No marriage comes without struggle. Even the happiest of couple’s have probably listened to The Clash hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now” having felt a direct relation to the lyrics. If you’re at a point in your relationship where you want to save it, but don’t quite know how, couples therapy is worth a try.

Couples counselor and licensed clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz tells us the top three reasons couples come to therapy are a lack of effective and lasting communication skills, a lack of love and affection, and to decide whether or not the relationship is worth saving. She adds that almost anything can be solved with proper communication skills involving both the way you relay feelings, and how intently you can listen and respond.

How-to-Pick-a-Couples-or-Marriage-Counselor-3Attending couples therapy can be daunting. If you’re having problems in your relationship, sitting together to mull them over with a stranger is probably the last place you want to be. But, in Sarah’s experience, couple’s therapy is great for relationships at all stages.

Premarital counseling is great because it helps you develop communication patterns and skills that will help you have a happy and successful marriage.” Sarah says,  “If done well, it also prompts you to discuss issues you may not have considered but will likely run into as the marriage continues.”

When it comes to issues with transitions such as having a baby, sending the kids to college, infidelity etc, Sarah says that a couple’s therapist can help provide an unbiased opinion from a person who has helped other couples experiencing the same issues.

Even if your problems are not make or break, “A good couples therapist can help you mediate your conversations to ensure that they are productive as well as teach you new ways of communicating that are more effective than what you may be doing now.” she says.

We asked Sarah the best approach to finding the right marriage counselor for you.

How important is it to find the “right fit” in a marriage counselor?

Finding the right fit in a counselor is crucial to your success in therapy but it can be difficult. If you’ve never had a great fit with a therapist before or have never been in therapy to begin with, it’s hard to know when it’s right and when it’s time to move on. Unfortunately many couples settle with the first therapist they find even if it doesn’t feel 100% right. It’s important that you assess the fit after a few sessions and move on if you don’t feel like there is a good connection with your therapist.

What kind of process do you recommend couples go through to find the right therapist?

Most people prefer to start by asking for a recommendation. You can ask trusted friends, family, your doctor, or even go online and read reviews of therapists to determine who would be a good fit. If you are using insurance, a good place to start is by getting a list of providers from your insurance carrier and research each therapist from there. Depending on where you live, you may have a lot of options or you may only have a few. If you have a lot of options, start by researching those therapists that are closest to your home or if you prefer, those that provide online therapy. The easier it is for you to schedule and get to your appointments, the better. If you live in an area with limited options for therapists, online therapy might be a great option for you. Most therapists will have a website where you can read about them and learn a bit more about their treatment approach. Read through the website of every therapist you are considering and see which one feels the best to you.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, ask to speak with each of them on the phone. Most therapists will talk to you on the phone for 10 to 15 minutes before you schedule an appointment. Some questions you might consider asking them are:

  • How much of your practice is comprised of couples vs individuals?
  • What is your approach to therapy? Are you more directive or do you tend to be more passive in therapy? (And of course you have to decide which you prefer in a therapist).
  • Do you have a specific theoretical orientation you work from? (Some answers you might hear include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Imago Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Psychodynamic). Look up the theoretical orientation they tell you and read about it to determine if that sounds like a good fit for your personalities.

How-to-Pick-a-Couples-or-Marriage-Counselor-2Many times, it can take time to warm up to the process of therapy. What should couples expect from their therapist in the first couple of sessions?

The first session is typically about getting to know each other. The therapist will likely ask you a lot of questions about your history as a couple as well as your individual histories. Some therapists prefer to meet with you as a couple first and then have an individual session with each of you before coming together again as a couple. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable in your first session. Opening up to a stranger is difficult and awkward at best. Therapists are used to this and are usually able to sense when you’re feeling nervous. Nonetheless, it can be helpful for you to tell your therapist when you are feeling nervous so they can make you feel more comfortable and help you process these emotions. If you still feel uncomfortable talking to your therapist after 2 to 3 sessions, it’s likely because it’s not a great fit.

I’m sure this varies from couple to couple, but is there an average amount of time you see couples stay in therapy before they feel ready to mend their relationship on their own again?

This does vary widely and depends on what issues the couple is dealing with, how much they work on their relationship outside of therapy, how frequently they attend sessions, how severe the issues are, and whether the therapist is a short-term or long-term therapist. In my own practice, couples stay in therapy an average of 3-4 months before they are able to maintain the relationship without therapy. Sometimes, couples come back for a refresher if things escalate and get stressful again.

Just like anything, the road to success is not all sunshine and skittles, but for those considering counseling Sarah has this to add:

“I know the thought of going to counseling might seem daunting in the first place and that it may seem even more daunting to switch therapists once you have found one, even if things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped. Sometimes it’s easier to stay with a known quantity than to go out into the unknown again. However, finding a therapist that is a good fit for you and your partner can make all the difference in your relationship and ultimately, in your life.”