Find out what to look for in a qualified Marriage or Couples Therapist
Therapy for a couple can play a huge role in a relationship’s ability to repair, build, thrive or end smoothly.
The question is, who can you actually trust your relationship with? The trick is to find not only a therapist who fits you and your partner’s needs, but someone who is also properly qualified.
Hint: Not all marriage or couples therapists are created equal.
Unfortunately, an underqualified or unqualified clinician can do more harm than good. Skilled marriage therapy is akin to brain surgery (the kind you live through…aka the well done kind) in that it is a fine-tooth, delicate-balance, kind of work. None of us want a general medicine partitioner operating on our brains–and for good reason; the resulting well-intentioned mess would likely be something we wouldn’t survive.
It’s the same for marriage/couples therapy. We might find a great general/individual therapist, but that credential alone does not qualify them to safely navigate the complex dynamics of intimate relationships.
How then, you might ask, does one go about finding a properly qualified couples therapist?
Good question. This post will detail exactly what to look for, and which qualifying questions to ask.
The devil is in the details as they say, and so for our purposes, is couples therapy training.
What does proper Marriage / Couples training look like? Below are the basics to look for:
*Graduation from a COAMFTE (Commission on the Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education). This is the gold standard for couple and family therapy education.
If the therapist did NOT graduate from a COAMFTE accredited program, make sure they have:
- 12 credits in Marriage /Couple Therapy
- 3 credits in couple sexual dysfunction
- 3 credits in lifespan development
- 3 credits in treating addiction/violence in families
- 500 client contact hours (whole session has more than one person in the room)
- 100 hours of face to face supervision with a couples specialized supervisor
While it might feel invasive to ask to see your clinicians educational credits, it’s an important part of advocating for yourself and your partnership.
Trainings / Certifications
Below are the best, industry-standard marriage/couples therapy certifications. Each has a slightly different approach and focus. Taking time to familiarize yourself with the basics of these therapeutic models will enable you to find just the right provider for your partnership’s specific needs.
- Gottman Method Couple Therapy
- Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy
- Developmental Couple Therapy
- Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy
- Discernment Counseling
Try to find someone who is a licensed MFT, AND who can clearly answer the following questions:
“What is your attitude toward salvaging a trouble marriage versus helping couples break up?“
Look elsewhere: If the therapist says they are “neutral,” or “I don’t try to save marriage, I try to help people”
Look elsewhere: if the therapist says they do not believe in divorce.
Here’s why: They will give up a lot sooner than the couple will. Therapists should be the last in the room to give up.
“What is your approach when one partner is seriously considering ending the marriage and the other wants to save it?“
Look elsewhere: If the therapist responds that their focus is on helping each person clarify their personal feelings and decisions.
Here’s why: The focus should be on the relationship as a whole. In good marriage therapy the marriage is treated as its’ own system and entity, apart from each of the separate individuals. Look for “hard” reasons for divorce, not “soft” reasons (aka your clinician should be the one advocating for the relationship until you tell them not to).
“What percentage of your practice is marital therapy?“
Look elsewhere: If the therapist does mostly individual therapy.
Here’s why: Marriage/Couple’s therapy requires unique training that most individual therapists don’t have. A great deal of nuanced skill and understanding are needed to facilitate growth or healing in an intimate relationship.
“Of the couples you treat, what percentage would you say work out enough of their problems to stay married with a reasonable amount of satisfaction with the relationship.” “What percentage break up while they are seeing you?” “What percentage do not improve?” “What do you think makes the differences in these results?“
Look elsewhere: If someone says “100%” stay together.
Look elsewhere: If they say that staying together is not a measure of success for them.
Here’s why: Look for answers that indicate the therapist will work to help enhance the quality of the relationship, not necessarily measuring based on the outcome.
There are several research supported methods to doing couple therapy. The therapist should be grounded in a particular approach even if they use other methods throughout their therapy. If they are not certified in a particular approach, but meet all the other criteria above, they will likely be a competent therapist, and will be able to help. If they are in the process of becoming certified, but are just beginning, just make sure they have appropriate supervision.
Couple therapy is a very complex and difficult process to complete. Many research articles document that when couples use a therapist who does not meet the minimum criteria above, an average of 70% of those couples relationships’ end up in far worse shape than where they began. Studies show that when couples see a properly qualified couples therapist, an average of 73% recover and have satisfactory marriages as a result. The differences are staggering.
Many reports found that couples would have done BETTER if they just didn’t get into couple therapy to begin with. This point is to emphasize that having someone not trained in couple therapy doing “couple therapy” sessions could be just as devastating or more so than seeing no one at all. If you need help finding a qualified clinician, see the below list of therapists. This list is was compiled by Dr. Whitehead and is Magic Valley Specific. This list does not include any clinical interns being supervised by Dr. Whitehead who also qualify given the criteria.
Qualified Couple Therapists
- Dr. Whitehead
- Larissa Macfarlane
- Kami Roach
- Millie Gaitan
- Trena Peckham
- Lacey Haggan-Galloway
- Carol Ann Conrad
- Josh Hutchinson
- Paul Garn
- MS in MFT from Brigham Young University (COAMFTE Program).
- PhD in MFT from Michigan State University (COAMFTE Program).
- AAMFT Approved Supervisor (the most rigorous supervision credential in mental health).
- Certified Discernment Counselor (Doherty Relationship Institute).
- Marriage Counseling Specialist (Doherty Relationship Institute).
- Level 2 Trained in Gottman Method Couple Therapy.
- Over 5,000 contact hours in Couple or Family Therapy, with over 10,000 contact hours of overall therapy experience.
Want to your explore therapy options? The highly-qualified team at Aspen Grove Family Therapy is made up of Marriage and Family Therapists, Counselors and Social Workers. We are here to help. If you’d like to connect or have questions, please reach out. We would love to hear from you.