#061: Make Your Couples Counseling a Success!
Do you want to know what makes couples counseling/marriage therapy a success?
Great! You came to the right blog.
I have thousands of hours of experience helping couples enhance their relationships. I will gladly share my secrets below for obtaining the best couples counseling experience possible.
Why is this information so important?
I hear too many disappointed couples sharing stories of how they “failed” therapy. Often, they share that they stopped counseling because there was no improvement in their situations. They felt their therapist appeared to side with one partner repeatedly and, despite many hours of venting, no satisfactory solutions were presented that brought lasting change.
Additionally, I’ve also come to recognize that there is a desperate need for specific tools couples can use to analyze their therapy experience and decide whether their current couples counseling is a good fit for them.
Why is a “good fit” key?
Couples therapy is fast becoming more and more an essential part of many couples lives. In past decades, people thought that only couples on the brink of divorce went to couples counseling. It was a sort of relationship last resort. Sadly, couples would wait an average of 6 years, struggling with their marital issues, before seeking help.
Today, many couples understand and appreciate that couples counseling is an important means of support and guidance in much less dramatic situations. There is less stigma and less resistance to the idea of working with someone outside the relationship for recovery.
This is a very good thing. Why? Because the success of the counseling process directly correlates to the amount of baggage a couple brings in. Early relationship help tends to be the most effective help.
Now, let’s talk about what you can do to make sure your couples counseling process is successful:
The 5 Most Important Things to Look for in Your Couples Counseling Process
Before you do anything, do make sure your potential therapist is a licensed psychotherapist, preferably an LMFT, as they are trained in couples therapy. Also, be certain that they specialize in couples work and do this work a majority of the time.
1. Determine Whether Your Sessions are Structure or Venting Sessions
- These sessions involve long periods of listening to partner’s complaints about each other. This can go on and on. Eventually, time is up and you both leave the counselor’s office feeling very frustrated and more hopeless than before.
Structure, on the other hand, has proven to be much more effective, time-saving, and crucial for driving lasting change in a couple’s relationship. I personally apply structure inside each session, my process with each couple, and in how I manage clients from the first call to the final counseling discharge.
What are the benefits of structure?
- Instead of venting, structure addresses your relationship needs at that moment.
- Counseling tools are employed.
For instance, if you were to let me know what you would like to talk about, I would offer a communication tool to use. This helps facilitate a more productive conversation about an unresolved issue, ongoing fights, infidelity, etc.
- Longer session times are helpful.
I find that 90-minute sessions are much more suitable for couples work. You want to be sure that you both have an appropriate length of time to present issues, listen and learn something new, practice new skills and resolve issues satisfactorily.
- Structure, in the form of a program, offers a beginning and end to help couples reach their goals in less time.
My own programs offer couples counseling for about 10-15 hours on average. Program structure includes a consultation, an intake session, an assessment, ongoing sessions, mid-process progress assessment, ongoing sessions, end of process progress assessment, and final discharge. Clarity is key.
Counseling Success Action Step #1:
Learn whether the counselor you choose to interview includes structure in their counseling sessions. Pay attention to their process: do they seem knowledgeable about the issues you’re sharing? Can they articulate what type of process you and your spouse will undertake with regards to content and length of time?
2. Determine Whether Assessment is Part of Your Therapist’s Process
- Assessing the relationship before you start working, midway through treatment, and near the end allows you and your counselor to see the relationship clearly. They may use their own assessment tools or use a research-based assessment like The Gottman Relationship Checkup.
- These assessments are an integral part of the counseling process. In fact, they can provide direction for interventions used to guide necessary relationship changes discussed with you in sessions.
Counseling Success Action Step #2:
Address whether the therapist you’re interviewing offers assessments of your relationship over time. Do they appear to adequately track your progress? How does the therapist plan to check in with you about the state of the relationship and the counseling process?
3. Determine Whether Your Therapist Says “Yes” to Sometimes Taking BOTH Sides
In general, successful couples therapists can’t take sides. In truth, that isn’t possible. Therapists are human. So, it makes sense to expect that your counselor won’t take one side all the time, but expects that he or she will side with each one of you sometimes – when it makes sense. When it does happen, does it help affect change and brings balance and solutions to a situation? If it does, than your therapist is doing the right thing utilizing the art of therapy.
Counseling Success Action Step #3
Ask the therapist you’re interviewing to answer honestly whether they tend to take sides in sessions. Acknowledge that if they say they “never” side with clients or insist that they are “always” neutral, their claim is not possible. Are they able to admit this?
4. Determine Whether Your Therapist Can Offer Less Advice & Facilitate More Change
- Professionally speaking, a therapist’s advice only inspires first-order change. For example, let’s say your husband spends too much time at his best friend’s house. Your therapist may advise you to create a new rule that limits him to 2, one-hour visits a week. This is fine, but those rules usually don’t work for long. Why? Because people don’t like to take other people’s advice. Eventually, we go back to our old habits.
- Focus instead on therapy that produces second-order change. This results from work that disrupts unhelpful relationship interactions. A therapist helps to do this in the following ways:
- Context: your therapist develops curiosity about what happens around the unwanted behavior (the husband that spends too much time with his best friend, because of a communication problem he has with wife).
- Pattern: the therapist reveals a pattern that explains why things happen the way they happen (the husband does not want to come home and prefers spending time with the friend every day).
- Change: your therapist offers a way to disturb the unproductive pattern (the couple is provided communication tools to change their interactions, quickly resulting in the husband spending much less time away from home).
Counseling Success Action Step #4
While it may difficult to tell whether the therapist you’re interviewing is prone to advice-giving before having a session together, do pay close attention to their proposed solutions. Are they quick to offer solutions that have a one-size fits all quality? Do solutions lack depth or fail to consider the details of your situation? Be careful, you may find yourselves frustrated by therapy focused on short-lived, first-order changes.
5. Determine Whether Your Therapist is Really Able to Help Your Relationship
When you have a consultation, it’s important that you ascertain not only whether the therapist is a good fit for you, but that the therapist can do the same.
Knowing their own weaknesses as a person and as a therapist is key, as it helps them determine whether they are the best choice for your case. Sometimes they simply are not a fit. That’s okay. They should be able to say so and refer you elsewhere.
Counseling Success Action Step #5
How does the therapist you’re interviewing use their initial consultation with you?
Are you in charge and simply given the floor to ask and receive answers about price, time, and other basics? Or is the therapist engaged, asking to hear about your struggles and offering ideas and information about how they can or can not help?
Finally, if you’re currently searching for the perfect couples counselor or stopped counseling because it wasn’t helpful or productive, I hope you now have a list of items to look for and some action steps to take.
It is my sincerest wish that you obtain great success in your relationship. I hope, too, that you both are able to make the necessary changes together so that the loving relationship you’re longing for becomes a reality.