How to Find The Right Marriage Counselor
While the decision to seek help in a troubled marriage can be an incredibly important step, the follow-through on that decision is just as significant. Finding a good counselor can be a difficult task, and finding the right therapist for your marriage can be even harder.
One approach is to make a checklist that outlines most of the important elements of the search:
- Cover the Basics. It might seem superfluous to look into the licensing of any therapist you consider, but a significant number of complaints about counselors involve those whose licenses have expired. Licensing provides baseline proof of competence, allowing potential clients to know the experience and education level of the therapist in both couples counseling and other types of therapy. Virtually every state department of health services maintains a database to check licensing and complaints about therapists. Use it.
- Look Beyond the License. If you're considering a therapist, make sure to check out his or her competence in couples counseling. Most good couples therapists have at least ten years doing this kind of therapy, which is among the most difficult in the field. A successful track record in this area is usually a good sign that you've found someone who's at least worthy of strong consideration.
- Check the Baggage. Everyone has baggage, including your potential therapist, and candidates shouldn't have a problem discussing it. Is your therapist divorced, or going through a divorce? If so, this should be part of the initial conversation, especially as it pertains to the therapist's attitudes and beliefs about how strongly divorce should be considered as an option and what circumstances should begin to trigger the divorce decision.
- Negotiate Preferences Up Front. This should go without saying, but couples need to discuss their respective preferences before the search begins. Do they prefer a man or a woman? Older or younger? Same faith, if religious issues are important? And does one person have a style preference when it comes to communication?
- And finally, and perhaps most important, can these things be effectively and easily negotiated? If you can't there's a good chance you might need a therapist more than you realize. This process can also be a good opportunity to define and delineate the specific issues you're arguing about.
- Do a Test Run. Some therapists will offer an initial consult or the first session for free (or for a lower cost) to make sure the therapist is compatible with both partners, and vice versa. If this is available, take advantage of it. It will provide some sense of communication styles, how different issues will be handled, and reasonable expectations, among other things. It also gives both spouses material to discuss the therapy and the therapeutic process in more detail before going forward.
- Know the Plan. A good therapist should be able to give both partners some idea of what will happen during the first session and the second. The therapist should also be able to give couples an idea of what the overall treatment plan consists of, and of which issues will be the most important.
- This is also a good opportunity to test the communication styles and abilities of the therapist. The therapist should be able to explain the plan in something that resembles plain English, backed up by understandable explanations of whatever theories and programs are being used. If you get something that sounds like gobbledygook that makes no sense, it may be time to move on to the next candidate.
- Factor in the Cost. An hour session with a qualified marriage counselor can cost anywhere from $80-500 an hour, so cost is obviously a significant part of the evaluation process. But cost can also carry over into the therapy process itself; many couples seek counseling through their HMOs due to cost concerns, only to discover that the therapists their HMOs allow are so overworked that they're either weeks away from taking on new clients or over-scheduled to the point where there are multi-week gaps between appointments. And often, couples therapy is not covered by medical insurance.
- Have Realistic Expectations. It helps to remember that couples counseling isn't a cure-all. A 2005 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that five years after receiving eight months of face-to-face therapy, half of couples said relationship had improved, 25 percent were divorced, and 25 percent were still having problems. Knowing the odds going in is a good way to temper unrealistic expectations. The odds are also greatly improved in your favor when you work with a qualified therapist and apply their advice.
- Consider the Best. One of the most effective ways to handle and eliminate most of these issues can be found here at StrongMarriageNow.com, Dr. Dana Fillmore is considered a primary expert in the field, with an extensive and successful track record of having helped over 47,000 marriages get back on track. She also has considerable expertise in all of the aforementioned areas, and this expertise represents an easy yet thorough way to shorten and get on with the business of saving your marriage. To learn more about Dr. Dana, explore her Marriage Help Library
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