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Ask These Four Questions When Choosing a Couple Counselor

April 26, 2015

Very often when couples seek to attend counseling, their relationship is already on the brink of ending and while the counselor is there to facilitate the relationship, sometimes the role turns into one of facilitating their separation. So whether reparation of the fractured relationship or facilitation of separation, your choice of counselor is important.

The challenge is to keep a relationship that is already fractured from getting worse, where the risk of the conflict between the couples may spill onto the kids. To that end, a counselor with clinical-legal training and experience can help the couple determine their plan for the care of the children on a go-forward basis if necessary.

This is very different from the couple attending with individual lawyers where the exercise of parental rights can conflict with the developmental needs of the children. Further, typical litigation strategy requires parents try to prove the other is inadequate while promoting themselves as the better parent. Clearly this does nothing to resolve conflict and more to the point, only makes it worse. That approach to determining the ongoing care of children between separated parents is a scorched earth approach. The remains of the parental relationship are often left tattered for having beaten each other up in an expensive legal process.

To avoid the escalation of conflict, couples with children seeking couple counseling, should choose counselors who understand and appreciate the need to more delicately resolve parenting plans with the view to the future at no one’s expense in the event the couple relationship does not continue. This is not to say that truly troublesome issues cannot be addressed, but they are addressed not with a view to blame so as to limit one’s parental role, but with the view to improving both parental and child related outcomes. This is a clinical perspective where the needs of the children remain the focus.

Parents are well advised to consider that the outcome for children of separated parents is most determined by the level of parental conflict and less so the actual details of their parenting plan. To the extent to which the counselor can mitigate conflict, the children are better served. Hence choosing the right counselor is essential from the get-go.

Couple counseling is a specialty and not the purview of the general counselor without specific training, education or expertise. Couple counseling is quite different from individual counseling, despite the fact that many individual counselors treat these as the same.

Facilitating parental separation in view of their children is an even narrower specialty.

This counselor requires knowledge and training in not only counseling issues as they relate to couples, but also with regard to child development, family law, mediation, domestic violence, power imbalances, drugs, alcohol, addictions and then even more refined matters such as when a child may have special needs.

The counselor with clinical-legal expertise should also have professional relationships with reputable family law lawyers who also seek to lessen conflict and are settlement minded. Very often, this includes family law lawyers who themselves have had additional training and expertise in something called collaborative practice.

Entering couple counselling is often done on faith that the service provider has the knowledge and training to provide the kind of help that may be necessary. This is not always the case and these four questions can help couples choose more cautiously:

1. Do you have any specific knowledge, training or expertise in couple counseling?
2. Would you be able to help us separate and co-parent if our couple relationship doesn’t continue?
3. Do you have any specific knowledge, training or experience in clinical-legal counseling?
4. Do you have professional relationships with reputable family law lawyers if we need to finalize a legal agreement?

Your counselor should be able to answer yes to all four questions and be able to expand on their answers. Choose your couple counselor wisely, especially if you are uncertain about how things may turn out. You want someone who can help you through any eventuality.

(download this article as a printable one-pager)

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker who provides couple and clinical-legal counseling.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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