Many of the couples I see in my practice are surprisingly not in couples therapy for the first time. In some cases they felt the therapy wasn’t working and they wanted to try a different approach, in other cases they had a bad experience but were still committed to making their relationship stronger.
What are some of the things couples can do to make sure that they find the right fit in a therapist and get the best results? Here are some tips:
1. Training and certifications: Speaking as an Imago Certified couples therapist, this is probably the most important aspect of selecting a couples therapist. Working with couples is a very specialized field and is very different than working with an individual. It is very important that the therapist have training, ideally in a specific theory (Imago is one option). According to Couples Therapy, Inc: “A recent national survey revealed that 81 percent of all private practice therapists in the United States say that they offer marital therapy. But only about 12 percent of the nation’s licensed therapists are in a profession that requires any course work or supervised clinical experience in marital therapy.” A great therapist can enhance and help improve a couple’s relationship but someone without proper training can potentially harm the relationship if they don’t have enough education, training or supervision. Training and certification in couples therapy and related areas, such as sex therapy give the therapist tools and knowledge to ensure that the therapy is as safe and effective as possible.
2. A practice with a focus on couples therapy: Many therapists these days have a lot of different areas of expertise, which is a good thing! However, when looking for a couples therapist, look for one that devotes a significant part of their practice to couples work.
3. Ask questions and “interview” different therapists: Some couples I have worked with have tried first sessions with several therapists before selecting one to work with. I encourage this approach because it allows the couple to test out the therapist’s style and method and figure out if it is the right fit. Another important factor is the level of comfort you have with the therapist. Studies show that effective therapy is often first and foremost based on the rapport between therapist and client. You should feel comfortable and safe with your therapist.
4. Be wary of a couples therapist who takes sides: Ultimately, a couples therapist should be neutral and not take sides in the majority of situations (exceptions include more extreme situations that involve abuse or violence, etc.) The therapy becomes unsafe if one person in the couple feels like the “problem.” The goal of couples therapy should be to restore connection between the couple with the therapist as a guide. While a therapist should offer tips, psychoeducation and sometimes “homework”, the therapist should be careful to not take sides with a couple.