Keys to Choosing a Good Marriage Counselor

Older couple refusing to talk in therapyMarriage counseling can save your marriage, prepare you for the stress of a baby, help you communicate more effectively, and get you on track for a lifetime of love. But when marriage counseling doesn’t work, it’s like throwing away money. This can make marriage problems even worse; studies show that many couples tend to fight often about money, and the false hope given by bad marital therapy can lead to despair and increased conflict.

If you need help in your relationship, it’s usually not enough to pick the first therapist you find online or on your insurance plan. Not every marriage counselor works well for every couple, and couples seeking help need to find someone who works for their specific situation.

Reputation and Recommendations
Recommendations from friends and other people you trust can be a great starting point for finding a therapist. If you’ve noticed meaningful change in someone else’s relationship, the odds are good that his or her therapist is doing something right.

If you can’t rely on recommendations from friends, read online reviews and check out discipline records with licensing boards. A therapist with a stellar reputation—particularly one who has been in practice for several years—is likely one who has a long history of helping couples wade through difficulties.

Shared Values
Marriage counselors each have their own approach to marriage. Some draw on biblical principles, while others are influenced by feminism and humanism. You don’t need to agree with your therapist about everything, but you do need a therapist who shares your core values.

If you and your spouse are struggling to build an egalitarian relationship in which you share chores, you need a therapist who recognizes this goal as important and who has helped similar couples. If you’re deeply religious, you need someone who understands the important role faith plays in your marriage. If you start therapy and your counselor makes a recommendation that runs counter to your core values, find someone else.

Strategy
A therapist isn’t a paid friend. And while marriage counselors can serve as referees and mediators, this should not be their only role. Your therapist should have a specific strategy for helping you move past marital issues.

Ask your therapist how he or she wants to proceed with treatment, and if there’s a specific therapeutic modality he or she uses. After you’re in therapy, if you don’t feel like the therapist takes control and directs the session, it may not be a good fit.

In therapy, many people want results without having to make lifestyle changes. If your therapist doesn’t call you on problematic behaviors or make suggestions about what you can do at home in between therapy sessions, he or she might not be proactive enough to help you navigate the storms of marriage.

Results
After you’re in counseling, the key measure of success is results. Your marriage won’t be changed after one session or even five, but if you’re slogging out your differences in therapy week after week with no change, it’s time to move on.

Some people get stuck with an ineffective therapist because they like the therapist or because they’re not carefully monitoring results. But good counseling works, and if you don’t notice changes within a few months, find someone else.

Questions to Ask
A good therapist will happily answer your questions, so if you struggle to get information, this is a glaring red flag. Some questions to consider asking in your first few sessions include:

  • How long have you been in practice?
  • How do you define success? How will we know we’re making progress?
  • How long can we expect to be in therapy?
  • How much of your practice is devoted to marriage counseling?
  • What is your background and training?
  • Do you think divorce is ever an option? Would you ever recommend divorce?

References:

  1. Harley, W. F., Jr. (n.d.). How to find a good marriage counselor. Marriage Builders. Retrieved from http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi7100_counselor.html
  2. Meineke, S. A. (n.d.). How to choose a marriage counselor. Center for Marriage. Retrieved from http://www.centerformarriage.com/how_to_choose_marriage_counselor.html
  3. Questions to ask a marriage therapist. (n.d.). The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. Retrieved from http://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com/questionstoaskatherapist.php

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 30 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Ahab

    Ahab

    February 21st, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Are there marriage counselors who recommend divorce? It seems like they’d drive themselves right out of business if they did!

  • Mary H

    Mary H

    February 21st, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Ahab, I can certainly see where you would get that idea! But, believe it or not, a good marriage therapist is trained to see signs of a marriage that should be dissolved. For instance, if one spouse is being emotionally or physically abused, the marriage should be ended. However, if there are problems that can be fixed, a good therapist will discover them and point the couple in the right direction for working on and then resolving them. Maybe another good question to ask might be what the divorce rate is among a therapist’s clients.

  • Bert

    Bert

    February 21st, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Great suggestion to find out if your therapist’s values are the same as yours. I never even thought about that. But, when my wife and I went to meet with our counselor for the first time, we were shocked when she told us about a Bible verse. I guess we just assumed that religion and therapy aren’t really related, but you know what assuming does! We ended up parting ways in the end b/c it seemed she wasn’t going to be able to help us very much. I’m sure she would have been great for another couple, but she just wasn’t the right fit for us.

  • Dana

    Dana

    February 21st, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    About how often should you meet with your marriage counselor in the beginning? Ours wanted to meet with us three times a week which I thought was a bit overkill. How are we supposed to practice what we learn if we only have a day or two between sessions?

