5 Things To Look For When Choosing A Marriage Counselor

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How To Choose A Marriage Counselor For Couples Therapy

Couples therapy and marriage counseling can significantly help to improve the quality of relationships, but before you and your partner pick up the phone, there are a few things you need to know, first.

The frequency with which inquiries show up in my practice for couples therapy is far greater than before. I receive calls daily from all kinds of couples — married, pre-married, cohabitating, post-married, heterosexual, gay, straight, ambivalent, committed, etc. with all sorts of struggles both in and out of the bedroom.  

RELATED: 5 Signs You Need Couples Therapy Way More Than You Think You Do

I’m not certain if the rise is due to the recognition that the divorce trend hasn’t made things better for next relationships, not to mention its adverse effects on family integrity. Or if there are simply convenient and more powerful, empirically based methods at the therapeutic disposal.

Does marriage counseling work? Relationship problems are common and even normal in most healthy relationships. However, sometimes, couples need a third and unbiased opinion. This is where couples therapists and marriage counselors come in.

With the trend in marriage towards ‘our one and only’, betrayal at record producing rates (or at least our discovery methods expanded) and sex ever more on the back burner for some, people are stepping up to make meaning of their lives and their relationships. 

And marriage counseling can be a suitable remedy prior to opting for the more costly alternative, which is divorce.

But, before you look for a couples counselor, here are 5 things you need to know about couples therapy and marriage counseling.

1. Not every ‘couples therapist’ is created equal

For one, there is an abundance of practitioners who set a claim on couples therapy, whether they have a doctorate (Ph.D., PsyD, DSW), a master’s level degree (MHC, MFT, CSW) or, alternatively, refer to themselves as a relationship coach.

In the therapy world, that is, today, considered less relevant than the notion that one has the fundamentals — training, skills, and experience to provide a service for which they proclaim. 

Websites promoting expertise in psychotherapy for children, addictions, couples, forensics create skepticism and require further evaluation of their training and experience. Working with children is a specialty that does not often overlap with couples, with developmental disorders, autism, and cognitive testing being a subspecialty. 

Peruse the "about" page and if insufficient ask further questions defining their expertise. 

Whether a referral from a friend, college or google, you can take it a step further and scrutinize online organizations/directories. Despite that they are paid memberships and advertising, there is a qualification process for most to show inclusion, with some citing various levels of expertise. Invest in the process and do your due diligence.

2. Not every model of couples therapy is created equal

Perhaps you have heard methods of couples therapy  tossed around like Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the Gottman method, Imago Relationship Therapy, Object Relations, and more.

While many are effective, the bottom line is that EFT has more than 20 clinical studies showing its efficacy — it is the most empirically based on them all.

That said, I have faced many couples who have found great solace and healing with the other assorted models at contrasting times in their lives.

Although there are pieces of all that can help, it is most potent when there is a basic structure and model so that the experience is the antithesis of what Dr. Ellyn Bader, a noteworthy couples therapist herself, said about couple therapy to the therapist can "feel like piloting a helicopter into a hurricane."

RELATED: 6 Ways To Bring Your A-Game To Marriage Counseling (And Save Your Relationship)

3. Good couples therapy is not cheap

Given the above, couples therapy today is not inexpensive. To enlist someone proficient requires education, training, and experience, none of which comes cheap.

Done correctly, it can help you not only grow your dyad but transform you as an individual as well. And if you are that far along on your downward spiral, look at the alternative financially — it is less costly than divorce court.

4. Couples therapy can also transform the individual

One of the reasons I love Esther Perel, psychotherapist and best-selling author, is because she exercises a risk to speak what only others, myself included, might ponder. 

As such, I have heard her say that one can do couples therapy with the individual in the room and individual therapy with the couple in the room. We know, for example, with EFT for couples, as an attachment-based protocol, the potential for individual growth and healing is monumental. 

While the alternative can also ring true, I have seen at times greater healing within the couples frame.

5. It’s more than a plus if your couples therapist is also a sex therapist

When someone steps into the therapy, they bring themselves both in and out of the bedroom. Although not the sole obstacle with which they face,  when engaging in an assessment of the couple, it should not go unnoticed. 

My personal bias is that there should be no mental health professionals who don't have at least some basic education in sexuality and for those who work with anything sexually related, like couples therapy or sex addiction, it no doubt should be more extensive.

There are two reasons why. One, so you are able to speak about it. And, two, to know what to ask, look for, assess and integrate if possible, or refer out.

Qualified practitioners maintain their own discomfort either because of the topic or because of their ignorance. Within the dyad and the frame of couples therapy, we look at sexual issues as part of the relational piece. It often is.

But, there are times when conflict arises in a relationship due to physiological, physical, individual, and spiritual issues as well. While these will have direct ramifications to the relational piece, they may need to be addressed independently as well.

For example, a man with erectile dysfunction or a woman with desire disorder, both of which most frequently maintain a relational base but might signal other etiologies as well.

Couples therapy can help, but only if you do your research to find the right marriage therapist for you.

RELATED: 5 Signs You Need Couples Therapy Way More Than You Think You Do

Dr. Barbara Winter, Ph.D., holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. She has a private practice in Boca Raton, Florida, where she has specialized for over 30 years in issues related to sexuality, relationships, infidelity, divorce, trauma, and general psychiatric concerns.

This article was originally published at my blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.