Great directories are important (and I’ve included several here…). But before you enter “couples counseling near me” into a Google search, slow down and know what to ask.

You may find an overwhelming number of marriage counselors in your area listed, or they may be scarce. Moreover, all may have different titles, describe different approaches, or have different training.

While it is tempting to schedule a session with the most local couples therapist, reconsider. It may be worth traveling for longer sessions less often, attending a couples therapy retreat, or working online if you find someone highly skilled.

How to find a couples therapist. Learn questions to ask.

1. Is there a difference between couples therapy, relationship therapy, and marriage counseling?

No, the difference depends on where you live in the country rather than professional variations. For example, if you live in Texas, you’ll find more couples counselors using the term “marriage counseling.” Those residing in New York or California prefer to call it “couples therapy.” In Europe, people often describe counseling services for couples as “relationship therapy.”

The terms marriage counseling, relationship counseling, and couples therapy are interchangeable. All require a graduate degree in mental health. They can be:

  • a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW),
  • a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT)
  • a licensed professional mental health counselor (LMHC)
  • a psychologist (Psy.D. or Ph.D.) or
  • a psychiatrist. (M.D.)

Without understanding the field of mental health professionals, you may believe finding a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) is the best option. However, MFT programs seldom offer placements (to obtain supervised experience) in marriage counseling, and a graduate will have only taken a survey course or two.

Simply possessing any degree and holding a license is not sufficient.

2. Choose a therapist with the right attitude.

In a survey conducted by AAMFT, 63% of clinical members reported being indifferent about whether a couple decides to stay married or get divorced.

Two-thirds of marriage counselors are “neutral” on divorce.

Is this couples therapist marriage friendly?”

To find out, ask them:
  • Do you consider it important to keep a marriage together when there are problems?”
  • “Under what conditions do you suggest divorce?”

Marriage Counselors should be the last ones in the room encouraging divorce.

Counselors should provide advice on whether couples should stay married or separate, especially if they have children.

How hopeful you feel is not as important as how willing you are to work for your relationship.

Gottman’s work also supports this fact. Couples are often come to therapy miserable and hopeless, believing nothing can change.

Research, however, indicates that evidence-based training has the ability to alter the state of “Negative Sentiment Override” in couples. This change can be quite sudden and noticeable, almost like flipping a light switch. It doesn’t gradually modify like a ‘dimmer switch.’ We’ve seen this sort of dramatic switch during our intensive couples intensive marriage counseling retreats.

Being neutral may seem trendy, but it’s not helpful for effective couples therapy.

Some therapists suggest a “trial separation” but don’t mention that 75% of separated couples eventually get divorced.

3. The best marriage counselors are experienced specialists.

Couples therapy is distinctly different from working with individuals. The counselor you pick should be a good fit for the types of problems you’re facing. A survey revealed that 81% of all private counselors in the United States say that they offer marital therapy. Only 12% of licensed therapists in the country have the necessary training and experience in marital therapy. Therapists can train in organized post-graduate training programs and must demonstrate measurable skills before obtaining certification in advanced marriage counseling.

Of course, you want to feel comfortable with your relationship counselors. You may also want them to know about child development or substance abuse if these are issues between you. But there are now science-based practices offering advanced training from reputable institutes of marriage counseling training programs. A counselor might have decades offering individual therapy but not work often with couples.

Specialists are unlikely to take health insurance.

Researchers have now studied real couples for 40 years and compared them in “before and after” treatment experiments. These studies include MRI research and other biological markers of reduced physiological arousal during and after marriage counseling. Treatment offered is very different than it was even a decade ago.

Learn what good couples therapy looks like and what makes a good couples therapist great.

If they don’t take your health insurance, don’t be surprised. Most insurance doesn’t cover couples therapy. However, most now cover individual online therapy.

4. Find a marriage counselor with a practice devoted to working with couples.

Ask the counselor what percentage of their practice is devoted to seeing couples (not generally “couples and families”) each week. Seek someone specifically trained in couples therapy who does it exclusively or primarily. A good guideline is at least half of their practice should be working with couples as a pair.

Couples’ work is a vastly separate way of working from individual work. Choose someone with a lot of daily practice working this way.

5. Pick a couples therapist who is a member of a professional organization devoted to couples.

True professionals spend time and money as members of professional associations that reflect their interests, training aspirations, and specializations. Being a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) designates that:

  • Another marriage therapist has supervised the therapist and
  • completed adequate coursework and training, at least in family therapy.

AAMFT Clinical Members meet rigorous training and educational requirements. AAMFT requires Clinical Members to abide by the AAMFT Code of Ethics. These ethical codes are the most stringent in the marriage and family therapy profession.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists

AAMFT Clinical Membership signifies that a couples therapist dedicates themselves to their ongoing professional development.

Professional Organizations for Sex Therapists

The American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) is an organization for those practicing sex therapy. Board certification requires experience and supervision.

This organization outlines standards for training, experience, and ethical behavior. AASECT also has a Code of Ethics outlining the conduct required of all members.

Professionals demonstrate their interests through the organizations they join. AASECT devotes itself to assisting couples with their sexual and intimacy needs. You might be surprised to find a marriage counselor with minimal training specifically related to sexual issues.

Many graduate programs have no requirement to learn about sex-related issues. Those who do have taken a 1-3 credit course.

When sex is a pressing concern, ask specifically about their formal training in “sex therapy.”

6. Look for someone who studied and trained in a recognized institute in evidence-based couples therapy.

There are two well-known science-based or evidence-based treatments for couples.

Ask the marriage if they hold credentials in these models.

The Gottman Institute trains the best couples therapists
EFT trains quality couples therapists

They should be proud to explain their education to you. Beware that some of these models do not offer certifications the way Gottman, Johnson, and Greenberg do.

If you aren’t familiar with the orientation or approach, be sure to ask about the therapist’s research the methods.

Better yet, find a therapist who has training & certification in several methods for a more thorough toolbox.

People worldwide teach clinically effective models, but this isn’t true for research-oriented models.

Search Well-Respected Directories

Read on for more information on what to ask before looking for a nearby couples therapist. Return here when you’ve finished the entire article.

Why choose science-based couples therapy? Because it works. Period.

At Couples Therapy Inc. we’re specialists in intimacy relationships

We work intensively helping couples from across the USA.

Our marriage counselors and sex therapists receive training in at least two approaches to couples therapy. One of these approaches must be evidence-based.

They are active in their professional organizations related to marriage counseling or sex therapy. They are highly skilled professionals that are here to help you function more effectively in your relationship. And they have certifications to demonstrate their competence.