Wondering how to save your troubled marriage? Your next step might be finding a marriage counselor. In fact, choosing a marriage counselor might be one of the most important choices a couple makes in the course of their relationship. You might be tempted to rush into the first counselor’s office that you come across – anything to help your failing relationship, right? But it’s vitally important for the future of your marriage that you choose a marriage counselor based on good information.
Here at the Relationship Blackbook, we want you to be as informed as possible when it comes to making this crucial decision. To that end, here are a few tips on how to choose a marriage counselor that is right for you.
First, not all counselors are marriage counselors.
It’s important to know if your therapist is qualified to treat couples. Many therapists and counselors say they do couples counseling, but they weren’t actually trained to work with married couples.
Couples counseling requires a totally different skill set than individual therapy, so make sure you find out if your prospective counselor is certified to work with both you and your spouse at the same time. Not only are couples sessions structured differently, but the dynamic between two people who are at odds with each other is a far cry from working with a singular person. It’s important to know that your counselor has received sufficient training before you ask them to help you stave off divorce.
One way to be sure your therapist has been specifically trained to work with couples is to look for an MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist) certification. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists have received thorough training and have also completed supervised clinical work to ensure they are qualified to help married couples in need.
However, it’s not critical that your marriage counselor holds an MFT certification. If they have decades of experience working with couples and a high success rate, then it’s safe to assume they are qualified. Also, there are plenty of professional organizations that are devoted to couples therapy. Check to see which organizations your prospective counselor is a member of.
The following video explains the benefits of marriage and family therapy:
Another way to find a good marriage counselor is to seek recommendations from friends and family. This can be weird and a little awkward if you’ve kept your marriage issues private, but don’t let that stop you from finding out if your friends or family can recommend a therapist that helped them or someone they know.
If all else fails, look online for reviews about the counselor you’re interested in. Online message boards can be a useful resource for recommendations, but it’s important to remember that you can’t believe everything you read.
DO ask around, but DON’T assume that a counselor who was right for someone else is right for you. Finding a possible counselor is just the first step in the process.
After you’ve chosen a potential counselor and booked your first session, you might think your work is done, but it’s not. The question of how to pick a marriage counselor is not answered with research alone.
So, what’s the next step?
Well, now it’s time to ask the right questions. And don’t worry that asking questions is rude or impertinent. Any marriage counselor that’s worth your time will be glad to answer your questions. If he or she avoids answering your questions or acts as if doing so is an imposition, it might be time to move on down your list.
The folks at Goodtherapy.org offer some potential questions you might want to ask your marriage counselor.
Possible questions to ask your counselor:
How long have you been in practice?
You might want to focus your search on counselors who’ve been in practice for decades. However, a newer, less experienced counselor can be just as effective in helping you and your spouse work out your issues. The point is that you know how much experience he or she has before committing.
How do you define success? How will we know we’re making progress?
It’s important that everyone involved – you, your spouse, and your counselor – agrees about what successful marriage counseling will look like for your particular relationship. Knowing what the goal is will help all of you stay on track toward recovering your happy marriage.
How long can we expect to be in therapy?
After meeting with you and your spouse the first or second time, your counselor should be able to tell you how many sessions to expect. That’s standard for marriage counseling. If the counselor does not offer a specific length of treatment, you should find out why he or she has not done so.
How much of your practice is devoted to marriage counseling?
Remember, not all counseling is the same. You need to be sure that your therapist knows what they’re doing when it comes to helping you and your spouse through your rough patch.
What is your background and training?
What kind of license do they hold? Are they a member of any professional organizations devoted to marriage and family counseling?
Do you think divorce is ever an option? Would you ever recommend divorce?
The answer to this question will vary based on the counselor’s various professional experiences, so there’s no definite right or wrong answer. For example, a counselor might tell you that in the case of violence or abuse, when one spouse or the children are not safe in the home and the violent spouse refuses to change or seek the necessary help, then divorce is the only option. As a general rule, however, the purpose of marriage counseling is to save marriages, not see them end. Be sure that you’re comfortable and confident in your counselor’s level of commitment toward you and your spouse’s success.
So, now that you’ve asked all the right questions and feel satisfied with the answers, your search is over, right? Actually, no. There are few more red flags to look for in your sessions. The following is a list of SHOULDs and SHOULDN’Ts to consider the first few times you meet with your counselor.
- Your counselor SHOULD encourage open and honest communication. He or she should establish their office as a safe zone so that you feel comfortable sharing your most intimate needs and feelings, but they should also call you both out when you’re hiding something or refusing to participate.
- The counselor SHOULD NOT allow you to continue negative communication patterns during your sessions. He or she should not allow you to talk over one another, interrupt, or argue. You should not be allowed to insult, degrade, or speak angrily to one another.
- Your counselor SHOULD focus your treatment plan on your present and future. While it’s important to understand the past and how it led you to your current predicament, it should not be the main focus of your therapy. Understand the past, but look forward toward a healthy future.
- Your counselor SHOULD NOT take sides in a discussion or play favorites. His or her job is not to decide who is right, but to help both of you come into agreement. As tempting as it is to enjoy being validated, it’s equally as irritating to be constantly sided against. Your counselor’s office should be a safe place for both you AND your spouse, regardless of the therapist’s personal opinions.
- Your counselor SHOULD teach you communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and any other skills and techniques he or she sees that you need in order to help you build a stronger relationship.
- Your counselor SHOULD NOT hold to gender stereotypes. If he or she assumes that you’re overly emotional because you’re a woman, and that your husband is strong and silent just because he’s a man – or any other gender-based stereotypes – you should call them on it.
The process of finding a good marriage counselor is not quick or easy. You cannot settle for the first one you find, or even the first one you meet with. Make sure you choose a counselor who meets your reasonable expectations, and who fits with your values and budget.
We hope this article has been helpful for those of you wondering how to select a marriage counselor that is right for your relationship. Have you had any experience choosing the right or wrong marriage counselor? Share your insight in the comments.