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By: Lisa Kift, MFT

If your marriage is in trouble - or if you're simply looking for more effective ways to communicate with your spouse - marriage counseling can be a great option. Sometimes getting an outside perspective by someone trained in relationships can help illuminate problematic cycles or unhelpful ways of being together.

So how does one go about choosing a marriage counselor?

The answer to this question is going to depend on what is important to you and your spouse - which is why I don't believe in a cookie-cutter formula. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, what I can offer you are aspects to consider when making this decision. At the end of the day, you will decide which of them hold the highest priority.

1) Therapist Credentials / Degrees: How long has the counselor been working with couples? What are their credentials? Some people put a lot of weight on credentials - Ph.D., LMFT, Psy.D., LCSW…. Are you more comfortable working with someone who has a higher level of education or is this not as important as what the person brings into the therapy room in relationship skills and style? Are you open to working with an intern under the supervision of a licensed professional? You can verify license status in every state. For example, in California, it's called, The Board of Behavioral Sciences (www.bbs.ca.gov).

2) Fees: Speaking of fees, what can you and your partner afford for marriage counseling? Do you have the option of going through your insurance? When you do the math to try to figure out what you can afford, make sure you allow a minimum of six sessions in your plan. Some couples can get great benefit out of less - but it's wise to think realistically about the total cost. If there are financial limitations, be sure to tell let the potential marriage counselor so they can refer you out to a lower cost option if needed.

3) Location: These days, convenience is king. A lot of people who contact me for therapy have said they were in my neighborhood and that my location was a "plus" to them. When you do a search on a therapist directory, plug in your zip code if that's an option to start with the closest people to you.

4) Referrals: Getting a therapist referral from a trusted source can be very comforting for some people. A least you know that this person has been helpful to someone you know. However, keep in mind that just because one counselor was helpful to your friend, doesn't mean that it will translate to your situation.

5) Spiritual / Religious Concerns: For those with particular spiritual or religious beliefs, it's usually important to find a counselor who works from that platform. The ideas about marriage, meaning, roles and rules will differ vastly between, for example, a Catholic therapist and a therapist without religion as a focus.

6) Therapist Modality: There are different theoretical orientations therapists operate from in how they conceptualize people and healthy relationships. Don't be afraid to ask, "What's your orientation?" if this is important to you and your partner.

7) Comfort Level: Are you more comfortable with a male or female counselor? What types of personalities do you resonate with? Is this someone you both would feel safe opening your hearts and vulnerabilities to?

8) Trust Your Instincts: I often encourage my own clients to pay closer attention to their instincts. This applies to choosing a marriage counselor. After spending some time looking at a therapist's website and speaking to them on the phone, let your intuition guide you to decide whether this is a good fit for you and your spouse. When you meet the person, continue to do an internal check. If it doesn't feel right - try somebody else!

Good luck in your search and be sure to shop around. These days there are numerous therapist directories and personal therapist websites that can be found all over the internet. This visibility has allowed counselors to share what they want to about themselves, their practices and ways of working with people which I believe has led to a demystification of the whole process - and more easily available information for the consumer.

Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage and Family Therapist providing individual and couples therapy in San Diego, California. She is also the author of numerous mental health and relationship articles. Visit her website at LisaKiftTherapy.com

For more information about marriage and family counseling, please visit The Family & Marriage Counseling Directory

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