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Marriage: How To Find A Good Marriage Counselor Part 1


By Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. from Marriage Builders, Inc.

Introduction

My books and articles provide you with methods and tools that have proven useful to me in saving marriages. But even the best concepts and forms in the world won't help under certain conditions. Sometimes you need the support and motivation that only a professional marriage counselor can provide.

The purpose of a marriage counselor, from my perspective, is to guide you through (1) emotional minefields, (2) motivational swamps and (3) creative wildernesses.

The emotional minefields represent the predictable, yet overwhelmingly painful experiences that many couples go through as they try to adjust to each other's emotional reactions. Hurt feelings are the most common, but depression, anger, panic, paranoia and many others seem to pop up without warning. These emotions distract couples from their goal of creating romantic love, and often sabotage the entire effort.

A good marriage counselor helps couples avoid many of these emotional landmines and is there for damage control when they're triggered. He/she does this by understanding the enormous stress couples are under as they are facing one of their greatest crises. When one or both spouses become emotionally upset, he/she has the skill to diagnose and treat the emotional reactions effectively. I counsel with a psychiatrist who prescribes psychotropic medication (anti-anxiety and anti-depressants) to alleviate the emotional pain that often accompanies the process of marital adjustment. A good counselor knows how to calm the couple down and assure them that their emotional reactions are not a sign of hopeless incompatibility.  

The motivational swamps represent the feeling of discouragement that most couples experience. They often feel that any effort to improve their marriage is a waste of time. Over the years, I believe that one of my greatest contribution to couples has been my encouragement when things looked bleak. My clients knew that at least their counselor believed that their effort would be successful. Eventually, each spouse would come to believe it too.

 Discouragement is contagious. When one spouse is discouraged, the other quickly follows. Encouragement, on the other hand, is often met with skepticism by the other spouse. So its easy to be discouraged, and difficult to be encouraged, when you are trying to solve marital problems. A marriage counselor should be there to provide needed encouragement when there's none other in sight.

The creative wilderness represents the typical inability of couples in marital crisis to create solutions to their problems. In the books I've written, many solutions are suggested but they're only the tip of the iceberg. Many marital problems require solutions that are unique to certain circumstances. In this site, I put more emphasis on the process you should follow to solve marital problems than I do on the specific strategy you should use. That's because there are too many situations that require unique strategies.  

A good marriage counselor is a good strategy resource. While you can, and should, also think of ways to solve your marital problems, a marriage counselor should know how to solve problems like yours. That's what you pay him/her to do! And his strategy should make sense to you. In fact, his strategy should encourage you in the belief that your problems will be over soon. Counselors often obtain special training for many common marital problems, such as sexual incompatibility and financial conflicts. These counselors can document a high rate of success in finding solutions to those problems. 

To summarize, the three most important reasons to find a marriage counselor are (1) to help you avoid or overcome painful emotional reactions to the process of solving marital problems, (2) to motivate you to complete your plan to restore romantic love to your marriage, and (3) to help you think of strategies that will achieve your goal.

If you can handle your emotional reactions, provide your own motivation and can think of appropriate strategies, you don't need a marriage counselor. In fact, I suggest that you try solving your problem on your own until you hit a roadblock. But if your efforts hit a snag, find a professional marriage counselor to help you. Marital problems are too dangerous to ignore, and their solutions are too important to overlook. 

How to Make Your First Appointment

The yellow pages is probably one of the most common places to discover where to find marriage counselors. Your physician or minister may also be able make suggestions. But the most reliable sources of referral are people who have already seen a counselor that has successfully guided them to romantic love. Since couples are usually tight-lipped about their marital problems, that kind of referral is usually difficult to obtain.

Regardless of your source of referral, however, you should take steps to be certain that you select someone who can help you. And remember, the counselor who can help your marriage helps both you and your spouse. If at all possible, make sure your spouse is an active participant in this selection process.

Begin by calling one clinic at a time, asking the receptionist to speak to the counselor you are considering by telephone. There should be no charge for this preliminary interview. You should ask the counselor some of the following questions:

  • How many years have you been a counselor?

  • What are your credentials (e.g. academic degree)?

  • Do you help your clients avoid some of the emotional hazards of marital adjustment?

  • Do you help motivate your clients to complete the program successfully? 

  • Do you suggest strategies to solve your clients' marital problems?

You may wish to add other relevant questions. You may also try to let the counselor know what type of marital problem you have. After going through this site, you'll probably have more insight regarding your problem than counselors are accustomed to hearing. Use that insight to discover if the counselor has the background and skill to help you with your particular problem.

I would highly recommend that you ask if the counselor is presently using my books, His Needs, Her Need, and Love Busters. If they are not using these books, ask if they'd be willing to use them when counseling with you. While this may seem like a marketing ploy on my part, the reason I would like you to take my materials with you is that I'd like you to stick to the program I've recommended. There are many ineffective marriage counseling methods being used these days and I think you'd be more comfortable with a counselor who uses my direct method of dealing with the problem. Counselors that only sit and listen to couples complain should be avoided at all costs!

Most couples who see me are in a state of crisis. They don't go to the trouble and expense of marriage counseling for marriage "enrichment." They are facing marital disaster! With that in mind, time is of the essence. You cannot wait weeks for your first appointment. In fact, you should probably be seen the same day you call.

After speaking to several marriage counselors on the telephone, and taking good notes on their answers to your questions, try to narrow your choice to three counselors. Keep all your notes, since the first one you select may not work out.

When you and your spouse both feel comfortable with a particular counselor, set up your first appointment.

What Is the Cost?

Cost varies widely among marriage counselors. But before we talk about cost, I strongly advise you against counselors that cannot see you soon and often. That rules out most Health Maintenance Organizations which are free or low cost because their overworked counselors are usually weeks away from taking new couples, and they tend to schedule follow-up appointments weeks apart. Furthermore, their counselors are not likely to talk to you on the telephone prior to an appointment.

Insurance generally will not pay for marriage counseling unless the counselor finds you or your spouse suffering from a mental disorder. Marriage counseling is covered as treatment for the disorder, but not otherwise. If you see a counselor who uses your insurance, you can be almost certain that you've been diagnosed to have a mental disorder. It'll be on your record for years to come and may prevent you from obtaining certain jobs or qualifying for certain types of insurance. Furthermore, if you really do not have a mental disorder, but it's been diagnosed just to collect insurance, your insurance company may challenge the diagnosis leaving you responsible for the bill. If you're offered counseling for what your insurance pays with no other cost to you, its illegal. Call your insurance company or your state's insurance commissioner to report the attempt to commit insurance fraud.

It's safe to assume that you may need to pay for therapy out of your pocket. So how much do marriage counselors charge? Rates vary from about $45 to $200 per session. The average is about $95. Since most marriage counselors see couples one session a week for the first three months, you can expect to pay about $1200 in that period of time if it's at about $95/hr. Most of my clients have paid under $1200 by the time they've completed therapy. But some counseling can continue weekly for as long as two years before the problems have been resolved. That would cost a couple $10,000 over two years. While it may seem like a fortune, the cost of divorce is often many times that figure.

To help put the cost of marriage counseling in perspective, there's nothing you can buy for $10,000 that will give you the same quality of life that a healthy marriage provides. If you and your spouse love each other and meet each other's important emotional needs, you'll be able to do without many other things and still be happier in the end. Besides, I've found that people seem to earn more and save more after their marital problems are solved. The money you spend to resolve your marital problems is money well spent.

 This article is used with with permission from MarriageBuilders.com and is an adaptation of Dr. Harley's book, Five Steps to Romantic Love.

 


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