‘Therapists’ who are not therapists
Did you know that the titles ‘counsellor’, ‘coach’ and even ‘psychotherapist’ are unregulated in the UK? This means that anyone without qualifications or experience can call themselves a counsellor, psychotherapist or marriage coach. It is therefore really important that you check the qualifications and experience of any couple therapist.
Unqualified and unregulated operators can pose an enormous danger to the mental health of unsuspecting clients and can cause irreparable damage to the lives of people seeking help. This is a major problem for individuals but an even greater danger to couples.
As I have outlined in the article ‘The Truth About Marriage Counselling”, the success of marriage counselling is largely due to the professional qualifications and experience of the therapist combined with the therapeutic relationship that develops. When you share the most intimate secrets of your relationship, you want to be sure that the person you are working with is properly trained to ‘hear beneath the words’ and gain insight into the what is actually happening. Counselling and therapy should not be like talking to a friend to get advice on how to solve your problems or to make you feel better by focusing on future goals and positive thinking. A professional therapist is trained to be a neutral person in the room, who connects with you on a deeper level and helps you understand your core self, your inner life and the inner life of your relationship.
Here is the range of services you may encounter in your search for a couple therapist or marriage coach in London.
Couple & family therapist
This is where you will find the ‘gold standard’ in couples counselling. Couple and family therapists who see individual clients can often be found in private practice. These professionals have normally completed undergraduate training in psychology and counselling and then proceeded to undertake a 4-year post-graduate masters level training in systemic family therapy. They have also completed thousands of hours of supervised work with couples and families together with extensive on-going professional development training. However, most importantly, they understand the individual as part of the family and the family as a system of interconnected people with multiple dynamics.
Low-cost counselling with not-for-profit services
The starting point for many people is the non-for-profit services. These organisations are like an extension of the public health system offering low-cost relationship counselling. In the UK the main provider is ‘Relate’ which offers an excellent public service. Their counsellors come from wide-ranging backgrounds with varied training that may include counselling skills, psychology and social work. These organisations then require their counsellors to undertake more specific specialist training in relationship dynamics. The ‘not-for-profit’ services are large organisations operating at low cost, a benefit they pass on to clients in the form of reduced fees. They may not be able to offer the same level of dedicated personalised service as you will find with a private professional counsellor or family therapist, but sometimes these organisations can be a good place to start.
As I have said elsewhere, not all professional therapists are couple therapists, even though they may offer this service on their websites. However, a qualified general counsellor is far better than a marriage coach who often has no training in even the basics of counselling. At the very least, a general counsellor will have foundation level training in counselling or social work and may have gained further training in a particular model combined with experience working with couples and relationships. If you can’t afford a couple and family therapist and you don’t feel comfortable with the not-for-profit services, a general counsellor is the next best place to look.
Coaching can be a valuable resource, especially related to business leadership, team building, life transitions and peak performance work. Coaching can also be helpful for relationships when you are not in a crisis and seeking to achieve agreed goals and mutually desired outcomes. However, coaching is not appropriate for any serious relationship crisis, especially one involving affairs, infidelity, sexual problems, couples on the brink of divorce or couples where there is a high conflict relationship. These issues require the professional support of a trained couple therapist.
Check qualifications & experience
Most coaches who work in the business environment have extensive qualifications which may extend to undergraduate and postgraduate level. They are usually affiliated with the ICF (International Coaching Federation), a body which sets high standards for training and membership. However, coaches who describe themselves as relationship or marriage coaches, do not always hold professional coaching qualifications and may have no qualifications whatsoever.
They often refer to qualifications in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). However, this is not an evidence-based approach, is not validated by any accredited university and has no relevance to systemic couples and family therapy. NLP ‘training’ can often mean a basic weekend course. So it definitely pays to check who you are talking to and what qualifications, if any, they actually hold.
More expensive and longer does not mean better
When you come across the titles ‘relationship coach’ or ‘marriage coach’, you will probably be asked to pay well in excess of fees you would pay for professional counselling. (see price guide to the right). Some marriages coaches are only moderately more expensive, but I’ve seen quotes in excess of £750 per hour and package contracts of £5,000-10,000! You may also be told that you need to commit to 12 or more sessions before they have even met you to determine what your unique needs may be. There is no way any professional therapist can know how many sessions a couple may need before they have met you both. To put this into perspective, in my experience, most couples work can be accomplished in six or fewer sessions and rarely requires 12 or more. If you encounter this type of pricing or hard-sell marketing, don’t assume that more expensive and longer means better, it’s often the opposite. I would advise you to keep looking for someone with a more reasonable and ethical approach.
If you had a serious heart condition…
If you had a serious heart condition you wouldn’t go to your local GP or homoeopath, you would go to the cardiologist! This is your marriage, your family and your life, so please do not compromise on the professional help you need.
Another factor to be aware of is membership of a regulatory body that governs professional ethics and standards and provides a complaints procedure and protection for the consumer. Membership of these organisations is restricted based on high academic qualification standards, extensive supervised client hours and continuing professional development training. Membership of a recognised regulatory association is an important element in your assessment of the professional standard of any therapist.
Interview your therapist in advance
All professional couples therapists should offer a free telephone consultation, so take advantage of this to talk with them first and get a sense that they are a good fit for you and your partner. During that call, don’t be afraid to ask them about their professional training, qualifications, experience and membership of professional associations. This is most important. If you sense any avoidance or deception, I advise you to keep looking. Once you are ready to commit, check the price guide to the right and never agree to pay more than £200 for a session; only agree to one first session and avoid getting pressured into any long-term packages. After your first session, you will know if you are with a professional and suitably qualified therapist who is the right fit for you.
Contact me for free advice
If you are in doubt about your proposed counsellor or coach, please contact me for free advice. There is no obligation or pressure to work with me and I will be happy to answer your questions and guide you in the direction which will be most helpful for you.