Couples counseling is an intimidating endeavor for most people. It’s vulnerable enough to share your own innermost feelings with a counselor, but when you also invite along the person who knows you best in the world and might bring up some of your less-than fantastic qualities – that takes guts!
Because it can be so intimidating, many couples wait longer than they should to seek counseling. And even once they decide to go for it, there are some common barriers. Insurance almost never covers couples counseling, many therapists don’t offer evening or weekend sessions, and the biggest barrier . . . it’s hard to know which therapist to actually select.
In writing this post, my goal is to convince you that selecting the RIGHT therapist to help you and your partner is JUST AS IMPORTANT as deciding to do couples counseling at all. Since most couples seeking counseling already have a very strained relationship, it doesn’t take much to make things worse. Even a therapist with good intentions can cause problems if they don’t understand the unique art that is couples counseling.
So how do you pick the right therapist? Below I share some factors that may guide you to select a therapist who won’t harm your relationship and, hopefully, will help you make your relationship stronger.
1. Don’t all therapists have the same basic training? NO. Counselors might have gone to school for counseling, social work, school counseling, marriage and family therapy, etc. There are a wide range of degrees that can qualify someone to become a licensed counselor, and in many programs, the focus is on individual counseling. In fact some counseling program graduates have never taken a single course on how to work with families and couples!
2. My EAP Covers Couples Counseling – What’s the Harm in Going to One of the EAP Providers? Well, maybe nothing. Some excellent therapists are part of EAP networks. But depending on your EAP, you may not have many therapists to choose from, and it’s possible that none of the covered providers have specialized training in couples counseling. Considering the fact that a poorly trained counselor can do more harm than good to your relationship, AND considering the average emotional toll and monetary cost of a divorce ($10,000-$20,000 if you use a lawyer), does it really make sense to go to a counselor who might not have the best training in couples work in order to save a few hundred dollars?
3. What about life coaches? Unless a life coach holds a counseling license, he or she is NOT a counselor. Counselors must be licensed by the state in which they practice. Some licensed counselors offer life coaching services as part of their practice, but that is different; that person is still bound by the ethical codes and laws of their state licensing board, and the state board has determined that person meets minimum standards to be able to practice counseling services. Most people practicing life coaching have no license. It is not a recognized field by the Idaho state board of licensing thus there is no vetting process for the individuals who practice coaching. They do not have to meet any qualifications to open up shop as a life coach, and there is no entity governing how they practice. For these reasons and because many life coaches have little to no training in couples counseling, PLEASE DO NOT EVER ENTRUST YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO AN UNLICENSED COUNSELOR OR A LIFE COACH.
4. Things to look for and ask about:
What is the therapist’s degree? If it’s not Marriage and Family Counseling, do they have other supporting evidence that they’ve been trained in couples work?
Do they do any sort of continuing education or training that is related specifically to couples counseling?
Do they talk about or advertise HOW they help couples (i.e., do they use a specific approach that has some supporting evidence for its effectiveness?)
Do they work with everyone and everything? This is a warning sign they MIGHT NOT be the right therapist. Therapists who work with every age group, every disorder, use a little bit of every theory, and are on every single insurance panel are likely generalists. If this is the case, you probably want to see some supporting reasons to believe they have any sort of specialized ability to work with couples.
Are they FOR your relationship? Couples counselors who suggest you’re not meant to be together or that your problems are unsolvable are not well-trained in couples counseling. It is for the couple to decide the outcome of the relationship – the therapist’s job is to do the best he or she can to help the couple see what their issues really are, how they developed, and how they could change. A therapist who clearly takes sides or suggests the couple should split is not a therapist to continue seeing.
I hope these suggestions give you some confidence in selecting the right couples counselor. If you’re wondering whether I’m the right counselor to help your relationship, please call or email me so we can talk about my approach and qualifications and I can answer any other questions you might have.