How to find a couples therapist and start therapy

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Couples therapy can be a practical method of addressing problems and improving mental health between partners in a romantic relationship. If you are looking for information on how to find a marriage counselor, a search for "marriage counseling near me" will help you locate a skilled therapist in your area offering marriage and family therapy or another form of couples therapy. Typically, when people consider going to couples therapy, they are already aware that there are problems between them and their significant other that they don't know how to solve without professional help from an effective couples therapist. However, you can also attend marriage and family therapy to plan for future relationship challenges or work through daily family stress. In general, couples therapy requires both partners to contribute time and effort to see results. You may find a local therapist or couples counselor to work with, or you may prefer connecting with a couples therapist online.

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Addressing issues in a romantic relationship can be difficult

Does couples therapy with a marriage and family therapist work?

Before you can consider couples therapy, it can be important to understand how it could help you. You might begin by asking yourself what you mean when you ask, “Does couples therapy really work?” What criteria would you use to assess whether it works or not? If you mean, “Will couple's therapy improve my relationship?” The answer may vary. Once you get to the root of the problem in your relationship, you may be faced with the decision to recommit or end things. Still, many couples find that, although it may feel difficult at first, working with a good therapist can address both the surface issues and core issues they’re experiencing, build new bridges between them so that they are on the same page, and offer tools for improving conflict resolution and intimacy. 

You might also consider whether relationship therapy or counseling is right for you and your partner. For this type of therapy to be effective, you generally need to commit to attending regular sessions with your significant other. Sometimes, your couples therapist might suggest you have a few individual therapy sessions in addition to the joint sessions to improve your own mental health and well-being, or even consider family therapy if you have children. With children involved, finding the right therapist trained in helping families can be key.

You may wish to keep in mind that therapy usually only works if you are willing to participate fully. After all, couple's therapy generally isn't something that is done for you; usually, both you and your partner must put in the work to improve your relationship and mental health. If one partner is unwilling to attend or put in effort outside of the sessions it can be hard to see results. You can’t create feelings of concern in your partner– you can only act on your own concerns.

Types of couples therapy

Mental health professionals typically complete formal education along with specialized training programs to address various needs. Therefore, it’s important to choose a professional therapist who can best meet the needs of your specific situation and background. The type of couples therapy you choose may also depend on the status of your relationship and your religious affiliations. 

Premarital treatment

If you are engaged or in the initial stages of planning your life together, you might choose premarital counseling with a licensed clinical social worker, for example. People who are in a romantic relationship but not yet married can use this time to learn more about the way the other person thinks and behaves. They can then learn techniques for building a strong marriage and to create feelings of well-being within their partnership, or they may decide that marriage is not for them after some short-term therapy sessions.

A family therapist

For people who have children, marriage and family therapy might be more helpful than couples therapy alone. Parents with dissimilar ideas about child rearing often have problems and recurring arguments in their marriage as a result. Some sessions might be for the partners alone, while other sessions might include the children, too, or even the extended family. A marriage and family therapist receives specific training so they can work with the entire family to help resolve communication issues and improve how the family functions. This can be one of the more popular approaches for partners who have children.

A religious marriage and family therapist

If religion is an important part of your life, religious leaders who offer religious couples counseling may be available online or in your local community. It can be wise to do some research to ensure you find a licensed marriage and family therapist or a relationship therapist that offers religious counseling, as some religious marriage counselors may not be licensed and cannot offer ethical or legal treatment.

Alternative couples therapists: Family therapist, psychiatrist, and more

There may also be some therapy options to consider that you may not have heard of before. For example, some therapists and mental health professionals have specific training qualifications and advanced degrees so they can practice as a licensed marriage therapist who is also able to prescribe medications (psychiatrists) or provide different treatment approaches (for example, emotionally focused therapy). You can also look for licensed marriage and family therapists who specialize in helping partners with mental illness and substance use issues, as well as providing effective therapy. Look for a licensed marriage and family therapist that offers a specific modality, such as Gottman therapy or trauma-informed care. If you already work with a psychologist or another mental health professional individually, you might ask them whether they can refer you to any of their co-workers who may be able to help with your relationship.

Questions to ask yourself and your spouse before heading to couples therapy

The following is a brief list of couples therapy questions that may help you and your spouse prepare for your first therapy sessions, where you may likely address the basic issues in your relationship.

  • What issues cause problems in our marriage?
  • What issues are most important for us to solve?
  • Is either of us considering divorce?
  • Are we both willing to put in the work to make our relationship successful?
  • Is this a temporary bump in the road, or do we have long-term problems?
  • What bothers us about each other?
  • What are our feelings toward each other?
  • Do we trust each other?
  • Do we have a satisfying intimate relationship and sex life?
  • Has either of us been unfaithful or considered seeing someone else?
  • What do we expect will change if we go to therapy?
  • How is our communication?
  • Are we willing to change to save the relationship?
  • How can we commit to come together outside of therapy sessions, like scheduling a regular date night?
  • Does either of us have any underlying mental health issues that may be affecting the relationship?

Be aware that you and your spouse might have completely different answers to these questions. You don't necessarily have to agree on everything to solve problems, but you may need to have some common ground if you want to improve your relationship and see positive changes. The common ground may even be that you both recognize there are issues that may need to be addressed.

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Questions for premarital counseling with a marriage counselor

Are you considering premarital counseling? Once you find a mental health professional, you can prepare for your first session by answering a few questions. Premarital counseling questions are sometimes future-oriented, but usually need to cover your past together and how you currently interact as well. Here are a few of the questions you might ask your partner before seeing a mental health professional:

  • What attracted us to each other in the first place?
  • What types of issues have we had in our relationship so far?
  • What kind of marriage do we want?
  • What did we learn about marriage from our parents?
  • What kind of future do we want to build together?
  • Do we want to have children together? If so, how will we raise them?
  • What can premarital counseling do for us?
  • Are we willing to change if necessary to have a healthy relationship?

After discerning your answers to the above questions, you can look for a therapist by searching through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) or another online database that lists certified marriage and family therapists.

Seeking counseling for you and your partner: How to find a marriage therapist

If you decide it's time to move forward with therapy, the next step may be answering the question, “Where can I find couples therapy near me?” No matter where you live, the answer to finding a good therapist may be the same—online! You may be able to look for a therapist online, regardless of where you live. However, in many areas, you can search for a marriage therapist to meet with in your local community as well.

You can get a referral from your primary care doctor to see a mental health professional. If you are already working individually with a therapist, they may help you find an effective mental health professional to meet your needs.

One potential benefit to attending online couples therapy with BetterHelp could be that you may feel more comfortable and at ease sitting on your own couch than in a therapist’s office. You may also find that, if either you or your partner feels hesitant to try therapy, the idea of online therapy can be less intimidating.

As this study explains, online couples therapy can be as effective as in-office couples therapy. Although several of the couples participating in the study initially had doubts about whether online therapy would be helpful for them, they were able to form strong therapeutic alliances with their therapists and found that the overall experience was a positive and beneficial one.

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Addressing issues in a romantic relationship can be difficult

Therapist reviews

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Takeaway

If you’re experiencing relationship issues that you and your partner can’t seem to resolve on your own, attending couples therapy together may be helpful. However, it can be important to note that in most situations, both partners must be willing to put in the effort, grow, and change for their relationships to improve. When looking for a quality therapist, you may find one locally, or it can be possible to connect with licensed mental health professionals online.

Marriage can come with complex challenges

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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