Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Marriage Counselor

Marriage counseling is helpful to anyone who is married. A marriage counselor can help a couple through difficult times and they can also help a couple have a happier marriage. However, not all marriage counselors are suited to help all marriages. You need to know what to look for when you seek out a marriage counselor. Here are the top 8 points that I would tell a friend or family member to consider when seeking the services of a marriage counselor.

1. Know Your Counselor's Values

If you and your spouse are of a particular faith or religion, use a counselor with that same faith background. I would not recommend that a Christian go to an atheist counselor. Your beliefs and values are going to be starkly different. Find a counselor that has your similar belief system. How do you know what their belief system may be? Look at the counselor's website. Most will specify if they use a specific faith to guide their faith and practice. For example, you can find counselors that use new age practices that embrace spirituality and connection with the universe. If that isn't your belief system and instead you are a devout Baptist, then look for a counselor that labels themselves as a Christian counselor. When it comes to matters of the heart, you want to receive life guidance, advice, and support from someone who thinks like you do. If you go to someone who has opposing views to your own beliefs, then the counseling experience will likely not be beneficial to you. Make sure that you and your spouse consider faith, religious background, and your belief system when looking at counselors that you may want to hire. Your marriage is serious business, so take the time and effort to look at the background of the counselor you want to hire. You want to ensure that they will counsel in a manner that aligns with your personal and marital beliefs. For example, I know a couple very close to me who went to marriage counseling after a year of marriage. This couple would describe themselves as Christians, even though they weren't regular attenders at the time. After several sessions with their couple's counselor, it was suggested by the counselor that they get divorced. Thank goodness that the couple did not agree with the counselor! They did not take the counselor's advice and remained married. They did however, feel that their time and money was wasted with that particular marriage counselor. The marriage counselor held no personal stock in Christianity or the sanctity of marriage. This counselor focused on individual happiness and doing what is best for each person alone. This counselor did not specialize in helping marriages through their problems. His focus instead was on the individual rather than the couple. However, this couple wanted the focus to be on their marriage, and helping them through their issues. They made it through that first year, in spite of the counselor and have now celebrated 40 years of marriage. Their story is proof that you need to look at the counselor's personal values before you dive into a counseling relationship and spend your money and time with someone who may not value what you value in life.

2. Do They Accept Your Insurance?

If you have health insurance that covers marriage counseling, then use it! The cost of good counseling is not cheap. It is well worth the money. But if you have insurance that covers counseling, then take advantage of this benefit. You can contact your insurance company and they can provide you with the names and contact information of counselors that accept your insurance. If you found a specific counselor that you want to work with, then contact that counselor to see if they accept your insurance. If you don't have insurance, there are some counselors that have a sliding scale for counseling fees. They will charge based on your income level. If you think you would qualify for lower payments, then ask if they have a sliding scale available.

3. There are Free Marriage Counseling Options

If you cannot afford marriage counseling or you feel that the failing marriage is not worth investing another cent, then look at free marriage counseling options. Don't give up on your marriage without at least giving free counseling a try. There are many churches that offer free (or highly discounted) marriage counseling services. For many of these churches you do not even need to be a member. These counseling sessions are often limited in number, meaning that each couple is provided a set number of sessions free. This is okay though because if you are one of those couples who wouldn't get help from a counselor unless it is free, then seek out the free options because several sessions is better than none!

4. What are the Counselor's Credentials?

A reputable counselor will typically provide their credentials right on their website. They will state where they obtained their education and what degrees that have obtained. Look to see what kind of counseling license they hold. Most counseling licenses require a Master's degree or higher. There are some who call themselves counselors and hold no degrees and/or license. Depending on the state where they reside, it could be against the law for them to even be practicing. It is a good general policy to use counselors that are legitimate, meaning they have the degrees and license. You want to be counseled by someone who knows what they are doing, so don't risk your marriage by using someone who isn't legitimate.