  • Frank J

    Frank J

    February 21st, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    Length of practice is key in my mind for a marriage therapist. The more experience, the better.

  • Cyndi

    Cyndi

    February 21st, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    This information is very helpful and blew sunshine my way!

    This week I bumped into another therapist who shared her insight that my therapy is really working, and that insight elated me with joy! And I’m very happy my counselor shares my core values!

    Thank you so very much! Keep up the great work!

  • Risa

    Risa

    February 21st, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    In always tell my clients that one of my goals is for them to put me out of business. I want them to obtain the skills, insights and lasting change that makes it so they no longer need me. That said, I respectfully disagree with the comment that “a good therapist is trained to see the signs that a marriage should be dissolved”. It is not the therapists role to define what should or should not happen to a marriage. Therapists need to respect the choices and self determination of our clients. If a relationship is abusive and someone is in imminent danger, we are mandated to intervene by State laws. However, our role is not to determine who should stay married and who should divorce, despite some of the very distressed relationships presented to us.

  • bailey

    bailey

    February 21st, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    its always the connection that counts isn’t it? I can vouch for this point endlessly. Because beyond all the qualifications and certifications, beyond all the other cases is the simple attribute of how well you connect with your counselor. that is a deal breaker if you ask me.

  • Ira Bindman

    Ira Bindman

    February 22nd, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Bailey, I certainly agree with you about the connection being the most important factor.

  • luke

    luke

    February 22nd, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    many times you just have to go with a gut feeling.
    You walk into this office and talk for five minutes and you either know this is the fit for you or you know that you need to move on and find someone that you feel more comfortable with.
    and just because you feel one way at the start doesn’t mean that feelings can’t change so sometimes you have to give it a little time too

  • raymona

    raymona

    February 22nd, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    I am looking for someone who will understand me and the frustrations that I have been going through with my husband,.
    He doesn’t think that there is anything wrong, so I want a counselor who will back me up, who can see that there are issues we need to work through and who can help us do that.
    Should I look for someone on my own first or is this something that we should do together from the very beginning?

  • Cyndi

    Cyndi

    February 23rd, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    If you’re hoping for a counselor to open the avenue of understanding your self, why not try individual counseling? It can’t hurt to try.

    In professional individualized counseling, I received new insight. Besides, no marriage books can replace counseling.

    In the meantime, if for example, you decide to seek individual counseling, perhaps you and your husband can try “Retrouvaille” together. Retrouvaille offers peaceful communication, similar to highly skilled communication between two countries whose aim is to keep mutual peace. Depending on what both you and your husband value, the both of you may learn mutual intimate communication and mutual respect. Best wishes!

  • Ira Bindman

    Ira Bindman

    February 22nd, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    I counsel couples about the relationship. Sometimes it’s not appropriate for them to continue to stay together. In that case, I seek to help them separate amicably. If there are enough shared values and a strong willingness to do the hard work I order to stay together, I’m on board with that. I think the mistake many counselors make is trying to “save the relationship”. What if it’s not worth saving? Lastly, I believe the counselor should be neutral and not favor one party over the other.

  • Eric

    Eric

    February 22nd, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    I do not know how widespread this is or if it is even something many people feel.My friend went to a counselor when he had troubles with his wife.But a few sessions into the counseling he had strong feelings that the counselor was more inclined towards his wife and even held a bias against my friend.

    he refused to continue with that counselor and their marital problems continue.What can a person do in such a situation?

  • Ira Bindman

    Ira Bindman

    February 24th, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    Eric, I had a similar situation with my wife, many years ago, when we went to a marriage counselor. I liked her but my wife thought she would favor me and break up our relationship. So we chose someone else, on the recommendation of a friend. Now, I’m married 46 years and credit that second counselor with helping to keep us together. BOTH parties should agree on the counselor, otherwise I don’t see how it can work. Tell your friend to stick to his guns about that counselor but to find someone else both can agree is neutral and will help explore the relationship dispassionately.

  • judy teale

    judy teale

    February 23rd, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    Why not get a trecommendation from a minister that you trust? That could be a good place to start

  • SARAH

    SARAH

    February 23rd, 2013 at 9:11 PM

    Its so important to find someone who shares your point of view and proceeds with a course you are comfortable with.I have had a bad experience with a counselor who kept pushing me and my husband with religion and religious teachings when we didn’t want to hear any of it.We switched the counselor but it was a forgettable experience.

    Talking about these points before hand can save time effort and money.Not to speak of the bad experience and bitter feeling you get when youre already looking to solve an important issue at hand!

