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Many mental health professionals (referred to below as either counselors or therapists) do counseling and therapy with couples. They use many different approaches, techniques, and theories in their work. They often prefer to use a particular therapeutic framework for thinking about and conducting their work. These approaches have such names as cognitive-behavioral, systems, solution focused, emotionally focused, client centered, behavioral, psychodynamic, Imago, and humanistic.
Counselors sometimes have very different kinds of training and experience for what they do.
Some counselors tend to do short-term work, while others do long-term work. Some counselors provide a set number of sessions (e.g., 10) from the beginning, while other counselors use an open-ended approach. Some therapists tend to see other members of the family in sessions, while others tend not to. Some counselors only see both partners together, while others see their clients both together and individually. Some therapists focus more on the past, while others focus mostly on the here-and-now. Some counselors give their clients homework assignments between sessions, while others do not. Some therapists provide a religious or spiritual framework for their work, while others do not. Some therapists are much more active and directive in sessions, while others are less so. In addition, some therapists focus much more on cognitions (thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions), others focus much more on feelings and emotions, and still others primarily focus on behaviors.
The bottom line is that therapists/counselors work in many different ways. There really are many different choices and options that you have in selecting a mental health professional to work with. The more informed you are as to these alternative ways of approaching couples therapy, the more likely it is that you will be able to get your needs and goals met.
However, beyond all the issues presented above, perhaps the most important factor in selecting a counselor/therapist to work with is the personality “fit,” or emotional connection, you feel with him or her. It is so essential to have feelings of trust, safety, and confidence in the professional you are working with. These are issues that extend way beyond what is on a person’s resume. This being said, many clients report that the more experienced the therapist is, the greater is the likelihood that the therapy/counseling will be experienced as helpful, worthwhile, and successful.
Particularly when you are experiencing severe marital or relational distress, selecting the most appropriate therapist with which to work could be one of the most important decisions you could make. Sadly, some people who have not had success with a particular therapist give up on therapy altogether instead of seeing another therapist, or other therapists, in an attempt to get their needs better met.
So much is at stake when you are in, or have been in, a close, meaningful, and valued relationship. Creating and maintaining a special, intimate partnership – whether married or not – requires a great deal of ongoing effort and work. This often does not occur naturally, or automatically, as some people seem to think. Achieving a loving, committed, trusting, respectful, and mutually supportive relationship is one of the greatest gifts you can gain in life!
I believe that competent, quality therapy is a great investment in significantly moving towards greater happiness, satisfaction, and joy in life. It enhances both the couple and each person as an individual – often in many ways that one might not have anticipated or predicted initially. Couple therapy is a challenging yet exciting journey of psychological and emotional growth and development.