When searching for the right couples counselor, it’s important to ask the following questions to ensure that you find someone who is a good fit for you and your partner:
1. What is your approach to couples therapy?
There are many different styles and models of couples counseling and not every approach will feel right for you. For example, some approaches focus heavily on processing emotions and validating each others experiences. Some approaches focus on practical behavioral steps to change your interactions. Some therapists may focus on forgiveness work and trust building. Some therapists may incorporate humor and help you to focus on the positive in your relationship. And many therapists use some eclectic mix of a multitude of factors based on the couples needs. Asking this question may help you get a feel for what to expect from the couples counselor and whether they feel like they might be a fit for you.
2. How do you address individual concerns within the context of couples therapy?
It will be important to make sure your therapist approaches your relationship from a systemic approach—meaning they focus on your relationship and its health as the top goal rather than overly focusing on the needs of either individual. Good couples counseling should feel balanced and supportive of your relationship rather than focusing on who may be “more right” in a given conflict. While some issues may tie more into one partner’s behavior, there is usually something both partners may benefit from addressing. Even if you think your partner bears 95% of the responsibility for a problem in your relationship, your responses to it may still be worth exploring in couples counseling.
It is also very important that the counselor has a “no secrets” policy with couples counseling. It can be very damaging to your trust with a couples counselor if one partner shares things in confidence that may negatively affect your shared relationship goals. It is also far too easy for one partner to end up feeling like the counselor is “not on their side.” While some counselors meet with their couple clients on an individual basis as well as together, it’s usually best for this to be on a more limited basis, balanced equally, and with everything that’s shared being on the table for the further discussion as a couple.
3. Given the challenges we’re experiencing, how long do you think we might need to meet for couples therapy to see improvement in our relationship?
While all issues and all couples are different, the couples counselor may help you gage how quickly other couples have seen results when dealing with similar challenges. Some issues can be more complex and painful to work through such as recovering from an affair, while others might be simpler to address. This question can also help you plan for the future and keep in mind, you can always negotiate with your counselor if their suggestions sound less ideal for you. For example, when couples are intentional about doing therapeutic homework in between sessions, they tend to see much faster results than those who expect problems to only be addressed once a week in session. Additionally, sometimes it can be helpful for the individuals in the relationship to work with another counselor to address their own personal issues which can positively impact the work being done in couples therapy.
4. How do you measure progress and success in couples therapy?
Keep in mind the answer to this question will be largely dependent on the types of concerns you bring to couples therapy. It’s also fine to share with the counselor what results you are hoping to achieve through your work together. Sometimes success looks like improved communication or conflict resolution skills, sometimes it looks like an increased sense of trust and connection, sometimes it might mean not having a particular repeated fight anymore. The counselors answer may help you determine if you are on the same page or give you an opportunity to clarify your goals for therapy.
5. How can you integrate our faith or values into our work together?
Consider whether this question is important for you and your relationship. If you come from a particular faith background, you may want that to be reflected in your work together. A competent couples counselor can integrate your faith in a number of ways from considering how your values impact your areas of concern, exploring faith differences in your relationship, helping you to engage your faith as a coping resource, exploring how you are applying your faith principles into your relationship or even praying with you during your session. Consider whether it matters to you if your counselor shares your faith background.
Even if you do not embrace a particular faith or spirituality, keep in mind that all counseling is inherently values based and there may be values important to you that you want integrated into your work together. If you have a strong value for social justice, or egalitarian relationships, or or monogamous relationships, or have strong feelings about particular parenting approaches– just to name a few– not all therapists will have similar alignment in their values or the same level of skill in honoring and integrating your values into your work together.
6. What is your availability for appointments?
Scheduling can sometimes be challenging for couples when you are coordinating two schedules along with the counselor’s availability. If you need evening appointments, make sure that the counselor has the ability to regularly and consistently meet with you during your needed times. Keep in mind that most couples desire evening appointments, so if you are looking to meet with someone during those times, you may have to wait a bit for an opening.
7. What is your policy on cancellations and rescheduling appointments?
Most counselors have a cancellation policy and often times this policy may have a fee that you might owe if you have to cancel with short notice. These fees are not covered by insurance and are not nice surprises to have, so you’ll need to be prepared and do your best to plan ahead so you can make your scheduled appointments. You might also consider how the counselor handles last minute things that are sometimes unavoidable like sickness or family emergencies.
Keep in mind that the goal of these policies is not to charge you unfairly, but to respect the counselors time. Unlike most doctors offices, therapists book an entire hour slot just for you and it is very difficult to fill a last minute cancellation on the schedule which in many settings means the therapist will lose some expected pay for that week.
Asking these questions can help you get a better understanding of the therapist’s experience, approach, and philosophy, and whether they can meet your needs and help you and your partner achieve your goals.
April 2023, Jenny Beall, Counselor, Threads of Hope Counseling