Derek and Missy Irvin discuss the process, expectations, and outcomes of choosing the right marriage counselor for you as a couple.
Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, found that unhappy couples wait an average of six years before seeking couples counseling. Therefore, by the time both parties are finally willing to seek help, there is a sense of urgency to find the right therapist who is trained, competent, and skilled to provide help and relief.
You may have never considered this, but not all therapists are good at working with couples. In fact, not all therapists even like to work with couples. But here is the thing …. when most therapists start out, they tend to see a wide range of people and conditions. In other words, most therapists start out as a generalist and learn the types of people or conditions they prefer to work with over time.
The reality is that marriage counseling is more difficult than individual counseling because the therapist is managing three different relationships or interactions. They are managing their alliance with each individual as well as the interactions between the couple. Therefore, when it comes to choosing a marriage counselor, you want someone who has already figured out that working with marriages is an area of focus for them.
Find a therapist who has additional training in marriage and specializes in working with couples. The importance of additional training when choosing a therapist is true for addictions, for trauma work, for working with kids … and it is true for marriage therapy. Some methods of marriage training that you might ask about are Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Gottman Method, and Imago Therapy.
It is also a good idea to get a referral from a trusted source. You can check with your church, your healthcare provider, or your friend group. Keep in mind that even with additional training, not all therapists are created equal. As is the case with any profession, there will be professionals who are effective at what they do and others who are not. By starting with someone who comes referred, you improve the likelihood that you will get someone who will be effective.
Think of it as maintenance for your marriage. It's never too late to start!
The fit also matters. You want to “click” with your therapist. You want them to maintain an equitable balance between you and your spouse, to connect with your perspectives, and at the same time to challenge it. What you don’t want is someone who just listens to you fight. You don’t need to pay someone to listen to you fight. You can do that at home.
Keep in mind that it is possible that you may both may need an individual therapist in addition to your marriage counseling. Your couple’s therapist can help you determine if this is needed. If it is, ask your therapist if you can sign a release so they can communicate with the other therapists. Having all the therapists communicating and working together will help you to get to a good place as soon as possible. It takes time to make progress, so don’t quit before you have given it the time it needs.
As you seek a counselor, choose a Christian therapist who embraces a Christian worldview. There are many secular therapists who will give counsel that is directly opposed to God’s word. For example, they might tell a person that they “deserve to be happy and should just divorce” or they may normalize pornography as an acceptable outlet. Such counsel is directly opposed to God’s word and will lead you down the wrong path.
Also, choose a Christian therapist who embraces research and psychology as a tool. There are some Biblical Counselors who dismiss psychology all together. These counselors will categorize any type of psychology or basic mental health concerns as “psychobabble” which sometimes leads to dangerous outcomes. A well-trained Christian therapist can integrate their faith with their education. They can remain faithful to biblical standards but also avail themselves of the science of psychology.