There are many psychologists, counselors and therapists trained to do individual counseling. Some decide to expand their client base by branching off into offering marriage counseling or couple’s counseling. These are not normally the people you want to choose if you want help with your relationship. You want trained, licensed people who specialize in marriage counseling, relationship counseling or couple’s therapy—some designation like “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” or the equivalent.

But there are so many people claiming to specialize in marriage/relationship counseling—how do you choose the very best one? Here is a guide to help you make a good decision.

First, you want someone experienced—who has done this for a number of years—not someone starting out. Experienced people tend to cost more than those who are just starting out, but this is one arena in which you are likely to get what you pay for.

Second, if you can afford it, longer appointments, or retreats that take several days, are often far more effective than weekly 45-60 minute appointments. You will have sufficient time to deeply delve into conflicts and emotions, and then you can create solutions or resolutions in the same session. If you do this, you won’t normally stay in therapy for many months. Insurance may not cover the longer appointments, but you have a far greater chance of fixing the issues way more quickly.

Third, keep in mind that you are looking for a therapist/guide/teacher/advisor, not a friend. A friend may not offer you adult supervision when the two of you need it. A good marriage therapist will.

Fourth, you want someone who demonstrates insight regarding the true problems and the dynamics in your relationship. As an example, a couple can enter marriage counseling presenting with poor communication problems, but the actual issue may be that the two of you have grown disconnected, and you may be questioning whether your spouse still loves you. You can see how that may lead to poor communication in a relationship, but the therapist that treats the issue as a communication problem may not fix the larger dynamic, and then you will feel that although you have a great therapist, the therapy isn’t working.

Fifth, you want someone who who can articulate an effective game plan to resolve or fix what’s wrong—and very important—you want this game plan in the very first session. If the therapist cannot articulate an effective and realistic plan of action in the first session, you have the wrong therapist.

Sixth, the gold standard of marriage counselors, couple’s therapists or relationship counselors is if the therapist can teach the two of you new skills that you can take home and use on your own. The goal is for the two of you to learn how to resolve conflicts or hurt feelings on your own, so you don’t need to forever be dependent on a therapist. This will take some time, and does not happen quickly, but the counselor who can teach the two of you to resolve your own issues or emotions is worth his or her weight in gold.

Finally, we learn more effectively when we are challenged. Look for someone to challenge you to do what’s hard, not easy.

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