What Makes A Great Marriage Therapist? 14 Traits Of A Great Couples Therapist
You’re thinking about whether or not you should seek a couples therapist. When you start to google, “couples counselor in my area” thousands of names pop up and as you start browsing websites you are overwhelmed with the number of choices and options.
You may wonder if it’s just easier to ask a friend if they have ever gone to a marriage therapist. However, you’re not sure if you want anyone to know that you are looking for one yourself.
What Should I Look For In A Couples Therapist?
Many people start making phone calls and leaving messages for couples therapists before deciding what they are really looking for. Therefore, I’d encourage you before calling anyone, ask yourself, “What should I look for in a therapist?” and “What are the important traits of a great couples counselor?”
Let’s say that you decide that the marriage therapist should be helpful and take your insurance. Now, you start calling to make an appointment.
Warning: You may feel frustrated because therapists are not calling you back. If they do call you back, they say that they are full or can see you in 4 weeks. This sometimes happens, so be persistent and patient while finding the right therapist for you.
Secret To A Great Couples Therapist
You need information to make an informed choice. Many couples therapists list that they counsel couples with 10 different issues (Addictions, Affairs, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Eating Disorders and more) and are trained in 10 modalities (EFT, CBT, DBT, ACT, EMDR, Brainspotting, Mindfulness and the list goes on).
Besides being confused by all of the above abbreviations, some people may think the list looks like the therapist is very knowledgeable. You may not know that it is very difficult to actually accomplish being proficient in treating all of these disorders. Also, it is doubtful that they are experts in all of these methods due to the amount of time, money and commitment it takes to train in these modalities.
Also, many therapists list they are a couples therapist, but the therapist has no training. In addition, the therapist may state that they are Gottman trained, but you need to know what level of training they received-Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Certification. The time commitment and level of training is Very different from one level to the next level.
So if you are looking for the traits of a great couples counselor. you should look for a counselor who has expertise in your area of challenge and struggle and the modalities used to treat these issues.
Therefore, you should actually be informed and knowledgeable about what is stated on their website and marketing material.
A Guide To The 14 Traits Of A Great Couples Counselor
Not every great counselor is a great marital therapist.
Just like you would not use an internist for special eye surgery, it’s not advisable to use an individual therapist for couples therapy.
- Knowledge/Expertise: You deserve a great marriage therapist who can help you. Not all couples therapists have lots of training and supervision, but in general, the more knowledge a therapist has regarding your specific difficulty, the better equipped they are to help you resolve your issue.
- Training–Ask the couples therapist, “What type of training have you received?” and “What Institute is your training from?” Specify with the therapist if the training was on-line, by reading books, or in person. Training by reading a book does not make them an expert in different modalities. If you are seeing an individual therapist, their training should differ from couples therapy training. For example, Gottman and PACT training is specific for couples therapy. The therapist should have trained at a recognized Institute.
- Level–Ask the therapist, “What level of training did you receive?” and “How many levels are available?” For example, Gottman Couples Therapy has 3 levels and a certification track
- Supervision–Licensed therapists do not need continued supervision, but supervision is important for therapists to ensure they provide the best service to their clients. You can ask, “Are you being supervised to discuss your cases and how often do you meet with a supervisor? You are looking for a 1/month minimum.
- Years of experience–Certainly, years of experience as a couples therapist is not a guarantee that a therapist is effective, but one would hope with more experience the therapist would be better able to address your issues.
- Availability–You can’t expect (even though you may want to) a couples therapist to call you back in 5 minutes, but you should expect that they will contact you within 24 hours of your first contact with their availability. After your first meeting, the marriage therapist should communicate with you about the best way to reach them and how they manage contact outside of session.
- Compassion/Empathy–You want a couples therapist who can be understanding of your pain, be present with you as you discuss your vulnerabilities and be gentle with those tender spots. At the same time, you need the therapist to be in tune with you enough to know when it’s time to tell you it’s time to get up and move forward in life.
- Listening-A great couples therapist is a great listener who validates and encourages you. The therapist is not there to tell you their story, but is there to listen to your story. Infrequently, a marriage therapist might share something about themselves that is relevant, short and to the point that you can relate to or can help you in your situation. All couples therapists should focus on Alan Alda’s, an actor who is trying to promote the importance of empathy, statement, “Communication is headed for success when we pay more attention to what the other person is understanding rather than focusing solely on what we want to say.”
- Multicultural Competence-The marriage therapist should be aware of differences across cultures, genders, and religions. The therapist’s job is to understand the client, whether they are from the same background or another background. Therapists should be curious to understand and learn about others’ experiences.
- Admit Mistakes–We are all human and make mistakes and sometimes a therapist might make an error, such as not communicating clearly, cutting you off, making a mistake regarding your appointment, or misunderstanding you. I am of the belief that the vast majority of therapists do not intend to make mistakes. Any time a mistake is made (hopefully infrequently), the therapist should apologize to you for the error and correct the mistake if possible.
- Unbiased-One of the biggest complaints I hear from couples who have been in counseling before is that the therapist was biased and took sides. The couples therapist is working for the couple/relationship and needs to help the couple decide what’s best for them together. The therapist’s opinion on who may be right is unimportant (unless someone’s life is threatened or in danger). The couple needs to make the choices about how they run their relationship. The therapist is only there to help facilitate their decision making.
- Exercises/Tools–Couples therapists have exercises that are specific for couples and not just adapted from their individual practice. Marital therapists should receive extensive training to use these tools and exercises to benefit the couple.
- Scientific Method-To ensure you are receiving the best and most effective couples therapy, ask if their training is scientifically proven, such as Gottman, PACT and EFT. These methods have data to support their models.
- Insurance vs. Private Pay-Most qualified couples therapists do not accept insurance due to the issue of diagnosis and the length of a session. The usual couples session lasts for approximately 2-3 hours to allow the couple to effectively address their issues and concerns.
You are embarking on a very important decision that may affect you, your family, your children and others. Before deciding on a couples therapist, consider the 14 traits that make a great couples counselor.
Additional reading to support your relationship as you explore options for couples therapy and healing:
Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a licensed counselor in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Vermont and Florida. She also works with international couples and expats. With her support, you can learn how to use ADHD coping skills through an intensive marriage retreat or couples counseling. Reach out to Lisa for a 20-minute free private consultation today.