How to Choose a Good Therapist
We are often asked for referrals from all over the United States for therapists who are familiar with our approach. Do you have someone trained in our area? How can you find a good therapist?
Here are some suggestions. First of all, you are the consumer. Ask questions. Shop around. Try to work off referrals from people who have already been helped by the counselor you call. When you make phone contact, briefly explain your problem and ask the counselor to share how they would approach such an issue. Try and chat on the phone with at least three different counselors.
Milan and I have opinions about what makes a good couples therapist. Here are some questions you might want to ask in the first phone contact or appointment.
How many couples do you see per week?
Obviously, the more couples a therapist sees in their practice the more experience they have with couples. Most therapists only see a few couples and mostly individuals. Or, they split couples up and see them as individuals. You want a therapist who works primarily with couples.
Do you work with a couple together or in separate session?
Milan and I think it is imperative to see a couple together. The therapist misses the dynamic of how the couple relates when they are seen separately. While there may be a good reason to have one or two individual sessions, this should be the exception not the norm.
Are you more direct or indirect in your approach to working with individuals or couples?
Counselors come in many flavors and schools of thought. Some are indirect, believing the answer is in you and can be discovered if you have a safe place and a good listener. This type of counselor will take a more passive role letting you direct the topic and content of the session. This kind of therapist might be good for a person who always finds themselves “one down” in relationships being told what to do and how to think.
In such a setting the client would have to learn to “take charge” and take responsibility for the focus on the session. A passive person might benefit from individual counseling with a more indirect approach.
Other counselors are more “directive” with the mindset to give guidance, teaching, insight and at times may have an agenda for the session when you come for your appointment. Our most common complaint from people (especially couples) who are unhappy with their counseling is this: “The counselor just sat there and I was never sure where we were going or what was supposed to happen.” When it comes to couples therapy Milan and I take a very directive approach.
We use the principles in our book to set the agenda and teach couples the root of their marriage struggle, regardless of the presenting issue. We use session time to practice (with guidance) listening, discovery of the childhood injuries that contribute to the marriage dynamic, holding and comforting. We point out triggers (areas of over reactivity in the marriage dynamic) and tie them back to childhood experiences and feelings.
If you are shopping for a couple’s therapist, in our opinion, a directive approach is beneficial.
Do you look at the past and assess development or do you just focus on present issues?
Milan and I are of the opinion that you should have a Ph.D in your spouse’s childhood. This doesn’t mean spending years combing through childhood memories. We explore enough to understand the major impact and resulting love style. We give couples tools to keep exploring on their own. When you understand history, you will have more compassion for yourself and your spouse. Often your spouse’s most irritating behavior is the result of a wound in their childhood. Most of us reach adulthood lacking full maturity in some areas. We need to develop and grow in certain areas. Understanding one’s background helps pinpoint these areas.
How much experience do you have working with couples?
In our experience, there is a lot more competent individual therapists than there are couples therapists. Why? Because it is a lot easier! Many therapists don’t do a lot of couples work. It is OK to ask how much experience a therapist has. If they get defensive, that is definitely not a good sign.
Next week we will look at the client’s role in getting the most out of their counseling.