How do you find the right couples counselor for your marriage or relationship? How do you know if your therapist is a good fit? These are incredibly important questions, and after summoning up the courage to talk to your partner about going to couples therapy, it’s vital to find a counselor that can help you work through challenges that you are facing!
So, where do you begin?
Find Someone Who Specializes in Couples Therapy
It’s important to find a couples therapy specialist! Lots of therapists advertise that they do couples therapy, but usually what this means is that they are generalists who mainly help individuals through a wide variety of concerns. They likely excel at what they do, but probably only see a few couples a week as part of their practice. Most therapists find doing couples therapy to be challenging and many struggle to be good at it1. Finding a therapist who specializes in couples therapy and marriage counseling means that you are finding someone who has passion for the work, who has sought out extensive and specialized ongoing training, and who works to help couples reach their individual and relationship goals every day of the week!
How Do You Find a Couples Therapy Specialist?
Search terms including “couples counseling” or “couples therapy”, “marriage counseling” or “marriage therapy near me” will help narrow your search. However, since lots of therapists advertise these services as part of their overall practice, you’ll want to dig deeper. A specialist will make it clear that couples therapy is the central focus of their work! They will explain their passion and rationale for the work.
Finding a therapy practice that specializes in couples therapy and marriage counseling is even better, because then you know that your couples therapist is surrounded by other experts who they can talk to and consult with. They also have the opportunity to continue developing and honing their skills in an environment focused on doing the best couples therapy possible!
Other great ways to find a competent couples therapy specialist is to talk to friends who have been in couples therapy, an individual counselor who knows of a good therapist or practice, or from another health care provider who can give you an informed referral. In addition to a Google search, there are specific websites that can help you locate a therapist in your area by inputting your zip code and the search terms listed above like the American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy.
Another great resource is Psychology Today’s therapist finder. Once you enter your zip code, you can refine your search further by selecting “relationship issues” in the “issues” category. This will pull up a list of providers who have identified relationship issues as a presenting concern they work with. To really fine-tune this search, look in the right-hand column under “specialities”, and look for a therapist who identifies any of the following as their primary specialties:
- Relationship Issues
- Sex Therapy
- Marital and Premarital
5 Signs that Your Couples Counselor is Right for You
Now that you’ve found a couples counselor it can be helpful to know what to expect for your first session. Then, once you get started, how do you know if the counselor is right for you? Here are five signs that your couples counselor will be able to competently help you reach your goals.
1. Your Couples Counselor Cares About You and Your Relationship.
We call this unconditional positive regard! This means that everyone is valued and worthy of respect. These values will show up as warmth, care, and concern for you and your relationship. They have a desire and passion to join you on your journey towards reaching your individual and relationship goals.
2. Your Couples Counselor is a Good Listener.
They listen intently and carefully. They check-in to make sure they are understanding you correctly. They want to make sure they understand your perspective and your partner’s perspective. As a result, you and your partner will feel seen and understood.
Now this can be tricky at times, because we humans often confuse understanding with agreement. Your couples counselor will work to deeply understand each of your perspectives as an important starting point in therapy. To effectively do this, they’ll ask questions and listen intently.
3. Your Couples Counselor will Provide a New Perspective.
Each of you will come with ideas about what the problems are and what, or who (i.e.,my partner!) is causing the problems! Part of the reason you might be stuck is because you can’t agree on what the problems are or how to move forward.
A savvy and competent couples therapist will help you clarify and deepen your understanding of the problems you are facing, help you to see why these issues keep popping up or struggle to be resolved, and help you to understand and more clearly see how each of you contribute to the gridlock and stuckness that you currently experience. In other words, they provide a new and deeper perspective that helps you better understand yourself and your partner. Then, this points to a way forward!
4. Your Couples Counselor will Challenge You…..Both.
Ok, hold on! It’s not me, but it’s my partner who needs to change!
We each contribute to the goodness in our relationships and, if we’re honest with ourselves, each of us have areas where we can grow! That doesn’t mean it’s always 50/50, but neither does it mean that only one of us solely contributes to all of the challenges in our relationship! We all have blind spots and areas of sensitivity that we guard defensively. We all have parts of ourselves that we haven’t adequately investigated. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, this is just part of being human! As a result, a good counselor will supportively nudge you towards looking at your role in a way that inspires helpful change. At times, this can be uncomfortable because often we are locked in a battle of blame, and if we risk peering into our own limitations, we sometimes fear we’re handing ammunition over to our partner. However, don’t be afraid. A good couples therapist will be clear about honoring each person’s self-work, and will set boundaries around how you use the vulnerable things each of you share during the session.
A good couples therapist will also engage each partner in the process of deepening an understanding of their strengths and limitations, pointing out ways each person guards against seeing the larger picture, and identify ways they each contribute to the relationship challenges in different ways. This process will come from a place of seeing the best in each of you and helping you engage each other in ways that are more congruent with the person and partner you want to become.
5. Your Couples Counselor Will Be an Active Participant.
Your couples counselor will be active in each session. Think of them as a director or coach. They won’t be sitting back passively just asking “How did that make you feel?” or let you all bicker and fight in front of them. They will do the following:
- Ask questions.
- Stop you at times to help you notice something that just happened (either internally or between you and your partner).
- Challenge your thinking.
- Help you see the incongruence between what you say you want to do and what you are actually doing.
- Clarify your goals.
- Help you find ways to better self-regulate (in session and outside of session).
- Set up conversations with you and your partner.
- Intervene to help those conversations go deeper and be more productive.
- Give you an alternative perspective.
- Provide new research based information
- Ask you to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Ask you to read something or do some homework between sessions.
In short, your couples therapist will take an active role that will help you clarify and reach your goals.
Marriage & Couples Counseling That is Right for You
Couples therapy is frequently an important step couples take to get their relationship back on track and help them more fully develop the connection and quality of their relationship. Finding a therapist who –
- Specializes in couples therapy.
- Is kind, caring and compassionate.
- Who listens deeply.
- Provides a third view.
- Who supportively challenges you both to be the best version of yourselves.
- Who is an active participant in the process
is key to helping you achieve your goals!
1Doherty, W. J. (2002, November/December). Bad couples therapy: How to avoid doing it. Psychotherapy Networker, pg. 26-33.