“Dear Kristen, my fiancé and I are getting married next year. Do you have any advice on selecting a pre-marital counselor?” -Don
Yes, in fact. I do. A good premarital counselor can help prepare you for marriage, but establishing a relationship with a trusted professional can also serve you after you are married.
Many people look at premartial counseling as a hoop that is required in order to get married (especially since a lot of pastors require proof of completion before they will officiate the wedding.) But it’s wise to make good use of that time, to talk about expectations, to sift through you differences, and to troubleshoot any current negative patterns.
My number one piece of advice is to choose a premarital counselor who is a licensed marriage and family therapist or counselor.
These titles vary by state, but you want someone with at least a Master’s level of education in relational counseling, with experience working with couples. It’s a common practice that pastors will offer their premarital counseling services as a requirement, and while I’m sure there are some pastors who are proficient in relational counseling, many are not.
With the exception of pastors who have obtained a degree in counselor, few pastors have had much training beyond a short class on counseling in seminary, and they have even less experience since most of their job does not involve doing couples counseling. My experience is that most pastors tend to rely on workbooks and advice-giving that barely scratch the surface in terms of delving into the issues of a couple’s relationship, especially in regards to family of origin and other psychodynamic issues.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great if you want to meet with your pastor to talk about your spiritual relationship and fine-tune the faith-based aspects of your impending marriage. But premarital counseling should go beyond that. Premarital counseling should be a time where you are digging deep into what you bring to the table: how your family has shaped you, how your personality influences you, and what your expectations are from a spouse. It shouldn’t be a comfortable bible-study environment where you simply work through a pre-set workbook. It should feel like work . . . and it may be the most important work you do in your marriage, and it should be individually catered to your situation by an experienced relationship professional.
Speaking of work and your marriage, I highly recommenced that all couples set up some “tune-up” appointments with their premarital counseling at regular intervals after saying “I do.” Premarital counseling is great for preparing, but ultimately it’s all hypothetical. How much more helpful would it be to have those conversations after you’ve entered your marriage? Seeking marital counseling doesn’t have to be just for crisis situations. In fact, I would say that couples who are proactive with counseling tend to prevent catastrophes in their marriage.
In terms of how to find the right counselor, first, I would ask friends for referrals. If you have any friends in therapy or who have done premarital counseling with someone they liked, as for the therapists contact information. In this tech day and age, Yelp can also be a good resource, since you can also read reviews from other clients. You can also ask your church if they have a referral list of therapists they trust. In addition, Psychology Today has a comprehensive list of therapists.