How do I choose the right person to help with my marriage or relationship?

The importance of choosing the right person to help with your relationship cannot be overstated. Of course you’ll want to find someone with whom you feel you can trust and talk openly.

Just as important, however, is selecting someone who has significant experience with couples and relationships and who works from a relationship-based therapeutic approach such as Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT), a highly-successful, empirically-validated approach for improving relationships.

EFCT has been extensively researched and shown to achieve lasting improvement. 70–75% of couples move from distress to recovery, and 90% show significant improvements. I am one of only a few local practitioners who specialize in marriage and relationship therapy and am a Lifetime member of the International Centre for for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy.

What should I watch out for when choosing a marriage counselor?

Generally speaking, you may want to proceed with caution if you are working with a practitioner whose primary focus is with individuals and who has limited real-world experience working with couples.

According to a national survey by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 80 percent of therapists in private practice offer couples therapy, however few have taken a single class in the subject. In fact, the majority of academic programs for becoming a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor don't require a single class in marriage or couples counseling. As a result many therapists learn couples therapy by trial and error. Most work with couples on the side and have never had anyone observe or critique their technique with couples.

What are the warning signs your therapist may cause more harm than good?

  • Appearing to side with one partner over the other.

  • Advising or suggesting to partners that they may be better off apart.

  • Allowing individuals to interrupt, blame or criticize one another.

  • Failing to control sessions and allowing partners to engage in open conflicts during the session.

  • Making simplistic suggestions about ‘date nights’ or ‘good communication’ but offering little else of substance.

If you’re already in relationship counseling and are encountering these warning signs, please consider finding a new therapist as soon as possible to avoid causing irreparable damage to your marriage.

Is couples counseling really any different from individual counseling?

Yes. The therapeutic approach to marriage counseling is very different than that in individual counseling. Individual therapies tend to focus on individual thinking errors, mental disorders or pathologies, and while these issues may affect a relationship, their treatment is very different and may involve individual behavior modification, medication or other intervention.

In contrast, successful couples counseling will generally work from an attachment model which addresses our need as humans for a secure connection with our partner. Treatment usually involves identifying and interrupting the negative cycle that stands in the way of that connection rather than individual problems that are affecting the marriage.