You've decided to start couples counseling. Maybe your relationship needs a tune-up or maybe your relationship feels like it is careening out of control. Kudos for taking this courageous step to work on your relationship. But first things first, how do you choose a couples therapist who can help your relationship?
Most people are not comfortable asking friends and family for a referral to a marriage counselor like you would a realtor or a hairdresser. I get it; it's not other people's concern, so where does that lead many? Many people start their search with a good ole Google search. A Google search will no doubt produce the names of many helping professionals with diverse expertise and experience. However, because your relationship is so important, it is critical that you choose wisely considering factors that are necessary to have a productive experience and a good outcome in couples therapy.
So How Do You Choose? Glad You Asked...
First, it's critical that you look for someone who specializes in what you need. With your relationship, potentially, at stake, it is important that you work with someone experienced and trained to help couples.
Working with couples is a specialty, one class (or none) in graduate school is not sufficient. Many graduate programs in counseling focus on individual counseling. Managing the needs and emotions of more than one person in a session takes training and practice that every counselor does not receive. After all, you would not see a neurologist for a cardiac concern. Likewise, you will want to choose someone who focuses the majority of their clinical work and training on helping couples. "Tell me about your education, training, expertise, and current caseload in working with couples" would be a fine question to ask any therapist you may consider.
Moreover, you may have more specific concerns that you would like to address and will want to ask about; the following are some examples:
Improving intimacy and sex
Managing and healing from infidelity
Working with complex trauma
Addressing parenting concerns
Stay-or-go (discernment) counseling
Working with blended families
Focusing on custody issues
Attending to family conflict
Each of these areas of concern warrant expertise to address successfully.
Once you have found a couples therapist who has the background sufficient to address your concerns, what's next is making sure there is a positive working rapport. The research indicates that the connection between the therapist and both members of the couple is a critical factor in the success of therapy. Here are some thoughts to consider:
Do you feel heard, safe, and comfortable with the therapist? Does the therapist seem approachable and accessible? Do you feel like you can share what you need to share, free from judgment? Do you get a sense of open-mindedness and curiosity? If yes, you are off to a good start in having found a marriage or couples therapist who can work effectively with you over the course of therapy.
Many people begin their search by looking for someone on their insurance provider list of therapists. While you very well may find the right fit, keep in mind that when you use insurance, it is for medical necessity, and relationship concerns do not have a mental health diagnosis. As such, many marriage therapists do not take insurance, unwilling to diagnose one person in the relationship. After all, relationship dynamics are co-created, and blame and pathologizing are not tools of couples therapy. Therefore, it is not advisable to select a couples therapist strictly based on who may be willing to take your insurance. Couples therapy is one of the best investments you can make in your relationship and yourself.
Recently, a potential client asked a great question, "Does age matter?" The truth is therapy is an art and a science. It takes a tremendous amount of study, a scholarly approach to be proficient in the various models and research to understand and effectively address issues. However, there is also an art to connecting with clients: joining them in their emotion, expanding it when needed, challenging in a non-threatening way, attuning throughout to create a genuine connection, adapting and creating interventions for diverse situations, and managing one's own reactivity when sessions are difficult. There's more going on than just talking about the latest happenings. Anyway, back to the question, the answer is I have encountered young people (fresh out of graduate school) who are excellent as well as seasoned people who are excellent. I've encountered people of all ages who I would not refer my family to, my litmus test for if I believe a therapist has the skills to be therapeutic and impact growth and change. In this field, we are required to watch hours of video of peers (and ourselves) doing therapy; we see the good, the average, and the not so great. Therapy is one job where ageism doesn't apply; experience is valued and just like young prodigies in many of the arts, sometimes younger clinicians just have it. Again, what matters is if you connect and feel comfortable with the therapist and that the therapist is adequately trained to address your concerns and move you towards your objectives.
A few more points to remember: therapists are in session the majority of their workday. If you would like a phone consultation before scheduling, reach out and expect to hear back in 24 to 48 hours, but not necessarily immediately. A successful therapist is not available to take calls all day. Finally, it may take a few weeks to schedule your first appointment. If a therapist has a full caseload, that is a good sign. Once you get in, it is usually easier to schedule going forward.
Our romantic relationships are foundational and impact every aspect of our lives. It is important to pursue highly skilled and experienced help when looking to heal and change your relationship. This is not a place to take shortcuts. In fact, a skilled marriage counselor can help course correct your relationship more efficiently than someone who dabbles in couples work.
About the author: Melissa Hudson, Ph.D.is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Plano, Texas specializing in couples and marriage therapy, anxiety, and depression. She also works with adults and families on a full spectrum of psychological concerns. Have more questions? Want to get your relationship back on track? I'm here to help you as an experienced couples and marriage therapist. firstname.lastname@example.org | 214-235-8175 | www.counselingsolutionstexas.com