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Interested in couples counseling, but not sure how to find a therapist who's a great fit? Then this is the guide for you!
Here are six steps to finding the perfect couples counselor for you and yours:
Step 1: Know which certifications you're looking for
Many couples counselors are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs). However, social workers (LICSW/LCSW), psychologists, and other mental health practitioners can work with couples, too.
When searching for a couples counselor, make sure sure that they check the following boxes:
- Have an advanced degree in mental health treatment, such as a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, psychiatry, or social work
- Have experience and training working specifically with couples
- Have licensure to practice in the state where you live
Step 2: Pinpoint what you want to work on as a couple
It’s generally helpful to clarify your goals together before starting couples counseling.
Dr. Nicoletta Skoufalos, a psychologist in Midtown West, Manhattan, suggests talking over the following questions together:
- How do we want to grow as a couple?
- Do we need to work on our conflict style?
- Could we improve the quality or frequency of our intimacy?
- Are we abusive to each other?
- Do we have shared goals, and what are our goals as a couple?
- Do we need to work on listening to and validating each other?
Once you have a clearer idea of what you want out of therapy, it can be easier to find a therapist who’s prepared to help you meet those goals.
Step 3: Decide which type of couples counseling is right for you
Couples counseling can vary widely, depending on what you want to work on and what kind of therapist you choose. You may prefer open-ended therapy, or skill-based.
Some forms of couples counseling are more open-ended, focusing largely on discussion and processing of emotions.
- Focus largely on discussion and emotion processing
- Typically complemented with activities designed to help you and your partner build skills together, and better understand your relationship
Activities might include:
- Communication exercises
- Mindfulness practices
- Conflict resolution techniques
- Trying out new communication strategies
- Scheduling time to spend together
- Mindfully observing your typical interaction patterns
Structure-oriented therapy (such as EFT, emotionally focused therapy):
- Therapist observes your interactions in session
- Therapist uses these observations to recommend strategies for changing unhelpful patterns
Strategies might include:
- Changing the language you use in discussing a particular issue
- Trying out a new communication style at home
Once you’ve researched a bit more about these different approaches, you can discuss which might suit you best and look for a therapist that fits your needs.
Step 4: Figure out payment, scheduling, and other logistics together
Be sure that you have clear answers to the following before you start contacting potential therapists:
- How do we plan to pay for therapy, and what is our budget?
- What kinds of treatment techniques (from #3 above) do we prefer?
- What times and places for sessions would work best for us?
- How long can we commit to counseling?
- Are there any issues (from #2 above) that we particularly want to focus on?
Related: Insurance Doesn't Cover Couples Counseling – Here's How to Use It Anyway
Step 5: Make a list of questions to ask potential couples counselors
Ready to contact potential counselors? Save yourself some time by having a list of questions ready to ask!
Questions to ask a couples counselor
- What are your qualifications and training? Again, all couples counselors should have advanced training and certification.
- What is your background working with couples? You’ll want to make sure you work with someone who has ample experience specializing in treating couples.
- What kinds of treatment techniques do you usually use? Couples counselors should be able to tell you about which treatment approaches they prefer and how they can tailor treatment to your needs
- Do you have experience working with couples facing challenges like ours? If you’re looking to focus on a specific issue, it can help to make sure that the therapist has work with clients facing similar challenges. If your identities may also impact treatment--if, for example, you’re an interracial couple or an LGBTQ+ couple--you may also want to ask about the therapist’s experience treating couples who share those identities.
- What kinds of payment options do you offer? Make sure to find out if potential counselors accept your insurance and whether they offer sliding scale rates.
- Where and when do you have sessions available? Be sure that the counselor offers sessions at times and locations that are convenient for both you and your partner.How many sessions do you usually recommend for couples like us? Different therapists will have different recommendations for how long they expect therapy to last.
Step 6: Look for couples counselors near you
At this point, you’re ready to make some initial calls!
Find couples counselors near you using therapist search sites, like Zencare. Search by fees and location; watch counselor introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find a couples therapist who fits your preferences:
Once you've scheduled your first appointment, here's how you can prepare for your first couples counseling session.