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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Pre-Marital Counseling in Southern Appalachia


A good friend of mine laughted out loud for several moments when she first heard that I was getting married. I guess my facial reaction wasn't what she had expected, because she quickly followed with a "you're not kidding are you?! Holy shit."

In order for two people in a heterosexual relationship to get a marriage license in Tennessee you have to pay a $130 fee. However, if you can survive a half-dozen hours of pre-marital counseling, the fee is reduced to $30. Naturally, I called up the University of Tennessee Benefits Office, and using my Employee Assist Program asked for them to set us up with a counselor.

So imagine my surprise when my partner informed me on the way to our first session that she thought that our counseling center was affiliated with the Church of Christ. Well she was slightly mistaken, the counseling center is affiliated with the Johnson Bible College, where our counselor happens to teach, which is in turn affiliated with "the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ whose heritage is rooted in the Restoration Movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement)."

By the time we got to the makeshift counseling center, there was not doubt about its faith-based status. The front window housed what appeared from the street to be a stained-glass depiction of Noah's arc. One of the two cars in the parking lot had a "W the President" bumper sticker, which we deduced belonged to the counselor after the folks in the session immediately before ours left in the other car.

The waiting room, which was more like a living room since the whole center was in a converted house, had not one or two depictions of the “great arc,” but twenty-three! Yes, you read correctly, 23 as in one short of two dozen in a single room. They were on the walls, there were Noah and the Arc pillows, children's books, a throw over the back of the couch, and weirdest of all little animal toys next to a cast-rubber bearded man all surrounding an arc made of pop-sickle-stick like wood (for several of the animals, including the kangaroo and lion there was only one present, which could set off some major theological arguments...).

At this point we seriously considered leaving. But it had taken three weeks to get this appointment, and with the wedding date fast approaching, we decided to stick it out to see just how bad it got. After all, our combined income for 4-6 hours isn't much more than $100 and maybe we'd learn something useful.

We then spent 35 minutes filling out forms asking about our physical and mental health histories, about significant events in our life, etc; and we finally begin the counseling session.

There were certainly low points, but they were more comical than frightening, like when she asked if we were sexually active or had ever been (ha!) or if we'd like to spend the last session focused on what scripture says about our proper roles as man and wife. We were both raised in the Catholic Church, so perhaps we laugh stuff off that would really freak other folks out. In all, the counselor was not nearly as bad as I thought that she would be.

It probably goes without saying, but earlier this week UT Benefits received a strongly worded letter from me concerning our EAP provider's policies, specifically arranging counseling with faith-based providers for government employees without any discussion of the employee's personal preferences.

One session down, three to go...

Shit like this makes me think that the RCP might be right about all this Christian fascism stuff LOL

That's not surprising. I know that I was checking the counselors for my EAP, and some of them (on their own websites) proclaimed their "Christ-oriented" nature. I think it's quackery, personally. Why are my benefits dollars subsidizing such a thing?

Hey, whatever gets you by under capitalism, bro... and thanks for outing me as the person who laughed in yer face.

Hey, aren't we due for another summation report on Xizn marriage counselling? 

Posted by lao hong han

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