Warning: The Wrong Therapist Can Harm Your Marriage

Couples counseling has something of a bad reputation. Success rates are dismal, and for many couples, enrolling in marriage counseling signifies the beginning of the end of a relationship. This, however, should not be seen as a shortcoming of marriage counseling itself, but rather a shortcoming of individual counselors who provide counseling to couples without any formal training.

In an article in Psychotherapy Networker, William Doherty summed up the issue. He said, “Couples therapy may be the hardest form of therapy, and most therapists aren’t good at it.” He goes on to explain in a little more detail, “Surveys indicate that about eighty percent of therapists in private practice do couples therapy. Where they got their training is a mystery because most therapists practicing today never took a course in couples therapy and never did their internships under supervision from someone who’d mastered the art. From a consumer’s point of view, going in for couples therapy is like having your broken leg set by a doctor who skipped orthopedics in medical school.”

Choosing the right therapist can be a challenge.
Choosing the right therapist can be a challenge.

Couples counseling is not the same as individual counseling, and yet many, many therapists do not make this clear distinction. This means you have counselors employing techniques and strategies they learned for treating individuals, but in a couples’ setting. It’s little wonder that the results are not always ideal.

The other side of the problem is purely situational. Couples will often seek counseling when the marriage is already in trouble. Because seeking therapy is often done in this “emergency” context, most couples do not take the time (or can’t) to fully research therapists and select the best fit.

While it can be difficult to do, we recommend “shopping around” for couples counselors to ensure that the therapist you choose actually has training for relationship counseling. There is no harm in asking a potential counselor about their training, experience, and approach to couples counseling.

Different counselors will have different approaches, and it will be up to you to decide what works best for you and your spouse. Just remember that many therapists, no matter how skilled in other areas, may not have any training specific to working with couples, or with improving marriages in particular. Choosing an unqualified therapist will be a drain on both your time and your money, and may actually do more damage than good. Make sure you’re choosing the right person for the job.

We also recommend exploring alternatives to face-to-face counseling like we offer here on our site. We offer videos and articles on a variety of marriage counseling and relationship topics including:

For a full list of our topics, you may want to explore our Marriage Help Library.

To discover how to end the hurt and find happiness again, watch the video below. Dr. Dana will share powerful marriage advice to help you regain love, rekindle passion and fix your marriage.

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5 comments

dontgothere 9 years ago

I totally agree about marriage counselors. Their top line is move forward. Well its hard to do that when you can't even deal with the issues first. My husband and I had seen more counselors than I care to mention and frankly none of them did us any good. Especially me, I left frustrated every time. They all seem to be afraid to open the "can of worms" so to speak. And some of them were very one sided which didn't help either. Man for man... Didn't matter if the man did wrong . move forward. After many months and dealing with it on our own things are getting better. Moving forward is great if you get the real issues on the table first, but if they aren't put out there you might as well just walk out the door and take matters in your own hands.

stillmarried 9 years ago

This article is so right. My husband and I who have been married over 20 years and together for over 30 years, have seen about 10 counsellors. What we found amazing was all but one were married! Each counsellor had their own approach which does not really work for most multifaceted dynamic marriages. At the end of session two we learned their approach (and try to practice what we learned) and moved onto the next counsellor. This approach worked for us since we are still happily married and have learned a lot. We also learned that counselors can destroy a marriage, so beware.....

Carol 8 years ago

That is exactly what we are going through! How did you find one willing to look at the past in order to heal?

Camille87 8 years ago

Consider looking for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) because they are trained to work with couples! I know because I'm in a MFT grad program and specifically chose it so I could be trained for such work!

Mike_Olsen_SMN 8 years ago

Thanks, Camille! That's great information.