I am a relationship counsellor. You may not realise that not all counsellors, therapists and psychologists are specifically trained in relationship counselling. General counselling and psychology training covers only one or two units related to working with couples. Specific training in couples, marriage or relationship counselling is necessary and important to achieve effective results with relationship issues. It’s unfortunate that some psychologists and counsellors in Australia are working with couples without having specific training or skills in this area.
When you are searching for a relationship counsellor think about asking them the following questions that were developed by Steven Meineke.
“Can you describe your background and training in marital therapy?” If the therapist is self-taught or workshop-trained, and can’t point to a significant education in this work, then consider looking elsewhere.
“What percentage of your practice is marital therapy?” You may want to avoid therapists who mostly do individual therapy.
“What are your values about the importance of keeping a marriage together when there are problems?” If the therapist says he or she is “neutral” or “I don’t try to save marriages, I just try to help people,” consider looking elsewhere.
“What is your approach when one partner is seriously considering ending the marriage and the other wants to save it?” If the therapist responds by saying he or she only focuses on helping each partner clarify his or her own personal feelings and decisions, consider looking elsewhere for a therapist.
“Of the couples you treat, what percentage would you say work out enough of their problems to stay married with a reasonable amount of satisfaction with the relationship?” “What percentage break up while they are seeing you?” “What percentage do not improve?” “What do you think makes the difference in these results?” If someone says 100 percent stay together, I would be concerned, and if they say that staying together is not a measure of success for them, I would also be concerned.
A good counsellor should ask you for feedback about your counselling experience it is very important to give this feedback and make adjustments if it is not working for you. Again Steven makes the following observations.
Skilled marriage counsellors will not sit there passively while you and your spouse spend most of the session fighting just like you do at home; they will interrupt your unproductive fights to offer guidelines and suggestions for better communication.
Skilled marriage counsellors will almost always see you and your spouse together and are highly unlikely to suggest ongoing individual therapy sessions.
Skilled marriage counsellors won’t pick sides or focus on one partner as the main cause of the marital problems; they will try to help you and your partner participate equally in resolving issues as a team.
Skilled marriage counsellors are not neutral; they are advocates of healthy marriage. Although skilled marriage counsellors value individual happiness, they realise that many individuals have never experienced the quality of happiness that can be achieved in a marriage relationship that is equal, intimate and enduring. You may have moments during therapy when you want to throw in the towel, but you should be able to expect your therapist to be the last person in the room to give up.
A skilled marriage counsellor will never directly tell you to stay married or get divorced; in fact, giving such direct advice is against the code of ethics of most professional associations.
Many people report having regrets about their divorce, some divorces are preventable, and many leave a marriage to soon and tend to repeat the same mistakes. I my opinion it is important to give is all you have got to make your relationship work. If we want to change our relationship its best to begin with oneself and ask questions of people who know something about having a successful relationship.
How to Choose a Marriage Counsellor by Steven E. Meineke, M.A., M.Div.
(The original version of this article was published in San Diego Family Magazine, May 2000)