Choosing the right couples therapist

The most important relationship in your life needs some help. Who do you call?

First of all, congratulations. Deciding you need some help is the biggest hurdle, and it's already behind you! Finding your own therapist online can be stressful and a bit overwhelming. With hundreds of therapist profiles, how do you choose? What should you look for? This is your family, your life, after all. In the hope of making your search as painless as possible, here is some basic advice to help you choose.

Look for a therapist with specialized training in a proven model of couples therapy. The research on effective therapy is clear: Therapists using a specific, proven treatment model have the best outcomes, regardless of the model they use. Of course at Mend, we love EFT, but there are lots of models out there. You just need someone with specialized training and experience in relationship therapy. Did you know the vast majority of therapists advertising themselves as couples therapists have never had specialized couples training? It’s a scary, but important, truth. Once you know it, though, you can narrow your search with more confidence.

When reading profiles, the following might help you:

  • If a therapist doesn’t feature couples therapy prominently on their website or profile, you might want to move on. It should not be an add-on service.

  • If they mention a specific treatment model, are they certified in it?

  • Do they list numerous treatment specialties or treatment models? No one can be an expert in everything. When a therapist throws together different models, even ones proven effective, you aren’t getting the best of all the models put together. You are getting treatment that has never been tested, researched, or proven to work.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about their practice and experience. Here are some questions that might help:

  1. What specialized training do you have in couples therapy?

  2. What treatment model do you use? If they mention a model, ask them if they're certified in it. There’s a big difference between “some training” and certification.

  3. How long have you been doing couples therapy? What percentage of your practice is spent doing couples therapy?

  4. How does your therapy work? Meaning, what do you believe causes relationship distress and how do you help fix it?

  5. Have you helped couples going through struggles similar to our own?

  6. What is your rate and availability? Even if you really like them, these details matter. Therapy will most likely take a few months. Make sure it's feasible over time.

Second, even if your therapist is considered an “expert” in their field, none of that training will help if you aren’t a good fit relationally. The emotional connection between you and your therapist is extremely important. Both partners need to feel comfortable with their clinician’s general presence and style; otherwise, couples therapy is more likely to fail. No two therapists are alike. At the end of the day, we’re just people with specialized training. One therapist might crack jokes and even shed a tear with you, while others remain steady and cool all the time. Here are some ways to explore “fit” with a potential therapist, prior to the first appointment:

  • Pay attention to the style and personality that comes through on their website or profile. Does their style feel like a fit for you? Don't worry if it doesn't. Trust your gut.

  • Do a free phone consult. Be wary of someone unwilling to do a free consult. Most couples therapists are happy to speak with you before scheduling a first appointment.

  • Notice as you talk together, do you feel comfortable? Do their questions or comments feel relevant to you? Are they interested in eliciting and answering your questions?This short conversation will give you a very quick initial impression of what therapy might be like with them. If the call doesn't feel positive overall, it’s okay to trust your gut and keep looking. You will find someone.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your questions. Share your concerns. They matter.

If you start working with a therapist, please remember that you are a consumer. If the experience feels off, unhelpful, or confusing, talk with your therapist about it. A good therapist wants to know your experience. If talking about it doesn’t help, consider finding a new therapist. Don’t assume it’s all your fault or that you can’t try someone new.

I hope these tips help you find the right therapist for you. Keep moving forward; you are one step closer to the relationship you really want. 

If our blog and practice might be a fit for you, we’d love to speak with you! You can reach us at (703) 687-6797 or visit us online.

Melissa Peters