What Makes For a Good Marriage Counselor?

You may be surprised to learn that a lot of counselors have actually received little training in treating couples. And yet they readily take on couples as clients.

Buyer Beware.

My name is Brent Bradley, and I hold a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. Had I not been trained in this field, I wouldn’t know this either. My brother, for example, doesn’t know it.

Nor does my wife.

Or her sister.

If you are considering couples counseling, it’s a very good idea to know what kind of training credentials potential counselors hold. Think about it: A lawyer from Harvard may be fantastic if you are facing court and need a lawyer. Not so good if you have a toothache though.

In the past the therapy field tended to throw individuals and couples under the heading of general “Therapy” or “Counseling”. Not so anymore. Treating two people in a love relationship, for example, is very different from seeing an individual that is grieving a loss.

In the old days people saw their general doctor for everything – colds, childbirth, tonsillitis – you name it. Try going to your general doctor now for childbirth. Probably won’t happen. S/he will refer you out to a specialist. That’s because as our knowledge has increased, the medical field has grown into a field of specialties.

And so has the field of psychotherapy.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask about a therapist’s training and specialties before deciding on whom with to make an appointment. Finding out about a therapist up front may save you from disappointment down the road.

Here are a few suggestions:

* See a counselor that identifies as mainly a “couple therapist”. If this isn’t prominent on their webpage – not just listed among many other areas of treatment – but prominent, take note.

* Find out what percentage of their current weekly caseload is made up of couples. If it’s fewer than 50%, I’d go elsewhere.

* Find out if they have received intensive advanced training in couple therapy apart from graduate school. That means after receiving their degrees. Couple therapists often go to post-school weeklong trainings because they desire specialty training.

* Find out if they use an empirically supported approach with couples. Currently Behavioral Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy are the only two highly empirically supported couple treatment approaches.

* Even “marriage and family therapists” (believe it or not) may have received little training in couple counseling. These guidelines hold just as true for them as they do for psychologists.