Finding a Good Marriage Counselor: Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

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I’m excited to have my friend Dr. Matthew Turvey guest blogging and sharing with us again today on the topic of marriage counseling. Marriage can be tough at times, so here are a few tips for finding the right marriage counselor. I hope this information is helpful for you.

Thanks again, Mark.  Yesterday I talked about when couples can know they need marriage counseling.  Today I want to help couples figure out how to find a great counselor.

So, it’s time to give marriage counseling a try. Not all counselors are created equal, and just because you’re going to a counselor doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the results you want.  Follow these four guidelines to tip the odds in your favor and get your money’s worth out of the counseling experience.

 

Ask around.

Check with your family doctor, your pastor, your friends, or even your Facebook network.  You’ll want to hear from people that share your basic set of values and know you well.  I suggest making a list and narrowing it down to your top three choices.  Then, make an appointment with one of your three choices and get the ball rolling.  Don’t forget to ask about more non-traditional forms of counseling.  Many people now prefer online consultations, telecoaching, web-based therapy, etc.  This might work better for your schedule or personality.

 

Think of your first few sessions as “dating” your counselor.

You’re learning how they operate, if their personality is a fit for your situation, and if you share the same values.  Recognizing after a few sessions that you’re not clicking with a certain counselor isn’t a sign that counseling won’t work; it’s a sign you haven’t found the right one yet.  Counselors are like food styles.  You may love BBQ but not Thai food. Somebody else is just the opposite.  Different strokes for different folks.

 

Ask some of these key questions of your counselor as you get to know them.

1) Do you want us to stay married?  Believe it or not, many people who call themselves marriage counselors don’t care if you’re married or get divorced at the end.  You want to know this going into the process.

2) Do we share core values?  It’s true that counselors are trained to keep their emotions, values, and biases under wraps.  But let’s face it – they’re people, too.  If you find a counselor that doesn’t understand your faith expression, this may be a deal-breaker for you.  Work to figure out what non-negotiables you have in a counselor.  It’ll save you time and wasted effort in the long run.

3) What’s your theoretical orientation, and what does that mean the counseling process will look like?  Some counselors are passive.  This is great if you’re exploring your childhood.  If you’re in marital crisis, you may want somebody who’s more active in getting you involved through homework, reading, or seminars.  A few Google searches on your new counselor’s theoretical orientation will help you determine whether or not the counselor fits with your ideas of what you want out of the process.

4) How long do you expect counseling to last?  There’s really no way of nailing this down, but I think a good counselor should be able to give you a range of sessions that would be ideal for your situation.  Nobody wants an open bar tab with a counselor.  It helps to have realistic goals set up early in the counseling process that are time limited.  You’ll be motivated to accomplish your goals, and your therapist will be motivated to help you achieve positive change within this timeframe.

 

Commit to the process and keep hope alive.

Once you’re relatively certain you’ve found a good (not perfect) fit, dive into the process and get busy.  This is your marriage we’re talking about.  Work on it, and keep working on it.  Too many people quit just at the point where they’re about to turn the corner.  Know there will be hiccups and roadblocks; that’s life.  Stick with the process and give it 100%.  I’ve been blessed to watch small miracles in counseling over and over again.  People who came in with no hope for a happy marriage found that hope all over again.  And then they found their marriage could be happy again.  You can, too.

For more resources to help strengthen your marriage, check out our iMOM resource page.

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • A friend

    My employer has an anonymous service setup to be referred to a marriage counselor.  Do you recommend that as a resource? 

  • momto5monkeys

    I really appreciate this! We’ve found a great Counselor, but now it’s time to dig in & get dirty! I know it’s not going to be a bed of roses, but I do have hope that it’ll be worth it.

    Our marriage has suffered some intense blows, the worst being the sudden death of our perfectly healthy, precious 2.5 y.o daughter, almost 6 yrs ago. There have been other major issues as well, but it doesn’t get worse than losing a child.

  • PaulaGentry1993

    I would like to think there is hope for us. I am so weary of not knowing what will trigger a bad mood and living like a mouse to avoid conflict in front of our little boys. I would love to be actually trusted after 15 years of complete fidelity and be able to talk on the phone without him wanting to know everything that was said and commenting on it. Can counseling do that? Each day I brace myself for him to tell me off and leave us for good. He has threatened to do this twice and part of my soul died each time. I still love him but I cannot take the hurt anymore. I hope counseling can work huge miracles. I hope it is low-cost too since we have been hit hard by the economy and are now living off credit cards till things improve.

