Are you and your partner considering couples therapy?
If so, congratulations on taking the first step! Even if one partner is more willing than the other, deciding to go to couples therapy is half the battle. Research from Dr. John Gottman shows unhappy couples wait an average of six years before seeking help, and by then, it’s often too late.
In his research, Gottman also found prevention to be 3x more effective than intervention. So you don’t need to be in crisis to go to couples therapy. On the contrary, it’s better to get ahead of things and invest in your relationship before issues arise.
But where do you even begin when looking for a good couples therapist or marriage counselor? What qualities should a couples therapist possess? How much does couples therapy cost? And does couples therapy even work? We’ll break it all down.
What’s the difference between marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching?
When looking online for a couples therapist, you may notice different terms, including counseling, therapy, and coaching. What’s the difference?
Generally speaking, marriage counseling and couples therapy are used interchangeably, whereas relationship coaching is less clinical. All therapists can offer coaching services, but not all coaches can offer therapy services because therapy requires a license.
Coaching tends to be more skill-focused, and therapy focuses on deeper rooted issues. Coaching also focuses more on the here and now, while therapy can deal with the present and also has the ability to address long-standing problems like gridlock and unresolved hurts and betrayals. If you want to do deep work, then you’re probably better off with a skilled couples therapist.
Can all therapists offer couples therapy?
Technically, any licensed therapist can provide couples therapy, but what makes a couples therapist good is their specific training and cultivated expertise. A couples therapist is a specialist. You wouldn’t go to a primary care provider if you needed a cardiologist.
Regarding training, we recommend finding a couples therapist with a research-based approach. Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy are two of the most popular. Therapists at NCCT are trained in both. Read more about our approach.
What qualities should a couples therapist possess?
Similar to individual therapy, searching for a couples therapist is kind of like dating. You want to find someone who is a good fit for you and your partner. You’re not going to connect with everyone. It may take a few tries, and that’s okay!
What qualities they should possess will be unique to you and your relationship, but in general, look for a couples therapist who is non-judgemental and engenders trust. They don’t need to be your friend, but they shouldn’t give you a bad feeling (in other words, trust your gut).
Will a couples therapist side with my partner?
It’s a myth that a couples therapist should remain 100% neutral. Here’s the thing: you want a couples therapist who can be direct and has opinions and insights. This translates into a therapist who sometimes (skillfully) puts you in the hot seat and, at other times, focuses on your partner. However, if a therapist does not focus on each of you (equally) and, more importantly, if they are not focusing on your couple dynamic, then chances are the therapy won’t go far.
Why is couples therapy so expensive?
Couples therapy isn’t cheap. It’s not unusual for couples therapy to cost $280 or more for 90-minute sessions. It’s expensive because couples therapists spend years in school and thousands of hours to become licensed. They’re highly skilled at what they do.
Cutting corners by seeing a less experienced therapist will cost you more down the road. Plus, couples therapy is cheaper than the cost of divorce.
Are you going to use insurance?
If you want to use insurance, check with your insurance provider to ensure your plan covers couples therapy and how many sessions it covers. If it’s not covered, then you may be able to leverage your out-of-network benefits if you have them.
Many couples therapists are “cash pay,” meaning they don’t accept insurance. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the administrative burden of dealing with insurance, low insurance reimbursement rates, and the fact that insurance companies will not reimburse for longer sessions even though longer sessions are associated with greater success. NCCT is in-network with MassHealth’s MBHP plan. Read more about our insurance policies.
How many sessions does it take to see progress?
Most therapists offer weekly sessions at first and then transition to bi-weekly or monthly maintenance sessions, while some offer multiple sessions per week. How long it takes to see progress depends on a variety of factors, including how long a couple has been together, the severity of the problems in the relationship, and the nature of the issues. For example, affairs can take longer to treat. A good rule of thumb is to plan on a minimum of sixteen 90-minute sessions (and more if your relationship is in crisis).
Instead of weekly sessions, some couples therapists offer intensives where you do 5-6 hours of therapy per day for 2-3 consecutive days, which can be equivalent to months of therapy in a short amount of time. NCCT offers weekly and intensive options. Read more about our intensives.
Do you want to do couples therapy online or in person?
You’ll need to decide whether you and your partner want to do couples therapy online via Zoom or in person. It’s a personal preference as one option is not better or more effective. They each have their pros and cons.
As a result of COVID, many couples therapists still only offer online therapy, which can be a great option if you don’t want to travel to your therapist’s office. Some therapists may offer the option to meet in person first and then transition to online sessions. NCCT offers both online and in-person sessions.
Is sub-specialization important in a couples therapist?
If you’re looking for a therapist to help with a specific issue in your relationship (e.g., affair recovery), then it can be beneficial to find a therapist who specializes in that particular area of concern. With that said, it’s not a requirement, as most couples therapists are used to treating a wide range of relationship issues. When interviewing potential therapists, you can ask them if they have experience working with your particular issue.
What values should a couples therapist have?
It’s essential to find a couples therapist who shares your values. Make a list with your partner and write it down. Are they LGBTQ+ friendly? What is their perspective on polyamory and ethical non-monogamy? What else do you care about? Ask if it’s not clear on their website or in their marketing.
Where do you find a couples therapist?
If you’re already in individual therapy, then you can ask your therapist for a referral for a good couples therapist. You can Google “couples therapist near me” or “couples therapist [city]” to research options in your geographic area. One challenge with this option is that therapists can’t ask for reviews ethically, so it can be difficult to vet therapists online.
You can browse therapist directories like Psychology Today and TherapyDen, but it’s kind of like flipping through the phone book (remember those?). The Gottman Referral Network is a directory specifically for couples therapists trained in the Gottman Method. NCCT has 14 therapists on staff. Read more about our team.
What questions should you ask a couples therapist on a consultation call?
Most couples therapists will offer a free consultation call. This is a good opportunity for you and your partner to interview your potential therapist to see if they’re a good fit. Again, feel free to shop around.
Here’s a list of sample questions to ask:
- How do you like to work with clients?
- Do you have experience working with clients with similar concerns?
- Do you have specific training in couples therapy? If so, what approach?
- How long have you been seeing couples?
- How frequently do you typically see clients?
- What are your fees, and do you accept insurance?
Does couples therapy work?
Yes, couples therapy works. The key is to find a couples therapist (or center) that specializes exclusively in couples therapy and uses evidence-informed models like Gottman Method, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), and Pragmatic Experiential Therapy (PEXT). And remember that prevention is more effective than intervention, so the sooner you get started, the better your chance of success.
It’s also important to define what success looks like. Not every marriage or relationship should be saved. The purpose of couples therapy isn’t to keep couples together at all costs. Rather, it’s to hold up a mirror to your relationship and empower you to make an informed decision on your own.
What are alternatives to couples therapy?
If you and your partner aren’t ready for couples therapy but still want to work on your relationship, you can take a course, attend a workshop, or read a book. This can be done individually or as a couple.
Crisis 2 Connected (C2C) is a great alternative option offered by Kerry Lusignan, the CEO and Founder of NCCT. It’s the most comprehensive program for overcoming relationship crises, transcending stuck patterns, and rebuilding trust.
Interested in couples therapy? Click here to schedule a free consultation with our team.