1. We need a consumer awareness movement about the risks of sharing marriage problems with just “any counselor.” We spend a lot of time researching appliances to purchase for our homes, reading labels on food before we feed them to our families; we consult and check references regarding nannies or daycare for our kids; we even go online to find locations for dog parks for Fido. Yet we look online for counselors near our home or office; we consult our HR department at work to find counselors who take our insurance; sometimes we ask friends if they know anyone. The research we do concerning appliances, daycare, or pets is really superfluous if our marriage ends and our family breaks up. Then we can look for divorce attorneys. Be prepared to ask the important questions and do your homework in selecting a counselor. Know what you need to ask.
2. Licensing boards and professional associations should have training requirements for therapists who claim to practice marital therapy. You can go online to check to see whether a therapist is duly licensed and whether there are outstanding complaints against his/her license. It is not a bad idea to ask other couples that you know believe in marriage counseling if they have used someone and whether s/he is professional and capable in their handling of these important marital issues. Understand though that each couple is unique in their personalities and issues that have arisen. One of the main questions to ask friends is whether the counselor is an advocate for staying in a marriage and trying to work things out.
3. Be prepared to ask questions to learn about the therapist’s training and value orientation. A lot can be learned these days by reading over a therapist’s website. If they do not have one, it makes your research a little more difficult. Read carefully through his/her website. You should get a good feel for the individual and the way s/he approaches marriage counseling and what background and training they have completed. You can ask the therapist on the phone or in the first session the following kinds of questions:
· “Can you describe your background and training in marital therapy?” If the therapist is self-taught of workshop-trained, and can’t point to a significant education in this work, then consider going elsewhere. Although appropriate training does not guarantee a competent therapist, it is a good place to start.
· “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 focusing only on helping each person clarify their own personal feelings and decisions, consider going elsewhere.
· “What percentage of your practice is marital therapy?” Avoid therapists who mostly do individual therapy.
· “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 breaks up while they are seeing you?” “What percentage does not improve?” “What do you think makes a difference in these results?” If someone says 100% stay together, I would be concerned, and if they say that staying together is not a measure of success for them, BE CONCERNED….Be very concerned.
· If you are a couple for whom your belief/faith system is important, ask “What are your values, morals and ethics?” If they don’t mesh with yours, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. If your faith belief is important and a therapist says that they try to not influence a couple with his/her own belief system that is also probably not a good fit. If you live your life within a certain faith system, doesn’t it make sense to look for that when it comes to counseling you family?
Over 20 years ago, Dr. Harville Hendrix wrote a book entitled Getting the Love You Want. In it, he proposed what he called the Imago Theory. Stripped down to its basic thrust, he opines that all of us come to our adulthood with some unfinished business with an important caretaker from our childhood. As an adult, we then try to find someone who has similar characteristics as that significant caregiver from our childhood. When I ask about that and inquire from each person, “Did you marry your mother or your father?” They almost always know. My comment is then, you can end this marriage if you want to but without understanding this important issue, the individual will just go somewhere else and find another individual with similar characteristics. Why not stay where you are—especially when a couple has children—and fix this relationship?
To answer some of these questions about Helen Wheeler and the Center for Families: while in graduate school, I took every course available at the Citadel in the counseling department concerned with marriage and family issues. The bulk of my practice is concerned with family issues. I work with a lot of divorced or divorcing families and I can warn you and inform you of what issues these divorced individuals bring with them. I can also talk with a great deal of experience to parents about what happens to children when parents can’t/don’t/won’t fix their marriages. In EVERY measurement that we have that looks at children’s success in school as well as later in their lives; children in intact families do better. Having said that, I am not able to save every marriage that presents itself in my office. There are far more that can be saved than can’t be saved. There are many variables that impact the success of marriage counseling. The most important single one being: DESIRE. Do you want to save your marriage? If so, we can usually do it. Call for help now.