What to know about couple counseling
I commend you for your courage to seek out help in the most personal aspect of your life: couple counseling. Now how do you choose the right couples counselor? Here are some guidelines to help you narrow down your search; things everyone needs to know about couple counseling who needs the kind of help that you need.
First: What type of couples counselor is needed for couples counseling? For help in didactic interpersonal (between two people) relationships you need a therapist, not a counselor. The correct title for this type of expert is known as a Marriage and Family Therapist (an MFT who works primarily with relationship issues and some individual issues) or a Clinical Psychologist (who works primarily with individual issues and some relationship issues). Note the primary issues and the secondary issues worked with between these two professionals.
Who You Do Want
- Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PhD or PsyD)
Who You Don’t Want
- Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
- Personal Coach
- Life Coach
- Intern (learning to be an MFT)
- Intern (learning to be an SW)
- Drug Counselor
- Psychiatrist (drug treatment)
- General Medical Doctor
- A friend
Why do you need a therapist for couple counseling you ask? The most important reason is that only an MFT or a Psychologist has been trained PROPERLY and EXCLUSIVELY for “therapy” in couple counseling which is what it takes to deal with your specific issues. It takes a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 20 years to be trained as a couples and individual counselor alone.
All the other professionals under the Who You Don’t Want column are either trained in other issues (with very little training in therapy) or are not trained at all in couple counseling (couples counseling) or in individual therapy. For example: to be a life or personal coach there is no training requirements, educational requirements or licensing qualification needed in couples counseling. In other words, no protection or guaranty for you.
Second: Your comfort is important in couples counseling. Among MFTs and Clinical Psychologists who do couple counseling, there are many different ways that they can choose from to work with couples counseling issues. They can be more directive (in your face and tell you what to do) or they may be the type of therapist that sits with you and understands your pain. They can treat you from the head or treat you from the heart. They can treat you from a sterile medical perspective, or from a personal and loving perspective. Couple counseling may need both perspectives to achieve your goals; however, couple counselors usually use one perspective more than the other. This determines your comfort zone within the couple counseling session.
Third: You also need to know if the couple counselor was required to get therapy in order to graduate from their University in the Master’s or Doctorate Program? This is not common knowledge to the general public. How can a therapist understand what a person is going through in therapy if they have never sat on that couch and been through that experience? Some Universities require their students to attend therapy and some do not. I have seen a huge difference between therapists who have “been there, done that”, and those whom have not. You need to ask about this. Even better, call the University and find out if they require it or not!
Fourth: A couple counselor is taught the art of not taking sides. It is a common occurrence for one or both partners of the relationship to go into couples counseling expecting the therapist to “take their side” and tell the other partner that they are wrong. If this were to happen, the counseling session would be a disaster and true therapy would not happen. An MFT and a Psychologist have specialized training to make sure that this does not happen. Both partners must be heard and honored equally.