Recently I came across a post in a forum where a lady talked about her experience with a marriage counsellor. This lady had been in a toxic relationship with her husband and had finally gathered the courage to end the relationship. However, on the insistence of friends and family, she agreed to try marriage counselling with her husband. She clearly stated to the therapist right in the beginning that her goal is to arrive at an amicable separation with her husband so that neither of them end up with hard feelings and find peace.
However, after having several sessions with the couple, some individually, at the end, the therapist ended up sitting this lady down and explain to her how she’s taking a bad decision. She went on to tell her that she’s 30 and its too late for her to start a new life with a new partner, that she may never find anyone else, that she needs to compromise if she already has a comfortable life – why is she thinking about giving it all up. This experience shook this lady up. All the courage that she had gathered to walk away from the toxic relationship got riddled with self-doubt. What is more, she lost faith in the therapeutic process (which is not surprising!).
My heart went out to this woman. That’s when I began to recall several incidents narrated to me by friends, acquaintances and even clients about their experiences with marriage counsellors that left much to be desired. Most of them ended up feeling betrayed, more confused or just unsettled. Therefore, I decided to write down a few pointers that will help you in making the decision to find a therapist who is the right fit for you. Yes, you have the right to choose and look for the right fit! Here are my top qualities to look for in a marriage counsellor based on my 15+ years of experience as a couples therapist.
1. Safe and non-judgemental. Take your time to find the right fit for yourself as a couple. By the right fit I don’t mean a therapist who says the things either you or your partner want to hear ; instead, it would be a therapist that creates a safe non-judgemental space for both of you to speak your mind without taking any sides
2. No moral policing. A competent therapist will NEVER pass judgemental or moralistic comments like “this is right/wrong”, “you shouldn’t/should have done that”, “why did you do this” etc.
3. Both sides of the coin. A good therapist will take all the time to understand your story from both points of view, both your family histories, your perspectives etc.
4. More facilitator, less adviser. The right therapist will not lecture or advise you but will facilitate communication between you and your partner by acting as a mediator so that you can really understand each other and find the resolution you are looking for.
5. The decision lies with you. The therapist will not take it upon herself/himself to tell both of you what decision to make. He/she will teach you the communication skills and emotional tools so that you can go home, practice them between yourselves and are able to arrive at a conclusion yourselves because the true goal of therapy isn’t to solve the problem for the client, but to give them the tools and make them independent. It’s the couple that possesses the power to make decisions.
6. Unconditional respect. Last, but not the least, the therapist will always respect both of you and your choices. Even if he/she feels that you need individual sessions with him/her, they will not break the confidentiality of the individual sessions by telling your partner what you said or vice versa. If at all they will bring it up, it will be with that person’s permission and that too in the couple session where both of you are present.
A lot of times, while searching for a marriage counsellor, people only look at qualifications or how famous a therapist is. Neither of these aspects guarantees a competent therapist. A non-biased approach, the gravity to be the facilitator for the couple, and the ability to let one’s personal views affect the counselling process are attributes that come with years of experience and a truly open minded outlook. And these are the most important contributors to a successful counselling or therapeutic process.
I hope the tips I mentioned above will help you “shop” for the right marriage counsellor for yourself and you’ll be able to find the peace and understanding you are looking for!