It’s no secret that a betrayal in your relationship- whether it’s sexual, emotional, financial, or otherwise- can lead to a rupture in trust that can have a lasting impact on the quality of your relationship. For 3 out of 10 couples, infidelity means the end of their relationship all together.
Surviving infidelity is more than just learning better communication skills or trust exercises; it’s about diving into the hurt to identify the whys- why the betrayal hurts so much, why the betrayal happened, and why the betrayal happened when it did.
Unfortunately, there are many therapists who are ill-equipped to address the issue of infidelity head on. Even those who claim to work with couples may not have the knowledge or training to help.
The downsides to this include having many couples who have tried therapy and feel like it didn’t help them. These couples end up feeling like their relationship may be beyond repair or that marriage is simply not a happily-ever-after situation for them.
As a therapist, I’m sorry that sometimes we fall short. I know that not everyone who goes to therapy has a positive experience, and not everyone believes that therapy is helpful. There are many reasons for this, but I’ll save that for a later time. Just know that I know how daunting a task it can be to find a therapist you trust and for that, I’m truly sorry.
Take Linda and Paul* for example. They contacted me following the discovery that Paul had had an affair with a coworker. They had been in couples counseling before- about 4 months- when it was discovered that Paul had cheated again. Linda was devastated.
They both felt that the therapy hadn’t been helpful, and the continued affair only seemed to be proof of this. They told me that the therapist seemed to just point out what was wrong with their relationship. Linda felt like the therapist was trying to justify Paul’s infidelity.
They talked about de-escalation and reflective listening, but neither Linda nor Paul felt that they were really addressing the elephant in the room- the affair.
Without talking directly about the affair and what it meant for each of them, they weren’t able to make any lasting changes in their relationship. Over time, they sunk back into the same patterns, the same routine that got them to where they are today.
They were jaded, but they were willing to give it one more try.
They now have come to understand each other and the affair better. Together, I helped them discover not only what the affair did to Linda but also what it did for Paul. We then worked to incorporate this new information into their relationship in a way that left them both feeling happier and more secure together.
Now I don’t profess to be some couples counseling guru, and I’m certainly not the only person who could have helped them. But they needed someone who knew what the heck they were doing!
The truth is that about 80% of therapists say that they work with couples but few of them have adequate training in order to do so, especially for couples in crisis who are trying to survive infidelity.
So how can you find a couples therapist to help you? I’ve outlined some of the guiding principles you should look for in a couples therapist. Keep in mind that this is based on my experience in weeding out those who I would not refer to and that the number one quality you should always look for in a therapist is someone you can trust.
So Why is it So Difficult to Find a Good Couples Therapist?
There are many reasons that finding the right couples therapist is tough. For one, it’s not something that people frequently talk about. Imagine instead that you are looking to hire a babysitter or even a lawn maintenance company. Where would you go?
It’s likely that your first stop to find a provider would be to talk to friends and family members, even neighbors. Who have they worked with? Who would they recommend?
So finding a therapist can be a bit trickier because it’s typically a very private endeavor. People aren’t talking with their friends about how wonderful their therapist is in the same way that they talk about their PCP or their dentist.
On a side note, if you are one of those people who feels comfortable talking about being in therapy and about who you’re working with, thank you. Thank you for making mental health a topic we talk about as easily as our physical health.
Another issue is that even if you get that referral from a friend for an “amazing therapist,” they may not be the right fit for you. One person’s go-to expert for all things life and love can be a total dud for the next person.
So word of mouth referrals don’t work the same way in the therapy world like they do for plumbers and electricians, so what are you supposed to do? Well, I hope to answer some of your questions about finding the right couples therapist in this blog.
I’m an LPC, LMFT, EMDR, EFT, DOG…
While credentials are important to keep the field of therapy from running amok and wreaking havoc on innocent people, they are not the be all and end all of a qualified therapist. Having more acronyms after their name doesn’t mean that they are a better therapist… or even a good one.
And while there are some minute differences between Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs), for you, the therapy seeker, it’s safe to say that they are about the same. All of them are Master’s level clinicians who have achieved licensure after passing a few exams and working for a period of time under the supervision of a more experienced clinician.
Then you have those who, instead of putting two years into their post-graduate work, opted for 5 or more. They have earned a doctoral degree and practice under the name “psychologist.” These are the only providers that should be referred to as doctors.
So any therapist practicing out in the world has at least a Master’s degree and ideally some form of training in their therapy of choice (more on that in a moment). Much to the chagrin of some practitioners out there, I’m going to say that basically we are more similar than we are different. So how can you tell us apart- the good from the bad?
