The goal of this article is to help you find the couples therapist that’s right for you. Helping couples is something I am extremely passionate about for both professional and personal reasons. Because of that I wanted to get this information out on a couple of different platforms, so you can read the article or listen to it online.
Let me start by introducing myself, my name is Stacy Lee and I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I am also the Clinical Director of The Couples Institute Counseling Services. The other thing I would like for you to know about me is that I am been where many of you are. I have felt the pain of helplessly watching my relationship fall apart.
Feeling like enemies with the person I was meant to feel safe and connected to.
Feeling lost about how to make it better. Desperate. Hopeless.
Here is a little of my story…
My husband and I have been married for 15 years and we have 2 amazing kids. Yet 10 years ago if you would have asked me if we would make it to our 15th wedding anniversary, I would have shook my head with tears or anger.
Two years into our marriage, we got stuck in a number of negative and extremely painful patterns. I wasn’t yet a therapist, but I was in my Masters program and felt very ashamed that I was having issues in my relationship!
I was learning all about how to help others so shouldn’t I have all the answers?
I felt embarrassed admitting the struggles we were having. It was hard for me to open up. When I did, my well-intentioned audience had my back… but this meant pointing out why my husband was to blame. Their “support” only created more landmines on the path to reconciliation.
But I was willing to fight to save our marriage. Over the next few years we tried many different therapists. Even though some progress would happen, unfortunately nothing really changed.
After our son was born, we hit a wall and separated. We had fought for so long and nothing was working. We had seen many different well-meaning therapists, but there was still so much pain.
It stood to reason that we were just broken or not a good fit to be together.
At this time, I had started working at The Couples Institute and interning under Dr. Ellyn Bader. As embarrassed as I was to be a couples therapist failing in my own marriage, I shared with her what was going on.
She connected us to a therapist who truly specialized in couples.
Honestly, at this point, I wasn’t sure we could come back from the abyss we had created. But I knew I didn’t want to let go until we had tried everything. This felt like our last shot.
That’s when something amazing happened.
My husband and I started going to therapy sessions again, and right from the beginning there was a huge difference. Our therapist was empathetic and strong, letting us share our story but also confidently directing the session.
She helped us get a real look at our own contribution to the problem, and the patterns we had that kept us stuck. Our therapist helped us stop pointing fingers and take responsibility for ourselves. With amazing help and a lot of work we DID NOT SAVE OUR MARRIAGE… what we created was SO much better than just a salvaged relationship. We created something fresh, healthy, and more loving than I ever thought possible.
After this turning point, we thrived even during really difficult times…pregnancy loss, fertility treatments, career changes, health scares, and the loss of family members. We weathered these things together…imperfectly, but together. This was huge for us.
We went on to have a beautiful daughter. Every time I look at her, I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t be here, my son wouldn’t have the joy of a sibling, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if we hadn’t worked with a truly skilled couples therapist.
Now I’m not saying my husband and I don’t annoy each other, fight, or make mistakes. What I am saying is through getting specialized couples therapy, we learned how to stop the painful patterns that were tearing us apart, accept and value our differences, and repair things quickly when we inevitably mess up.
I learned not only how to be a better partner, but a better therapist. It also stoked my passion for helping other couples find the same quality of care we found. I want to keep you from wasting years and dollars on therapists with good intentions but who don’t really know how to work with couples.
I want every couple to have the best tools to fight for their relationship and make a clear decision, not a reactive one.
Now that I have shared a small bit of my journey with you, let me tell you about 4 common places people get stuck when choosing a couples therapist.
1. What style or approach is right for us?
There are many different therapy approaches out there. What you want is a dynamic therapist who isn’t trying to fit your unique situation into one static approach. The theories and approaches we study as therapists should be the foundation, but a skilled therapist will be able to pull from a wide variety.
Although therapists at The Couples Institute Counseling Services have the Developmental Model as the foundation, they pull from a number of different approaches. We don’t believe that there is a one-style-fits-all, so our therapists tailor their sessions to what their clients’ needs are, as well as bringing in their specialized skills.
2. How much should I spend?
Most people want to save money and feel like we are getting a good deal. But the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies here. Think of your relationship as an investment. If you put your money into the right investment it will yield a greater return.
Therapy is the same way; you invest your money into a highly skilled therapist, the hourly rate may be more, but so is the return on your investment. Just like any specialist, true couples therapy specialists will be more expensive. The balance is weighing cost with expertise. If you find a skilled couples therapist ask yourself “are they reassuringly expensive?” This means do they have the education, training and skills to back up their fee. If so, it’s likely because they’re the best at what they do. And you may even save money in the long run, because working with someone skilled can often means fewer sessions.
3. Where will I find the time?
Life is busy…work, commuting, kids, school, family obligations, the list goes on and on…there is never a good time to be in relationship distress. But equally true is the longer you let the problem go on, the longer it will take to repair it. What may take a few months now may take a few years later. Think of it like taking care of a car…if you don’t do the routine maintenance then it creates bigger, more expensive problem…but if you ignore those engine lights signal issues then sometimes, the damage becomes unfixable. It is important to ask yourself if you can afford NOT to spend time getting help? If you stay on the same path what will the damage to the relationship look like in 3, 6, 9 months from now? Therapy is a time commitment but it is worth it with a skilled therapist.
4. How will I open up to a stranger?
Opening up and sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings can be very hard…there are concerns of being judged, blamed or attacked. Although part of therapy and all growth is that you will have to deal with some difficult issues, one thing you want to look for is a therapist you feel safe and comfortable around. This doesn’t mean a skilled couples therapist won’t call out problematic behavior but they do it to move you out of painful, ineffective patterns with care and compassion.
Expert couples therapists create a safe environment to share while calling out what they see. When you find this type of therapist, you will feel their experience, education and training in the skillful way they navigate the sessions. Those therapists continue to train in the field they love and you reap the benefits. This commitment to their own professional and personal growth often helps clients feel safer exploring even the most vulnerable of issues.
Here is the bottom line: Get the right help…before the damage is unfixable. Find the right help that fits for you, make the right investment to get the best return.
At the Couples Institute Counseling Services, we are passionate about addressing challenges with our clients and continuously growing our skills. We deeply care about the services we offer because, like me, all of the therapists here strive to practice what we teach and uphold a commitment to professional excellence. We use the power of healing from our own painful experiences in the skills we teach our clients.
If you are interested in learning more about the services we offer, or want a free 20-minute consultation, please fill out a request form below. You may also call us directly at 650-289-8603.
My marriage is proof that with the right help and effort, amazing things can happen.
So reach out to us now…we can help.
We look forward to hearing from you! Please fill out this form and we will get in touch with you shortly.
Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.