Still, it is a “delicate situation,” as Ms. Bradden put it. She said she would probably decline to work with friends of a couple she was currently treating, but would be open to referrals from those she had seen in the past.
Be ready with questions.
Once you have a shortlist of potential therapists, narrow down your choices by asking questions, either during an initial phone consultation or email exchange or within your first session or two. You don’t need to feel awkward about it. “We, as consumers, are purchasing a service here,” Dr. Bufka said. “We can ask questions!”
Here are a few things to bring up:
What will working with you be like, and how long will treatment last?
Most couples therapists see their work as relatively brief and solution-oriented. They help partners navigate specific conflicts around money, sex or parenting, for example, or around broader concerns like communication challenges or feelings of growing apart.
Therapists should tell you how they typically work with couples — for instance, whether you and your partner will always go to sessions together or whether you will have some individual sessions — and offer a potential timeline for treatment. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, this type of short-term therapy is completed within 12 sessions on average. But, Ms. Jackson said, the initial timeline you are offered might change as the therapist learns more about your situation.
It helps to talk to therapists about their approach. That could mean asking about the specific theory of psychotherapy they have been trained in (like psychoanalysis) or about their style more broadly, Ms. Bradden said. Are they going to talk a lot and collaborate with you? Are they more apt to practice active listening? Those sorts of questions can help you understand what the therapy experience will be like.
Have you dealt with my issue before?
Elizabeth Earnshaw, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “I Want This to Work,” recommended asking counselors outright whether they have treated couples facing a similar issue.
Ideally it is not the therapist’s first time addressing a problem like yours, and, crucially, you should ask how the therapist dealt with it before to get a sense of what lies ahead and whether that approach feels comfortable and doable.