The Best Couples Therapist & Marriage Counselor
The process of finding the best marriage counselor and the best couples therapist can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? What qualifications are you supposed to look for in a therapist? What questions should you be asking? How do you know if a therapist is a good fit? Look no further; we’ve got you covered! As experts in couples therapy and marriage counseling, we have the answers to many of your questions.
A Little Homework Will Pay Off
The first thing you should know is not all therapists, counselors or psychologists are trained and experienced in working with couples and relationships. Relationship counseling is a specialty in and of itself within the field of therapy and counseling. This can be an unfortunate reality the general public is often not aware of and a piece of information that can save you and your partner a lot of unnecessary frustration, disappointment and money.
I can’t tell you how many individuals and couples end up in my office still in relational distress after having seen one or two therapists, because their therapist was not trained and experienced in marriage counseling or couples therapy. If you want the best therapy possible for your relationship, it is important that you make sure your therapist has formal education, clinical experience and advanced training specifically in couples therapy and marriage counseling.
What Education Does Your Couples Therapist Have?
The advanced education your couples therapist or marriage counselor has matters! There are many advanced degree programs therapists can complete, but generally speaking they can be lumped into a few categories. Therapists can get a Master’s Degree in Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy. Therapists can also get their Doctoral Degree in Social Work, Clinical and/or Counseling Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy. A Master’s Degree normally requires 2.5-3 years to complete and a Doctoral Degree 5-6 years to complete.
Of these advanced degrees in field of therapy and counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy is the only degree that specifically focuses on working with couples and relationships. If you want to ensure that your therapist has a formal education, specifically in couples therapy and relationship counseling, making sure they have completed relationally oriented course work or obtained their Master’s or Doctoral degree in Marriage and Family Therapy is a good idea.
Is Your Marriage Counselor Licensed?
Is your marriage counselor and couples therapist licensed? When a therapist graduates with their Master’s or Doctoral degree, he or she must also complete several additional requirements before they can become licensed in their specific field. These additional requirements often include: completing a specified number of clinical hours with clients, being supervised by a licensed therapist for a specified number of hours and passing a proficiency test. Usually this process occurs over the span of a, minimum, two-year period. The most common licenses in the field of therapy and counseling are: Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Psychologist.
If you want to ensure that your therapist has a foundational level of clinical experience, supervision and proficiency in their specific field, you should make sure that they are licensed in the state they practice therapy. Here is a brief rundown of the general requirements to become licensed in each of the most common categories of licensure within the field of therapy and counseling. Please note that each state in the U.S. has slightly different requirements for licensure although they can be very similar. The specific licensure requirements noted below were obtained from and are for the State of Colorado, the state in which I practice therapy.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Education: Completion of a Master’s Degree in a (CSWE) accredited program
- Supervision: 96 hours, with 48 hours of individual supervision over a minimum of 24 months
- Experience: 3,360 hours over a minimum of 24 months
- Work experience hours must include a professional relationship that involves treatment, diagnosis, testing, assessment, or counseling, minimum: 1,680 hours
- Teaching hours in psychotherapy/social work, maximum: 1,120 hours
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Education: Completion of a Master’s Degree in a (CACREP) accredited program
- Supervision: 100 hours, with at least 70 hours of face-to- face/individual supervision, over a minimum of 24 months
- Experience: 2,000 hours over a minimum of 24 months
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Education: Completion of a Master’s Degree in a (CACREP) accredited program
- Supervision: 100 hours, with at least 50 hours of face-to- face/individual supervision, over a minimum of 24 months
- Experience: 2,000 hours over a minimum of 24 months
- Face-to-face direct client contact hours with couples and families for the purposes of diagnosis, assessment, and intervention, minimum: 1,000 hours
- Face-to-face direct client contact hours other than with couples and families. (1.) and (2.) together must equal at least 1500 hours
Licensed Psychologist (LP)
- Education: Completion of a Doctorate Degree in an (APA) accredited program
- Supervision: 75 hours, with 50 hours individual supervision
- Experience: 1500 hours over a minimum of 12 months
- Hours teaching, maximum: 500 hours
- Hours under supervision of board-certified psychiatrist, maximum 375 hours
- Hours research experience, maximum 500 hours
As you can see from the Experience requirements for each licensure above, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is the only license that requires completing a specified amount of hours working specifically with couples and/or families. If you want to ensure that your therapist has received a foundation in clinical experience, supervision and proficiency in working with couples and relationships, then consider working with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
Are You Sure Your Marriage Counselor is Licensed?
