Yes, yes, a million times YES!!!! Counseling has this negative connotation that if we get it we're broken or something must be wrong with us, our children or our relationships but that is not so! 'Wholehearted' people (shout out to Dr. Brene Brown's work) have therapists. John Gottman, a leading researcher when it comes to marital relationships found, in his research, that 69% of couples fight about the same things after marriage that they did before marriage. That annoying thing that gets under your skin or that pressing issue that you're praying remedies itself or disappears all together once you've gotten married does not, statistically speaking.
So let's compare premarital counseling to a forest fire. It is far easier to prevent a forest fire then to put one out. Prevention can occur with clearer thinking, more openness, more empathy than can dealing with a crisis in crisis. Forest fires aren't impossible to put out but they are far more exhausting, expensive and disheartening than a Smokey the Bear commercial. Here is what premarital counseling can do for couples:
Learn the Language before You're 'In Country'
Everyone is familiar with the 5 Love Languages that pastor Gary Chapman introduced to the world several years ago. We all have a love language but in addition to that we all have a way of needing to be validated and validation is just as much of a language as love is. With premarital counseling, couples have a change to not only identify those languages but become proficient in them before getting married. It's basically like learning a country's language before going there to visit. Sure, you'll be able to find the bathroom eventually or you may have to swallow a raw snail or two before you realize what you've ordered, but having a basic understanding can help keep your pants dry and stomach free from garden creatures.
Exploration in Similarities and Differences
Merging two individuals with two separate life experiences and upbringings almost seems like a mad scientists' dream come true verses a romantic Hallmark movie. There are a lot of things that should be discussed before marriage occurs but doesn't often get discussed because a lot of couples don't know what they don't know. Couples can have the opportunity to explore similarities and differences in future goals, expectations of one another, perceptions and values pertaining to life, family and marriage by discussing those things in premarital counseling.
Exploration in Possible Issues
We all come with baggage because we are all human. For the most part, our baggage gets to remain ours and how we respond to it gets to be our choice. However, when we are moving our baggage into someone else's 'marital house' (another shout out to Gottman) they have a right to know what that baggage is. It may be a past trauma or traumas. It may be a mental health diagnosis or disorder. It may be an addiction. These things can be hard to bring up on the car ride home from date night but may be more suited for a therapist couch and office.
Lying isn't something a therapist should do and so I won't. Not every couple walks out of the process unscathed or even together. Most do. The few that don't are much more grateful their pocket book only saw the costs of counseling and not a divorce. The many that do are more connected than they would have been otherwise. Premarital counseling is a sign of a healthy, hopeful relationship and is proof that a couple is more focused on the marriage verses the wedding.
The shortest answer that can be given is it depends. Most therapists are hesitant when it comes to being involved with attorneys or court. I don't love it…I don't even like court much (hence the desired profession of being a therapist, not an attorney) but it is also understood that in this profession, there are times where it is necessary to be involved with court given certain situations. Court is a nerve wracking thing, even as a professional. There are a bunch of different scenarios that would create a desire for client to have a therapist to go to court on their behalf. Here are some things to consider if looking to have a therapist attend court.
Court Is Expensive
If a therapist is willing to be involved in court proceedings, typically fees come with that. I charge a lot to actually appear in court. There are also fees for letters to be written, consultations with attorneys, court preparation and depositions, etc. It is a good idea to know exactly what it will look like on the financial end of things before moving in that direction.
Licenses are Umbrellas, Not Blankets
There are some things that can be addressed under the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) umbrella but the LCSW licensure is not a blanket, covering everything that could be addressed in court proceedings. There are certain things an LCSW or therapist can and cannot weigh in on or determine, particularly regarding a person's civil and legal rights as an individual and/or a parent.
Double Dipping is Not Allowed. Ever.
If your therapist was hired as a therapist that is the only role they can play in any court involvement. They cannot be a parent coordinator or consultant for the case. If you'd like the LCSW or other licensed professional to be a parent coordinator, they cannot be a therapist in the case. The role you hire the individual for is the only role they can have or they run the risk of a dual relationship which then puts them at risk of unprofessional conduct occurring.
The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth
When a therapist becomes involved with the court, they have to give an objective and impartial opinion. This often involves both parties (husband and wife, mom and dad) regardless of who the therapist is attending court for. This can get tricky, particularly in parenting situations.
Although court is not off limits for therapists, many enter such matters cautiously. If you're hoping to utilized the licensed professional in court proceedings or are anticipating court may occur throughout your professional relationship, let the individual know up front. This allows them to determine if they are willing or able to assist you in the manner you hope for.
