What to Expect with Couple’s Therapy
You’ve read the advice columns, listened to the podcasts, and talked to your partner, and now you are both ready. Ready to let someone else into your relationship: a therapist. But it can be difficult to know where to start to find one, what to ask them and what to expect from couple’s therapy.
How do you find a therapist for couple’s counseling?
People seek out couple’s therapy for a variety of reasons, pre-marital counseling, during difficult life transitions like birth of a child, divorce, infidelity, or substance abuse. Despite today’s culture of social media oversharing, frank discussions about couple’s therapy or therapist recommendations are still rare, even among friends and family. Some initial ways to seek out a couple’s therapist include asking your primary care physician and checking with your insurance plan to see if there are any in-network therapists or psychologists.
While the internet can be a helpful way to find a therapist for couple’s counseling, it is important to be sure you are looking at a trusted website when searching. The best ones will provide a biography of the therapist that includes their professional license, areas of expertise and educational accreditation. Companies like LifeStance will also be able to filter the mental health practitioners to your location and needs and connect you with that therapist directly. It is important to find a therapist who has experience with your relationship challenges.
Psychiatrist, Psychologist, or Therapist for Couples Therapy?
Once you start searching for a therapist to help you and your partner, you will find a myriad of titles and descriptions. One of the main differentiators between a psychiatrist and a psychologist or a therapist, is that a psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor, who can diagnose mental health issues and prescribe psychiatric medication to alleviate symptoms. A clinical psychologist works more often with individuals with severe mental illness, but some also work with families. Clinical psychologists also undergo a longer education program than a therapist and their training is more focused on assessing individuals for mental disorders. However, there are overlaps between psychologists and therapists.
Types of Therapists and Their Approaches to Couples Therapy
Therapists come from a variety of backgrounds and have different philosophies when treating a couple for a relationship issue. Many acronyms come to mind. Therapists can refer to either a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), or a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC). There are many similarities as they all require a master’s degree, are state certified to provide mental health care, and can assist couples overcome issues and develop deeper relationships.
Generally, a LMFT focuses on relational mental health care by helping couples and families manage challenges through communication, behavior therapy and guidance. A LCSW tends to view couple’s counseling through the lens of resources both internal and external. For example, a LCSW might create a plan to make sure couple has the emotional and communications skills to reach their relationship goal, while also helping the couple better manage external stressors or resources. A LPCC looks at the relationship through the lens of each partner, encouraging emotional development, behavioral change, and mental wellness for each individual as the path to heal the relationship. A LPCC might also be more likely to suggest separate individual therapy sessions in addition to sessions with both partners.
What to Ask a Therapist?
Finding a therapist that you can agree on with your partner is a little bit like speed dating. There are many qualified therapists but finding the right one for your situation means taking the time to get to know them. Meeting them in person or over video is important to make sure the therapist is a personality and professional fit with you and your partner. It is important that you are both comfortable sharing intimate details of your relationship with the therapist and are willing to respect and follow their treatment plan and guidance.
Therapists often set up the initial session as a way for both therapist and couple to ask questions and see if there could be trust between all parties. Some questions to ask at your first session might include:
- How long have you practiced couple’s therapy? What is your general approach?
- Can you describe how you’ve helped some other couples in our situation?
- How much are your sessions?
- Do you have a plan or timeline for helping us with our situation?
- What types of therapy do you use?
What Will a Therapist Ask You During Couples Therapy?
Seeing a therapist for the first time, especially with a partner can create anxiety. It might be helpful to speak to your partner beforehand to discuss what you would each like to get out of the therapy sessions. At the initial session, the therapist will ask each of the partners questions about their family and relationship history and what events or incidents convinced the couple that therapy was needed at that time.
It is during this initial session that you will determine whether the therapist is the mental health profession you and your partner can trust to help you rebuild your relationship.