Jobs have been lost and homes have been lost, but if Dr. Alan Singer can help it marriages will not be lost to this recession.
Singer is a family therapist in central New Jersey, and he's volunteering his services on the weekends for couples hard-hit by the recession. These are the couples most in need of help, but who often can't afford professional counseling.
"Finances are a source of marital conflict in good times, so imagine how it is now," he said. "If I had money, I'd say, here, let me pay your house note for six months, let me take that stress off. But I don't. I wish, when I meet with them, that I had money. I wish I had money to give them." Instead, he gives them what he can, counseling.
"If somebody's telling me, 'I'm in tremendous financial hardship and I've had my house foreclosed on and I've lost my job,' I'm ready to make an appointment. That's enough to me. I can see the stress or the tension in their call or their email," he said.
Singer began by offering the hour-long sessions for free in February, but after a few no-shows, he began charging the couples a $30 fee to cover his operating costs, an 80% discount on his usual rate. Several times, he's returned the payment as a way of further helping these downtrodden couples.
Singer's clients for these extremely low-cost sessions are a varied set, from the young couple ambivalently yearning for a second child despite financial instability to the older couple looking at their uncertain future with fear after their retirement savings have been ravaged by the cruel fall of Wall Street.
"Hopelessness is very stressful," he said, "and terribly discouraging." The prospect of a quick economic turnaround brings little encouragement for troubled couples. Historical trends show that divorce rates typically fall during economic hard times as all members of a family pull together to make ends meet, but peak again just after the economy recovers.
For troubled couples, it appears there is no light at the end of the tunnel. "And when clients are in tears, I'm in tears," Singer said of his personal connection to the recession. "But I'm happy if they say it helps, it gives me a feeling of doing something, in an area where I think I can help."
Singer's office is in central New Jersey. He can be reached via his website www.FamilyThinking.com.