It’s Not About What School They Went To…
If you think that separating the wheat from the chaff is simply a matter of what school the clinician attended, you’d be wrong. I’ve met therapists who attended hoity toity universities that I wouldn’t trust to provide therapy to a cat. (That’s a joke. Everyone knows that cats are perfect and would never need therapy…)
I’ve also met therapists, like myself, who went to no-name colleges who are wonderful clinicians whom I refer to all the time.
Finding a good marriage counselor is more about what has transpired since they left school than what school they attended. It’s what I alluded to before when I said that 80% of therapists claim to work with couples but few have the training and expertise to effectively do so.
And again, I’m not talking about the initials after their name- whether they are EFT certified, have completed Gottman Level 1, 2, or 3, or whether they invented some new revolutionary therapy and have certified themselves in it (yes, it’s happened).
It’s about who they have worked with, who they love to work with, and who they are passionate about working with.
I never imagined when I set out on this endeavor of private practice that I would end up working with couples, much less with couples in crisis. When I first hung my shingle, I was certain of two things- no kids and no couples.
The first time an individual client wanted to transition to couples work, I referred him out. He came back and became rather insistent that I continue to work with him due to the relationship we had formed.
So I set off to get some training working with couples so that I wasn’t completely over my head. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now I can’t imagine doing anything other than working with couples or working with individuals in the context of their relationships. I’m hooked.
Having this speciality means that I know what trainings to attend, what books to read, and even what podcasts to listen to.
So how can you know what a therapist is passionate about?
Tip #1 for Finding a Great Marriage Counselor- Know Where to Look
Most, but not all, therapists in private practice are listed in online directories such as Psychology Today and Good Therapy. If you’re in a large metropolitan area like Dallas, these sites will allow you to narrow down your results by zip code.
Just typing in “marriage counseling dallas” can easily net you thousands of results on Google, and those on the first page aren’t necessarily the best or the closest to you. Those of us who live in Far North Dallas know that the South Dallas area might as well be a separate city and that we would much sooner drive to Plano or Richardson for therapy.
So instead of performing multiple searches and trying to narrow down the results to just those that are closest to you, a directory search can do that for you.
If you do want to use Google to find local therapists, be specific in your search queries. Instead of “therapists near me” try “therapists in North Dallas who specialize in affair recovery.” You’re a lot more likely to find someone who has expertise in the area that you need help in that way.
So what do you do once you’ve found a handful of therapists near you?
Tip #2 for Finding a Great Marriage Counselor- Check out Their Website/Blog
What are they writing about? Can you hear the passion in their voice as you read the words on the screen? Those are the types of therapists that I refer to- not Suzie-generalist down the street.
Another advantage of reading what a prospective therapist is writing is that you can get a sense of their style, and more importantly, a sense of whether they would be a good fit for you.
Do you find their writing style engaging? Does reading a few blog posts give you a sense of who this person is, both as a therapist and as a fellow human being?
Personally, I don’t like blog posts that read like dictionaries or dissertations. I want to read content that feels alive and engaging. If I want to read dry, boring information, I have plenty of textbooks left over from college…
Tip #3 for Finding a Great Marriage Counselor- Take Them Up on the Free Consultation
Regardless of whether they write their own content or hire someone to do it, a therapist website may not always reflect their personality and style. But there’s no hiding once they get on the phone with you.
There’s a reason most therapists offer a free 15 or 30 minute phone consultation- it’s to see if they are the right fit for you (and if you’re the right fit for them). (Yes, we do use it to weed clients out who may not benefit from our services.)
Don’t be afraid to schedule a consultation to determine if you feel comfortable moving forward with a particular therapist. It’s what they are there for. I know that not every potential client I speak with on the phone is going to schedule an appointment. I do hope that they will leave the conversation with some direction regarding their next steps.
It’s not uncommon for me to end a call with a prospective client by providing them with referrals to other therapists- therapists I feel would be better able to meet their needs.
I hope you found this post helpful in your journey to find a really great couples therapist. Next week I’ll be providing three more tips that should help you make the most of that first conversation with a marriage counselor.
If you’re in the Dallas area and are searching for a couples therapist, feel free to take me up on my offer for a free 30-minute phone consultation by clicking here. I’d love to chat with you.
*Not actual clients’ names
Mark Cagle LPC
Mark Cagle is an affair recovery specialist in Dallas, TX. He helps couples turn the devastation of an affair into an opportunity to revitalize and reinvigorate their relationship.
When he's not helping couples, he enjoys playing with his three wonderful daughters and spending time with his wife of 11 years. He loves card, board, and video games and is still a kid at heart.