Your marriage is really, really important to you. And if it’s encountering some turbulence, you don’t want to put it in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to help you get back on track. But how do you find the right marriage counselor when there are so many of them out there?
There’s no guaranteed way to find the right counselor on the first try. (Fortunately, it’s perfectly okay to try more than one person before making a choice!)
Here are some approaches to making sure you find a marriage counselor who can help patch up your relationship:
- Get a recommendation from someone you trust.
- Make sure you’re getting a couples counselor.
- Read what they’ve written.
- Check out their reviews.
- Reach out to a few marriage counselors and see how you feel talking with them.
- Try a session.
1. Get a recommendation from someone you trust.
This is always a good place to start, isn’t it? Google will turn up plenty of options, but it’s hard to pick out one from the others in a sea of choices. If you have friends or family members who have had a good experience with a couples counselor, that’s good news. (This doesn’t mean that that counselor will necessarily be the right fit for you, but at least you can have some level of trust in them.)
Understandably, not everyone wants to publicize the fact that they are looking for marriage counseling. (This is a shame, because everyone would benefit from a view of help-seeking that considered it to be a sign of strength and resourcefulness rather than failure and incompetence. After all, does anyone really make it through life without any guidance at all from other people?)
But perhaps you have some people you can trust with this information – a close friend, a sibling, or maybe a teacher or clergyperson. You might be surprised to find out that any of these people have been to couples counseling themselves (even your friends down the block who have the “perfect” marriage). And if they haven’t, they may well know someone who has, or know someone who is a marriage counselor themselves.
Marriage counseling is probably more common than you think, so asking folks you know and trust may well turn up some good options.
2. Make sure you’re getting a couples counselor.
A good therapist is not the same thing as a good couples therapist. (You may have noticed I am using the word therapist and counselor interchangeably. For our purposes it’s the same thing. Also marriage counseling vs. couples counseling – same deal.)
Working with an individual to help them dig inside themselves is a different job than working with two people to help them resolve issues between them. You could be good at both, just like you can be good at playing both the piano and the guitar, but just because you’re good at one doesn’t mean you are for sure good at the other.
Look for someone who has training and/or experience in working with couples. This doesn’t mean they have to be a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (as opposed to a psychologist, professional counselor, or any of the other titles floating around out there). It just means they have to know what they’re doing as far as couples work. This can come from their schooling, or postgraduate trainings, or just years of experience.
Check them out online, or ask them directly. Do they work with couples? Is that their main focus, or just a side gig for them? It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who only sees couples, but having a clear level of confidence and experience in this kind of work is an important factor in finding the right counselor for you.
3. Read what they’ve written.
Many marriage counselors have their own websites where you can get a feel for where they’re coming from and what their attitude is. Check out their main page, their description of themselves, their blog if they have one. Are they speaking to your problem? Does their personality feel engaging to you? Obviously reading a blog is not the same as sitting down over coffee with someone, but often you can get a good idea of a person’s perspective by reading their writings.
You can also search for people on directories like PsychologyToday.com or GoodTherapy.com. Reading their profiles can give you a sense of who they are and what they’re about. You may also be able to see a short introductory video of them on sites like these or on their website.
There is no objective indicator you need to look for; just getting a feel for them and seeing who speaks to you and to the issues you’re facing is a helpful way to pick someone who could be a good fit.
4. Check out their reviews.
This is a tricky one, because there’s a whole issue around reviews and testimonials for mental health professionals. In short, we’re not allowed to ask clients for them; it is considered unethical. (How would you feel if the person you are depending on to save your marriage one day asked you to review them online? Would you feel comfortable? Do you think you might have a hard time speaking objectively about them?)
Some authorities even recommend therapists actively tell their clients not to leave reviews. That said, different people approach this in different ways. If you are able to find reviews on Google or other sites, that can be helpful in finding someone who has had success with other, or in avoiding someone who has a history of, say, falling asleep during sessions (not a made-up example).
