The Twelve Most Important Qualifications to Look For
by Jay S. Lindsay, Ph.D.
Your marriage is in serious trouble, perhaps sliding toward the brink of divorce. You need a quick turn-around and so you’re searching the web to find a private marriage counseling intensive provided by a therapist with impeccable credentials.
Here are the twelve most important qualifications to look for in choosing a marriage counselor to work with you on your retreat, based on my more than 40 years of experience providing intensives to distressed couples. Knowing exactly what to look for in a marriage counselor will help you to choose one who is maximally qualified to help you.
- A counselor who will work privately with just the two of you.
Many counselors provide group retreats, which can work fine for couples who are mildly distressed. However, if your relationship is severely distressed then when choosing a marriage counselor for your retreat you’ll probably want to find one who will work with you privately. That way you’ll get both confidentiality and a personalized approach that is tailored to exactly what you need.
- A counselor who uses a scientifically proven approach.
Many providers of marriage counseling intensives use approaches they like but not approaches that have been demonstrated by research to work. A scientifically proven approach is EFT, or Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Many experts consider EFT to be the most effective approach to helping couples that exists today. It is based on more than 30 years of research and with this approach nearly 75% of couples recover and another 15% improve significantly. So, look for a marriage counselor who is a Certified EFT Couple Therapist.
- A counselor who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, or LMFT.
When choosing a marriage counselor to work with you on your retreat, look for a therapist who is an LMFT. This license assures you that he or she has been well-trained at the graduate level in how to work effectively with couples. In contrast, counselors with other licenses usually have attended graduate programs that provide little or no training in marriage counseling. Examples of these include the licensed professional counselor (LPC) and the licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Also, you should know that some providers of marriage counseling retreats are not trained at the graduate level and are not licensed therapists.
- A counselor who is also a licensed psychologist.
The fact is that all effective couple therapy requires careful attention to individual issues as well as to relationship issues. This is particularly true if one of you has an undiagnosed depression, personality disorder, or addiction. A licensed psychologist is trained to assess and treat individuals. When looking for a marriage counselor to work with you on your retreat, you would do well to choose one who is both a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist.
- A counselor with advanced graduate level training at the doctoral level, as indicated by a Ph.D. or Psy.D., or Ed.D. after his or her name.
Most marriage counselors have just a master’s degree, which means that they have studied at the graduate level for two to three years. A therapist with a doctoral degree has completed five to seven years of graduate level training and so is likely to be more effective in helping you. Advanced graduate level training at the doctoral level should definitely be on your list of what to look for in a marriage counselor.
- A counselor who is a clinical fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
When choosing a marriage counselor for your retreat, look for one who is a clinical fellow with the AAMFT. You can be confident that he or she meets important professional standards established by leaders in the field of marriage and family therapy. You can also be confident that he or she subscribes to a stringent code of ethics and has agreed to be accountable to his or her professional peers for adherence to that code.
- A counselor with many years of full-time experience working mostly with couples.
A counselor who does not list years of experience is probably relatively new to the field. Keep in mind when choosing a marriage counselor for your retreat that the amount of experience a therapist has is important to the success of your intensive session. That’s because it takes a lot of years to develop the kind of finesse that is required to do couple therapy really well. With so many therapists out there, there is no reason why you should settle for anyone with less than 20 years of full-time experience working entirely or mostly with couples.
- A counselor who has successfully facilitated a high number of private marriage intensives.
During the past several years, many counselors have begun to offer marriage counseling retreats. Some are fairly new therapists who have little or no experience working with couples. Some others are more established therapists, but new to counseling couples in an intensive format. When choosing a marriage counselor for your retreat, you should look for one who has successfully done a high number of them, at least 100.
- A counselor who works independently rather than one who uses a team approach.
Some marriage counseling retreats use a team approach that includes a lead therapist and one or two less qualified assistants. I believe that you are much better off working with one therapist who is highly qualified. Also, I have observed that several therapists teaming together can wind up working at cross-purposes from one another. As the old saying goes, “too many cooks can spoil the broth.”
- A counselor who specializes in what you need.
For example, if your marriage has been impacted by infidelity, then you’ll want to work with a counselor who is an expert on extramarital affair recovery. Or if you are a Christian who desires a faith-based approach, then you’ll want to work with a marriage counselor who specializes in this.
- A counselor with a clearly defined plan.
The counselor you choose to counsel you on your marriage counseling intensive should be one who can clearly articulate step-by-step exactly how he or she will help you. This should be made explicit both on the therapist’s website and in any phone conversation that you might have with that therapist. You should have a feeling of confidence that this counselor really knows what he or she is doing.
- A counselor with high satisfaction ratings and positive reviews by his couples as well as strong endorsements by other professionals.
If a therapist has all three, then this is an excellent sign. In regard to positive reviews, it is important that it be clearly stated that these are unsolicited. The reason is that it is a violation of professional ethics for any licensed therapist to solicit testimonials from clients.
Now you know the twelve most important qualifications to look for when choosing a marriage counselor to work with you on your retreat. Equipped with this information, you should be able to find one who is highly qualified. The biggest mistake you could make would be to choose a counselor who is underqualified. Such a therapist might not be able to help you and might even make matters worse.
It’s the marriage counselor with the impeccable credentials who can pull your marriage back from the brink and get it turned around and moving in a positive direction.
Dr. Jay Lindsay was one of the first therapists in the nation to offer marriage counseling intensives more than 40 years ago. Since then he’s helped thousands of couples from all across the country and beyond. Dr. Lindsay meets all the criteria contained in this article, so consider him when looking for a marriage counselor to work with you on your retreat. He does his intensives in Louisville, Colorado and can be reached at (720) 307-5635.
Copyright © Jay S. Lindsay, Ph. D., 2019