#055: 5 Questions to Ask When Searching for the Right Couples Therapist
Making the decision to see a couples therapist is not an easy one for most of us.
Putting your trust in a complete stranger is not simple and becomes even more challenging if you’re trying to follow the guidance of a list you found online or names someone gave you to call and choose from.
How do you choose the right therapist for your relationship?
How do you know who will really help your relationship?
Let’s discuss three main issues as it pertains to choosing a couples therapist:
- Why choosing your couples therapist based on price, availability, and location may not serve you the way you hope
- Why it’s best not to settle for therapy based on price, availability, and location
- 5 questions to ask the therapists you reach for couples counseling (so that your needs are best met)
A. Why choosing your couples therapist based on price, availability and location may NOT serve you the way you hope.
Consider the following questions therapists are asked when prospective clients call:
- Do you take insurance?
- How much is a session?
- Where are you located?
- Do you use a sliding scale?
- Do you work on weekends?
- What are your hours of operation?
While these questions are important, they offer few parameters for choosing your therapist.
Of course, pricing, availability, and location do help determine whether or not you’ll be able to see a certain therapist. Even if we came to you through a recommendation or referral, and especially if you found us online, we therapists hope you choose us a little more carefully.
Perhaps I should speak for myself. I do hope you choose to work with me for the right reasons.
B. Why it is best that you NOT settle for a cheap price or nearby location when selecting a therapist
- Remember, the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships. This includes your main relationship with your partner. So, when something goes wrong there, it influences everything. It affects every aspect of your life as well as the people around you.
You want to make sure that the person helping you knows what they’re doing. Someone who specializes in couples therapy and has a clear plan for how they’re going to help you. We’ll discuss later which questions will help you get this information.
- If money is driving your choice of therapists, it is absolutely understandable. If you can’t afford therapy, you can’t afford it. Period. However, it’s important to note, too, that divorce is much more expensive than counseling!
I also know something about myself that may also apply to you: I tend to find funds for those things I prioritize as important or necessary. Make sure you prioritize fixing your relationship. Divorce lawyers charge at much higher rates than most therapists! And if it goes to court… there’s no telling where the cost to you will end.
- Couples therapy, in my opinion, is very different than traditional individual therapy. Having a structure and a way to assess progress is of high importance when working with couples. If you’re familiar with traditional therapy, you know that it functions on a
week-to-week basis, usually for 50-minute sessions, during which you privately discuss a trauma, your feelings of depression or some anxiety you’re facing.
This model does not fit couples work. Counseling often ends up being 50-minute venting sessions where partners complain about each other or defend themselves.
I’ve learned that providing an overall structure for the whole process as well as each session makes much more sense for couples work. This achieves better results in my practice ( I do check results with progress assessments). I’ve also learned that couples need more time in sessions to get satisfactory results This is why I offer 90-minute sessions as needed.
Soon, I’ll share which questions to ask so that you know where a therapist stands regarding structure and assessment.
- Any psychotherapist can offer couples therapy. You can google couples therapy in your area and get a list of therapists who offer their services to couples. Yet, you may not know that any type of psychotherapist can offer couples therapy. Couples services may be offered regardless of the type of psychotherapy license they have, trainings they completed, or experience they have. For example, you could call a therapist who will take your couples case but whose experience is limited to substance abuse cases, as happens many times.
The way I see and understand the field today, couples therapy is a different animal due to issues of structure and assessment. Therefore, I did not offer my services to couples before I had some substantial training. Although my license and degree are specifically in marriage and family therapy, in certain situations, even this was not enough. So, I continued training beyond my degree and specialized in affair recovery, which is a more complex couples therapy situation.
The takeaway? Look for a therapist who gets results, is able to understand the situation quickly, offers solutions, and can collaborate with you as a couple. You want someone who can get you through the trenches and help you reach your relationship goals.
C. 5 questions to ask a therapist that help determine if they will best meet your needs
1. SPECIALIZATION + EXPERIENCE
Ask the therapist if they specialize in couples therapy or your specific relationship issue. After giving a brief description (4 or 5 sentences) of your problem or circumstances, determine whether they can specifically help with that issue.
The interaction might go like this:
“My spouse just found out I was having an affair for the past 3 months. He seems very upset and is not sure whether he wants to stay in our relationship. Nothing I say helps the situation and we are beyond frustrated at this point. We have a good marriage and I want to do what it takes to heal and stay together. Can you help with recovery after an affair?
2. ACTION PLAN + STRUCTURE
Ask what the therapist’s plan is to help with couples issues or your specific situation. (“How do you normally help couples in a similar situation?” Or, “Is there a structure to the sessions?”)
At this point, you’ll be able to discern whether the therapist actually has a plan. If they do, it’s a good sign. If they don’t, understand that the less structured their process is, the less able either of you will be to gauge the length of therapy.
Ask the therapist how they will assess your issue/relationship and progress throughout the treatment. It is important that the therapist knows how well you and your partner are doing and can determine whether the treatment is helpful. He or she should be able to determine how close you are to your goals, and if necessary, make changes to ensure therapy remains effective.
4. THERAPY LICENSE
If you don’t already know, ask if the therapist is licensed. Common license types are:
LMFT, LCSW, LMHC, PsyD, LPC, and others. Some licenses change by state as well. What’s important here is to make sure the person offering their services is licensed to offer psychotherapy in your state.
I should mention that life coaches or relationship coaches, do not have a license to provide psychotherapy – so make sure to check that as well.
Why is licensing so important? Licensed clinicians are bound by ethics and laws which protect you as a client. For example, therapists realize their license can be jeopardized if they compromise your confidentiality.
Licensed psychotherapists are highly trained to handle different psychological situations using specific techniques. They have been through extensive training prior to getting their licenses (grad school and a minimum of 2 years of client contact under supervision, and a national exam are common).
5. PRICING, AVAILABILITY, LOCATION
Anything else that is important to you not mentioned before (sometimes people ask me if I’m married, offer online therapy, etc.) should definitely be asked and answered.
However, do keep in mind that if everything in questions 1 through 4 is in order, you’ve likely found a good couples counseling candidate.
I hope this was helpful and you feel much more equipped to make the call or calls necessary to find the right couples therapist for you. Again, I know many couples struggle with going to a third person and total stranger for help. I’m sure that not being sure HOW to find the right help is even scarier. Hopefully, this helps you a little.
Thank you so much for your time!