HOW TO FIND A HELPFUL COUPLE'S COUNSELOR
When you need a couple's counselor, you need "help." That means you need to find someone skilled enough in this area that you can put your trust in them.
Many people find counselors through the phone book, internet, bulletin boards or ads, without any specific knowledge about that counselor.
To increase the chances of receiving the help you need, interview the counselor you are considering.
Critical questions to ask:
1. How old are you? (You might want someone with some life experience.)
2. Are you married? How long? First marriage? Happy?
3. How do you feel about divorce? Neutral? Many couple's counselors are neutral about whether you divorce or not. Find a counselor who thinks that divorce is not as good an option as working things out (exceptions to this might be abuse, addictions, adultery, compulsive lying or partner's unhealthy emotional closeness to a parent.)
4. What percent of the counselor's practice is just working with couples? To earn enough money, many counselors accept clients with various issues--sometimes widely varying issues. Couple's counseling is very different from other types of counseling and you need an expert in couple's counseling. Make sure whoever you hire does only or primarily couple's counseling. Ask the question in terms of "What percentage of your practice is couple's counseling?" Also ask: "How many couples have you worked with? And did you work with all of those couples by meeting with both partners simultaneously?"
5. Unless serious abuse exists in your relationship, if the counselor suggests working separately with each of you--or working alone with one of you and having another counselor work alone with the other partner--leave and find another counselor. This way of working, more likely than not, will contribute to the further demise of your relationship--not the healing and building of it. There are various reasons why counselors suggest separate meetings for partners. Do not do it. A relationship consists of three (3) entities: each partner (2) plus the relationship between the partners (1). All three (3) entities are simultaneously necessary for a counselor to get an accurate assessment of an issue and to guide the couple on that issue.
6. As per #5 above, do everything possible to work on couple issues together, rather than in individual counseling. Don't let a counselor talk you out of it. Don't try individual counseling first because it is less threatening, you believe it is only your issue, or it is less expensive. Start with couple's counseling and then see if individual counseling is necessary. Usually it is not. The good thing about this is that couple's counseling, at least the way I do it, is short-term counseling. Individual counseling tends to be long-term. By using this approach, you save time and money while still getting all of your issues resolved. If one of you has an issue, then, by the mere fact that you are in a relationship together, the other person has an issue too. Your partner's issue is that you are not happy.
7. Find a couple's counselor who schedules appointments for 1.5 hours rather than 50 or 60 minutes. Couple's counseling requires fitting appointment times into two people's busy schedules rather than one individual's schedule. Therefore, meeting times should be maximized. Time "flies by" when the counseling is for both partners, rather than an individual, and shorter appointments are discouraging. In addition, progress is made more quickly with lengthier appointments as fewer appointments are necessary to cover the same number of issues.
8. If you have insurance for counseling, be sure it covers couple's counseling. Sad but true that many insurances cover individual counseling but not couple's counseling. There are counselors using the unethical practice of deceiving insurance companies by naming one partner as the "identified patient" and saying it is necessary for the other partner to attend meetings to help the patient. At your time of need, work only with someone who has uncompromisingly honest standards. Otherwise, how can that counselor expect good behavior from you and your partner?
9. If you locate a counselor you would like to work with but you can't afford that counselor's fee, ask the counselor if they will negotiate the fee so that it is affordable for you. You might consider doing this even if you have insurance but the counselor doesn't accept that insurance. Especially if you have a co-pay, if the counselor is willing to negotiate the fee, there may be little or no difference in cost to see the counselor you prefer.
10. Do not pick a counselor solely on whether they take your insurance or what their fee is. The priority needs to be getting the best help, not the cheapest help. The cost of marriage counseling, spread out over a number of weeks, is considerably cheaper than the financial cost of most divorces and is definitely cheaper than the cost of paying for two separate households. Plus, of course, there are the obvious emotional costs associated with the relationship not working out--for you as well as for any children involved. Contrary to popular opinion, children are not resilient. They don't just bounce back. They are likely to have permanent, negative affects for the rest of their lives. How does a person measure the affects of divorce/separation on children after the fact? There is no way to know how the child would be if the divorce/separation had not taken place. I believe the vast increase in anxiety and depression in children, teens and adults is often due to prior family breakdowns.
11. Some counselors are starting to offer appointment scheduling on line. I do not recommend using this time-saver for your first appointment. As stated above, it is essential that you interview the counselor to assess whether that counselor is in fact an experienced couple's counselor. You need an opportunity to ask the questions in 1-10 above. Do not use your first appointment for asking questions (unless it is a free consultation) because you might feel obligated to continue with that counselor. It is of utmost importance that you get to a counselor who can help you.
Interviewing the counselor about the above information will allow you the best chance of finding a skilled counselor who is on your team and will help you with your couple issues.