How to choose the right marriage counselor for you: 3 things to consider
In this article we'll talk about how to choose the right marriage counselor for you. You’ve decided you want marriage counseling. That’s a big decision! (Check out this post about when to seek marriage counseling if you're still deciding.) Now that you know you want to go, which therapist do you go to? Aren’t they all kind of the same? Does it really matter who you go to? Yes! Yes, it matters. And no, not all therapists or even all marriage therapists are the same. Here are 3 things to consider when choosing the right therapist for you.
1 - Do you like the therapist and believe she can help you?
This is the most important consideration; I put it as number one on purpose. Research shows that as much as 30% of the difference in therapy outcomes can be attributed to the relationship between the client (you) and the therapist.¹ What that means is, if you and your friends went to different marriage counselors and one of you had way better results than the other, 30% of that difference could be explained by how much each of you liked your therapist. If you don’t like the therapist, you’re going to have a harder time opening up. And when you’re not open, your therapist will have a harder time helping you.
This consideration is especially important in marriage counseling. Both you and your spouse need to like the person you choose. The whole experience will be more difficult if one of you doesn’t like or doesn’t trust the therapist. You might prefer to seek counseling from your pastor, bishop, or other church leader for example, but your spouse might not feel comfortable going to that person for help if she/he doesn’t share the same religious beliefs you do. Even if you like and trust the church leader or faith-based counselor, this person might not be the best choice for your marriage.
Well, that sounds nice, but if you don’t actually know any therapists (and a therapist who is your friend or family can’t be your therapist anyway), how do you know if you will like them? Look at the therapist’s website, facebook page, twitter feed, or online listing. Do you like what you see? Are you feeling a connection to that person? Do you get a sense that she/he understands the type of problems you are facing? Do you feel hope? If not, keep looking.
How to check out a therapist
Choose 2 or 3 you like and call or email them. (Warning: Therapists are notorious for not answering our phones. It’s the nature of the job. If we’re at work and working, we can’t answer because we’re with someone. So, don’t be surprised if you have to leave a message. If they don’t call you back, they weren’t the right fit for you anyway.) When you talk to the therapists, pay attention to how you feel. Finding a therapist or counselor who is easy for you to talk to and makes you feel comfortable is a good sign you’d work well with him/her. As a therapist, I like to talk to both spouses before scheduling a first appointment. I want you both to be on board and comfortable with me.
This sounds like a lot of work, even to me! But it’s worth the effort. Investing the time and energy to make sure the marriage counselor you choose is a good fit for you will save you time and money in the long run.
2 - Is the therapist experienced in helping people with the type of problem you are facing?
The counselor who helped your friend recover from PTSD might be really good at helping individuals through traumatic events and completely inexperienced working with couples. There are some therapists who are willing to see couples and then there are some who love working with couples. The therapist who loves working with your type of problem is more likely to be passionate, committed, and highly skilled in that area than the one who is merely willing.
Even among marriage counselors or therapists some are more experienced dealing with sexual concerns, infidelity, severe mental illness, physical disability, religious differences, or addiction. If you know you and your partner are facing something specific, start your search by seeing if there is anyone in your area who specializes in that particular issue.
If you or your spouse is recovering from addiction, please choose a therapist who understands addiction and addiction recovery. You will be best served by a therapist who knows how to help you heal from the damage addiction caused to your relationship, which requires meeting the need of the non-addicted partner to address serious problems while not pushing the recovering partner to relapse.
3 - What is your budget and how will you pay?
As much as we might wish it weren’t so, money is a factor in deciding on the right therapist for you. Everything may work out perfectly, and the therapist you most want to work with will be approved by your no-deductible, low copay insurance plan that is always easy to understand and work with. Or you may have unlimited funds for counseling. If neither of those is the case, you may find yourself considering cost.
Some people prefer to pay out of pocket and avoid evidence of counseling or a mental health diagnosis on their medical record. Some insurance plans have large provider networks and offer out-of-network benefits and others have few choices, long waits, and/or no option of working with someone outside their preferred provider lists. If you are considering using insurance, talk to your insurance company about the specifics of your plan. (For more about insurance, see my FAQs page.)
Some non-profit agencies, community clinics, and universities have services available based on your income. Often the therapists who work in these clinics are students or working toward their license under the supervision of a more experienced licensed therapist. It is possible to find really fantastic therapists in these clinics. The downside though, is that you probably won’t be able to hand-pick your counselor like I described above. And you may not be able to find someone who has the particular specialty you are looking for.
Regardless of the exact dollar amount in your budget for counseling, I encourage you to stretch yourself to find the best fit for you. Not all marriage counselors are the same and even ones that are highly recommended by others might not be the best fit for you. A large part of what makes the perfect marriage counselor for you is you. Marriage counseling is an investment in you, your future, your family, and your happiness. It may be the most rewarding investment you ever make!
Read more about what sessions with me are like here.¹ Miller, S.D., Duncan, B.L., and Hubble, M. A. Escape from Babel: Toward a Unifying Language for Psychotherapy Practice. Norton, New York. 1997