Couples counseling is an invaluable resource in any relationship. But as a queer couple, how do you find the perfect couples counselor?
Here are three criteria to look for.
1. Knowledge of the unique relationship challenges queer couples face
On top of the relationship challenges that all couples may come up against – e.g., miscommunication, infidelity, establishing and nurturing trust – queer couples can also face their own set of unique difficulties.
Given this, look for a couples counselor who’s versed in those issues, such as:
Challenges related to recognition from families of origin
Many queer couples struggle to receive recognition and dignity from their families of origin.
In my practice, I’ve seen many queer couples feel anxiety about being their full selves around family members. Often, there are efforts to manage, curate their existences to be more palatable for straight/cis families. Sometimes this is done for very legitimate reasons – like survival. But over time, it can be really difficult on the couple.
If this resonates with you and/or your partner, then a therapist who specializes in family issues on top of couples counseling may be a great fit.
Lack of cultural validation, celebration, and mirroring
Straight/cis couples/families get so much cultural reinforcement, both explicit and implicit – but as it stands now, there aren’t a ton of queer couple role models out there.
There is very little queer couple/family community mirroring, which can have an insidious effect on a queer family structure.
Working with a therapist who specializes in a relational approach may help you gain deeper insight into this phenomenon, and how it plays out in your life.
Family making and getting pregnant
When queer couples try to adopt or get pregnant, they commonly face extra scrutiny. Growing their families can involve navigating the often bureaucratic, austere, and isolating medical systems – all of which can feel demoralizing and exploitative for queer couples.
You may prefer to work with a therapist who understands the complexities and stressors of family planning as a queer couple. Some therapists on Zencare, for example, specialize in helping clients navigate the adoption process.
2. Understanding of queer culture, and the ability to make you feel comfortable
Your therapist should make both you and your partner feel comfortable, always! You should both feel at ease, comfortable, and safe in the presence of your therapist.
Plus, your therapist should be open, versed in, and able to address any concerns you may have – whether they’re unique to you as a queer individual or not.
Ask yourself these questions when assessing fit with your therapist:
- Do I feel comfortable in sessions?
- Is this therapist validating of both our identities?
- Am I having to do a lot of explaining, or does the therapist seem to just “get it”?
- Does the therapist ever react with judgment?
- Do I feel valued and respected as the sum of my whole, rather than the presenting issues or symptoms?
Feeling judged in the therapy room is not conducive to healing or growth, so make sure you both feel respected and valued in sessions.
3. Extensive training in couples counseling, including any modalities you’d like to try
Within couples counseling, there are many approaches and schools of thought. So ultimately, the therapy type that benefits your relationship boils down to your personal history, relationship situation, and the driving force that’s prompting you to consider seeking therapy.
Given that, you may decide you want to try a specific type of couples counseling to help you overcome, or work through, a presenting issue. If that’s the case, seek a therapist who’s trained in it. For example, I utilize two therapy types in my practice:
Structural therapy: For establishing, or softening, boundaries
I use Structural Theory, which basically means I work with the boundaries of the relationship.
If a couples’ boundaries have gotten “soft” – to the point where they’ve become codependent – we work on establishing more autonomy. Conversely, if a relationship is comprised of rigid boundaries, we work on softening them.
Imago therapy: For introducing new narratives into the relationship
In instances where couples seem stuck on the same negative feedback, Imago is very useful. It helps couples remove the negative, hurtful language in their communication, and establish new voices in the relationship.
When you're assessing fit with a therapist, be sure to ask which approach(es) they utilize. Don't be afraid to ask for elaboration or clarification on any jargon-like terms!
Know that working with a couples counselor can be helpful at any stage in your relationship
Many see couples counseling as a “last stop” before their relationships all falls apart – but that really hasn’t been the case in my experience. Working with the right couples counselor can be helpful at any stage – whether you're just feeling stuck in the same fight over and over, or you've reached a more serious point of feeling invisible, resentful, and isolated from one another.
Even when you've selected the best therapist for you, remember that couples counseling isn't an easy process. It requires a lot of work, plus vulnerability as you let your guard down in order to grow together. But when done well, it will dislodge you from those repetitive loops, get you communicating more clearly and honestly, and free you from any resentments that have been stifling the relationship.