When and How to Find a Couples Therapist
If you and your partner are having the same old arguments and can’t seem to get past them, couples therapy is in order. If you are feeling distant from your partner, regularly misunderstood, angry and resentful, or like your partner is no longer interested in you or in the relationship, couples therapy is more likely to help than individual work. If your sex life has diminished and you long for more intimacy, that too is more responsive to couples work. If one of you has cheated but you want to save the relationship, couples therapy may be the answer.
Couples therapy can help — provided your partner is at least willing to give it a try. A good couples therapist will help the two of you get on the same team to solve your problems instead of on different teams, fighting with each other. Good couples therapy can help you each learn how to support and heal the other. In the process, you may heal your relationship and send it in a more positive direction.
It’s important to be aware that few graduate programs in psychology, social work or counseling are designed to provide the training and supervision necessary for being an effective couples therapist. Most therapists, therefore, learn how to work with couples by going to workshops and in-service trainings. This does not necessarily mean that the therapist is unqualified. It does mean it falls on you to look for a therapist who has specific credentials to do couples work.
Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) have a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. Each state has credentialing requirements for obtaining a license in marriage and family therapy. Some states grandfathered in some therapists who met some specific criteria when licensing for doing couples work was established in that state. Specific information can usually be found on your state’s licensing board’s website.
How to find a couples therapist:
- The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) is the professional organization for clinicians who do couples work. Use the therapist locator tab on their website as a place to start your search for a qualified therapist.
- Refer to your insurance company’s list of preferred providers.
- Is there a university near your home? If so, consider calling the psychology department to ask if there is free or low-cost couples therapy available through their graduate program. Graduate students provide treatment under the supervision of experienced instructors. Determine if the training is specifically geared to couples work. Such programs often also are aware of graduates who have stayed in their geographical area to either join clinic staff or open a private practice.
- Is there a community mental health clinic near you? If so, the intake department generally knows the credentials of therapists on staff. They often also have a referral list of private therapists and their specialties in their area as well.
- Ironically, it is often the divorce lawyers who are most aware of therapists in their area who do well with couples. A responsible lawyer will respect your intention to try therapy before making a final decision to separate or divorce. You can also ask your doctor or clergy to suggest names of therapists.
- Don’t forget to ask friends, family members and colleagues for recommendations. Often they are the best source of information either because they themselves have worked with a therapist or they know someone who has done so.
What to ask when you call for an appointment
Ask if the therapist is licensed as a marriage and family therapist.
If not, ask how the therapist has gained training and whether she or he has followed up with supervision specifically geared to couples work.