    Are there low-cost marriage counseling services?
    What is the average cost?

  • GR

    I am so sad for you.  I have lived weary myself in my marriage, but luckily I did not buy into his moodyness. I chose to see beyond it and sought help from very,very loving friends from church. I spent a lot of time praying and pouring my heart out to God to help my husband see that his behaviour was killing our marriage. I have wanted to go to couseling for years and he would always bring up the $$,which is just an excuse, since he has money for the things he REALLY wanted to do.  It has been two years of real fasting and prayer that has turned my marriage around.  My husband is discovering that God has ordained him as a leader in our home. I encourage him daily to understand he is hindering receiving my Godly submission to him without God in his life.  The leaving you mention sounds so familiar;it’s not you dear, it’s himself. Plant your heels firmly and get in the Bible,arm yourself with what God says about ALL you are going through. The Spirit is against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. Your battle’s are spiritual. I pray God sends you to a Godly counselor. I will pray for you and your family. May God bless you and hold you close,may your husband see God exampled in your life.  Choose God first,your husband WILL follow.  :)

  • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

    I am so sorry to hear of your pain, but it sounds like you are committed to working through it with your husband.  Persevere!

  • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

    Thanks to you all for sharing your stories, your pain and your hope!

  • Goodnewsroy

    First of all “THERE REALLY IS ALWAYS HOPE”.  My wife and I were split for over a year and even went through with a divorce.  I just knew deep down that it wasn’t over and I had a good friend who kept telling me the opposite of what everyone else did.  He didn’t say, “move on, you’re free,etc….”  He said, “don’t give up”.  I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t give up or try to move on at times, but I kept coming back to her heart.  We’ve been back together for over a year now and even jokingly celebrated our divorce date.  It’s not perfect, but it is wonderful.

    As far as a marriage councelor is concerned, it was our experience to not go to someone who is too close to the both of you.  As much as we loved our pastor, we reached out to him and it turned out to be a poor experience.  We were to close, so not taking things personally was very difficult.  Granted, he was very insightful and professional, but working with someone that we both had a personal relationship with was not a good idea.  At times we both grew resentful of some of the things he brought to our attention, which ended our relagtionship with that church.  Looking back, he was mostly right, but now we are almost embarrsed to go back.  Plus a few things were pretty harsh that he had said and some resentment hasn’t passed.  We know that we’d be welcomed back, but it’s definitely a different vibe and something my wife and I choose not to have to go through.  At least not yet. 

  • Dr. Matthew Turvey

    Paula, it sounds like you’re in a tough spot.  I do think some counseling could help.  And FYI…marriage counseling doesn’t always have to include both of you in the room.  Your husband may not be ready to commit to the process.  But you can start and learn skills and mindsets that will help you in this situation.  Re: the cost, it’s hard to say the exact cost, as that depends on where you live and what level of licensing you get in your counselor.  But – several agencies (especially faith-based ones like churches or parachurch organizations) offer reduced-fee or no-cost services.  I would encourage you to check into the local Catholic Charities office in your area; they almost always have connections to counselors (Catholic, Protestant, and those that don’t integrate faith with their clinical practice).  I pray you find the help you’re looking for.  Don’t give up!  Your marriage is worth it!

  • Dr. Matthew Turvey

    Glad to hear you’ve found a great counselor.  And I’m so sorry to hear about losing your daughter.  I have several friends and clients who have gone through the death of their child.  I can’t imagine the pain and loss you’ve experienced.  Your situation is incredibly hard on the marriage, but it sounds like you’re moving through that.  You and your spouse have likely grieved in different ways, at different times, at different paces.  I pray you’ll continue to find peace and comfort individually and as a couple in your healing process.

  • Dr. Matthew Turvey

    This can be a great resource, if it is what I’m inferring from your short message.  If this service is like the typical Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), it will provide you with 2-10 sessions with a counselor.  Sometimes this is via phone, sometimes it’s in person.  Either way, consider it a first step.  You might want to consider what you’ll do after these sessions are over – if you think you’ll need more counseling.
    I would also encourage you to find out if the counselor you can talk to is 100% removed from the company.  You probably don’t want to air your dirty laundry to a counselor if he/she is on the payroll of your company.  This likely isn’t the case, but it might be with some larger organizations or in unique situations.  Be comfortable with the confidentiality agreements that are presented to you.