If saving the marriage is important to both partners, finding a good marriage counselor is probably the most important thing you will ever do. The tips for finding a good marriage counselor are no different than what you would do to find a counselor for any issue.
The best way to find out if someone is a good marriage counselor is to ask people who have used their services. If you do not have friends or family who have used a marriage counselor (or who will admit to it), ask the counselor to give you references. Of course he or she will undoubtedly give you the names of satisfied customers, but that will still give you a feel for the counselor’s ability.
Note: Successful marriage counseling does not always end in the couple staying together. Counseling may show them that there are just too many incompatibilities, too many differences in values and goals.
Being in the business for a long time does not necessarily mean a counselor is good at their job. Still, it is one indicator that suggests someone knows what she or he is doing. Someone who has been counseling for a long time should have learned a few things along the way. A really bad marriage counselor is not likely to last very long in the business.
Credentials are not really as important, in my opinion, as the first two criteria. Stronger credentials do not necessarily guarantee a good counseling experience. In the hierarchy of therapists, we have psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists such as Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
Unless a psychiatrist specializes in marriage counseling, he or she may be less well-trained than other therapists. The same could be said for psychologists. It is better to find a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in marriage counseling than one who is simply willing to occasionally see couples for marriage counseling.
The training of MFTs and LPCs varies from one state to another. There are differences in the number of hours of internship required. There are differences in the tests required for licensure. The credentials of a marriage counselor or therapist are not sufficient for making this important judgment. Still, they may have more training in this area than their psychiatrist or psychologist counterparts.
Any minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader can legally provide marriage counseling. This is a common part of most ministries, as is officiating at marriages. Some will offer marriage counseling without charge if you are a member of the congregation. Some belong to national pastoral counseling organizations, which does not necessarily qualify them as good marriage counselors.
There are many other categories of counselors with less in the way of degrees or licensure. Anyone can call herself a spiritual counselor. For that matter, legal ordinations can be obtained for a few bucks. I have such an ordination myself. Although there are organizations that teach coaching and give licenses, this is not a regulated industry. Anyone can call himself a coach.
I do not mention this last category to warn you or denigrate their collective abilities. You may find the best marriage counselor among this latter group. You would simply need to use the same criteria for them as for any others. Get references and look at their longevity and track record.
Marriage counseling involves an intimate relationship between three people. Regardless of references, experience, or credentials, both spouses must feel comfortable with the counselor. Usually it takes just one session to decide if there is compatibility. If either spouse feels that the counselor is taking sides, the counseling will break down and will not be successful.
Ultimately, the sincerity of each partner in seeking help to save the marriage will be the biggest indicator of success. The best marriage counselor in the country will not be able to save a marriage, which was already over before the couple came to counseling. A good marriage counselor can be a great help in opening up communication and helping the spouses see things from a different perspective, but only the couple themselves can save their marriage.
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