Choosing a Marriage Counselor to Avoid Divorce

Finding counselors is easy; there are nearly as many of them as there are lawyers. As with lawyers, it’s picking a good one that is difficult. Don’t waste your money and time with an ineffective counselor. You deserve a counselor you feel comfortable with and have confidence in. You want experience, not a role in someone’s on-the-job-training.

A professional counselor will preserve your confidentiality. Using a trusted family friend or even your minister can create problems. Some loss of confidentiality will occur when you meet in a social setting. Most importantly, you’re only likely to give this marriage one more chance, and it should be your best shot using the best professional available.

The yellow pages are filled with marriage counselors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. You can choose from such categories as L.C.S.W., M.A., M.D., M.F.C.C. and Ph.D. Don’t let this alphabet soup of licenses, degrees and credentials sidetrack you. Here are the typical, basic backgrounds of each, omitting details of training, course and experience requirements:

LCSW:Master’s from accredited school of social work; Licensed Clinicaltwo years’ supervised postmaster’s experience;

Social Workerexamination by state board

MA: Master’s degree

Master of Arts

MD: Graduation from approved medical school;

Doctor of Medicine:examination by national board; one-year may be a psychiatristpostgraduate training

MFCC:Doctorate/master’s in psychology or counselingMarriage, Familyexamination by national board; one-year

and Child Counselorpostgraduate training from accredited school; two years’ supervised experience in interpersonal relationships, one of which is post-degree; examination by state board

Ph.D: Doctorate in psychology from accredited school; Doctor of Philosophy;two years’ experience under supervision ofalso Psychologist; alsolicensed psychologist, one of which is post-degree; Licensed Psychologistexamination by state board

The two extremes represent more—and less—firepower than you’ll probably need. Rarely will you need a psychiatrist for marital counseling. Listing an MA is no help; all these professionals have gone to college and emphasized training in fields similar to or exactly what you’re looking for. When you eliminate the MDs and the MAs, the rest are grouped over a fairly narrow range. Their hourly rates correlate fairly well with the stiffness of their training, if you add an experience factor.

In this remainder are the mainstream relationship counselors: Marriage and Family Counselors, Psychologists and Licensed Clinical Social Workers. An M.F.C.C. is very appropriate as your counselor. Many of the best and most experienced counselors dealing with relationships are psychologists. Licensed Clinical Social Workers, however, do not appear to be as numerous or as involved in relationship counseling.

Second, it is your choice of one particular professional from among many that is critical. You need reliable information concerning individuals; a referral to a great clinic is useless because you don’t know who at the clinic is great. You will be putting all your emotional eggs in this counselor’s hands. Don’t rely entirely on shortcuts.

One of you may already be seeing a counselor; forget about using him or her to treat the two of you. That counselor is committed to one of you and can’t wear two hats. Each of you must get objective advice. The appearance or suspicion of bias resulting when the therapist and one of the patients have previously worked together is likely to wreck the chance for successful counseling. Instead, you may wish to ask the existing therapist to recommend several counselors for you both to consider.

Referrals from friends are the usual way people look for a counselor. Examine the basis for the referral. Would they really recommend their counselor? Or, is it merely that they know this counselor and want others to think they have selected a good one? How do you know your friend doesn’t have some relationship with his or her counselor? What qualifications does your friend have to judge a counselor’s effectiveness?

If you are blessed with both laziness and luck, quit with the first name someone gives you. Otherwise, ask your friend about the method used in picking their counselor and about the specific traits causing him or her to recommend this counselor.

Your family doctor is a good source for names of counselors that he or she knows, or that patients have praised. Your minister may be able to recommend someone, or to put you in touch with someone who can. It always expedites matters when a professional helps you find the professional right for you.

Third, set up a joint meeting with the best prospect. This first visit is really a trial visit. Do you feel understood? Do you sense a regard for what you say? Merely because the counselor is recommended doesn’t mean he or she is the one for you.

Is your counselor licensed by the state? Are you looking for a special area of expertise? Ask this counselor about special training and experience in that area. Evaluate your comfort levels with the counselor. Set an agenda for yourselves, both in and out of the counselor’s office.

If the two of you don’t believe this is the counselor for you, repeat the process. You must feel you’re working with the right person to give your marriage its best chance. However, if one of you is unhappy with every prospective counselor, forget marital counseling. There’s only so much you can do alone. Your partner’s apparent sabotage of efforts to save the marriage makes it look hopeless. Don’t continue to look for "the" counselor once you feel it’s just a waste of time. If you’re seeing the third candidate in your search, bring up for discussion your concern about your spouse’s rejection of each prior candidate.

Fourth, once you have a mutually acceptable counselor, ask for suggestions about what to avoid and what to try to accomplish before the next meeting. It’ll be much less expensive if you get actively involved in resolving the problem, rather than attending an endless series of sessions because you’re unable to do anything productive without a referee.

Assume several meetings will be needed to establish a constructive pattern. After that, you should expect progress and a mutual effort. Counseling probably isn’t going to save this marriage if there’s no progress after four or five meetings.

Fifth, what should you do if no progress is being made? The fault could lie with the counselor, your spouse or you. Blame the counselor and look for a new one if you and your spouse know you’re sincerely working at it but don’t feel you’re getting your money’s worth. Blame your spouse if you can’t think of anything else or it simply makes you feel good. If you blame yourself, keep it to yourself: better to say that counseling simply isn’t going to be able to resolve the problems of this marriage.

You won’t make much progress trying to head in two directions at the same time. If you have seen a lawyer and discussions or proceedings have begun, consider putting divorce proceedings safely on hold while reconciliation is explored. See Chapter Eight for ways your lawyer can preserve the "status quo" during counseling. You want to prevent your spouse from gaining financial or strategic advantage while you try to be the nice guy.

See Chapter Three, about pre-separation planning, to help avoid doing something foolish whether or not you have a lawyer. Set ground rules with your spouse for "dating," the children, the budget, privacy, sleeping arrangements and whatever else concerns you while you are involved in counseling.

How good are the prospects for saving your marriage with of do-it-yourself counseling using some book in the rack next to this one? Not good. You’re here, at this point in this book, because the two of you haven’t been successful in solving your problems alone. If you can make a commitment to something sensible one of you reads somewhere, give it a try. My pessimism about doing it yourself comes from expecting that you’re only going to give your marriage one more try: maximize your chance of success and use the best professional help you can get.