What Is Marriage Counseling, and How Do We Find a Therapist?
Intimately experiencing so many seasons of life with another person through marriage is one of the most rewarding parts of life; however, we know long-lasting and healthy marriages do not exist without challenges. Learning to navigate the highs and lows of marriage is difficult to do alone. So, marriage counseling can be a great resource to equip you and your spouse with tools to overcome tough circumstances together. If you’ve already decided to give counseling a try, the next question you’re likely asking is, “How do we find a marriage counselor?”
Great question. We talked to Monique Wells, Licensed Professional Counselor, to get an answer to this question and others. Wells is based in Suwanee, Georgia, and she specializes in infidelity, premarital and marital issues, and spirituality. As a refresher, we’re first going to provide background information to describe what marriage counseling is. Then, we’ll move into helpful information regarding how to find a marriage counselor, choosing the right one with your spouse, how long you should expect to attend marriage counseling, and more. If we’ve piqued your interest, keep reading.
What is marriage counseling?
Marriage counseling, also known as marriage therapy, couples counseling, or couples therapy, is a form of joint counseling that focuses on helping couples identify marital problems and develop healthy solutions. Marriage counseling gives couples a safe space as well as devoted time, with a licensed marriage counselor or therapist, to have open communication and work through marital situations in order to move forward together.
Many people view marriage counseling as a last resort when their marriage is in crisis—they’re walking through infidelity or addiction, for example. Certainly, it’s a safe outlet for couples experiencing turmoil, but that’s not the only time counseling can be helpful. Marriage counseling can be beneficial for couples during many stages of marriage, helping them navigate transitions such as having a child, dealing with the death of a family member, becoming empty nesters, or caring for aging parents. Marriage counselors can help couples move from OK to good or good to great in certain aspects of their relationship such as financial struggles, general conflict resolution, trust, intimacy, parenting, and more.
How do we find a marriage counselor?
Once you and your spouse are committed to trying marriage counseling, and you’re beginning the journey to find a marriage counselor, Wells suggests following a few specific steps.
Step 1: There are several different models of marriage counseling, and you and your spouse may respond to a certain approach better than another. According to Wells, looking for counselors who specialize in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a great starting point. It’s a very effective form of therapy that helps couples improve their relationship by understanding and managing their emotions.
Step 2: Understand the challenge(s) you’re experiencing that you want to consult a marriage counselor about. Whether it’s a crisis, like infidelity or addiction, or a general relational issue, like financial struggles or conflict management, identify the problem, and search for a counselor who has expertise addressing that problem. It doesn’t have to be the only thing they specialize in, but you want to know they’ve seen and responded to the issue before.
Step 3: If you’re Christians, then it is highly important to search for a Christian marriage counselor. It’s extremely valuable to have a Christian counselor who will not only respect your beliefs but will incorporate your faith and scripture into your time together. Note—they don’t necessarily have to be a part of the same Christian faith denomination.
Step 4: Do your research to ensure the counselor will be the best fit for both of you. There are several ways to accomplish this. Cross-reference information about the marriage counselor(s) you’ve found before making a decision. If present, read reviews about them. If you know someone who has personally worked with the counselor and you’re comfortable, ask about their experience. Consider talking to your church pastor to see if they’re familiar with the counselor. You can also request an initial phone conversation to interview them asking them about their experience with your particular issue, how they approach counseling from a Christian perspective, and any other questions you would like answered before you make an appointment. Keep reading for some more specific questions you could ask.
Those steps are helpful. More practically, how do we find a marriage counselor? Do we search on Google?
Initially, you and your spouse could start by Google searching EFT marriage counselors in the city you live—Atlanta, Georgia—for example, or visit iceeft.com, to learn more about EFT and search for an EFT counselor via their free directory.
Secondly, Psychology Today is an easy to navigate website where you can quickly see a list of counselors in your area. Note—Psychology Today is a secular publication, so you’ll need to cross-reference information to make sure the counselor is a marriage counselor and to see if they bring a Christian perspective to their counseling, if that’s important to you.
Thirdly, if you live in a city where there’s a reputable counseling school, they may have an alumni network you could check. Wells, who’s local to Atlanta, Georgia, has encouraged people to call Richmont Graduate University in Atlanta—a school of counseling that integrates counselor education and Christian faith—to ask for recommendations. See if they have past graduates who have joined local counseling practices or started their own.
Once we’ve chosen a marriage counselor, then what?
