When we get married, no one tells us that one day we might need a marriage counselor, much less how to find one. So where do you start? How should you and your partner go about choosing a marriage counselor?
If you Google “marriage counselors” or “marriage therapists”, you’ll come across a number of online directories that you can search. These can be a good starting place.
You can ask your primary healthcare provider. They often have relationships with local therapists. You can ask a trusted friend (you’d be surprised how many people you know that have seen a therapist for some reason.)
Knowing where to find counselors is one thing, but finding someone with the specific expertise and approach you need is something else entirely.
What to Look For (And Ask)
All counselors are not created equal. While they are all highly trained experts in their respective disciplines, there are any number of specializations, training programs, approaches and license types.
Beyond that, you have differences in personality, availability, locations, fees and more. So how do you choose? Let’s cover the basics.
Does the therapist have a license to practice counseling (and specifically marriage therapy)? All counselors must be licensed to practice in the United States, but requirements vary by state. Depending on your state’s licensure statutes, look for designations such as:
- LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)
- MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)
- LMFC (Licensed Marriage Family Counselor)
- MFCC (Marriage, Family and Child Counseling)
The above designations all indicate state licensure to practice as a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor. You will frequently see the following licenses as well:
- LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)
- LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor)
- LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
Which degrees does the therapist have, and which schools did they attend? All therapists will have a four year undergraduate degree, and usually a master’s degree as well. It is also fairly common for therapists to have a PhD or PsyD in counseling psychology.
Training and Methodology
Does the therapist have training in a particular marriage counseling methodology and the use of evidence-based models?
Does the therapist have direct experience or specialization with any specific complicating issues you and your partner are dealing with?
Location and Availability
Do the therapist’s location and hours work for both you and your partner? You’ll want to make sure that keeping appointments won’t be a challenge due to unpredictable commute times, for example.
Does the therapist offer a brief “meet & greet” session to see if you’re a good fit for each other? Some therapists offer this and some don’t, but it should not be a deal breaker. It is just a nice courtesy some therapists are able to offer.
This list is by no means exhaustive. It may simply help you narrow down your many, many choices.
One thing that you usually can’t always assess ahead of time is “fit” – that interaction between personalities that happens when people meet and interact face-to-face. If you are lucky enough to find a marriage therapist who does a “meet & greet”, you’ll probably know quickly if you fit well together. If not, you will have to make that determination once you meet.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to choose wisely, the “fit” just isn’t there. It is no reflection on you, your partner or the therapist.
Finding the right marriage counselor is like finding a great pair of shoes. You may find the perfect fit on your first try. You might have to try on a few before you find “the one”. If you and a therapist don’t “fit”, it’s ok. Therapists understand the need for “fit”. You and your partner have to feel a level of comfort and connection – those intangible things so vital to the therapeutic rapport.
When you find the right counselor for you, you’ll know it. You may still feel anxious about what is to come, but you will also feel a sense of comfort and ease of rapport about the journey you and your partner are about to take.