Couple's Counseling or Marital Therapy is something many couple's consider when trying to figure out ways to strengthen, fix or save their marriages. I'm often asked what common issues bring couple's into counseling as well as when couple's shouldn't consider it as an option.
What I See:
There are a lot of different issues that get a couple to the point of feeling that marital counseling would be helpful, necessary or paramount. The three things that are most commonly brought up in the first session are communication issues, infidelity (at various levels) and addiction.
These are the coughs. What I mean by that is, when a person coughs they could have any number of causes for that cough. Maybe they have allergies, a tickle in their throat or their throat is dry. Maybe they have a cold or maybe it's something more serious like emphysema. Regardless, without looking into it further, it presents itself as a cough.
Couple's counseling is helpful because it gives the chance to look beyond the cough and to address the cause for it. Communication isn't the cause, it is the symptom. Infidelity and addictions aren't causes, there is usually something underneath those things that lead to that. Identifying causes is where the real work is.
What I Know:
I know that there are some situations where marital counseling is NOT the road to take. If there is physical, sexual or emotional abuse within the relationship individual counseling is more appropriate. Only when both therapists feel that the individual issues have been addressed and that it is time for the couple to begin couple's counseling is it a good fit.
There are also times when one or the other, sometimes both have decided that they are absolutely done and nothing in the world can keep them together but they do marital therapy to say that they did or to be able to use it against the other person through the divorce process. Couple's counseling is only helpful, ethical and productive if both parties are wanting to work on the marriage.
What I Wish:
Although genies don't exist, there are times it'd be nice to find a bottle in the sand. If I was so fortunate, there are a few things I'd wish for regarding marital therapy. I wish that more people would seek out premarital counseling. Premarital counseling is helpful in any engaged relationship and gives couple's an opportunity to establish ways to communicate, ways to handle hot topics and also ways to identify if there are issues that need to be addressed.
I also would wish that a couple would start counseling at the first sign that something is creating discord verses coming when hurts are far deeper than when the hurts initially started. Obviously there are times when the deep hurt occurs straight out of the gates, like when issues of infidelity occur or issues of other sexual addictions. If there is awareness that something is going on and there is a feeling from one or both in the relationship that counseling could help, pull that trigger sooner than later.
Couple's Counseling can be helpful whether it's before the marriage begins or sometime after. It is best suited for those individuals who are committed to their relationship, want to make things work and are willing to put in the work to strengthen their relationship.
Trying to determine if kiddos need therapy can be tricky...given that the emotions of most toddlers to teens resemble the latest amusement park ride. Keeping in mind that every situation is different and professional advice can be helpful in particularly tough scenarios, here are the 5 common questions I ask parents when they ask, "Does my child need counseling?":
Is it medical?
Sometimes the behavior that is showing up can be attributed to something medical. It's not a bad idea to talk to the child's pediatrician about what behavior is being seen and experienced to determine if it could be a medical condition that can be treated.
Is it affecting their functioning?
Observe the kiddo's functioning in the world. If they aren't able to function in school, social situations, at church or in the community it would be fair to consider some kind of therapeutic intervention.
Is it affecting relationships?
Family relationships, friendships, educational relationships are all very important in a child's development. Kids are going to be emotional (dare I say dramatic at times??). Kids are going to not get along with you, siblings, coaches, leaders, and teachers. It's only when their emotions about those relationships or their behaviors in those relationships are placing a significant strain on themselves or others that they may need a therapist to help them navigate those waters.
Is it affecting their perception of self?
Saying that being a kid is hard is an understatement. Sometimes, it is downright excruciating! With school, friends, extracurricular activities, involvement in sports and the community children are bound to have some rough patches while wading through all of that. Rough patches give kids the opportunity to be resilient. If rough patches begin to affect how a child sees themselves, feels about themselves or perceives themselves that may need to be taken into consideration.
What does the "parent gut" say?
My kids have an AMAZING pediatrician. One of the reasons why I absolutely adore him is that he always checks in with my "mom gut" when I call about something or take my littles in for a visit. Because he's done this regularly, he's trained me how to check in with myself about what is going on and ultimately eliminated some unnecessary visits. If the "parent gut" says the child needs counseling, there is something to be said for that…even if everything else seems fine.
Asking these 5 questions can help determine what a child may need to be their best self and reach their greatest potential. A lot of times, kids are just fine. In the times children or parents may need some extra guidance, a therapist can be a valuable asset.
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