Humans are generally happiest when their intimate relationships go well and they’re distressed when they don’t.
It’s not unusual to get anxious or depressed enough to seek help.
Back in the day, old-school thinking propelled individuals into counseling for three basic reasons…
1) We wanted someone (other than family) to understand our situation and tell us what to do.
2) We wanted to clear our head and get our act together BEFORE getting into another relationship.
3) We sent our partner to therapy so they could get their act together!
But in the late 1990’s, Dr. John Gottman, the worlds’ preeminent researcher on marriage and distressed relationships, reported his findings on exactly that issue – at a national conference.
The audience reeled during the presentation and was so perturbed by the end of his speech that the oxygen was nearly sucked out of the room.
What did Gottman’s 25 years of research reveal? When one or both partners from a distressed relationship get individual therapy, things usually get worse – not better — and… the likelihood for separation or divorce skyrocket. Then, the couple end up thinking it’s their fault; that they failed or did something wrong. When really, it’s the system that failed them.
Since then, a new understanding’s gone mainstream. Today we know that it’s in relationship — in connection and collaboration with our partners — that we find new solutions to old problems. It’s in relationship that we learn to get our act together — not in isolation. And, distressed partners aren’t deficient; they’re stuck.
That means, for distressed partners wanting to reconnect and restore their relationship, couples therapy is the name of the game.
But there’s a catch.
Over a quarter million mental health professionals practicing in the US are authorized by state boards to see couples. Ironically, it’s unknown to the public that most receive very little training, if any – seeing couples.
Even the savviest consumer has no way of knowing that professionals can complete graduate and doctoral programs, pass a national exam and become licensed by their state without seeing a single couple. Yet, psychologists, therapists and counselors routinely see couples in their practice — without hesitation.
These are not uncaring people. On the contrary, mental and behavioral health professionals care deeply and want to help. It’s just the way it is right now and not at all surprising that consumers don’t know.
My best friend doesn’t know.
My neighbors don’t know.
My siblings don’t know.
But change is happening. Mental and Behavioral Health is undergoing a seismic shift toward specialization much like medicine did a few decades ago.
There was a time when a family doctor treated all illnesses and delivered lots of babies. Today they routinely refer to specialists.
Your primary care physician can provide obstetric and maternity care but in most cases, and especially for high-risk pregnancy, you’d want to see an OB/GYN. For heart surgery you’d want a cardiothoracic surgeon.
It’s not only reasonable to ask the same of behavioral and mental health professionals – it’s imperative!
Couples Therapy can now be considered a distinct specialty like:
- Substance Abuse
- Eating Disorders
Interviewing prospective counselors and therapists to ask about their training, credentials, caseload and level of experience is not at all unreasonable.
Your primary relationship affects every aspect of life; your job, your health, your self-esteem.
It’s important to you as a consumer to know about a professional’s specialties, credentials and qualifications. Asking about that information up front can save you a lot of heartache down the road.
The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy is a great resource for information and here are some questions to ask when considering a professional:
- Do they use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Emotionally Focused Therapy? These are the only two empirically based approaches for couples recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA).
- Do they identify as a “Couples Therapist”? Check websites for areas of specialization. If you see more than a few listed – you may want to keep looking.
- Ask what percentage of their caseload is devoted to couples. Under 75%? I would keep looking.
- Have they received intensive advanced training in couples therapy beyond graduate school? It’s ok to ask for details.
At Wellness Counseling we encourage you to dig deep and ask questions. We believe it so much that we’ve provided access to a nine question interview, 9 Questions To Ask Before You Start Couples Therapy on our website. We encourage you (or someone you love) to use it while doing research.
It’s your life. It’s your relationship and you have a right to know.