It takes 6 years for most couples to seek help for issues they experience in their marriage. When they finally muster up the courage and commit their time and money to the process, it can be a very demoralizing experience to find the therapist/ therapy was not very helpful. Couples rarely think “Oh, that wasn’t a very good therapist” instead they tend to think “our issues are too complicated- even a therapist couldn’t help! Our relationship is doomed”. A re-do of therapy becomes a hard pitch- especially if you had to beg your partner to try couples counselling in the first place! So I urge you to pick wisely the first time- don’t choose a therapist based on their location or other convenience factors.
It is hard to discern the skilled therapists from the not-so-skilled ones from the endless pages of a google or psychology today search. For this reason, I created this list: Questions to ask your couples therapist before you invest in the process.
1. How do you do therapy and is there evidence for this therapy?
Believe it or not, it is a great time to be in couples’ therapy! There has been so much research in the last 40 years and we now know what works, what doesn’t, what works temporarily and what works to give lasting long term effects. If you find a therapist trained in an evidence-based model, the chances that you and your partner’s relationship will improve are high! At CCC, we use Emotionally Focussed Couples therapy. We do not referee between you and your partner or give you worksheets or tips on how to improve your relationship- we know when things get escalated at home, your nervous system takes over and you both become reactive. You get stuck in the same way of arguing and fighting. We do not “teach”… we do something much more powerful: we give you a new way of experiencing your partner in the session! We cultivate “emotionally corrective experiences”- instead of always experiencing your partner as nagging, demanding, angry or withdrawn, cold and shut down- we use tactful techniques to help your partner show you their deeper emotions that fuel their reaction. This is deep work- people often say it is like “working from the inside out”.
2. How much of your practice is dedicated to couples counselling?
You want to aim to work with a therapist who works with couples day in and day out. I would say at least half their practice should be in working with couples. You want someone who does this a lot- who is skilled at navigating the issues that come alive in the session. Couples work is very different from individual mental health work! Don’t go with just any mental health practitioner just because they are located close to your home or see clients on evenings and weekends. It is more worthwhile to travel longer distances or do online therapy than to see someone who doesn’t have the skills you need. Your relationship is just too important!
3. Are you “Marriage Friendly”?
You want a therapist who has the right attitude to help your relationship. In a survey done by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, it was found that two-thirds of couple’s therapists had a neutral stance on whether a couple stays married or divorces. In the absence of abuse or other dangers, I will not be the therapist who recommends divorce or breaking up unless it is a decision that you have come to yourself. I do this for 2 main reasons:
a ) divorce hurts. It hurts you as individuals, your children and your finances. And in the absence of abuse or dangers, divorce doesn’t have to be an inevitable option.
b) Marriage satisfaction fluctuates. Gottman reports “Our study found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional or psychological improvement than those who stayed married. In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds. Among those who rated their marriages as “very unhappy” almost eight out of ten, who avoided divorce, were happily married five years later.”
The vast majority of marriage problems are solvable, don’t let a therapist tell you otherwise. Human beings have an amazing ability to do hard things especially for those closest to them.
Are you ready for good couples therapy?