Whether you look for couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, or relationship counseling, or another related term, deciding to seek it is a big step! However, fear and misconceptions may keep you from making the first outreach to a couple’s therapist near you. Below are some common myths and misconceptions that I have encountered about couples counseling in my 10 years of practice:
Seeking couples or marriage counseling does not mean that your relationship is in trouble, as couples seek counseling for a variety of reasons as a preventative measure. Seeking therapy sooner rather than later when a problem has arisen has much better outcomes and may avoid heartache and pain.
Make sure that whoever you see is truly trained and experienced in marriage & family therapy. In the state of Arizona, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist must complete at least 1000 out of the 1600 required direct client hours with couples and families as part of our training process before considered eligible for an independent license. According to William Doherty, in an article in Psychotherapy Networker:
“Surveys indicate that about eighty percent of therapists in private practice do couple's therapy. Where they got their training is a mystery because most therapists practicing today never took a course in couples therapy and never did their internships under supervision from someone who’d mastered the art. From a consumer’s point of view going in for couples therapy is like having your broken leg set by a doctor who skipped orthopedics in medical school.”
Couples who are not married, whether they are seeking marriage in the future or not at all, can also benefit from participating in couples therapy to have a safe space to explore expectations, increase healthy interactions, and improve communication. Couples may seek premarital counseling, or an individual may seek help from an experienced marriage counselor to address relationship related issues prior to them even starting by exploring their own needs, expectations, and how conflict was handled in their family of origin. Premarital counseling is proven to be invaluable to help partners learn how to manage conflict and decision-making and makes it more likely that couples will seek help earlier with better results once they are married.
A Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist is specifically trained and experienced in working with couples and families that goes beyond the training that an individually trained therapist will receive. A large part of the training and supervision we receive as LMFT’s is in remaining neutral and impartial in our treatment of couples and families. If you feel that a therapist is being biased or feel blamed for all of the issues, bring this up in session. Sometimes it reflects the emotional process you are experiencing as part of therapy. If your therapist is not addressing it, however, it may be time to move on. You deserve to find a provider that you feel comfortable with.
In truth, couples counseling may bring up past emotional experiences because we often learn how to handle conflict and emotions from past experiences and relationships. An experienced marriage counselor will know how to help you learn from the past so you can move into a healthier future and focus on how to improve current interactions with your partner, leaving behind shame and blame.
Couples therapy is certainly an investment of both your time and money, but it may help you avoid further heartache and expense in the future. On average, it takes about 4-6 sessions to notice an improvement and about 12 median sessions, although many factors may extend this timeline such as history of trauma or infidelity. Even with an out of network provider, you are encouraged to find out what the reimbursement rate is and how to seek it through your health insurance to help offset costs. Some couples decide not to seek reimbursement for privacy reasons. Read more about what to ask when you contact your health insurance plan in FAQ.
When asking “is marriage counseling effective?”, a couple may really be asking if couples therapy can save their relationship. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that starting couples therapy will salvage a relationship that has been entrenched in unhealthy interactions for an extended period. Sometimes divorce or separation is the outcome as the couple learns how to openly communicate about their needs and find clarity regarding what a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship looks like.
On a positive note, one of the most effective couples therapy modalities, Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, has a 70-75 percent success rate and is recognized as empirically proven by the American Psychological Association. EFT works by identifying and strengthening healthy emotional ties by highlighting what fosters adult loving relationships.
Therapy of any kind is hard work, but deciding to work with a couple’s or marriage counselor is quite the opposite of weakness. There is no easy way through the pain, but the rewards are exponential. If you are seeking couples or marriage counseling to claim that you “tried” it but are not interested in taking a hard look at yourself and making difficult changes, then it may be an easy, and incredibly ineffective, way out. Most individuals, couples, and families seeking help from a therapist are truly seeking change and are the opposite of weak.
Ideally, when addressing a relationship problem, both partners are invested and participate together to make improvements in the relationship. Research has shown that addressing a relationship issue through individual therapy only may lead to an increased rate of divorce or separation than addressing the problem through couple’s therapy. However, even one partner addressing concerns is better than none. Sometimes even one or a few joint sessions can make a huge difference in seeing improvements and increased relationship satisfaction. In my experience, the partner usually finds benefits in attending and ends up joining sessions more than they had anticipated. Inviting your partner to join you for your individual therapy can also be helpful in building empathy and connection.
An individual or former couple may decide to work with a marriage counselor to address concerns about how to process and adjust to the separation or how to prepare to enter future relationships. Often, former couples are forced to improve their communication post-divorce as they learn to navigate co-parenting or other situations that require a continued relationship in a new form. LMFT’s are trained to see individuals as part of a system that is interconnected through many, various relationships and can help you rebuild your network of support. Please note that if there is active court involvement, couples therapy or co-parenting counseling support is not advised for your own best interest. For court-ordered counseling, see a provider who is approved and/or experienced in court-ordered treatment.
Learn more tips about finding a Marriage & Family Therapist who is a good fit for your needs at the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy website.
Jessica is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist based in Gilbert, AZ. She has over 10 years of experience working with people in all walks of life and has a passion for helping couples and families create deep and fulfilling relationships.