Choosing a Relationship Therapist
There are many counselors and therapists trained to do individual counseling. Some decide to expand their client base by branching off into offering marriage counseling or couple’s counseling.
These are not the people you want to choose if you want help with your relationship. You want trained, licensed people who specialize in marriage retreats or couple’s therapy—some designation like “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” or the equivalent. In other words, you want a licensed relationship counselor or a couple’s therapist, not a psychotherapist, professional counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist who specializes in “anxiety, adolescents, depression, childhood trauma, eating disorders and relationships.”
But there are so many people claiming to specialize in marriage/relationship counseling—how do you choose the very best one? Here is a guide to help you make a good decision.
Select an Experienced Marriage Counselor (or Relationship Counselor)
First, you want someone experienced—who has done this for a number of years—not someone starting out. (Experienced people tend to cost more than those who are just starting out, but this is one arena in which you are likely to get what you pay for.)
Choosing a Marriage Counselor or Relationship Therapist That Offers You the Right Fit
Second, some marriage counselors offer weekly sessions for 45-60 minutes, whereas others work longer (2-3 hour) appointments, and some offer “intensives” that take several days. Obviously, the longer appointments cost more, but if you can afford them, it has been my experience that they are far more effective. You have sufficient time to deeply delve into conflicts, emotions or hurts, and then you can create solutions or resolutions in the same session. The goal is to be able to work through conflicts, feel you are making strong progress and being confident you are making strides to fix what’s wrong, rather than hoping that you might get this issue solved next time.
As a result if you work, for instance, in 3 hour sessions—you get so much more done, and you don’t normally stay in therapy for month after month after month. (Insurance may not cover all of the longer appointments, however, but you have a far greater chance of fixing or resolving the issues way more quickly.)
Pick a Relationship Therapist That Exhibits These Traits
Third, look for someone you find easy to talk to. But keep in mind that you are looking for a therapist/guide/teacher/advisor, not a friend.
Fourth, you want someone who demonstrates insight regarding the true problems and the dynamics in your relationship. As an example, a couple can enter marriage counseling presenting with poor communication problems, but the actual issue may not be poor communication at all. The real issue may be that the two of you have grown disconnected, and you may be questioning whether your spouse still loves and values you.
You can see how that may lead to poor communication in a relationship, but the actual issue is the distance and/or the disconnect between the two of you. The therapist that treats the issue as a communication problem is not going to be fixing the larger dynamic, and then you will feel that although you have a great therapist, the therapy isn’t working.
Find a Marriage Counselor Who Can Articulate an Effective Game Plan
Fifth, you want someone who offers you a realistic game plan to resolve or fix what’s wrong—and very importantly—you want this game plan in the very first session. If the therapist cannot articulate an effective and realistic plan of action in the first session, you have the wrong therapist.
Choose a Relationship Counselor or Marriage Counselor Who Remains Neutral
Sixth, you are not looking for someone to take your side against your partner/spouse. You are looking for a person who can remain neutral, who can help the two of you resolve the issues between you, and who can lead you back to connection and closeness. (There are some exceptions to this rule—verbal, emotional or physical abuse, child abuse or a major betrayal of trust, among others—all of which may require the therapist to set rules or boundaries that fit one person but not the other. The best marriage therapist and relationship counselors are mandated by law to report to the authorities physical abuse or child abuse.)
Finding a Knowledgeable Marriage Counselor
Seventh, marriage counselors or couple’s therapists that publish quality articles, books or who conduct excellent workshops/speaking engagements are likely to be effective therapists. Obviously, they know their subject material.
Select the Gold Standard in Marriage Counselors or Couple’s Therapists
Eighth, the gold standard of marriage counselors (including couple’s therapists or relationship counselors) is if the therapist can teach the two of you new skills that you can take home and use on your own. The goal is for the two of you to learn how to resolve conflicts or hurt feelings on your own, so you don’t need to forever be dependent on a therapist. This will take some time, and does not happen quickly, but the counselor who can teach the two of you to resolve your own issues or emotions is worth his or her weight in gold.
Finally, we learn more effectively when we are challenged. Look for someone to challenge you to do what’s hard, not easy.