Finding a Good Marriage-Friendly Counselor

Counselor - Photo club Unhappy couple sitting on sofa at therapy session - 62560358

Finding a good counselor for a troubled marriage is not an easy task. That is because many counselors are not marriage-friendly. They are good in counseling their clients concerning other issues, but they are not experts in guiding spouses to work through their marriage issues.

(PLEASE NOTE: we have an article in this same topic titled Applying the Gleaning Principle to Human Advisers. Please read the article after reading these articles to further explain what we mean by the info given. Counselors can be GREAT and very Godly, but they aren’t all-knowing. So use your God-given discernment.)

Additionally, we want it noted that when abuse is happening in the marriage, make sure the therapist is marriage-friendly. AND make sure the counselor is competent in handling marital abuse cases. 

Finding a Good Counselor

It was an all too familiar conversation. Jody (not her real name) went to see a marriage counselor. She was hoping to receive guidance to help get her marriage back on track. “After seeing the counselor twice, he told us, ‘You have three choices. You can separate for a period of time, file for divorce or keep on working,'” said Jody. “We were looking for someone to work with us on a specific plan for our marriage. Instead, we got a totally neutral counselor who didn’t seem to care whether or not our marriage survived. We weren’t neutral about wanting to save our marriage, he was.”

According to Dr. Willard Harley, psychologist and author of numerous books including the internationally best selling book, His Needs, Her Needs, this isn’t unusual. During one woman’s first visit with a therapist, she specifically said that divorce wasn’t an option. However, at the end of the session the therapist told her he thought she really needed to consider divorce. This is spite of the fact that there was no violence in the marriage, just love gone cold.

“People who seek help from marriage counselors usually assume that the goal of therapy is saving the marriage,” said Dr. Harley. “Unfortunately, most marital therapists are specifically trained to be non-directive or neutral. They see themselves as someone couples can talk to, but not someone who will coach them into changes that will ultimately save their marriage.”

Low Level of Success

A recent Consumer’s Report study indicated that only 16% of those who seek marital counseling find it to be helpful. That’s the lowest of all forms of therapy. Dr. Harley attributes that low level of success to the abundance of counselors who use non-directive methods.

“How can a plan possibly achieve its goal when there’s no goal?” asks Dr. Harley. “It’s no wonder that most marriage counseling is so ineffective.” This doesn’t mean that couples shouldn’t seek help. In fact, Dr. Harley encourages couples in trouble to find a marriage counselor to help save their marriage.

“Couples need to understand that there are times in even the strongest of marriages when you need additional support and motivation. It’s help that frequently only a professional marriage counselor or marriage educator can provide,” said Dr. Harley. “An effective marriage counselor or educator will help you avoid or overcome intense emotional trauma associated with a failing marriage. A good marriage counselor creates a plan that will help your marriage and motivate you to complete that plan.”

Whether your marriage is in significant distress or just needs some assistance in getting through a tough time, Dr. Harley believes that couples should know how to pick an effective marriage counselor. Before they set up their first appointment, they should ask the counselor certain questions. They are to make sure he’ll help them accomplish their goals of making their marriage mutually fulfilling.

Dr. Harley suggests that couples do the following before choosing a marriage counselor:

Ask to schedule a phone interview with the counselor (10-15 minutes). If the counselor isn’t willing to have an initial conversation with you over the phone, eliminate that counselor from consideration.

During the interview you should ask about the following:

1. What’s your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).

2. What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling?

3. State, “This is our problem (briefly explain).” Do you have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and what’s your success rate? (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with over 75% success).

Choose After Asking Questions

After both spouses have an opportunity to speak to a few marriage counselors, Dr. Harley suggests choosing the one that answers those questions appropriately. Then set up your first appointment.

“Jody” and her husband ultimately made the decision to divorce. Looking back at the whole scenario, they question if divorce should have even been an option. At the time, they both felt hopeless about their marriage. And without a plan for its recovery, divorce seemed to be the only answer.

If the counselor had encouraged them to save their marriage by giving them a plan, they might be happily married today. They’ll always wonder if another, more encouraging, counselor would have helped change the course of their lives and the lives of their children.

Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First. This is a research and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization. The original article, titled, Marriage 911, was sent to us from Smartmarriages®

— ALSO —

Below you will find an additional piece, which came from William J. Doherty, PhD. These are questions that he gave in a Smart Marriages conference that you might ask a Therapist in making your choice:

“People considering therapy should learn to ask questions to learn about the therapist’s training and value orientation. They can ask a therapist on the phone or in the first session the following kinds of questions.

They are:

  • “Can you describe your background and training in marital therapy?” If the therapist is self-taught or workshop-trained, and can’t point to a significant education in this work, then consider going elsewhere.
  • “What is your attitude toward salvaging a troubled marriage versus helping couples break up?” (If the therapist says he or she is “neutral,” or “I don’t try to save marriage, I try to help people” look elsewhere.)
  • “What is your approach when one partner is seriously considering ending the marriage and the other wants to save it?” (If the therapist responds by focusing only on helping each person clarify their personal feelings and decisions, consider looking elsewhere.)
  • “What percentage of your practice is marital therapy?” (Avoid therapists who mostly do individual therapy.)


• “Of the couples you treat, what percentage would you say work out enough of their problems to stay married with a reasonable amount of satisfaction with the relationship?” “What percentage of the couples you see, break up while they are seeing you?” “What is the percentage that do not improve?” “And what do you think makes the differences in these results?” (If someone says, “100%” stay together, I would be concerned. And if they say that staying together is not a measure of success for them, I’d be concerned.”)

We hope the above helps you and that you restore your relationship completely! For the full article, please click onto:


Do Marriage Counselors Do More HARM Than Good?

We also recommend a web site that, although it is not a Christian web site, it is dedicated to helping you find a therapist that is committed to marriage. It is a web site for the National Registry for Marriage-Friendly Therapists, which you can visit when you:


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Filed under: Marriage Counseling & Mentoring

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7 responses to “Finding a Good Marriage-Friendly Counselor

  1. (ZIMBABWE)  I have a friend of mine whose husband has H.I.V AIDS. She does not have it. She said they are not meeting as husband and wife. At this time the husband has another wife staying in a different town. It pains her a lot.

    What advice can I give her? She said at the other time she tried to have sex with her husband the husband wanted to tear off the condom and told her that they must be the same. Her advice to the husband was “I love you very much, even if you have HIV – AIDS but if we meet directly we will both die of it and no one will look after our children.” The husband was very cross. That’s when he decided to get another wife. That wife always sends her messages that right now we are doing this and this with your husband.

    Please, I care for my friend. What advice can I give her as a God fearing friend?

    1. (USA) He is beyond selfish and like this monster that came after my family, wants the whole world to have what they have. He’s that same type that if the partner doesn’t know, he’ll infect them without a word.

      Your friend is right that her kids need her. I don’t advise people to divorce but knowing what’s in his heart, I would not be able to be near him. I would be fearful that he would try to put “a substance” of his with the disease in something else to make me sick or even my kids. Very frightening. God bless all.

      1. Therapy is not an option for everyone. Nowhere here do I see anything about financial difficulties or people on low incomes. Some people just can’t afford it. Being told ‘… divorce is more expensive…’ or ‘ you can’t afford not to..’ is pointless and so unhelpful to couples living from one paycheck to the next with no means of cutting back on essentials. I wish you would consider this and maybe offer some advice.

  2. (NIGERIA) I want to know if it is right to leave a long-time relationship because of sex and we are about going to our family for the introduction. What should I do?

    1. (NIGERIA) Folashade, please be more specific. Are you having sex with him or is it that he wants to have sex before the introduction/marriage? I’d like to understand your story properly before I can give advice. Thanks.

  3. My friends have been going through a hard time lately and I wanted to look up some information about how to find a good counselor for them. That’s a great idea to give them a call first to see if they can be a good choice for them. I also liked how you said to ask about their success rate too! Thanks for the great tips!

  4. I’m looking for a Marriage counselor in Murrieta does anyone knows of one. My husband and I just got married 3 years ago and we both have kids total of 6 only two live with us and we both have lots of baggage in our lives and it’s been a challenge to get through it alone.