Q&A: Finding the right marriage counsellorWritten by Focus on the Family
Question: My spouse and I have come to the conclusion that we need to seek the help of a professional marriage counsellor, but we don’t know who to see or what to look for. Do you have any recommendations?
Naturally, you’ll want to begin with prayer. Ask the Lord to supply the insight you need in order to make this crucial decision with wisdom and discernment (James 1:5). The counsellor you select should not only be trained, qualified and highly skilled, but a good "match" for you and your spouse in terms of personality, temperament, values and basic beliefs. The Lord knows your situation and He can lead you to the individual best suited to provide you with the help you’re seeking. In the meantime, keep the following guidelines and suggestions in mind:
- Look for a Christian counsellor. As you can imagine, there are all kinds of therapists out there—representatives of almost every belief system and worldview under the sun—and they advertise their services in a wide variety of ways. Some are listed with insurance companies. Others take great pains to establish themselves in highly visible and easily accessible office locations. While it would be easy to select a counsellor on the basis of convenience, we’d strongly advise you to dig a little deeper and do the research necessary to make a wiser and more informed choice. As we’ve already indicated, you need to locate an individual whose outlook on life is compatible with your own. If you’re a believer, it’s crucial that your counsellor share your Christian faith. If you have a broken leg, a skilled secular physician can read the x-ray and set the cast as well as anybody else. But when your heart, your spirit or your marriage is broken you don’t want to place yourself under the influence of a therapist who has no understanding of the spiritual basis of marriage or God’s plan for your life. So seek out a counsellor who a) integrates Biblical and psychological principles, b) filters all treatment through the Scriptures, c) follows the Holy Spirit’s guidance and d) prays for you and your marriage.
- Get counselling from a skilled professional—not one of your buddies. You wouldn’t call on your best friend to treat your cancer, no matter how caring and sincere he or she might be. In the same way, when your marital relationship shows signs of being sick or terminally ill, you don’t want to place it in the hands of a well-meaning but untrained neighbour or business associate. Instead, you need to call on a professional Christian counsellor whose therapeutic methods grow out of the best possible education and years of practical experience.
- Go to a specialist. As in the medical profession, so in the field of psychological counselling there are some practitioners who can be described as "generalists." They may have a great deal of experience working with a broad range of common disorders, but little or no competency in your particular area of need. A generic marriage counsellor can be helpful if you’re dealing with generic issues. But complex or long-standing marital problems, such as those involving adultery, sexual dysfunction or addictions, require the attention of a specialist.
- Avoid choosing a counsellor who simply focuses on "fixing" your spouse’s behaviour. God’s design for intimate marriage requires both husband and wife to learn how to relate deeply at several different levels: in spirit, in mind (emotionally and intellectually) and in body (sexually and non-sexually). Rarely can the blame for a dysfunctional marriage be laid entirely at the feet of one spouse; "it takes two to tango," and it also takes two flawed, ordinary human beings to make an unhealthy relationship. When you enter into counselling, then, it must be with a willingness on the part of each partner to take an honest look at his or her unique contributions to the larger problem. Remember what Jesus said about identifying the speck in another person’s eye before removing the plank from your own (Matthew 7:5). The focus needs to be on restoring your relationship as a couple, not on getting one partner "fixed."
- Beware of counsellors who automatically assume that years of treatment will be necessary. Sadly, there are some counsellors—some Christians among them—who will induce you to become dependent upon them or something other than God. Practitioners of this description may try to string you along for months or even years at a time in an attempt to hang on to your "business" as long as possible. Some may even convey an attitude that expresses doubt about the possibility of full recovery and healing (some addiction counsellors, for instance, seem to assume "once an addict, always an addict"). We don’t believe that this lines up with what the Bible says. It’s true that therapy must be thorough and comprehensive, and recovery is definitely a process, not a magical event. Nevertheless, the message of the gospel is that we can be a new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). God tells us that He can restore the years consumed by the locust, and He will do it if we place ourselves fully in His hands.
- Don’t select a counsellor on the basis of fees. This should be obvious. You wouldn’t go bargain shopping for a brain surgeon. Similarly, cost shouldn’t be a consideration when the future of your marriage and family is hanging in the balance. Do everything you can to obtain the best treatment possible.
If you need assistance finding a licensed professional Christian counsellor in your region, Focus on the Family Canada has a listing of therapists who have been thoroughly screened. You may also ask for a one-time complimentary consultation with one of our trained and qualified staff counsellors. If this option appeals to you, feel free to call our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.
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