Choosing a Marriage Counselor: Top Guidelines

zalesne - choosing a marriage counselor denverChoosing a marriage counselor who is right for you and your partner is the first critical step in resolving issues within your relationship.   The best way to start is by interviewing therapists who have the potential to be a good fit.  Always interview first, before beginning a therapeutic relationship.  If the counselor you contact does not consent to an interview, consider that a red flag!  You might have to pay for it, but schedule this first session and then decide later whether or not to continue.  Do both you and your partner like the therapist as a person?  If not, chances are you’re not a good match and won’t be able to work well together.  Likewise, do you think your therapist likes you?   If not, that’s a problem too.

Choosing a Marriage Counselor Who Doesn’t Take Sides

It’s also important to be aware that your marriage counselor should not like one of you better than the other, and should not take sides on differing issues.  If your counselor picks a favorite, he or she is too involved in the content of your fight.  It’s a bad sign if your therapist is refereeing your arguments, trying to decide who is right or wrong.  This counselor may be able to help you with short-term peace (although probably not) but certainly won’t be able to help you build stronger bonds to deal with the rest of your relationship.  If they do resolve one fight, are you counting on your therapist to mediate every argument you and your partner have?  Your counselor is not smarter than you; you can learn to negotiate your own peace.  Plus, that would be quite a pricy expenditure, considering the frequency of differing opinions.  In fact, it is a bad sign if your marriage counselor lets you fight in the therapy room.  In my counseling practice, I tell clients, “You can fight for free at home; we’re going to do something different here.”  Your therapist should always be in control of these situations.

Does the counselor you are considering have training experience with couples?  What is the therapist’s therapeutic model?  Couples work is very different from working with individuals and involves very different training.  Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), which I utilize in my private practice, is the only couple’s therapeutic model with research proof that it works.  Make sure the therapist you choose specializes in the area that meets your needs.

In addition to experience, does your therapist get regular supervision?  Counselors are ethically obligated to discuss their cases with a supervisor or colleague, someone who can offer expert opinions and/or point out mistakes.  Good therapists at least participate in peer reviews, if not meeting regularly with a paid professional.

During your counselor/client interview, consider asking this question:  “Will you tell us if we should be together?”   Speaking for myself as a therapist, if I reply affirmatively, (assuming there are no violence or sexual abuse issues) don’t use me!   Your relationship as a couple is my client and my role is to help you improve your relationship.

In an example from my own private practice, I couldn’t understand why one client couple was even together.  They always seemed to be fighting and didn’t appear to like each other, and frankly I didn’t like them much either!   But in the lull between arguments, I saw evidence (if brief) to the contrary and suddenly realized that they loved each other.

My job as a marriage counselor is to help them find a way back to love, to find that path back together.  If I told you not to try anymore, I wouldn’t be doing my job.  I don’t practice lazy therapy.  If you tell your counselor that you want to stay together and they don’t think it’s a good idea, find another therapist.  (Here again, I make my disclaimer:  This advice does not apply to violent or abusive relationship issues.)

Do you have thoughts or experiences about choosing a marriage counselor, or anything else you would like to share on this subject?   Please feel free to add your comments below.