How to Choose a Good Therapist
Question: I’m on the eighth session of marriage counseling and this is the first time my husband and I have gotten this kind of help. We don’t really know what to expect, but it doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere. We fight in front of her the same way we fight at home and she keeps saying, “Is this working for you?” Or, “I think you are too defensive to hear what he is saying.” I know this already. Is this how counseling is supposed to go?”
Milan and I are asked this question all the time.
How do I pick a competent counselor?
Here are some suggestions.
First of all, you are the consumer.
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 are biased, but here are some good questions to ask in the first phone contact or appointment.
1. 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 you will discover it 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 what they wish to focus on.
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 feelings.
If you are shopping for couples therapy, a directive approach is beneficial in our opinion.
2. Do you look 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.
You will know, understand and have more compassion for yourself and your spouse if you gain insight about the strengths and weaknesses of your upbringing.
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.
3. 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 missies the entire 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.
4. How much experience do you have working with couples?
In our experience, there is a lot more competent individual therapist 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.
Love and blessings,
Milan and Kay