Finding a good marriage counselor that's affordable and nearby is hard enough. But discovering one that you both actually feel comfortable talking with can be even tougher. Asking your physician, spiritual advisor, or married friends for a referral is really the ideal choice, but many couples find it difficult to disclose their private marital issues. Conducting an online search, too, can feel like you're looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack among the variety of people hanging out a shingle.
If you're serious about marriage counseling, solving recurring arguments, and busting open those clogged lines of communication, these four tips will help you vet a counselor's credentials, conduct your search, and ask all the right questions so you can confidently choose a marriage counselor you both like and trust.
All therapists are required to be licensed (or license-eligible) to practice therapy—but deciphering mental health credentials can prove confusing. Since license requirements vary by state, double-check your state's specifications. A practitioner who offers marriage therapy can be a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), or psychologist (Ph.D. or PsyD).
Specializing in the treatment of a particular issue or population—like marriage and/or couples therapy—usually requires advanced education. Furthermore, they may be trained in additional techniques, like emotionally-focused therapy (EFT), for example, and you should check their credentials for that approach or modality.
Search Reputable Directories
Each of these three online directories includes a handy counselor-search feature along with the specialties and qualifications of the therapists therein.
- The National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists
- Gottman Referral Directory
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT)
Ask direct questions to better understand a marriage counselor's techniques and credentials, gauge competency, and learn what to expect. This is particularly important if the therapist wasn't a direct referral or found via an online search.
It's also important to understand that no therapist can predict how long you will be in therapy until they're able to make a thorough assessment—and even then it can be difficult. Expect to be in counseling for a minimum of four to six months, and possibly up to one year, depending on your issues' seriousness and how long you've been suffering.
Any therapist worth their salt should be willing to spend at least several minutes answering basic questions via telephone, such as possible fees, no-show penalties, and treatment and scheduling options. If they aren't willing to do so, then move on.
Consider asking these questions before hiring someone:
- How long have you been practicing couples therapy?
- Do you have advanced training? Can you elaborate on that?
- How long is one session?
- What should we expect?
- What would rule us out as good candidates for marriage therapy? (A history of domestic violence and/or substance abuse, for example.)
- Are you single, married, or divorced? (If this is important to you, then ask it.)
You might feel more comfortable speaking to a counselor who's married with children than one who has never been married or has divorced—just be sure to limit personal questions to only those that deal with the therapist's marital status.
Trust Your Gut
It what the counselor saying making sense? Does it sound like they have a good understanding of your problems and what can be done to improve things? Do you both like the counselor and feel comfortable around them? If you're still answering "no" to any of these questions after the first couple of sessions, it's probably not the best match and it's okay to seek help from someone else.
Bottom line: A marriage counselor will assist and guide you both to finding your own ways to reconcile your union but is not there to solve problems for you; you'll always need to put in the work. Finding help to reconcile your marriage is a loving, noble, and brave endeavor—and hopefully, it's a positive one, too. Kudos for taking the first step.