5. Ask About the Counselor's Track Record

Ask the counselor what their success rate has been with other couples who have sought their help through couples counseling. A counselor who has a good record of helping couples survive their issues, helped them work though their problems, and the couple did not get divorced, then that counselor will be willing to tell you about it. They obviously can't violate confidentiality laws, but they can speak about general statistics and couples that they have helped without getting too specific or providing names. Counselors who have a good track record of success are going to be more than willing to share about their success. They will want potential clients to know that they have helped others and that their success can be repeated with you and your marital situation.

6. What to Expect in a Session

In marriage counseling, your counselor will use the techniques and methods that they have been taught and that they find to be effective in helping couples.
Not Taking Sides
Not all marriage counselors utilize the same methods. There are some general policies that most marriage counselors will hold. This includes not taking sides. They will act as a middle man or mediator, not taking either side in the marriage. Even if they do find that one side is "right", then they help in a diplomatic way that does not alienate the side that is "wrong". Therefore, don't go into marriage counseling seeking to get the counselor on your side. The counselor's job is not to take sides. Their job is to help you through your problems and issues, so you can have a happy marriage.
Keeping Everyone Calm
Another general policy that most marriage counselors hold is that they are going to try to conduct sessions in a manner that keeps everyone calm. Things can get heated in marriage counseling situations. For example, a couple may go to counseling because the husband has been unfaithful. The wife is very hurt and angry. She starts yelling and pointing her finger at her husband saying "you cheated and you are the one who needs to fix this situation". The counselor will calmly ask the wife to stop. The counselor will then explain that pointing fingers and yelling is not allowed. The words can be expressed, but not though yelling and finger pointing. Yelling at the husband won't likely get a response that will work toward healing the relationship. They are there to heal the marriage, so communication of feelings is important, but it needs to be done in a way that helps the other spouse receive the message with an open heart. Yelling will only cause the other person to harden their heart toward their spouse. Tough and sensitive topics come to light in these sessions. The counselor will work hard to make sure that couples do not interrupt one another, that voices are not raised, and that things remain calm in every session. Tough topics can be discussed, and the counseling setting should be an emotionally safe place to open up. Your counselor will work to allow you to voice your side without getting attacked verbally or emotionally from the other side.

7. Seeking Marriage Counseling Does Not Mean You Have a Bad Marriage

Many good marriages seek out couples counseling. My husband and I have gone to couples counseling together on several occasions. Our newborn son died during our first year of marriage. We attended counseling together to get through our grief, but at the same time, some marital issues came up and were addressed. It was so helpful to have a counselor in our lives to help us through that difficult time. We found that the counseling we had then has been beneficial to our marriage in the many years since that time. The time and money invested was greatly beneficial to our marriage in the long run. Marriage counseling can do that for you as well. Couples who seek counseling do so for a variety of reasons. It doesn't always mean that they are there because they don't have any other options or at the end of their marriage. Many couples go because they have problems or issues that they recognize could become bigger and more damaging to the marriage if not addressed now. Some couples want to be proactive about their marriage and the small problems that crop up. They want to ensure that as a couple, they develop good communication and coping skills to handle smaller issues now; so that when bigger issues come up, they can handle them when they come. There are other couples that go to improve their marriage. They want better ways of communicating and more emotional openness. The counselor can help couples develop better communication skills and they can help draw out emotional openness. Both of which can make a marriage happier in the long run.

8. Marriage Counseling Can Benefit All Marriages

Don't wait to go to counseling until you are at the end of your rope. Seek counseling before you get to that point. It is easier to resolve problems when they are just getting started. It is much harder to resolve problems that have been festering for years and couples have hardened hearts. Do your marriage a favor and consider seeking counseling sooner than later. Every marriage can benefit from marriage counseling. If you are dealing with issues and problems now, consider seeking a counselor, because wouldn't your marriage be even better if those issues were resolved sooner than later? 
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