With a marriage in crisis, or perhaps a perpetual state of tension, you need help. You need expert help. You want help you can trust and in which you have confidence that the expert you turn to will ably assist you. Sadly, when it comes to reaching out for help for marriage counseling, few have a sense of trust and confidence in their counselor. Stories abound about how they came out of a counseling session worse than when they went in. Why is that? Let’s unpack the most common complaints about marriage counselors and the marriage counseling process. I call this “The Five I’s of a Qualified Marriage Counselor.”
1) A Qualified Marriage Counselor offers wise Instruction
While being listened to feels good, and we all want to be completed heard, that isn’t enough to turn around a failing marriage. We want, need and should expect expert advice. We want someone who has extensive training in the problems for which we are seeking solutions, not superficial counsel from a beginner in the field. Just as we seek a heart specialist for heart problems, so too we seek a marriage specialist able to offer special skill for our problem. Too many counselors are stuck in the 20th century where the rule of thumb was, “Let the person come up with their own solutions.” A qualified Marriage Counselor offers wise counsel and points out self-defeating behaviors that are spoiling your marriage. With years of experience and thoroughly trained, they are willing to respectfully step on your toes, helping you uncover the reasons you have the same fights again and again. Unbiased, they confront both partners freely, and expect clients to receive the feedback effectively.
2) A Qualified Marriage Counselor takes an active Interest in the couple
Too many Marriage Counselors work nine to five, Monday through Friday, and are inaccessible to couples who are struggling. Many Marriage Counselors are unwilling to take emergency phone calls, schedule appointments out weeks in advance, and allow lapses in consistent counseling. Couples in crisis or with longstanding dysfunctional patterns need consistent care, offered in a context of genuine caring and Interest.
3) A Qualified Marriage Counselor offers Insight
With years of experience and thoroughly understanding your problems, your Marriage Counselor offers insight into why your problems recur. They are able to deftly put the pieces together, see the larger patterns, enabling you to see why you do what you do and how you can intervene in the processes that continue to trouble you. They don’t stop at telling you what they see, but assist you in seeing these patterns and recognizing them on your own in the future, with an understanding of how you will intervene when problems recur.
4) A Qualified Marriage Counselor is willing to work Intensively
Far too many people go to several counseling sessions, become discouraged or distracted, and give up. When the going gets tough in marriage counseling—and it will—a good Marriage Counselor sticks with you and challenges you to stick with them. They work at a pace that allows for gains to be made, which is most often more frequently that one hour per week. Many have found that one hour per week is simply not enough to get at the root of the problem, or enough to help you feel connected to your counselor. Find a counselor who will engage with you and work on agreed upon goals, working at a pace and level that promotes gains to be made.
5) A Qualified Marriage Counselor works In Depth
Short-term work offers short term gains. Superficial work offers superficial remedies. This is not what you really want. You want to work with a well-trained clinician who takes a keen interest in you and your problems, willing to spend the time and energy to go deep, uncovering dysfunctional patterns of behavior and assisting you with depth, lasting change.