When your relationship is in crisis, it can become an overwhelming task to find someone who you can trust to help. You are feeling hurt, vulnerable, overwhelmed, and are looking for a stranger to care for one of the most precious relationships in your life. When a marriage is on the brink of divorce or facing any difficult situation, it can be hard looking to another party for help. Many of my clients have never been in counseling or therapy before, and they frequently discussed their experiences looking for the right couples or marriage counselor for their relationships. Patterns have emerged from my conversations with them and I wanted to share my thoughts on the topic of finding your own couples/marriage counselor.
Keep in mind that some counselors work better with some couples than others. It is important to find a counselor that will approach your relationship with tools and methods that will work best for you. Finding the first available counselor with an opening is not a good way to find the most effective help you are looking for. In the first part of this series, I'll take a look at some of the qualifications you should be looking for in your search.
Here are some questions to consider:
What is the counselor’s educational and training background?
If the counselor is self-taught or workshop trained, and can’t point to a significant education in this work, then consider going to someone else. These counselors will often impose their personal values and beliefs on your relationship instead of what research states are most effective. They often will choose sides and provide very biased (and harmful) counseling for your relationship. For example, if you see someone whose educational background was in general mental health counseling, they may have completed their education and have never taken a class in couples counseling, let alone worked with a couple before. On the other hand, if the counselor’s educational background was from an accredited Couples/Marriage and Family Therapy program, this person was required to work with a number of individuals, couples, and families prior to graduating from their program.
Although their education may not have specifically addressed working with couples, there are a number of ways many generalist counselors can receive advanced training to work with couples. Currently, there are 2 evidenced based approaches when working with couples: The Gottman Method of Therapy and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). If they have completed modules of this training or are certified in either of these approaches, they are practicing the gold standard of treatment with couples. Going to a workshop here or there on an approach does not mean they utilize that approach, so ask questions.
As someone who works a lot with infidelity in relationships, one of the concerns I hear from couples when setting up an appointment is that if they go into marriage counseling when someone has been unfaithful in a relationship, the counselor will tell them they need to get divorced before even meeting with the couple. This should never happen. This is an example of why it is important to find someone with adequate training if you want the best chance at helping your marriage.
More information about this can be found here: http://www.smartmarriages.com/dohertyarticle.html
Do you believe you can trust this person?
When all is said and done, your relationship with your therapist is extremely important in creating change. Do you feel comfortable talking with this person? Do you feel like you could learn something from this person? Do you feel judged by this person? Does this counselor seem to side with one person most of the time? Ask your friends, family members, or other professionals for recommendations. Do not rely on a Google review to tell you who is the best person to see. There are a lot of good therapists/counselors who have received a bad google review because they’ve worked with people who aren’t at the healthiest place to leave constructive feedback online. It is best to get a referral from your doctor, a friend, or another trusted professional.
Next time I will look into asking about a therapist's methodology and how crucial it is that they line up with your own personal values and goals.