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Health & Sex

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Can Couples Counseling Help?

How Counseling Works continued...

The average length of counseling is 12 sessions, but it can be different for each couple.

After four or five sessions, you should be able to tell if the therapy is working. By this time, you and your partner should feel you're communicating with each other in a more positive and effective manner, McNulty says. "[You] should look for small changes week in and week out."

"You can tell that couples counseling is working," Doherty says, "when you feel that there is some learning going on about the other partner. Maybe you are feeling more hope or seeing changes at home. If you were distant, maybe you feel closer. Maybe there is less conflict, or arguments are not so bad when you have them."

Finding the Right Counselor

"I encourage people to see someone who specializes in marriage counseling -- at least 30% of their practice,” Doherty says. “They have seen it all, and they will roll up their sleeves and help you."

Ask your friends, doctors, or clergy for names of counselors they know and recommend. Some hospitals and social service organizations have referral services. Local chapters of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, the National Association of Social Workers, or the American Psychological Association may be able to help, too.

Look for someone who has a background in couples therapy and advanced certification in couples work. Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) are likely to have more training as well.

Also look for a therapist who is caring and compassionate to both of you and doesn't take sides. A therapist should keep control of sessions and not allow you to interrupt each other, talk over each other, speak for each other, or have heated exchanges.

McNulty says a good therapist will encourage couples to decide early on whether he or she is a good fit for them, and will offer a referral if not.

Couples counseling is not always covered by health insurance, although it may be if one partner is being treated for a mental health condition such as depression.

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