Deciding to go to couples counseling can be a difficult decision. In fact, most couples put off going to couples counseling, either because they want to avoid further conflict, or they don’t want to spend the time or money. This often means that by the time you’ve decided to go to couples counseling, you really need it. It also means that it’s really important to choose a couples therapist that’s going to be a good fit for you and your relationship. If you’ve decided to begin couples counseling, and want to make sure you get the most out of your couples counselor, here are three things to keep in mind.
Ask about their training in couples counseling
Most therapists will list their credentials, as well as an specialized certifications on their website. Give yourself a gift by screening for therapists that specialize in couples counseling specifically. You may not know that while any licensed therapist can technically offer couples counseling, not all therapists are specifically trained in it. Look either for where a therapist did their training or specific post-masters certifications: Marriage and Family Therapy, Imago Therapy, Gottman-style, or Emotionally Focused Therapy. This list of post-masters certifications are by no means exhaustive. If you and your partner are experiencing any kind of sexual intimacy issues, therapists certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists (AASECT) can also be helpful. A simple google search for any of the certifications listed on a therapist’s website can provide you with useful information on their background and the approach they use with couples.
See how much the couples counselors cost
Health care should be a right, and not a privilege, but unfortunately in the US that is not the case. If you have health insurance, you can go to your provider’s website to see what couples counselors are covered. You may find that your insurance provider will not cover couples counseling specifically, so make sure to ask your potential couples counselor on the phone how they typically handle insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you can go online and find some amazing fee for service couples counselors.
During your intake, take note of how they relate to you and your partner
A couples counselor, no matter what you might wish, is not a judge. They are not there to hear both sides of the story and tell you who is right. Couples counselors should help you and your partner to listen to each other, share information and feelings honestly, and identify common negative patterns the two of you fall into. The goal is to teach the two of you better communication skills so that you can resolve issues on your own. A skilled couples counselor won’t tell you who is right or wrong, they may simply help the two of you see the situation from a different perspective and give you some new tools to help the two of you resolve the conflict in a more constructive manner.
During your initial session, or intake, the couples counselor will ask you and your partner about why you are coming in. Notice how it feels to share with them. Do you and your partner feel like you’re getting equal time to speak and balanced feedback? What’s their policy on seeing the two of you individually? Will the couples counselor hold secrets? And if so, what type of secrets? Do you both feel respected? If not, this might not be the best fit for you. Not all couples counselors are the same. Typically, we recommend trying several people and then making an educated guess. If someone says something you don’t like, it might be them. If three therapists are say the same thing, then it’s you!
Do you like the couples counselor? Does your partner?
Both you and your partner should intuitively trust your therapist and feel respected by them. You don’t need to become friends with them, but if you don’t like what comes out of their mouth, it will probably be difficult for you to be vulnerable enough in session to do the work you came to do. If either of you feel like it’s not a good fit, look for another therapist. It can be frustrating to tell your story all over again to someone else, but it’s harder still for good work to get done if one of you doesn’t trust the therapist enough to be honest during session.
If you don’t get along with your therapist, that’s ok. Finding a good couples counselor is all about fit, and good counselors know this. If you are with a good counselor, their feelings won’t be hurt, when you ask for a referral.
Above all else, remember that you deserve the best care possible. Making an appointment with a therapist in a group practice, if possible, can be a great way to ensure that there is a pool of similarly trained therapists if the first one is not a good fit.