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By Dr. Robert Burbee
If you find yourself in a place where there are no recommendations from people you trust, then research provider lists with health insurance, the telephone book or online may be a next step. The American Association of Christian Counselors website can be helpful in finding one of their members in your community. Focus on the Family at their website maintains a database of professionals that pass their screening criteria.
Credentials of the professional are important. A masters or doctorate degree as well as the appropriate licensure in the state where you live is an indication that the professional has met minimum requirements of training and supervised experience to practice their profession. This is not to say that pastors, ministers, or lay counselors should always be avoided if they do not possess these credentials. When someone does not possess professional credentials you should be very careful about working with them. Untrained but well meaning individuals can do a lot of harm if the recipient of services is not wary. If someone is not credentialed are they at least supervised by a licensed professional? This is a legitimate question to ask.
Your health insurance may have a mental health benefit provision. With many plans the mental health benefit provision will cover marriage and family services. Unfortunately, many health insurance plans do not cover marital or family counseling/therapy services. This is in spite of good research demonstrating that marriage and family counseling/therapy are cost effective and prevent future mental health treatment costs. If your insurance provider does not cover such services consider sending a letter to let them know you want such services covered. Even if you have some coverage there may be stipulations which make it difficult for a provider to receive payment from your insurance company. Many counselors and therapists provide their clients with documentation to assist the client in being reimbursed rather than bill insurance directly. This helps the professional keep costs down. All of these considerations can be addressed when you make contact with a professional.
Making the Most of Counseling/Therapy
You should ask a potential professional or the office staff some questions about the professional’s orientation and approach to marital counseling/therapy. It is reasonable to ask if the professional is a Christian and if a Christian perspective is applied to the services you will receive. If you have special circumstances such as chemical dependency, domestic violence, step-family concerns, childhood trauma, etc. which may be important in counseling/therapy, it is a good idea to ask about the professional’s training and experience in those areas.
In the initial visits expect some time spent in assessing the challenges, issues and goals you and your spouse have for counseling/therapy. Be direct about any concerns or needs you might have regarding working with the professional. In the beginning you and the professional are establishing a working relationship and it is important to assert what is important to you while considering the recommendations the professional makes to you about the services they feel you need.
Once the initial assessment and therapeutic agreement is established it is important to be prepared to work on your relationship between visits. Couples who make the most progress in counseling/therapy are those who take what they learn in sessions and apply it between sessions. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go smoothly at first. Difficulties and some challenge probably means you are really addressing the important issues you need to address. It is true some couples experience benefit almost immediately from counseling/therapy. But, this is probably the exception not the rule. It is not unusual for counseling/therapy to take several months before benefits start to occur. If 3-4 months of working consistently in therapy is not yielding encouraging results then it is important and reasonable to discuss the lack of progress with the counselor/therapist. They most likely will have been considering the lack of progress as well. A thorough discussion of what may be impeding progress may be just the jumpstart needed to get relationship recovery and change back on track.
Please remember, the NIM therapists you worked with during your Couples Intensive or Marriage Intensive are eager to consult with the professional you are working with. We would love to support in any way we can the counseling/therapy you are doing post Intensive.
Making the Most of Christian Marriage Counseling
At the conclusion of each Couples Intensive or Marriage Intensive, National Institute of Marriage (NIM) therapists recommend to couples that they consider who they might connect with for ongoing support and accountability following their Intensive. At NIM we understand that a Couples Intensive or Marriage Intensive may be only the beginning of a process of change, recovery and healing. We try to be careful not to foster an expectation that time at an Intensive will be the only step necessary to turn the course of a relationship around.
For some couples ongoing support may come in the form of a caring involved pastor, trusted friend or mentor. Some churches now even have ongoing support programs for assisting couples in their change efforts. In fact, here at NIM we have a program titled Marriage 911, which we developed with the help of Joe and Michelle Williams which trains people in how to be a caring support when someone is in marriage crisis. Joe and Michelle have been helping churches train “first responders” to a marriage crisis for years. Caring support in the first hours and days after a marriage crisis occurs, i.e. discovery of infidelity, request for divorce, etc. can make a huge difference for couples trying to navigate the painful crisis their marriage has become. Much of this support may occur before a couple ever seeks professional help such as is offered here at NIM.
Support following an Intensive can be critical to growing the gains accomplished during a Couples Intensive or Marriage Intensive. When couples return home following an Intensive trying to find a competent, reputable marriage therapist or counselor can be challenging. Even after finding a professional to work with, figuring out how to make the most of the service may not be obvious. The following considerations may be of some help in locating a professional and then forming a positive, productive working relationship with them.
Finding a Therapist or Counselor
Financial considerations often seem to be the first hurdle couples look at when trying to find a marriage counselor. While finances are certainly a factor in who you ultimately choose to work with. This should probably not be the first consideration. It may be surprising to learn that often very reputable competent professionals have means with which to accommodate and work with couples to manage the financial cost of marriage counseling/therapy services. Scholarships, discounts, payment plans all are ways of managing the cost of services. Simply asking, “What will it cost?” may be an unnecessary discouragement at the outset. Quality services will have a price, but this is not the place to begin when looking for a counselor/therapist.
Word of mouth referral is often a good indication of who in your community is considered a competent resource for help with marriage and family issues. Just like other services you shop for, listening to friends, family and people you trust for recommendations is a good place to begin. A professional’s reputation in a community is a good indication of the kind of service you might receive. It is probably wise to hear from several sources because word of mouth recommendations are also vulnerable to gossip and reactive judgment in some cases. It would be probably unfair to dismiss a potential professional solely on the basis of one negative report unless you had great confidence in the source of the negative report. If someone you trust like a pastor, mentor, physician or community leader recommends someone, then they are probably someone worthy of more investigation.
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Copyright © 2013 National Institute of Marriage.
Dr. Robert Burbee is an Intensive Therapist at the National Institute of Marriage. Founded in 2003 and located in Branson Missouri, the National Institute of Marriage provides Intensive Marriage Counseling, Marriage Conferences, and numerous other Resources for Couples.