Whether you interviewed your counselor ahead of time, or you’re going into your first visit hoping they are a good fit, choosing a counselor is similar to choosing a doctor. It’s important that you and your spouse both feel like the person is a good fit. Just because they are a highly rated counselor doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right one for you.
Here are a few questions you could ask your potential counselor during a phone interview or initial meeting.
- Do you typically do marriage counseling or individual counseling?
- Have you counseled couples through this type of challenge before?
- If so, how do you typically counsel through this challenge?
- How will you incorporate the Christian faith and scripture into our time?
- What is your typical rhythm for scheduling marriage counseling sessions?
- Are you going to be available over the next few months to support us?
- How will you approach sessions with us? Will you see us individually for some sessions as well as together for others?
After the initial meeting, talk with your spouse. Are you both comfortable with the marriage counselor? If not, continue searching until you find someone you both agree is a good fit. It’s important to prioritize finding the right counselor because you’re going to be embarking on an extremely vulnerable journey. You need to be on the same page about this.
How do we decide if we should go with a male or female marriage counselor?
This is also a decision you and your spouse need to make together. There are many reasons why you might prefer a male or female counselor. According to Wells, she’s heard nearly all reasons as to why a couple needs a male marriage counselor instead of herself. For Wells, her first step is to ask the couple to help her understand why they think they need a male. If it’s an issue like someone believes sides are going to be picked, or they’re going to be “ganged up on,” she reinforces why this won’t be an issue. If a husband grew up with an abusive mother, for example, and he may have a difficult time opening up to or receiving feedback from a female, this is a legitimate issue, and Wells would help the couple find a male marriage counselor who could serve their needs. Ultimately, it’s most important to talk with one another and decide who you’d feel most comfortable with.
Once we’re committed to attending marriage counseling, how long should we expect to work with a marriage counselor?
Every couple is different, and certainly, the length of time you and your spouse will need to be in marriage counseling will vary depending on the issue you’re looking to consult with a marriage counselor about.
Generally, Wells says to think about counseling as a three-to-six-month journey, at minimum, with at least bimonthly appointments, reiterating why it’s highly important to make sure the counselor you and your spouse choose will be available to work with you for this amount of time.
As an example, for most of her clients, Wells encourages them to see her weekly for the first six weeks. Then, she asks them to see her every other week. Additionally, for context, Wells typically sees clients together in sessions twice, and then, she sees them separately in sessions once or twice before bringing them back together again.
“Everyone is different, but asking about this rhythm is a good question for your potential marriage counselor,” says Wells. “I do not do long-term individual counseling with married couples because that can create a power struggle. If you’re dealing with an individual issue, anxiety for example, you should see a separate counselor as compared to seeing a marriage counselor to deal with a marital issue such as communication with your spouse.”
What if we don’t want to see a marriage counselor in our town?
If you and your spouse live in a small town, and you would feel more comfortable driving outside of town to see a marriage counselor, that’s OK. A helpful tip—depending on the commute, ask for a two-hour time window for bimonthly sessions rather than a one-hour time window for weekly sessions.
If we’ve been to marriage counseling before, and we want to go back, should we go back to the same marriage counselor?
Maybe. Maybe not. Wells says, “Marriage counselors are like shoes. Some fit. Some don’t. And, some are great in a particular season of life but would not be a good fit in a different season.”
“This is important because sometimes couples believe if a marriage counselor helped them before, then they must stay with them. If a counselor has served their purpose of helping you work through an issue, their time may be done. It may be time to work with a different counselor for a different challenge. It’s not bad if you feel like you’ve exited a season, and you need to change,” says Wells.
If you’re embarking on this journey for a second or third time, the information above is a great refresher. Remember—not all marriage counselors will fit with you and your spouse, even ones you’ve seen before, because you’ve changed, or your situation has changed.
Does WinShape Marriage offer marriage counseling?
WinShape Marriage does not offer marriage counseling. However, Marriage Intensives are held nearly every week on the WinShape Retreat campus in Rome, Georgia through either Focus on the Family or Center for Relational Care. You can contact them via the information below to determine which is the best fit for your marriage if you believe a Marriage Intensive is the next best step.
- Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored—Call 866-875-2915 to register. Visit the Focus on the Family Website.
- Center for Relational Care—Call 877-567-5656, ext 206, to register. Visit the Center for Relational Care Website.
So, you learned what marriage counseling is and how to begin the journey to finding a marriage counselor along with other vital information regarding marriage counseling. Are you ready to give it a try? We pray you and your spouse have a positive experience.