Monday, August 15, 2005
Finding A Good Marital Therapist
The problem is not that there aren't skilled marital therapists. The problem is there are too many therapists offering marital therapy that should not. If you decide to use a therapist to help you heal your relationship, you should be careful. Don't go in unprepared. Many people spend less time choosing a therapist than choosing someone to fix their roof!
There are some questions I think you should ask of any therapist. If you are wondering why, I have a whole chapter on the problem with therapists in my ebook. So, here, I will focus on the questions you may want to ask:
- "Do you have specialized training in marriage counseling?" You'd be amazed on how many therapists see couples, but have never been trained to do so. The vast majority of therapists are trained in individual therapy models. Many ideas in individual therapy models are destructive in marital therapy.
- "How much of your work is with couples?" Someone who spends a great deal of time with couples is likely to be better at it than someone who sees a few couples each week. Therapists tend to spend their time with the type of clients with whom they are comfortable and successful. However, therapists are also likely to see clients they are less comfortable with, but who help pay the bills (that's not cynicism, just reality).
- "When working with a couple, do you see us together or separately?" I don't see this as an absolute, but I think the vast majority of sessions should be with both of the spouses together. Sometimes, it is useful to see one or the other to help get past a block. However, there are a couple of risks of spending too much time with one or the other: First, therapists are humans; like it or not, they will be swayed by the views of whomever they spend the most time. Second, one or the other may perceive a coalition, even if it is not there. And third, if a therapist hears something that one cannot say to the other, then the therapist is in a difficult position: keeping a secret or violating something said in confidence.
- "Who is your client when you are seeing a couple?" Correct answer: the relationship (or some very similar answer). Any other answer indicates that the individual(s) will be the client. This is a problem. The question of who the client is creates the frame for what will be addressed and what will be preserved. So, if the individual is the client, the client's happiness will be of paramount importance. If the relationship is the client, then success is based on the success of the relationship.
- "How successful are you in helping couples stay together?" They probably won't have the statistics, but they will give you some information that is helpful. For example, they will begin to tell you their definition of success: helping people divorce with minimal damage (not a good answer), helping each find happiness (not a good answer), I hang in there until we get somewhere in the relationship (a good answer), etc. You want to hear something about success being defined as couples staying together, relationships saved.
- "When do you tell a couple to call it quits?" There shouldn't be many reasons to call it quits, on the therapist's part. If they answer "affair" or "when the other wants a divorce," keep moving. In my opinion, if the couple comes to my office, they are there to save the relationship. Barring abuse in the relationship, I opt to stick it out until the couple decides they will not continue.
Choose carefully. Often, the therapist holds a fragile relationship in the palm of his or her hand. Mistakes can destroy a relationship that may have otherwise survived. A good therapist is an asset. A bad therapist is destructive.