Couples therapy can be a priceless resource for solving challenging issues, from the proactive (We are blending two families; how do we best cultivate healthy relationships between stepchildren?) to the reactive (We fight all the time). But it requires a sound mindset. If you and your partner decide to seek the help of a couples therapist, you are investing time, energy, and finances into the process of solving a problem. Maximize the benefits from your time in therapy by 1.) choosing the right therapist, and 2.) preparing yourself for your sessions prior to beginning. Your readiness to commit to the therapy process is imperative to your success.
The first step is to find a couples therapist who seems a good fit for you and your partner. Consider their educational background and experience with your specific issues. Think about the logistics of the office location, their fee, and whether or not the therapist participates in your insurance plan. You are more likely to attend sessions if the office is conveniently located and you can financially commit to the process. Log onto websites such as www.therapistlocator.net, a therapist directory from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and www.therapists.psychologytoday.com, an extensive therapist directory from Psychology Today, to check qualifications, length, and type of experience, location, and fees. If you know couples who have or currently attend therapy, ask if they recommend theirs (and the reasons why or why not). And, finally, you can and should call the therapists that seem like the best fit. Don’t be shy. Ask any and all of your questions to determine if the therapist can potentially meet your needs. Once you’ve made a final decision, schedule an intake appointment. Remember, every decision of this nature involves some risk, but if you do your research, you are more likely to achieve the results you and your partner need.
The next step in your preparation is to understand that the goal of the therapist is to teach couples to communicate in a way that allows them to resolve their own issues, both during and after the therapeutic process. The therapist’s goal is not to resolve issues for the couple. I often see couples who, after their first session, ask, “So, do you think you can fix us?” As a couples therapist, my goal is for each individual to realize what they bring to the relationship and guide both toward making any necessary changes, without losing sight of their own beliefs and values. I explain to my clients that my role is to act as a facilitator for change. Understanding the role of the therapist helps to clarify your own role. You and your partner must be prepared to work on the relationship outside of the therapy session.
Finally, be goal oriented. Take time prior to the first session to think about and write down the issues and the goals you want to achieve during your time in therapy. What would a desired outcome look like for you and your partner? If possible, complete this exercise with your partner. If you are unable to work on this collaboratively, encourage your partner to create an individual list of goals.
Once you’ve given these steps some careful consideration, you and your partner will feel more ready to begin your journey to a healthier, happier, more satisfying relationship.
- Accept the need to change. The therapeutic process requires self-awareness and a willingness to change if necessary. This is challenging. Be honest with yourself. Are you willing to change things about yourself? You are only ready for therapy if your answer to the question is “yes.”
- Write it down. Consider using a journal to express your thoughts and feelings about what you contribute, both positively and negatively, to the relationship, prior to your first session.
- Take ownership. It is always easier to place blame and responsibility on someone else, rather than look inward at what we are responsible for. Think about what you bring to the relationship and your role in the relationship problems.