Three Steps to Choosing a Marriage Counselor
From my years of working with couples as a marriage counselor, here's what I've found:
1. It's normal to have delayed getting help with your relationship. Research says couples wait an average of 6 to 7 years. Unfortunately, the tension between you may have become greater, though this can be dealt with as part of the counseling process.
2. Choosing a marriage counselor is daunting -- couples wonder whether the person they select will be a good fit.
3. Couples may fear their problems are unique and that they'll not be understood by the therapist. Or worse: that they will be judged.
4. There's often a fear that marriage counseling won't help.
From these experiences -- and hearing couples concerns and answering their questions -- I've come up with the following steps that I believe are critical to consider when making your decision of which counselor to select.
1. What theory or model of couples counseling does the therapist use?
It's critically important to ask the prospective counselor about their specific approach or method and about the research statistics on the success of that model.
When a therapist follows a model:
-- There's a roadmap for guiding them that is supported by research studies
-- The therapist has invested in and made a commitment to training and usually ongoing learning about the best approach to helping couples
-- There's often a national and international network of therapists who have trained in and use the model. This provides your therapist with resources, continuing education and access to new research
2. Specialist or Jack (or Jill) of All Trades?
When I first began in private practice, I worked with clients experiencing a range of challenges: work-related stress, anxiety, depression, marital and family issues. At times, I enjoyed the variety.
Yet, now that my focus is narrowed to relationship issues, I feel I am stronger in this one, focused (and important!) area. My broad background helps me understand clients who may be experiencing depression and anxiety and to make appropriate referrals. My specialization in couples, however, provides a dedication to the one area in which I feel I am most effective.
My point here is that you may want, in choosing a marriage counselor, a therapist who does a significant amount of work in the type of issue for which you are seeking help.
The Internet makes information about therapists readily available -- on their own web sites and on web sites on the specific methods and therapy approaches. When you first invest time in your search, you are more likely to find the best possible match in the professional you choose.
(Note: I am only referring only to state-licensed professionals here. There are "coaches" who say they work with couples; however, my recommendation is to find a licensed, credentialed person who is skilled in working with couples and relationship issues.)
3. Can you be open and feel comfortable with the therapist?
Some studies have found that the greatest determinant of success in counseling of any type is the relationship with the therapist. During the course of therapy, you form an alliance with the therapist -- you entrust him or her to be a caring, knowledgeable professional with whom you feel a connection of trust.
It is this alliance that allows both members of the couple to open up and discuss their deepest concerns so that the therapy can move forward.
The feelings of comfort with the therapist generally emerge in the first few sessions. A sense of relief may be felt by the couple: "Here is someone who knows how to help us!" "She is able to stay calm when we are not." And, you can typically judge whether he or she is approachable and reassuring.
Some questions to ask yourselves:
a. Does the counselor listen intently to each of us? Do we both feel heard and that the therapist does not "take sides" with one partner's viewpoint?
b. Does the therapist show empathy and concern for us and our desired goals?
c. Does the counselor offer comfort and reassurance? When we become upset in session, does the therapist help us understand our emotions and guide us to a calmer place where we can then discuss our true concerns?
d. Does the therapist avoid giving advice or telling us what to do regarding a particular situation? Rather, does he or she help us learn to resolve issues between us and develop our own solutions?
e. If you felt any of the above was not feeling right or comfortable, do you feel you could let the therapist know? Being able to share any emerging concerns with the therapist can be critical to your continued success in the process.
Can Marriage Counseling Help?
Choosing a marriage counselor is a critically important step. The method I use, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, has the highest success rate and is also a brief model -- averaging 10 to 20 sessions. We work together to help you understand the distress that has evolved in your relationship and then to meet your goals for regaining closeness.
Much of the success of relationship counseling does depend on the couple. I try to help you gently develop a deeper understanding of both yourself and of your partner. There is a book that goes with the process that I recommend couples read to help them move toward a greater understanding of rebuilding their connection; and at times I assign exercises for the couple to try between sessions.
Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at 602-882-0533 or Linda@awarecounseling.com.