Finding a couples therapist can be overwhelming. Which is why friends and family often come to me for guidance when choosing one. I love when they’re local or from my hometown (where I trained) so that I can give them names of therapists that I trust. But often I can only point them in the right direction. And it’s hard. Less than 20% of therapists are specifically trained as couples therapists. Which means that most therapists are NOT qualified to help you with your marriage.
Given that, you probably want to know…
“How do I find a qualified marriage counselor?”
My general rule of thumb is to look for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). There’s a couple of options for finding one. One, you can look on a directory site like Psychology Today or the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Therapy Locator. Two, you can google “marriage counseling” or “couples therapy” in the town/city where you live. Or three, you can ask friends and family if they know any couples therapists.
Once you find a listing of therapists, check out their websites, directory profiles, and social media pages. See who resonates with you and reach out for a free 15min phone consultation. During this consultation, the therapist will ask you questions about what’s prompted you to call and what you hope to get out of therapy. But it’s also a time for you to ask them about how they work.
So here are…
5 Questions to Ask Your Therapist Before Scheduling Couples Counseling
1. What is your training in couples therapy?
Just like you wouldn’t see your PCP for brain surgery, you don’t want put your marriage in the hands of a therapist who’s just dabbling in couples therapy. Most therapists are qualified to see individuals but not couples. And, when your marriage is on the rocks, you want someone who has the skills to guide you back to solid ground.
So definitely ask the prospective therapist what kind of training they’ve had in couples therapy. Many therapists may have taken a course or two on couples therapy and maybe done a few short trainings. That really isn’t enough to have the expertise needed to treat couples. To make sure that you’re able to have a benchmark with which to measure qualifications, I’ll share my training. I’ve taken 12 semester-long courses specific to couples therapy. And, in addition to those 12 courses, I’ve completed approximately 100 hours of supplemental training in couples therapy. Not everyone will have that much (and some might have more) but that at least gives you a ballpark of what it means to be a qualified marriage therapist.
2. What percentage of your caseload is couples?
You want someone for whom seeing couples comes naturally (because they do it all the time). I hear from many therapists that “couples are a lot of work” and that’s usually a sign that they don’t have the experience and training to effectively do couples therapy. So pick someone who does. Because if your therapist is dreading seeing you, you’re not going to get what you need from therapy.
Couples therapy makes up 40-60% of my caseload and the majority of my individual clients come to me for help with relational issues. So I’m seeing couple dynamics all day, every day. Which means it’s also where I focus my professional development. I see fewer clients than the average therapist so that I can dedicate time to improving my skills. I do this because stagnancy isn’t going to help your relationship. But being up-to-date on techniques and topics will.
3. How long have you been working with couples?
Unless you’re seeing an intern (and paying a REALLY reduced fee), you want your therapist to have at least two years experience working with couples. Anything less than that and you have someone really new to the field, which is fine if they’re an intern and you’re paying a reduced fee. But not okay if you’re paying full fee. I, personally, have been successfully helping couples since 2012.
“Should I be seeing an older and more seasoned therapist then?”
Yes and no. You want someone with at least two years experience and extensive training in couples therapy BUT, when it comes to therapy, experience doesn’t always make for a better therapist. Someone with 20 years experience might not be more qualified than someone with five. Younger therapists are often more in touch with cutting edge research and techniques. In addition, they are more likely to seek out consultation and use modern approaches. So while there is stigma against us fresh-faced therapists, many of us are actually really good at our job. In fact, I’ve had multiple clients tell me that I was the best therapist that they ever worked with.
4. Have you worked with couples with this issue before?
You are seeking out a therapist for their expertise. So if they don’t have it, you want to know. Because you need a therapist who gets it, gets you, and can actually help. Anything less than that is a waste of your time and money.
I will be the first to admit when I’m not the right fit for a particular client/couple. Why? Because therapy isn’t about me, my pocketbook, or my business’s bottom line. It’s about you. And I want you to get what you need. If you’re struggling in your marriage, I want things to get better for you. And sometimes that means referring you to a colleague that I trust.
5. What is your view on divorce?
The couples who come see me for marriage counseling don’t want to get divorced. (Now if divorce sounds good to you or your partner, you’d be better of checking out discernment counseling). Given that, they are glad to know that I am here to help them save their marriage not tell them to end it.
My goal is to decrease the divorce rates and have couples be more intentional in their marriages. If couples decide to divorce, I help them be more thoughtful and reflective about it. I’ve heard too many horror stories of therapists announcing that a marriage is “dead upon arrival.” Some even tell clients to break up or that they can’t help them. I don’t take that pessimistic view. I can’t be fatalistic in that way when I’ve seen so many couples overcome challenges and have happy, healthy relationships.
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