  • bonnie s

    bonnie s

    February 24th, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Reputation is key! If you have friends who have done this, then get their opinions to help you seek out someone who is going to best fit what you and your spouse are searchning for together I would never go to someone who had a bad reputation or did not have someone just raving over what they had been able to do for them

  • Rochelle

    Rochelle

    February 24th, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    Not only is choosing the right marriage counselor important but it is also important that you realize it is not a push-button task. you cannot pay the counselor and expect the problems to solve over time. you need to work to fix the problems too! there is just no getting away from that investment of effort from your side!

  • cathy

    cathy

    February 25th, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I don’t think that I could sit and listen to other couples’ problems all day long and then go home and be a good partner. Then again, that could make me even more thankful for what I have at home, so it might be a bonus!

  • arthur

    arthur

    February 25th, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    these questions listed here should be asked of any counselor if you ask me. had an experience with one counselor in the past who was surprised I was the one asking questions and I promptly walked out of his door. not worth the time if they are not willing to answer your queries.

  • matt

    matt

    February 26th, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    we had to go to not one, not two, but three different marriage counselors to find our fit. but the search and hassle was well worth it. the major problems in our marriage were ironed out over months of counseling and we will never hopefully require the services of another marriage counselor.

    if the first or even the second counselor you find is not the right fit then don’t be afraid to look further. just because you didn’t click with two or three counselors doesn’t mean you’ll never find the right one.

  • Cara Rogers

    Cara Rogers

    April 2nd, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    What can I say this is a great article! I have been looking for a “where to start” and constantly being disappointed with the articles I read but here it is great information. I finally feel like I have a starting place and can get on the road to recovering my marriage.

  • June R

    June R

    September 2nd, 2015 at 1:56 PM

    My husband and I recently have been considering going to counseling, but we haven’t been sure where to start. I really like these points, and I think they can help us find someone who really has our best interest in mind. I especially like the idea of asking specific questions and making sure they are willing to answer them, thus showing they know what they are talking about. I think this will help my husband and I greatly. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Judy W

    Judy W

    May 27th, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    My husband and I have been discussing going to a marriage counselor to help us know how we can improve our relationship. I liked your comment about how a counselor should have a specific strategy for helping us move past the issues we have with our marriage. Asking them about their strategy for proceeding with the therapy that would be right for us seems like a great way to help us know if a therapist is the right one for us to go to. Thanks for the tips!

  • James E.

    James E.

    November 25th, 2016 at 3:05 PM

    Mary H, your comment re: where Ahab gets that idea. The success rate of marriage counsellors is paltry because they are not trained in marriage counselling and to many counsel to divorce. This is similar to a person attending drug addiction counselling and the therapist can’t see how to get the addict ending his/her addiction so recommends just continue to take drugs as therapy will not work for him/her. Do you see the counsellor is in position of conflict of purpose for which the addict attended counselling?

    Marriage counsellors that counsel on divorce should be honest and advertise: Marriage and Divorce Counsellor.

    If there is harmful abuse then the Counsellor should advise the abuser that a repeat of such action would result in termination both the Counsellor’s services and likely the abused spouse will end the marriage.

    if the law requires the counsellor to report abuse then at their first meeting the counsellor must tell each in the couple this… Then the couple can decided to go another therapist including an online therapist.

    Otherwise, the therapist is either being a police officer or an extension of the police.

  • Olivia N.

    Olivia N.

    December 28th, 2016 at 3:25 PM

    I agree that you need a marriage counselor that shares your same marriage values. I would imagine that finding someone who thinks the same way as you do would be helpful to having a successful counseling session. My sister and her husband are going through a rough patch so if they find a counselor they’ll have to find someone with similar values.

  • Harper

    Harper

    July 5th, 2017 at 10:00 AM

    My husband and I are having some hard times lately, and we would like to go to marriage counseling to help us get through them. We have never been in this situation before, and we need help in knowing how to choose the right one. I like how you pointed out that something we should look for is someone that shares our same values. This one thing that is very important to me, especially since it might help us get through this situation together.

  • Gloria D.

    Gloria D.

    July 21st, 2017 at 1:12 PM

    I like how you say that you need to evaluate a therapist’s strategy before you choose them. It would make sense to find someone who is going to help mediate and work through your problems. My sister needs a marriage therapist, so she’ll have to find someone who has a good strategy to work with

  • Annika

    Annika

    July 31st, 2017 at 5:34 PM

    Unfortunately, my husband and I have been struggling with our relationship recently. We have both decided that marriage counseling could be very beneficial for us, our marriage, and ultimately our family. As we look for a therapy, like you said, we will want to ask how he or she wants to proceed with treatment and if they have a specific modality they use.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

 

 

* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author