5 Things I Would Never Do As A Couples Therapist

Photo: Vadym Pastukh /
blonde therapist with glasses listens to client

I know not we're not supposed to say “never”, but sometimes life teaches you lessons you just cannot ignore. 

Like never eat the potato salad that’s been on the picnic table all afternoon, or never jump in the pool without checking your pockets (unless you’re already intending to get a new phone).

During my two decades of work as a couples therapist, life — and my clients — have taught me tons of lessons, especially about what not to do.

These lessons can be helpful to you, too, if you are working for or looking for a therapist.

RELATED: 9 Signs That You And Your Partner Should Consider Couples Therapy

Sometimes the most heartbreaking lessons come from a client’s pain as they describe horror stories about previous counselors.

I'm sure they had good intentions, but were misguided about what was truly helpful or healing for the clients. In their quest to make the clients feel better, they may have overstepped their bounds by offering quick fixes or good-sounding answers.

Unfortunately, a quick fix does not solve anything, and can even leave you more discouraged than ever.

I have made my own mistakes along the way, but I used those hard-learned lessons to properly teach students how to do therapy and avoid the same pitfalls that I fell into.

It's also helpful to know what a couples therapist shouldn't do in case you encounter any of these with a therapist. 

Here are five things I would never do as a couples therapist

1. I would never believe everything one partner tells me about the other.

I would listen and respect what each person is saying, but I also know it’s not the whole story. It’s one person’s perspective, one part of the relational gridlock, and there’s always more to be learned.

2. I would never tell them I can save their relationship.

Last time I checked, I am neither god nor superhero.

I can coach, confront, and commend them, but the actual work of changing attitudes and behaviors has to be owned by the couple.

RELATED: Couples Therapists Reveal The 6 Issues That Cause Even Good Marriages To End In Divorce

3. I would never tell them they should divorce.

Like the previous point, I am not all knowing about someone else’s life. I can help each partner see the situation more clearly, weigh the pros and cons of their options, and support each in their pain and decision process.

But I cannot make their decision because I am not the one who has to live with the decision.

4. I would never say the kids will be okay no matter what.

Again, I’m missing that crystal ball to predict what will happen in the future. If a couple with children is considering divorce, some therapists will advise, “If you are okay, your kids will be okay.” Maybe.

We know that divorce is very stressful on children, but so is living with parents who are constantly fighting.

My job is to help the parents understand how the present situation may be affecting the kids, and how the adults can best meet their kids’ needs. That deserves more consideration that a casual dismissal that the kids will be okay.

RELATED: 6 Reasons Why You You've Been Avoiding Couples Therapy 

5. I would never meet with one partner without the other knowing.

That’s not to say that I don’t meet with each partner individually. I do — only with both partners being fully informed. Otherwise it gets too close to secret keeping, and secrets can totally sabotage the therapy.

How would you feel to discover that your partner and the therapist shared a secret? How could you trust either of them to help the relationship?

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These are not the only resolve and don’t include some of the basic ethical principles which every state has.

I am a therapist, not a friend. Blurred boundaries can be harmful to clients.

While these are things I would never do, other therapists might disagree, or have five things they think are more important than the ones I’ve listed.

Hopefully, these five points will be helpful when it’s time to choose that counselor who will best team with you and your partner to accomplish your goals for the relationship.

Dr. Judy Tiesel-Jensen is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Psychologist Emeritus, specializing in couple relationships and trauma. She shares her knowledge about about risk, transformation, and the astonishing healing power of intimacy.