8 Signs It's Time to Visit a Marriage and Family Therapist
If you're going through hard times in your relationship with your partner, it may be time to see a marriage and family therapist (also known as going to couples' therapy). It can, however, be intimidating to seek out professional help if you've never done so before. After all, the thought of revealing your deepest troubles to an outside party can seem terrifying. But the process of talking to a professional marriage and family therapist (sometimes abbreviated as MFT) is less scary than you might expect. The goal of a therapist is to help clients—usually a romantic couple, but occasionally a family with children—work through their issues healthily together in a safe and private environment.
"The aspects that bring people to our office are difficult for them to work through on their own; that's why they come to us," shares Anne Appel, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago. A marriage and family therapist provides helpful feedback in a variety of ways, whether that's through demonstrating active listening, teaching people a constructive way to have conversations, and giving them new behavioral tools for working on the areas in which they're struggling.
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There Are Some Misperceptions About Marriage and Family Therapists
Before you decide to see a marriage and family therapist, you should first understand what they can't help with. First of all, a therapist is not going to tell you what to do, nor will they be able to wave a magic wand and fix all your relationship problems. "There is no right or wrong way of doing things, as each couple or family is unique," Appel says.
A marriage and family therapist isn't there to judge you or take individual sides; they're on the side of the relationship, says Appel. They are not psychics, either, and can't predict the future of your relationship.
You also don't have to be married to see a marriage and family therapist; think of it as relationship therapy, not specific to marriage.
The most damaging misperception of marriage and family therapy is that it's a last resort or only for couples who are really in trouble, says Robert Solley, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in San Francisco. Some couples even seek the guidance and support of an MFT while their relationship is at its healthiest, gaining the tools they need to prevent and/or properly resolve future conflicts. "The earlier the couples come in for therapy, the easier it is to correct problems," Solley explains. "When people wait years after conflict starts or distance grows, they have developed entrenched negative habits, patterns, and emotions that are much harder to reverse."
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8 Reasons to See a Marriage and Family Therapist
If you're experiencing one or more of these signs, consider finding an MFT to work through any relationship issues.
What to Expect From Marriage and Family Therapy
The first visit is a chance to get to know the therapist and for them to get to know you, including getting a basic understanding of your main problems and how you relate to each other, says Solley. People often want to know how long therapy might last, but it's impossible to answer that question precisely because there are so many variables involved.
The average couple will go to about six therapy sessions, says Appel. However, most couples need at least 20 sessions, says Solley, and some find continuing benefits for years. In the beginning, Solley recommends having a session at least once a week, or sometimes more often for especially difficult or intense situations. "If you go more than once a week you get more than twice the benefit, and by the same token if you go less than once a week you get less than half the benefit," he explains. "As the frequency gets diluted there is a loss of momentum [and] more to catch up on."
Appel stresses that going to an MFT is a sign of strength, not weakness. It takes courage to face challenges. "Therapy is like going to the gym," she adds. "You can only get so far on your own, then you need to bring in a trainer to get to the next level." Remember that a marriage and family therapist serves as an unbiased sounding board to help you work through your relationship issues in a positive way.