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 housenote 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.
Singer has seen the "nightmarish" stress that unemployment and foreclosure can impose on a marriage. He said there's an overwhelming lack of hope among these victims of the recession, for whom each new day brings only a new bill to pay or resume to submit.
"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 began this service after reading Steve Waldman's blog criticizing the president for not including a provision for national service in his economic recovery plan. Waldman called for a national service plan at the center of the recovery, in the vein of Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Singer was inspired, and he sent us this note:
"I want to take it one step further during these stressful times of increasing unemployment and home foreclosures. I believe it is time to think about giving one day a month to help others by using our profession skills, especially to help those who recently lost their job or their house."
He hopes that other working professionals will follow his lead.
"Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think dentists, doctors, certainly accountants, could give a little service, too."
As a counterpoint to the (justifiably) gloomy tone of much reporting about the economic crisis, HuffPost is going to be highlighting stories of service, local heroes, and acts of kindness (random and otherwise). So if you read about or hear about uplifting stories or good deeds in your community (or do a good deed yourself), please let us know about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.