New program offers couples chance to strengthen relationships

By University Communications
February 16, 2015
Students in the Master of Science marriage and family therapy program talk and observe at the Clinical Services Center at UW-Stout.

Photo: Students in the M.S. Marriage and Family Therapy program

For many couples, with Valentine’s falling smack in the heart of the month, February is a perfect time to reaffirm and express their love for each other.

The Clinical Services Center at University of Wisconsin-Stout is offering another way couples can connect on a truly personal level. This month and continuing into May, couples can take a closer look at their romantic bonds in the new Relationship Check-up program.

Relationship Check-up will be held Mondays and Tuesdays from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Clinical Services Center, room 221 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Building, 221 10th Ave. E. To register call 715-232-2404.

All couples are welcome, including those who are engaged, living together, married, dating and same-sex couples.

The cost is $35 per couple — $10 for UW-Stout students — for four hours of assessment, which can be broken into two to four sessions. The cost covers expenses for the assessment programs that are used, said Professor Dale Hawley, from the human development and family studies department.

“There’s value in taking a look at a relationship. Couples can discover strengths they didn’t know about or areas in which they can grow,” said Hawley, director of the Clinical Services Center.

Couples will fill out a Genogram, essentially an extended family tree, and a questionnaire that covers 10 areas of a relationship. Questionnaire topics include communication, conflict resolution, financial issues and roles.

Couples who go through Relationship Check-up may be able to work through an issue they’ve been having or head off a problem before it becomes one. “Prevention in relationships is a really important thing, but the counseling industry doesn’t focus on it very much,” Hawley said.

Counseling sessions will be conducted by second-year students in the Master of Science marriage and family therapy program. Relationship Check-up is a new project. Graduate students regularly work with clients from the region on a variety of issues related to families and family life.

“We provide a low-cost option for counseling,” said Hawley, noting that the center typically conducts 1,000 general counseling sessions a year.

Graduate student therapists are supervised before, during and after sessions by faculty who are nationally approved supervisors and licensed family therapists.

“When we ask students what has been the most helpful part of the program in terms of their development, they often cite this experience at the clinic. They are able to deal with real people experiencing real issues in a safe environment with strong support,” Hawley said.

Students see value in check-up  

One of the graduate student family therapists, Rachel Slough, of La Crosse, believes Relationship Check-up is a positive alternative for all couples.

“Relationships are a lot of work, and it can be easy to neglect them or not give them the care and nurturing they need. This check-up isn’t about telling people what’s wrong with their relationship but affirming what is going well and then offering suggestions for ways to continue growing closer,” Slough said.

Slough recently went through a program similar to Relationship Check-up with her fiance.

“I am biased toward thinking counseling is amazing. He is lovingly skeptical about it. We both got a lot out of it,” Slough said, noting that the program is low-key and couples shouldn’t be intimidated by the fact that it’s at a counseling center.

“The program allowed us to laugh but also to get ideas on ways to better work with harder areas, like in-laws and different definitions of ‘clean,’ ” Slough said.

Another student, Diane Maciejewski, of Wisconsin Rapids, agreed. “The focus of this assessment is on relationship strengths, with a secondary emphasis on examining potential growth areas.”

Maciejewski said “a good relationship, similar to becoming a skilled athlete or gourmet chef, requires an investment of time and energy. This assessment offers couples a great opportunity to invest in one another.”

The opportunity to work with actual clients is one of the strengths of the marriage and family therapy program, Slough and Maciejewski said.

Slough calls it “a joy and an honor. I have loved being part of the Clinical Services Center. I feel supported because I have mentors and colleagues in real time to make sure I am providing the best care I can.”

Maciejewski called the Clinical Services Center “a great environment for professional growth. The MFT program offers students a solid base of theoretical knowledge, followed by a year of clinical experience.”

For more information about the Graduate School’s marriage and family therapy program, which dates to 1974, go to