that produces a thorough report on the couple’s perspectives, and who and how they currently are. The report suggests growth and strength areas along nine dynamics (e.g., communication, sexual expectations, financial management) based both on the how the partners think things are going, and on agreement between the couple’s answers. These are differences that it can be difficult to talk about, and that is why finding out about these tensions and beginning to discuss them is invaluable before marriage begins. The report also provides information on a couple’s preferred relational dynamics and marital roles, their family background, any history of abuse, and their personality typology.
As a clinician, I have found it very useful to use the PREPARE report to compliment my premarital work. Its breadth can bring up differences and areas of agreement or strength in the couple that might otherwise be missed. Both of these are areas that deserve attention and I particularly aim to point out and give language to a couple’s strengths. I also enjoy using the PREPARE because it provides a framework that can be modified: it is easy to diverge from the current topic, or to focus on areas of need. In addition, the couple keeps a copy of the report and can refer to it outside of the counseling session.
It can be intimidating to invest time and emotional vulnerability into discovering one’s differences and possible areas of tension by answering pointed questions honestly. Doing so apart from one’s partner in an online survey that is reflected on by a third-party provides for a heightened honesty. And it is this honesty, as dangerous as it can feel, that is perhaps the most important key to success in therapy.
A Genogram Illuminates Your Family of OriginA genogram is a pictograph or map of one’s Family of Origin that uses symbols to tell a detailed story on a single page. Males are represented as squares and females as circles, families are connected by lines, and a number of shapes and marks are used to indicate patterns (e.g., distant fathers in each generation), relational dynamics (e.g., abuse or a close relationship), and more concrete happenings such as death, disease, or drug addiction. As a marriage and family therapist, I make a genogram with each of my clients because it provides me with an invaluable snapshot of my client’s family system, which is a growing, changing, and very important part of every person. This is also relevant to how my client processes their family’s dynamics – sometimes a client spontaneously realizes new things that dramatically impact their perspective.
However, making a genogram with an engaged couple is particularly important. My premarital clients and I often dedicate one full session in which each partner describes their family and we fill out a genogram. This illuminates the conflicts, themes, and values of each family that are germane to the couple’s preparation for marriage, and provides a background for the rest of our conversations. A person brings their whole family into the room with them, even if they are alone. Getting to know your partner’s family is getting to know your partner, even if they are totally cut-off from each other. A genogram can provide some of the most memorable discussion and insight that the couple can return to later in their marriage.
Personality Testing Initiates Incredible Conversations
The extraordinary usefulness of using personality testing to help people understand themselves and how they fit into the greater whole of the human family has become so
ubiquitous that I find clients have often taken one or several assessments before coming to counseling. A few common tests are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Strengths Finder 2.0, and Five Love Languages. I often have clients take a shortened form of the MBTI, especially if conflict seems to be arising from differences in personality, or different ways of thinking and doing things. The MBTI analyzes personalities in four areas and assigns one of two (“either-or”) possible types in that area (e.g., Thinker vs. Feeler). This results in a four letter personality type indicator, such as ENFJ. It is the most recognized personality test in the world and is often useful outside of marriage. This and other personality tests can provide a solid platform from which to understand and discuss key differences and similarities between partners that might otherwise be assumed to be “wrong,” “abnormal,” or “correct.”
Assessments are helpful to counselors because they analyze a comprehensive set of factors that could otherwise be unclear or go unnoticed. This is useful to the couple as they seek to understand their partner, themselves, and how the two form a “we.” The professional counselor’s training can be especially valuable when it comes to choosing and implementing assessments. It provides knowledge and experience of many forms of assessment, as well as a clinically proven ability to initiate and guide crucial conversations. Surveys and questionnaires can be paradigm shifting as they increase your world view to encompass more. Have you ever noticed how incredible conversations all began with an important topic being broached? A good question or a hard topic was articulated and the conversation moved forward in such a way that it became part of your life story. Assessments are designed to both create these conversations, and to point out other areas that will benefit from future conversations.
Christian Counseling Offers Tools for Marriage Preparation
In my next and final article on premarital counseling, I will discuss the power of conversation. This final aspect of premarital work is key to benefiting a couple and involves the in-session practice engaging in hard and important discussions. In the meantime, if you are preparing for marriage and would like to explore any of the tools described in this article, you may benefit from speaking to a trained Christian counselor.
“Exams Start-Now,” by Ryan McGilchrist, https://flic.kr/p/4ocshf, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Jane Doe’s Genogram,” by the author, Andrew Engstrom; “study.,” by Bill Selak, https://flic.kr/p/4FzLf8 Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-ND 2.0)