Have you and your partner been struggling to see eye-to-eye? Whether everything is a confrontation or you’ve been avoiding one another, making decisions might feel a lot more challenging than it once was. Even if you’re both eager to work on your relationship, how can you be expected to decide on the right couples therapist when you’re experiencing a disconnect?
The truth is that choosing a counselor can be difficult for anyone, let alone a couple going through a challenging time. So how can you be sure that you have chosen a professional capable of meeting your specific needs? Where should you begin? We have compiled seven tips that can simplify choosing the right relationship therapist, in good times or bad. Keep reading to learn how to choose the right counselor for what you need.
1. Choose a Therapist Trained in Couples Therapy
If you and your partner are struggling, you’re probably feeling a lot of pain and anxiety as you search for solutions. Your first instinct might be to “fix the problem” as quickly and efficiently as possible. Rather than an appointment with the first counselor you see, we encourage you to search for a therapist with specialized training in relationship therapy.
Even therapists who claim experience in couples therapy may only have training in individual therapy. Ideally, your counselor will have received both training and supervision in approaches to couples therapy. This is the best way to ensure that you are working with a vetted, effective professional with the empathy and experience necessary to make a difference.
2. Interview Your Relationship Therapist First
Therapists and counselors are professionals, but even two people with the same training will approach a couple’s issues differently and respond differently at the moment to what’s being discussed. Not every professional will be the right fit for you and your partner, which is normal.
When choosing a therapist, it’s okay to “interview” them a bit before you commit to an ongoing therapeutic relationship. For example, you might start with a consultation or a trial session to assess whether you feel comfortable working with them. Often, one or both partners might prefer a female or male therapist. Still, you might find that your level of confidence in a therapist’s ability to help is ultimately more important than gender.
You might want to use this first session to explore your counselor’s views on what makes a relationship successful, or their views on what makes it difficult and how to work on it. It’s important that you feel that the explanations make sense and see how it connects to what brings you into therapy. You might also want to know if they have a particular model of couple’s therapy that they use. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask about how much of their work is with couples.
3. Choose an Inclusive Practitioner
Although there are common denominators for successful relationships, each one is different. You want to ensure that you work with someone who understands you, your background, and what’s important to you. Inclusive therapy means more than ‘including’ in the sense of letting someone in. It’s respecting people in different forms of relationships with different sexual identities and from various cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths.
Keep in mind that while cultural competence is a basic requirement for those in mental health professions, therapists will have differing levels of understanding and exposure. More than merely ‘accepting,’ look for someone you feel is affirming.
4. Ensure That You Can Afford It
The more expensive option is not always the best when paying for couples counseling. If you anticipate that paying for counseling might be a barrier for you, always ask about income-based sliding fees. In addition, your insurance plan or Employee Assistance Program may also offer you options that can help make regular counseling more affordable.
Quality counseling is unlikely to be free but is normally less expensive than separation or divorce. It’s wise to consider costs associated with counseling as an investment in your happiness and future. A good therapist will teach you ways to improve communication and keep the relationship growing for the long term.
5. Choose a Flexible Couples Therapist
Sometimes the biggest challenge you’ll face in therapy is finding a time when you and your partner are both available. This gets even more complicated when you are separated or co-parenting. Everything from work delays to childcare issues can throw a wrench into your day and affect your work in counseling.
To avoid such issues, you will want to ensure that you are working with a flexible therapist or counselor who has a generous cancelation policy. This might be something that you ask about during your trial session when you interview your new practitioner. Couples therapy only works if both partners can make it to the sessions, so this should be a priority.
6. Do Your Research
If you’ve never been to couples counseling before, it’s perfectly okay to ask friends, family, doctors, or clergy for recommendations. However, when talking with friends or family who have been in couples counseling, try to understand whether their reasons for going resonate with you and what you need.
Remember that asking for and publishing client testimonials is not considered ethical practice for most mental health disciplines. Client reviews may help you assess a potential therapist, but also pay attention to how you feel about the reviewer. The other way to select a therapist is to look at professional organizations. For example, you might look at the AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) website. If you are interested in a particular form of couples counseling, most will have a website where you can search for therapists qualified in that approach.
If you’re OK with (or prefer) online therapy, you’ll have more options. Normally, a therapist will have to be licensed in your state. However, you would still have a much larger selection than being limited to those who are physically close. Sometimes, one partner is in charge of picking the therapist, and at other times it’s a joint decision. In either case, don’t hesitate to call for a consultation. If choosing the therapist is a joint decision, you might get on the call together or have two separate calls.
If you are looking through a professional listing database such as Psychology Today or Therapy Den, the listing will allow you to filter your search by area of specialization. However, some therapists will list multiple specializations, diluting a prospective client’s confidence level. If you see a therapist listing that sounds promising, explore it further by looking at their website or training to see if couples or relationship therapy is a primary focus.
7. Trust Yourself
It can be hard to trust your gut when choosing a therapist. This can be a daunting process, especially if you’ve never been in therapy before. Remember to trust your instincts. Do a gut check if you’ve talked to someone for a consultation or initial session. If someone doesn’t feel like the right fit, trust yourself and try another therapist. Likewise, if you genuinely click with a professional, allow yourself to trust your gut and make a choice. It’s essential that you both feel in good hands with someone caring and competent. When you put your most precious relationship in another person’s hands, you deserve to work with a professional you truly trust.
At Evergreen Relationship Therapy, we offer in-person and online therapy for couples at all stages of their relationships. Book a free consultation if you’d like to find out more.