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The Little-Known Question
You Must Ask a Marriage Counselor
By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.
Are you looking for a marriage
counselor? Don’t settle for just
any one that you find in the phone book.
Why? Because whether you’re looking to stop
divorce, or merely improve
the quality of your troubled
marriage, you deserve the best possible advice
you can get.
There is an important, yet little-known question that could
make a world of difference to you and the results you get from your therapist
The question itself you should ask the counselor might surprise
you as well the answer the person gives. And it’s a little-used query that
is rarely mentioned, yet it could be a key to avoiding a broken marriage.
What A Typical Marriage Counselor Won't Tell You
You don’t see it in articles that marriage
guidance experts write
about how to choose the right marital therapist. Popular daytime television
programs go into a vast range of subjects, yet I’ve never heard
of this topic being addressed.
But the right answer to this critical question could save you money,
time, and energy that you would spend with the wrong marital
It’s an excellent question to ask to help you decide if you have
to choose between two or three people, and they all seem to be fairly
equal in training, education, and experience.
So what is this question I believe to be so important that it could well
be the “deciding vote” in choosing someone for marriage
Here’s the question: “Have you ever had much personal or relationship
Then watch the counselor’s reaction and pay careful attention to
what she or he says. Also note the emotional tone in the answer.
Responses Will Identify A Marriage Counselor To Avoid
Consider the following answers to the above question. My comments are
in the parenthesis in italics:
1. “No, I never found it necessary to go to counseling.”
(Never “found it necessary” to go? Does that mean that you’re
above having to get counseling? Do you mean that only those who are not
as emotionally centered as you “have” to go? How will you
understand what it’s like to walk into a strange office and open
up to a stranger the most personal details regarding your life?)
2. “Yes, I had therapy a few times when my mother died.”
(That’s a little better, but how about all of the self-growth work
therapists are always telling other people to do? You don’t take
your own advice, do you?)
(That’s strange. Why the short answer? The question is logical
to ask. Why should I place my trust in you to handle my vulnerability
and something as important as the future of my marriage if you’ve
never been to therapy yourself? Why haven’t you been to counseling
before? It doesn’t sound like you believe in what you’re offering,
4. “When I took my courses for my degree I took part in some counseling.”
(You mean that you role played with some other students in a few of your
counseling classes — but that doesn’t count. You never were
in a real counseling session and you were probably self-conscious of
what your professor and classmates thought of your role-playing. That’s
very different from seeking counseling to closely examine your own
5. “Yes, as a matter of fact I have. I’ve had some years
of intensive personal therapy, and I still see a therapist when issues
come up that I have to process. I know from personal experience how much
commitment and courage it takes to avoid blaming others, look at personal
issues, and take responsibility for the outcomes in one’s life.”
Yes, this last response indicates the one you want in a good marriage guidance
What Makes A Good Marriage
good marital counselor has been through
the counseling process herself (or himself). She won’t be just lecturing to you about something
she has never experienced herself, and she doesn’t seem ashamed
that she’s had counseling. Instead, she sounds proud of herself
for taking responsibility for that choice. I want a person who “practices
what she preaches” about therapy. She must believe it helps in some
way or she wouldn’t have spent her time and money getting counseling
You may be surprised to find out that many counselors have never had
counseling as clients and consequently have never faced their own relationship
or individual issues. Are you shocked that they could get their graduate
degree and therapy license without participation in personal growth therapy?
It is astonishing to think of that happening, but it does happen—quite
When you think about it—would you want to go to a counselor who
recommends therapy to others but has never taken his (or her) own advice?
Who hasn’t had to deal with his own personal present and past issues
that could influence the recommendations he makes to you?
Do you really want to trust someone who doesn’t really understand
how vulnerable you feel as the client and how much fortitude it takes
to set an appointment, sit in the waiting room, and then open your soul
to a person you’ve never seen before?
Stay Away from this
Type of Marriage Counselor
I can unequivocally recommend that you steer clear of counselors who
haven’t worked on themselves in counseling—either in individual
therapy, marriage or relationship counseling, or both. There’s an
old saying that you can’t take someone else any further than you’ve
That’s very true when it comes to personal or relationship therapy.
The marriage counselor must be very familiar with the terrain—from personal
experience as well from textbook knowledge. She (or he) also has to be
able to guide you without getting your problems all tangled up in her
own unresolved issues—which is something personal counseling helps
a therapist do more effectively.
So before you agree to see a marital guidance
counselor, ask the important question--“Have
you ever had personal therapy yourself?”—and make sure that
the counselor you choose knows first-hand the advantages of personal counseling.
* * * * *
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