People often make appointments with me to “fine-tune” some aspect of their life. For example, a reader emails that he and his wife want to attend marriage counseling to help make things “as vibrant and healthy as possible.” He goes on to ask which school of thought or type of therapist he should seek out.
It’s hard to tell a therapist’s viewpoint just by a label, but a cognitive-behavioral (solution-focused) philosophy is most often the best choice. Therapists who actually practice what they claim will focus on real, measurable progress. They won’t tell you what to do or what you want; but they will help you discover the best way to achieve what you want.
Don’t blindly believe labels. Carefully evaluate if what you’re getting for your money falls into the description above. Avoid therapists who dwell on your family-of-origin issues. Aside from being time-consuming and expensive, these types of therapies won’t do anything to help you in the present. A little background can be beneficial, but to dwell on it makes no sense.
If you take the time to prepare, you’ll recognize a good therapist when you see one. I suggest to my clients that they make a list, which in your case might include, “My marriage as it might be and ought to be.” Summarize strengths and weaknesses, and be specific about improvements needed. Ask your wife to do the same.
A good therapist will be delighted that you did this, and will build on it during your sessions. Avoid a therapist who pushes this aside and starts quizzing you about your parents’ marriage, your childhood and all sorts of things that aren’t relevant to your list. A therapist who doesn’t like this exercise or doesn’t appreciate the fact that you did it should be fired.
Bad therapists will often stir up feelings and emotions for their own sake, leading a new client to think that the therapy is profound and deep. Such therapists usually don’t have any strategy for getting beyond this initial stirring up, and by session five, fifteen or fifty will still be asking you, “How does that make you feel?” Don’t be seduced by the nonsense that the more you feel, the more effective the therapy is. Effective simply means achieving tangible results.
Goals can only be realized by the clients themselves. The therapist’s job is to help define those goals and guide you toward achieving them. Dwelling on the past and on old emotions is nothing more than pretense to make the therapist feel like he or she is doing something important.
Nowadays it’s all the rage to focus on “attachment issues,” i.e., that everything lacking in your marriage is due to you and your wife’s inability to get over your hurt feelings about your parents – whether you know it or not. This one-size-fits-all tactic flies in the face of the fact that many people have moved past their parents’ wrongdoing. Indeed, some people actually have parents who weren’t guilty of any wrongdoing! Attachment-oriented therapists are stuck in the Freudian presumption that we spend our adult lives playing out our childhood issues. Ridiculous.
A good therapist will help you identify solutions based on an objective plan that the three of you develop. He or she will help you root out misunderstandings and false beliefs, the number one killer of marriages. Some false beliefs can be based on ideas formed earlier in life, but a good therapist will guide you toward identifying and correcting them in the present.
My most recent book, “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)” illustrates these points using actual examples of therapists whose false beliefs can cause trouble. I also offer suggestions on how to internalize a rational philosophy of life. After reading it I believe you’ll have even less need for a therapist than you do now.
Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.