View Full Version : Looking for a Marriage Counselor

May 7, 2012, 09:09 AM
Somebody mentioned in an earlier thread, and I can't remember who or the thread, for which I humbly apologize, that we needed to put together pointers on finding a counselor. If she will point herself out to me, I'll edit in her name and give her full credit. Unless it was a male poster, in which case I'll give him full credit. In any case, since so many of us wind up needing counselors because of our mother-in-laws, I thought I would start with some pointers I have put together, and let people continue from there. This is from an earlier post of mine, though slightly edited and greatly expanded.

Unless you have no other options, always prescreen your counselor. Find out their professional background. Learn the differences between the different forms of training, eg a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker, etc. Read up a little on the different kinds of therapy, such as talk therapy, behavior modification, etc, and make sure what the counselor offers is what is optimal for your circumstances. Remember, different people have different needs, so the counselor who was perfect for your best friend with her problems, might not be right for you. Make sure you don't get one who believes in families at all costs. If you know anyone dealing with similar problems as for their recommendation. But be careful to make sure it is a similar problem. A counselor who does a wonderful job with, oh, incest survivors might not necessarily do as well with a problem marriage. Don't rule them out, but don't just assume they will be a good fit for you.

Once you have some names, try Googling them and reading their reviews. If you are starting from scratch search under "marriage counselors", read the reviews and then identify the ones you like the best and

1. Visit their website and poke around. See what books they recommend. Check out the books they recommend. This can give you a good idea about what their basic philosophy is, and if it is one that you agree with. There is no point wasting time with a counselor with whom you have basic philosophical disagreements.

2. Call and ask what a typical session consists of, how long it lasts, how much it costs, and what medical insurance they take.

3. Ask directly if the counselor has a particular philosophy he/she ascribes to and will she/he explain it briefly to you.

4. Ask if the counselor has ever helped a couple or an individual cut the chord on their family(ies) of origin as in "leave and cleave"? How has it worked out in the past?

5. Does she/he have any experience working with enmeshed families? What did he/she recommend, and what was the outcome?

6. Does he/she ever recommend a Cut Off (CO) or a Time Out (TO)? Does she/he think they are ever justified? If so, under what circumstances, and how frequently.

7. What is their experience in working with adult children of alcoholics and what is their experience working with adults who were abused by their parents. While not every horrid mother-in-law is/was an alcoholic or drug abuser and not all abused their children, a lot did so that is a useful skill. Plus in a lot of cases the tools and techniques used to let adults who grew up in abusive and/or alcoholic and/or drug using households, are the same tools and techniques used to help adults who can't cut the apron strings.

8. Ask them if they can help you deal with xyz without abc happening, and give them a real example from your situation.

9. Ask them outright if there is anything in their background which will make them less than objective when working with you.

Keep notes on all the answers, and then compare the different counselors you talk to, to see which appears, at least on paper, to be the best fit for you.

May 7, 2012, 09:55 AM
Great tips.

I recently suggested to someone IRL who was looking for a therapist "Treat it like a job interview. Because that is what it is. You are deciding whether to hire this person to perform a service."

May 9, 2012, 01:59 PM
Excellent advice from Argent Snail and Phat Liz.

If I may add to this:
- Make a list of five to ten goals you want to achieve (in your marriage) for which you are seeking help. Then put them in order of importance. This will not only provide you with a clear end point but help you determine if the therapist/counselor's philosophy is in keeping with your goals.
- Decide what you are NOT willing to accept. You do not want to be pushed or bullied (yes, some therapists can/do bully their patients, they should lose their license but it happens) into doing something that makes you uncomfortable or causes anxiety. Do NOT be afraid to report them to their licensing agency and insurance companies.
- Ask if they assign reading or "homework" to their clients. Ask for examples. This isn't as crazy as it might seem. Cognitive therapy, which teaches specific steps on dealing with an issue, basically getting from point A to point B using baby steps if necessary. Especially helpful if you know what the issue is and want to learn how to handle it.
- PhatLiz is absolutely correct in saying handle this like a job interview where YOU are the potential employer because that is exactly how it is. You (and/or your insurance company) will be paying them for services rendered. They are NOT gods deigning to walk among the mortals. They are people who have gone through education and training to provide a service and if they can't do the job, they get fired. This should help you understand that YOU have the power. My gynecologist jokes that he is a glorified plumber, who took 11 years to complete his training.(He's very good and considers his patients instead of just issuing orders.) Funny thing is, my cousin, who is a plumber, makes a ton more money.
- Do NOT be afraid to ask for a time frame. While they can't tell you an exact time frame (e.g. 8 sessions), they can tell you routinely it takes about a certain amount of time but depends on how much work you put into it and, if your partner is involved in the therapy, how much work they put into it as well. This can be a determining factor.
- Do not assume all sessions will be joint sessions. Ask specifically. If one or both of you get "stuck" at a point in the therapy, it may be best to see that person alone to help them get "unstuck." This is then brought into the joint sessions.
- Take notes but it may be preferable to audio record the sessions so you can review them at home. This can help make sure you have a clear understanding of what was discussed as well as helping you formulate any new questions, see if the therapist is focusing on your goals, and are you making progress. Having things repeated at each session, perhaps with different words, is NOT progress. Building upon the last session is.
- During the session, ask questions or request clarification. Ask for examples. The therapist is supposed to be teaching you how to handle things not just lecture and/or yell at you.
- VERY IMPORTANT - if the therapist yells at you, degrades you or starts causing you so much anxiety you begin to feel physically ill, do NOT hesitate to walk out. No one has the right to do that to you.
- Follow your instincts, you have them for a reason.


random old DIL
May 10, 2012, 08:32 AM
My two cents. I know this is not always true. But I find the kind who also treat survivors of families of substance abusers to be good. Also bringing up Enmeshed Families, Covert Abuse and Boundaries when first talking to them can be helpful to suss out their opinions on that.