15 Tips for Choosing a Marriage Counselor

  1. Before you choose a counselor, read and follow the “Tips for How to Approach your Spouse about Marriage Counseling”. 

  2. Choose a “marriage friendly therapist.” Read and follow the criteria for marriage friendly therapists at www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com. These criteria have been developed by experts in marriage and family therapy to protect the public. This information is very important to read and understand in order for you to be successful in therapy.

  3. Understand that individual therapy for marriage problems increases your risk of divorce in a number of ways. Selecting the right form of therapy (individual, couple, family, group) is just as important as the counselor you choose and the counseling approach taken.

  4. Research the qualifications of the counselor/therapist you are considering. Most therapists are listed on one or more websites.

  5. Find a therapist who is trained in marriage and family therapy. Understand this: the only mental health professionals who are required to have training in relationship counseling are marriage and family therapists. Some individually trained therapists offer marital therapy without even knowing that specialized training is essential to do it successfully.

  6. Believe in yourself – you are hiring the therapist. You have every right to interview a therapist or counselor about their credentials and experience as part of your assessment of them. If the counselor gets defensive about your questions, go to someone else. 

  7. Ask the counselor about their training and experience in couple’s therapy. Find out if they have had live supervision of couple therapy cases. Hint: They should know what this means, even if you don’t. If they look at you blankly, go elsewhere.

  8. Find out how much couple therapy the therapist does, what approach they use, and what their success rate is.  If they can’t answer these questions clearly, go to someone who can. Choose a counselor who does a good deal of couple therapy, at least 25% of their caseload, not just a few cases here and there.

  9. Choose a therapist who has had at least 10 years of experience doing marriage counseling. There are several reasons for this: marital therapy is the hardest form of therapy to learn, and therapists need a significant amount of experience to become good at it.

  10. Be completely open during the assessment. Don’t hide embarrassing or uncomfortable information, or make secret agreements with your spouse not to talk about certain issues.

  11. Ask for an explanation of the assessment findings. Listen for the therapist to identify both individual problems and couple dynamics. These should make sense to you. Don’t accept a vague explanation like, “You need better communication.”

  12. Ask if the therapist has experience dealing with the problems you are having. Ask what the treatment goals will be, and how progress on these will be prioritized and assessed. 

  13. Ask what written couple assessment instruments (not psychological testing) the therapist uses to further assess difficult or unclear relationship issues. Hint: Poorly trained therapists will not be familiar with these instruments and will not have used them.

  14. In light of your treatment goals, ask the therapist what they recommend for relationship education and skill training for you as a couple. There are many workshops, skill training programs, books, DVDs, publications, websites, and online resources to help you with most relationship issues.  These can shorten the number of therapy sessions you will need, as well as save you time and money.

  15. Ask how the therapist handles issues of balance and neutrality in marriage counseling. This is important so that the therapist is fair to both of you, rather than taking sides, which is not “marriage friendly.” The therapist should work for the marriage, and ought to be able to explain that to you. Like a team coach, a good marriage therapist is concerned about the individual players, but the main goal is help you become a more effective team. 

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Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.