Relationships and Finding the Right Psychologist for You and Your Partner

Find a Psychologist forcouples therapy

Finding a psychologist that suits you and your partner takes time. First, find out who is available in your community (You can search by zip code or the first three numbers of your zip code.). Once you have identified several psychologists, interview at least three by phone (or in person). If there is room in the schedule for new clients, most psychologists will gladly spend 10 to 15 minutes with you on the phone answering your questions without obligation. They may have to call you back, of course. If all goes well, schedule a face-to-face session for both you and your partner.

In the first face-to-face session, you and your partner need to decide if you both feel comfortable with the psychologist. Very often one partner likes the psychologist and the other does not. If this happens, keep looking until you find the right psychologist. Both partners must accept the psychologist for the process to work.

The first session should give you ample time to ask your questions. This session is for you and your partner to interview the psychologist as much as it is for you and your partner to be interviewed by the psychologist.

You should ask the following questions of the psychologist:

  • Are you licensed in your state as a psychologist and credentialed by the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology?
  • How long have you been treating couples?
  • How many sessions are typical for the average couple to spend in psychotherapy with you before they see results?
  • What are your fees and payment arrangements?
  • What techniques do you commonly use to help couples resolve their differences?
  • Have you had previous experience with the type of problems we are having?
  • Will I ever see you alone?
  • With a couple as your client can I tell you things in confidence and know that you will not disclose it to my partner?
  • Do you ever help couples terminate a relationship or do you always work towards reconciliation?
  • Are there any special assessment techniques or questionnaires you use?
  • What is the goal of a couple’s psychotherapy? What can I realistically expect to change?

Finding an effective psychologist is as much about your readiness to change as it is about their expertise. If you only want your spouse to stop his/her horrible ways, chances are you will never find someone to help. On the other hand, if you are motivated to change your own attitudes and behaviors to improve your relationship, you are likely to have a successful experience. You greatly increase your chances of success if you are motivated to learn to accept your partner without resentment and anger. The same is true for your partner. Keep in mind what the renowned marital psychologist John Gottman found in his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. Seven ingredients for a successful marriage include:

  • Know each other. Learn all about each other’s likes, dislikes, wishes, hopes, and dreams.
  • Focus on each other’s positive qualities, positive feelings for each other, and the good times you have shared with each other.
  • Interact frequently, tell each other about your day, thoughts, and experiences.
  • Let your partner influence you.
  • Solve the problems that can be solved and accept that differences will exist.
  • Overcome gridlock by acknowledging and respecting your partner’s underlying feelings, which may be preventing resolution of the conflict.
  • Create shared meaning; each partner should gain a deeper understanding of him/herself.

*These ingredients are discussed more fully in the book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work, by John Gottman and Nan Silver (Three Rivers Press, 2000)

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Linda Berg-Cross, PhD

Professor, Department of Psychology, Howard University
Former Chair, National Register of Health Service Psychologists Board of Directors
Private Practice, Bethesda, MD