How to Choose the Couples Therapist That’s Right for YOU!

Perhaps you're struggling with anger in your relationship, balancing duties, taking care of children, sexual problems, a lack of intimacy, managing long-distance relationships, imbalances in the work/home spectrum... the list goes on! Unlike individual therapists who help a client achieve their personal goals, couples therapists must be skilled at handling the differences that arise when two people co-exist in close quarters.

Keeping these tips in mind can be helpful in making sure you're working with someone who is willing to help bring your relationship to a new level. Remember to stay empowered in your search for the right therapist for you and your partner.

During your search for a couples therapist...

·    First thing's first: Be sure to ask any other health professionals in your life if they have any specific couples therapist referrals. If you deeply trust your pediatrician or holistic health coach, they might also have some insight into what sort of therapist would be most helpful for your growth as a couple.

·    After you've acquired a few recommendations, whether through your own searching or through a health professional or friend, remember your power! Many therapists are open to scheduling a brief phone consultation before meeting in person. You have the right to shop around! Imagine yourself as an employer interviewing potential employees for an important new role. Interview as many couples therapists as you'd like!

·    Remember that you have the right to cancel after your first session. If you or your partner have a gut sense that the therapist is not the right match, it might be best to try another therapist, rather than continue on with something that's not healing for your relationship.

·    Make sure that your therapist is trained & experienced in marital or couples counseling. Some evidence-based couples therapy methodologies include Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and the Gottman method. Some therapists even work almost exclusively with couples, offering greater depth of focus to their work, which will be empowering for you in the long run.

·    You might find it useful to work with a couples therapist who is a member of an organization devoted to couples therapy or relational work. Their alignment with these organizations shows a commitment to their couples work. Some of these organizations include CAMFT (California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists), AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists), & AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors & Therapists).

And once you've chosen a couples therapist...

·    Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, notes the importance of checking to make sure that your therapist is biased in the direction of making your marriage or partnership work, as opposed to only helping you leave. While sometimes individuals find greater happiness after leaving a partnership, it's the couples counselor's job to help highlight the potential to heal and beautify the relationship, creating a stronger foundation for a loving future.

·    It's important that you feel valued and comfortable around your couples therapist. If you start to notice your therapist taking one side over the other, that's never a good sign. If you feel uncomfortable with the way your therapist is approaching the work, raise your concern! If they honor your feedback, that's a great sign, and if not, it may be wise to leave.

·    Over time, check your therapist's values about love and relationships. The closer they are to the values you hold as a couple, the greater the chance of the therapeutic relationship having a healing bond. If your therapist is headstrong about relationships looking one particular way, that may be a sign of close-mindedness that can hinder the process of therapy.

·    Watch out for therapists pushing their values onto you. If they begin to question your relationship or tell you what to do in a way that is inconsistent with your values, that's a sure sign that you deserve a better couples therapist.

·    Set and maintain your goals for therapy early on! Setting a concrete goal and sticking to it is one of the most important factors in eliciting change in any relationship. If you are not seeing any progress within the first month of therapy, it may be a sign that your couples therapist is not working out for you. Find a new therapist who is willing to work with you to set reachable & remarkable goals!

·    Make sure your therapist is working on helping you transform the wounds of your past into the worlds of your future. While digging into childhood and early traumas can be deeply healing work, it's important to maintain a sense of how this healing will shift your relationship into the future. 

What's perhaps most important in the process of choosing and working with a couples therapist is trusting your instincts. If something isn't feeling right for one or both of you, you must trust that your gut does not lie. Your choice to treat yourselves to a better therapeutic relationship can be a symbol of your choice to better your own relationship. Remember that your challenges are solvable and that you deserve the best possible therapist to help you solve them!

Happy therapist-hunting! Remember to do your research, trust your instincts, and let love flourish

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Greg Tilden, AMFT, is an admin coordinator st SF Marriage and Couples Center and 2018 graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies. As a person who is passionate about holding space for people to find their own inner tools for wellness and self-development, he contributes his work to SFMCC and Amador Institute, Inc. Greg envisions the process of therapy a fun, co-creative & curious endeavor. In his spare time, he enjoys astrology, tarot, creating and appreciating music & art, and exploring nature.