Being a therapist, it’s not uncommon for me to be asked about the marriage counseling process. Couples in distress want to know what it entails and how to go about finding the right counselor for them. A critical step in the process is to do your homework and find a counselor that both you and your spouse feel comfortable with.
Marriage counseling is more complex than individual counseling, so you first want to look for a therapist that works with couples or families. You can find this out by asking the counselor, checking on their website or reading online reviews about their work. Ideally, it should be someone with a Master’s degree, preferably either in the Psychology or Social Work field.
When making the first phone call to the counselor, explain how you got their name-was it from the internet or referral from a friend? You’ll want to find out their location to see if it’s practical for you. In the beginning you’ll be going weekly, in some cases twice a week, so you want to make sure it’s not too inconvenient a commute. It’s also important to inquire about their availability. If you and your spouse work, will you need evenings/weekend appointments? Some therapists only have daytime availability.
I highly recommend finding a marriage counselor that will do an “evaluation” to see if you and your spouse are good candidates for marriage counseling. When I first started my practice, I would occasionally hear from friends or clients how marriage counseling doesn’t work, it’s a waste of time etc. What I came to realize after talking to them more was that the therapist automatically assumed they were ready for marriage counseling at the first session without hearing or understanding the couple’s particular situation. A therapist first needs to make sure that nothing stands in the way of the marriage counseling being effective. For example, in some cases if there’s been an affair, it may not be possible to immediately start working on the marriage. The spouse who was hurt might have to have some individual sessions first to see if they can get through the anger before beginning the marriage counseling process. It’s also important to have realistic expectations about the outcome of the counseling. It is not an absolute that just because you do marriage counseling, you won’t get a divorce. Each couple is unique with their own set of circumstances.
Ideally, the therapist will see the couple for about 3-5 sessions to do an evaluation and then provide a recommendation about the best way to proceed. It is also important that the therapist sit down with the couple and explain the process for the counseling at the first session. For example, it is not uncommon in marriage counseling to have sessions both individually and as a couple. When I work with couples, I have found the most effective way to do an evaluation is to meet with the couple together for the first session, then schedule an individual session for each of them. The 4th session we meet as a group again and I give them my recommendation of how we should move forward.
Most likely, marriage counseling is a new experience to you and your spouse. You are sharing very personal, intimate details about your life with a professional that you’ve just met. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s normal for it to take 2 or 3 sessions before you feel comfortable with the therapist and the process.
But there are times when a therapist and a couple just aren’t a good fit. If after a few times you still don’t feel at ease or feel like you just don’t seem to “click” with the counselor, I would recommend that you try another one. You may prefer one therapist’s style or approach over another.
If you or your spouse feel like your relationship is in distress, marriage counseling is an ideal forum to explore all your options and figure out how to move forward.