Once licensed, a therapist also becomes registered with the State Board in which they practice therapy and counseling. This allows the State to regulate licensed therapists and monitor such things as 1. Ensuring a therapist is completing continuing education and training requirements each year for maintaining their competency 2. Holding a therapist liable for any unethical and/or illegal practices they may engage in and 3. A platform for the general public to: verify that a therapist is licensed, check to see if a therapist has engaged in any unethical practices in the past and a place for a current client to file a complaint against a therapist if he or she engages in any unethical practices.
Each state in the U.S. has its own governing board where you can search for and verify a therapist. These State Board directories that govern therapists and mental health practitioners can be found through an internet search. If you would like to verify a therapist in the state of Colorado, the state in which I practice, you can visit the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Advanced Training & Certification are Important
Having a Master’s or Doctoral Degree and License in Marriage and Family Therapy ensures a therapist has a basic foundation in working with couples and relationships, but it does not mean that the therapist is a specialist or expert in working with couples. To become an expert, one of the best marriage counselors and couples therapists in the field, it is imperative that a couples therapist have advanced training, certification and years of experience specifically in couples therapy and marriage counseling.
There are a handful of different types of couples therapy out there. Each couples therapist will approach working with a couple in their own unique way, based upon which model or models of couples therapy they are trained in. The predominant and/or most researched types of couples therapy offer advanced training and certification programs for couples therapists. A few of these predominant types of couples therapy that offer advanced training and certification programs include Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), Relational Life Couples Therapy (RLT) and The Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
When searching for the best marriage counselor and couples therapist in your local area, I recommend that you find a couples therapist that has advanced training and preferably certification, in one or possibly multiple types of couples therapy. In our practice as relationship specialists, we have advanced training in all three of the models of couples therapy noted above, EFT, RLT and Gottman, and are certified in two of them.
The Best Marriage Counselor
When searching for the best marriage counselor and couples therapist, I also recommend that you:
- Visit their website
- Read their online bio/profile paying particular attention to their education, licensure, training, certifications and experience in couples therapy
- Speak with them over the phone
- Meet with them in person at their office if possible
- Ask them direct and specific questions
Getting a personal feel for your couples therapist or relationship counselor and the space you will be meeting them in for therapy is important. You want to feel comfortable. The relationship you form with your couples therapist is one of the most important aspects of the therapeutic process and it is crucial that you and your partner feel comfortable with your therapist.
In our practice we offer a 20-30 minute complimentary consultation for new clients that are unfamiliar with the process of couples therapy and marriage counseling. This is an opportunity for the individual or couple to meet their potential therapist in person, see the space, ask the therapist questions, help the therapist understand what the client(s) would like to work on and an opportunity for the therapist to explain how he or she would help the client(s) work though their struggles and achieve their goals.
It is also important that you and your partner formulate your general struggles, goals and needs for therapy as best as you can. Share these with potential therapists to ensure that they can and are willing to support your specific needs both as individuals and as a couple.
Don’t be Shy, Get in There and Ask
Don’t be afraid to ask specific and direct questions of the therapist you meet with. Yes, you should treat this like an interview! Ask the therapist about their education, training, experience, certifications and licensure as a couples therapist and marriage counselor.
Many couples therapists also have subspecialties within couples therapy and marriage counseling such as working with: sex, trauma, infidelity, couples on the brink of divorce, religion/spirituality, blended families, interracial relationships, open/polyamorous relationships, LGBTQ couples, etc. If any one of these subspecialties is present in your relationship, ask the therapist if it is a specialty of his or hers. Many therapists may automatically answer yes to this question, so don’t be afraid to be more specific. Here are some example questions you can utilize,
- “We’ve never been in couples therapy before. Can you briefly explain to us what the process looks like for the average couple?”
- “We’re struggling with infidelity. Can you explain to us in a general sense what the process of healing from an infidelity will entail?”
- “Can you share how you approach working with couples that aren’t straight?
Pretty much every expert in couples therapy and marriage counseling, or an expert in one of the subspecialties of couples therapy noted above, will be able to give you clear and direct answers to the questions you have. If a therapist hesitates, fumbles their words, gives you a short response or keeps giving you the same generalized response to your specific or unique questions, he or she is probably not what you are looking for.
Don’t be afraid to trust your gut and intuition when choosing a therapist. If you want to educate yourself on the answers to many of these questions prior to interviewing potential couples therapists and relationship counselors, consider taking the time to read the articles in this relationship article series. This will give you added comfort and reassurance when interviewing and evaluating therapists to determine who will be the best fit, the best marriage counselor and couples therapist for you and your partner!
Did You Miss Our Previous Article in the Series?
If you missed our previous article in the relationship series and you want to know what relationship counseling and couples therapy is all about, visit 2. What is Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy.
Are You Ready for Our Next Article in the Series?
Want to learn from an expert in relationships and marriage counseling? Find out what to expect in marriage counseling and what happens in couples therapy. Visit our next article in the relationship series 4. What to Expect in Marriage Counseling.