Do keep in mind a few things, though: one or two bad reviews is not necessarily indicative of much. The folks who are most likely to post reviews are usually the disgruntled ones, and those may well be clients who didn’t follow the therapist’s suggestions and then are complaining about the outcome, or who didn’t like to hear it when the therapist pointed out uncomfortable truths (such as, “well, yes, if you cheat on your spouse, they probably aren’t going to trust you for a while”).
Nor does having no reviews mean that nobody likes them – recall that therapists generally don’t ask for reviews, so there are many very competent therapists who don’t have any to show.
Still, if you do see positive reviews, that’s usually a good sign.
5. Reach out to a few marriage counselors and see how you feel talking with them.
No matter how someone looks on paper, you just never really know what it’s like talking to them until you… talk to them. Many therapists will offer a short free consultation for exactly this purpose (and if they don’t formally offer one, they will likely be happy to chat on the phone and answer some of your questions, which is effectively the same thing).
This gives you a chance to interact with them a bit and just see how you jibe. Do they seem warm and friendly? Do they sound confident? Do you feel comfortable talking to them? (If a counselor refuses to speak to you at all until you book a paid session, that’s a reasonably good indicator that you should look elsewhere.)
This of course is far from a science. It’s just about a gut feeling. But you can certainly pick up some red flags here that might spare you some trouble. If they seem more interested in booking you in than in helping you out, that’s not good. If they are distracted while talking to you, or they brag about their accomplishments, or are cold and judgmental – obviously these are all bad signs.
You also may want to take this opportunity to hear a bit more about how they operate. There are many validated approaches to marriage counseling out there, and different people resonate with different styles. If you’re looking to do a deep dive into your personal histories, a behavioral approach might not be the best for you. If you’re hoping to build better communication skills, check if they can help with that, or if they prefer to let the clients do most of the talking while they listen and nod.
Don’t feel you need to like someone just because you got a recommendation for them, or because they have the best reputation, or really for any reason. This is a personal decision and you have to feel good about the person you are entrusting your marriage to. A brief chat before signing up can be a helpful way to weed people out (or in).
6. Try a session.
Ultimately, there’s really only one way to ensure that you get the marriage counselor you need, and that’s to try a session or two. See how it goes. See how you feel. Find out what their take on your problems is and what the roadmap is to address them. You almost certainly won’t walk out of the first session with a solution in hand; but you should walk out of there feeling reasonably hopeful that this person is someone who can help you.
Similar considerations apply here as to the initial phone call. It’s largely about your gut and your intuition. And there are also red flags that you can pick up. Again, falling asleep in session is a probably an important one! Note also whether you feel the counselor take a balanced attitude towards you and your partner and doesn’t side with one of you over the other. (Even if you’re the one they’re siding with and you feel vindicated, you may want to question whether this person is the one to help you – because your partner likely won’t be feeling as positive!)
Does this therapist go where you want to go, or do you get the feeling they’re not really listening? Are they taking in your experience, or giving you a top-down explanation of how you should be feeling and looking at things? Do they have an open mind, or do they talk like they have all the answers figured out already? Also listen to your gut if there’s any ickiness there – if they’re being flirty with one of you, or if they seem overly focused on sexual issues (if that’s not something you brought up yourself).
In short, you give it your best shot to find the right person on paper, then you give it a try. There’s nothing wrong at all with trying a few marriage counselors before settling on one you feel good about. (The problem with “shopping around” is only if you keep doing it endlessly, or if you bolt every time a therapist tells you something you don’t want to hear.) And a good therapist won’t take it personally if you decide not to proceed with them. They should understand that it’s a personal decision that requires a good fit; not every therapist is a good fit for every client.
If you’re looking to get some help improving, repairing, or saving your marriage, don’t be discouraged by the search for the right marriage counselor. Follow the suggestions outlined above, be prepared for the possibility that it doesn’t work out with the first one you meet, and go for it. It will be worth the effort.
To speak to one of our counselors, reach out to us today!