Denise  Fitzpatrick

Denise Fitzpatrick

5 Things to Consider When Looking for Couples Therapy

Searching for a marriage counselor can be a time-consuming and overwhelming task. With so many therapists to choose from, it’s hard to know what the right choice is.  Most couples seeking help for their relationship will start by doing a Google search looking for, “Therapist near me.” Up pops a list of names or a link to Psychology Today, an online directory of therapists.  Then they start calling around to see who is taking new clients and who accepts their insurance.


Couples are just looking to find that first person who can make an appointment for them versus the one who is likely the best match to help them with their marriage. Unfortunately couples are not aware of what they should be looking for when it comes to choosing a therapist for their marriage or relationship.  When your marriage is in trouble, you can’t afford to choose the wrong therapist.


I often hear disappointing stories from clients about their previous experiences with couples counseling.  One tragic example is a couple who came to see me for Discernment Counseling after their last therapist advised them to separate.   It’s stories like this that made me realize the importance of educating consumers on how they can go about finding the best therapist for their relationship or marriage.  It can mean the difference between saving your marriage or heading for divorce court.


Here are five things to consider when choosing to work with a counselor for your marriage.

  1.  Be sure you find someone who specializes in working with marriages and relationships.

Couples counseling is a specialized skill set.  It is not the same as doing individual therapy with two people. Many well-meaning therapists say they do couples therapy but don’t realize that it is very different than individual therapy with two people.  This isn’t to say they aren’t good therapists, they just might not be the right therapist to help you with your marriage. 

In your search, if you come across a therapist website who works with individuals, couples, adolescents,etc. This most likely will not be the therapist to help you with your marriage or relationship. You want to be sure you are working with a therapist  who specializes in working with couples and at least 50% of their practice is based on work with couples.  

Choosing a therapist who is not a skilled couples counselor can cause more harm to your relationship than good.  It is important to look at a therapist’s qualifications and ask questions about their experience working with couples before choosing to work with them. When it comes to your marriage you want an expert to help you. Your marriage is too important to choose someone who doesn’t have the right training and enough experience with this complex work. Think of it this way, if you had a heart problem, you would see a cardiologist, not a general practitioner.


  1.   Don’t just go with the therapist who takes your insurance.

A very big life decision is going to be impacted by the work you do to keep or end this relationship. Be willing to make a financial investment instead of just seeking someone who accepts your insurance.Many couples therapists who specialize in working with couples do not bill insurance.  

Consider that the financial investment in a marriage counselor is only a fraction of the cost of an elaborate wedding celebration and an even smaller fraction of the cost of a lengthy and painful divorce.  Rather than face the heartbreak or financial pressure that comes with separation, why not invest those costs in your marriage.

Marriage Counseling often requires a financial investment and may not always be covered by insurance.  There are many well-qualified therapists who do accept insurance and may even accept the insurance you have.  However, when it comes to your marriage it is better to choose a well-qualified expert instead of just choosing one who accepts your insurance.  The costs involved in a divorce are also not covered by insurance and can add up faster than a well-qualified therapist.


  1. You should expect to have clear goals and a direction in your sessions.

I frequently hear stories from current clients or potential clients about bad experiences in couples therapy.  One or both partners often share their experience as, “It didn’t help; we just argued about the same things in session,” or “Our counselor just let us fight, we had no goals and just felt like we were venting.” If these statements resonate with you, that could be a sign that you are not with the right marriage counselor.

Couples therapy should always include clear goals and direction for the therapy. An effective marriage counselor will be actively involved in the session and should not just allow you to fight with your partner.  An effective counselor will take a strong leadership role and help you identify and change the negative cycle of arguing and blame in your relationship.

A marriage counselor with strong leadership can help identify unhelpful relationship patterns and provide a roadmap that will help you both move your relationship forward.  Trust your gut. If you’re attending session after session rehashing the same arguments you have at home, then you are not with the right counselor.


  1. Know how your therapist feels about marriage.

When your marriage is in trouble, you may have lost hope that it can be fixed.  A good couples therapist should always be holding hope for marriage and wanting to help relationships get back on track. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain times divorce is inevitable (abuse, addiction etc), but the therapist should not be promoting divorce.

You want to be sure you’re working with someone who is there to help you save your marriage and not just be a neutral party or someone who recommends divorce/separation.  Most marriage counseling is ineffective because therapists do not take a strong stand on marriage. Excluding domestic violence or addiction issues, most challenges can be overcome if a couple is willing to put in the hard work it takes to save the relationship

Choose a therapist who prioritizes the marriage over the individual.  When you are seeking help for your marriage you want to work with a therapist that is supporting the relationship instead of you as individuals.  If you go to counseling alone for help with your relationship or marriage be sure the couples counseling for one is marriage friendly and marriage focused.  If not this could backfire. Individual therapy without a relationship focus can undermine your marriage.


  1. Make sure you keep realistic expectations.

While above I have given you tips  on how to choose a good couples therapist, you should also know that when you do find the right therapist to work with, there is no magic pill or wave of a wand to make everything better.  You can’t show up to therapy expecting that your therapist can “fix” your relationship.  Changing and improving your relationship takes time, effort and some hard work.

Some couples come to counseling wanting big change with little effort.  Creating a better relationship is an active process and requires both partners make considerable effort to bring forth the changes they desire. Expecting significant change to happen in a few weeks is not realistic. Creating real, lasting change will take time and effort.

If you go into counseling with the expectation that the therapist will somehow make things better, you will undoubtedly be disappointed and leave feeling it didn’t work.  Therapists are the guide or facilitator of change but can only help to the extent that the client is willing to be active in the process.  If you’re willing to do the work it takes and have the support of a skilled therapist, you are on the right track to turn your relationship around.


Questions to ask when considering to work with a couples therapist.

  • What is your area of expertise?
  • How much of your caseload is working with couples?
  • What kind of couples have you had the best results with?

Choosing a therapist can sound challenging at the start of the process, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Using the above recommendations as a guide, invest in your marriage, take the steps to find the therapist best qualified to help you with your most important relationship. There is always hope for a marriage and taking the time to evaluate and decide on a marriage counselor will help you to restore your hope in yours.

Click here to learn more about my approach to couples counseling or call 617-694-7015

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