Tools for Couples Happiness — 13 September 2005
How to select a good therapist

It is very painful to hear some couples recite previous negative experiences in couple therapy. They may say that they were either not helped or even hurt by the process of seeking help. They were discouraged about finding a good therapist, or worse, lost hope in their ability to restore their love connection. Tragically, some married couples who do not find and work with a good therapist end up in a preventable divorce.

How can couples successfully select an effective therapist and what can they expect from that professional?

Couples need to embark upon finding a good therapist as consumers. They are in need of a crucial service that will have lifelong implications to their wellbeing and partnership. Satisfied friends are the best referral source. A physician can also recommend a few names. Couples should proceed to have a first appointment with several recommended therapists and then decide whom to select.

There are several criteria that may help in assessing a couple’s therapist at the initial interview.

DID YOU FEEL UNDERSTOOD? An effective therapist will understand the presented issues, and will ascertain that you were heard correctly and understood. S/he will be supportive of your agenda and accurately summarize your goals for treatment with optimism about your ability to improve your relationship issues. A good therapist would support your relationship and agenda and would not introduce a direction that is incongruent with yours. S/he will set the course for you to achieve your goals.

DID YOU FEEL ACCEPTED AND RESPECTED? A good therapist will listen to you with interest and respect. S/he will honor each person’s view with compassion and acceptance and be a facilitator, not a judge.
The therapist will affirm each point of view as important and valid. Your feelings should be handled with empathy.

If respect, acceptance or empathy are lacking – that therapist may not be your choice. You do not need to give the therapist a few more chances, or excuse his/her style. This professional is there to help you and not vice versa.

WERE YOU ENRICHED BY THE SESSION? Did you leave the meeting with a new insight, idea, tool, exercise, reading materials, homework and/or recommendations? Did you feel that this therapist is a good teacher with skills and competence to assist you in achieving your desired goals?

Relationship therapy includes cognitive and behavioral instructions to facilitate change. Being a good listener and dealing with the causation of the difficulties is only the first part of the process, not the only one. Similarly, for the therapy to be effective, tools for change must follow affirmation of each partner’s emotions. Good therapists are competent and persuasive teachers who can provide the tools and inspire couples to move toward change.

DID YOU FEEL MORE HOPEFUL? By the time couples seek relationship help they often have been pained and unhappy for a long time. One or both may feel discouraged or even hopeless about the possibility of a restored love connection. They may seek change in their partner and may feel defeated by all the previously attempted methods.

A first session with a couple’s therapist should infuse the partners with optimism and hope about the possibility of significant improvement in their relationship. HOPE is the positive emotion that enables each partner to undertake the difficulties associated with personal change. A good therapist can help the couple visualize a happy relationship as a reasonable goal after sincere efforts for change.

• Finding a good therapist is important. It is a personal preference. A specific well- trained counselor may not necessarily be the best one for you.
• After a first session with a therapist both of you will know whether or not this professional is right for you. Trust your intuition. If one of you is not comfortable with the choice, select another person.
• Expect to benefit from every session by gaining knowledge, insights or tools for new behaviors.
• You are in charge of your own personal change and the progress of your treatment. Practice what is recommended to gain maximum benefit.
• If several previous therapists have not helped you, assess your own motivation and behavior so that the next professional will be the effective one.
• Having confidence, respect and trust in your therapist will facilitate your success in creating a better relationship for both of you.

September 11, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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