Couples Therapy Questions

a woman wants to find the right therapist for her

Starting couple’s therapy is a significant step towards improving your relationship. However, finding the right therapist for you and your partner can be difficult. It requires an evaluation process, for which you need the right criteria. You want confidence that the therapist’s expertise aligns with your specific needs. Below, I’ve shared a list of what experience has taught me are some of the most important questions to ask a therapist you’re considering working with. I’ve divided the questions into three categories: 1) A Therapist’s qualifications. 2) The therapist’s theoretical perspective on relationship distress, and on wellness. 3) The therapist’s process.

Here is a checklist of questions you might ask a potential couple therapist to find out if they’re right for you:

Couple Therapist’s Qualifications

Experience and Professional Engagement
Approximately what percentage of your practice over the last two years has been dedicated to working with couples?” And, “do you have a regular consultation process wherein you discuss your work?” These questions aim to assess the therapist’s dedication to couples therapy. A therapist applying techniques learned for individual therapy to the complexities of a couple’s dynamics can fall far short of what a relationship needs.

Specialized Couple Therapy Training and Qualifications
“What specific training in couples therapy have you undertaken?” Exploring their specialized training provides insight into their qualifications and dedication, facilitating the process of finding the right therapist for you. Prospective therapists should be able to describe application of a method of therapy relative to their training. An EFT Couple Therapist can describe their process in a detailed fashion.
“Do you have specific training regarding difficulties related to sexuality?” This is an important question for couples struggling with problems relating to sexuality to ask.

Feedback and Evaluation Process
“How do you provide feedback and evaluate progress in therapy?” This question allows couples to understand how the therapist assesses progress and navigates therapeutic milestones. A transparent feedback mechanism is vital for ensuring that therapy remains aligned with the couple’s goals and for making necessary adjustments to the therapeutic approach.

Couple Therapist’s Theoretical Orientation

Therapist’s Theoretical Orientation
“What theoretical perspective guides your work with couples?” It is essential that the therapist operates from a solid theoretical foundation, such as Attachment Theory, which is at the heart of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT). The approach a therapist takes should be grounded in solid theory. Also, there should be a structured methodology to effectively address relationship distress.

Does the Therapist Understand When NOT to Do Couple Counseling?
“What are the Contraindications to Couple Therapy?” A prospective therapist should be clear about this. They should describe when the type of couple’s therapy they do might not be the best choice or should be approached with caution. Common contraindications follow: Severe mental illness and substance use disorders that interfere with participation. Misaligned agendas for therapy. Ongoing affairs that threaten a partner’s sense of security. Also, a risk of violence that prohibits vulnerability. In some cases, addressing the contraindicating issue (such as through individual therapy, addiction treatment, or safety planning) can make couple therapy like EFT a viable option later on.

Therapist’s Focus: Emotional Connection or Behavioral Contracts?
“How important is the emotional bond versus behavioral contracts in your approach to couple dynamics?” Herein, a therapist who emphasizes strengthening the emotional connection addresses the core issues of relationship distress effectively. Dr. Sue Johnson’s insight, “it’s about the bond, not a bargain,” poignantly captures the essence of couple therapy.

Perspective on Enhancing Communication Skills
“How do you work to enhance communication skills in your therapy sessions?” Ideally, the therapist’s approach should highlight the importance of fostering trust that your partner is available, responsive and emotionally engaged. By contrast, a focus on mere communication techniques can interfere with the depth of understanding in the relationship. “I statements” and similar “communication tips” don’t come online readily when intense emotion gets stirred. This is a very important distinction in finding the right therapist for you.

Couple Therapist’s Process

Expectations for Therapy Duration and Frequency
“What are your expectations for the duration and frequency of therapy sessions?” This question helps set realistic expectations for the therapy process. For example, you want to understand how long it might take to see improvements and how often sessions will occur. Therapy is a significant investment. It’s crucial for planning and commitment to the therapeutic journey that you know what to expect.

Strategies for Enhancing Connection Outside Therapy
“What strategies do you recommend for couples to enhance their connection outside of therapy sessions?” A therapist who offers practical tools, exercises and resources for couples to work on between sessions demonstrates a proactive approach to therapy. This can help accelerate progress by encouraging partners to actively engage outside the therapeutic setting.

Approach to Individual Sessions
“Do you conduct individual sessions with partners?” Generally, therapy should involve both partners, with individual sessions reserved for specific assessment purposes. This approach reflects the therapist’s commitment to treating the relationship as the central client. Further, you probably don’t have the right therapist for you if they don’t have a clear policy about how to treat informations shared during individual sessions!

Ensuring Impartiality
“How do you maintain impartiality in your sessions?” Asking this question probes the therapist’s strategy for navigating complex couple dynamics. Thereby, ensuring they view the relationship as an interconnected system. I think it’s so important to feel confident about a prospective therapist’s answer to this question. This is because the experience of therapist bias toward one partner is a primary reason clients cite for therapy “failing.”

Summary: Finding the Right Therapist for You

Selecting the right couple therapist is a process. Importantly, one that requires careful consideration and inquiry. The list of questions provided herein are designed to provide meaningful insights. Specifically, insights into a therapist’s approach, philosophy, and their suitability for navigating the complexities of your relationship. We invite your questions and offer a no-cost, confidential consultation.

I hope this approach helps ensure you get couple counseling underway with the right therapist. Ideally, you’ll be with a compassionate, well-trained professional who provides a clear vision of process and goals. And of course, one who can effectively support and guide you through the challenges and opportunities of strengthening your relationship.

Cornelius Sheehan, LCSW is an experienced couple's therapist in Reno, NV and writes about helping you find the right therapist and get the most out of therapy.