My Couples Therapist Almost Destroyed My Marriage

couples therapyFew people know that my husband and I were in couples therapy awhile back. It's not exactly the kind of tidbit you bring out at cocktail parties. But there is one thing that will force it out of me: if someone mentions making an appointment with my therapist.

Suddenly I will go from calm, cool, and collected to waving my arms like a crazy person and yelling, "Abort! Abort mission!" You see, my marriage may be intact after couples therapy, but it's no thanks to my therapist.

If anything, my marriage counselor is responsible for just how close to divorce we came. And by close, I mean in our last session with this supposed expert, we were kaput. I'd told him I wanted him out of the house immediately, and he was ready to hit the road and not come back.

It was one of the worst nights of my life and one I don't like revisiting, but if I can protect other folks from going through something similar, I will.

So here's the deal: when we were struggling to connect, my husband and I agreed we needed to go to therapy if we wanted to save things. Neither of us had ever been, so we did what many couples do -- we looked up therapists in the phone book and called the nearest one. Did he work with couples? Could he see us after work hours? Great!

The first few sessions were fine; I suppose. We didn't really know what to expect. The number one complaint I'd heard from couples who'd been through therapy was that their therapist picked sides, and this guy didn't do that.

As time went on, however, we realized he wasn't favoring my husband or me, but he was focusing on issues that weren't really about us at all. He would launch into stories about himself and then push and prod us into talking about things that were really not issues of contention for us at all.

Could he have been looking for underlying issues? Perhaps, but he was ignoring some of the more glaring ones in the process, as he played what I look back now and realize was a dangerous game with two human beings as his pawns.

As the weeks went on, things only got worse -- for my marriage. We could maintain outside of the therapist's office, but inside we were like a powder keg and he was the spark.

That last session, the night we both declared it was over in front of him, things were completely out of control. We were angry, and he was doing very little to tamp down the fires.

But it wasn't until we got home and proceeded to fight on our own, without his interference, that the tide began to turn. My husband didn't want to leave, and I didn't want him to leave. Why either of us had said it, we weren't quite sure. But what we both realized is that we felt like we'd been set up, pushed to opposite sides and then made to fight each other.

The more we hashed it out, the more we began to realize we'd been pitted against each other rather than helped to come back together.

I wish I could say that realization fixed everything for us. It didn't by a long shot, but it did take divorce back off the table and it was the night that we decided to quit therapy in favor of really working things out.

It's been three years, and we're in a much better place, although the wounds created in that room are still only scabbed over, the scar tissue has yet to fully form.

We have had to face a lot of tough issues -- issues that should have been brought to light inside that therapist's office -- on our own.

One thing that's helped is recognizing what happened to us in that room for what it was or rather what it wasn't: quality therapy.

I finally researched our therapist, something I realize now I should have done much earlier. He may see couples in his practice, but it turns out that's not his specialty. In fact, he specializes in addictions counseling -- a far, far cry from our troubles -- rather than marriage and family therapy

Unfortunately, there are a lot of psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, and psychiatrists out there who advertise an expertise in working with couples, but that doesn't mean they actually know what they're doing! It's only a marriage and family therapy program that will teach them the specifics of working with couples, and yet what they're doing is perfectly legal. They can hang out a shingle and say what they want.

And unwitting couples like my husband and me can get ensnared easily because they need help and, hey, this guy or gal says they're an expert, right? 

If you've hit a rough patch in your marriage, don't just pick the first guy in the phone book and put your life in his (or her) hands. Do your homework. Is the counselor a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (they have a handy therapist locator that can help)? Is couples therapy their main source of income or just something they dabble in on the side?

Ask questions about their methods -- a good therapist should be willing to submit to a pre-interview before being hired just like a good pediatrician. And if you're in the room and you feel uncomfortable, tell your partner. It may be hard -- because, duh, why else would you be in couples therapy? -- but you've already taken the tough first step of going to counseling; you can do this!

Whatever happens to your marriage, just remember it should be you and your spouse calling the shots in the end ... not some therapist.

Have you been through couples therapy? Any tips for other couples?

 

Image via Wavebreak Media LTD/Wavebreak Media Ltd./Corbis

breakups, divorce

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the4m... the4mutts

I had the same experience a few years back. We went where our insurance would cover, and ended up with a therapist who specialized in terminal illness grief counseling. We didn't find that out until about 3 months in.

He kept pushing for me to leave my (then) fiance, and saying he was emotionally abusive. Even I disagreed. The man was never cruel to me. Ever. We ended up just leaving and never scheduling another appointment. We did separate, but agreed it would be for a minimum of 2 months. We had to learn to be individuals, because we were expecting each other to react the same way as we, ourselves, would.

That was our only issue going in to therapy, and it was never touched on. So we did the only thing we could think of, by not living together for a bit.

It ended up being about 6 months, but it got worked out, and we have never been stronger. Therapy is for the birds.

abra819 abra819

therapy is not for the birds. when my brother was killed, therapy saved me and literally saved my other brother's life.

Tracys2 Tracys2

My parents' marriage counselor (who was recommended), was very similar to your situation. I was 13 and had to sit in on sessions where my father talked about what drove him nuts about my motehr and that he didn't love her and wanted 6 kids, including boys (I was an only due to ectopic rupture). The therapist told me I needed to wear makeup and asked me once if I wanted my parents to divorce, and they'd abide by my wishes. HORRIBLE!


My therapist, like the one mentioned above, she was nice and tried to help, but no matter how I tried to guide, she didn't seem to "get" me, which is weird because the pastor totally did, and she hadn't talked to me long. So that was an indifferent experience.


My son's therapist was excellent, and got him to talk about and learn to deal with issues he wouldn't (maybe coulnd't?) admit to us. He is much stronger for the experience.


All were fully qualified in the area we went for.


A pre-interview is excellent, though not all will do one (none of the LCSWs I called for me would) I wish there were a better way.

arlis... arliss123

We had an excellent marriage counselor; seeing her saved our marriage. But, I did research, called a national Christian organization whose beliefs align with ours and asked for a list of recommended therapists in our area. That way, at least I could be fairly sure of getting someone who would have an idea where we were coming from. I agree that calling someone out of the phone book could be a disaster. You're placing a part of yourself in their hands, so you need to trust they'll care for it.

nonmember avatar melissa

I dont really believe in couples therepy. I hate the fact of soneone i font know trying to tell me how to fix my ptonmblems. Even though you hadca bad experience it seemed like it did work. Even if it wasnt the way you were exoecting.

nonmember avatar Jo

I, too, had a dismal experience with 2 marriage counselors and 2 pastors. They took sides. They made me the bad guy, and my ex the victim. Somehow it became MY fault that HE was driven to another woman. Yeah, right. I totally get what the writer is saying. I doubt I'd ever go to any kind of counselor or therapist again.

nonmember avatar Lensy

Wow this hits kind of close to home .. my mother and her husband were recently victims to a similar scenario. Their pastor had offered them some free marriage counseling as they have been emotionally dealing with some rocky points in their relationship. At first they would attend together but it didn't take long before the pastor recommended counseling them separately. Long story short my mom and step dad discovered the pastor had been stringing them both along, telling each of them it was definitely the other person's fault for their problems and that their spouse had admitted to not wanting to work it out, etc just some really contradicting things ..

sterl... sterling21

It sounds like a awful experience, but I wonder why the therapist was allowing you to argue during the session? Sounds like he had know idea what he was doing and just had you there for extra cash. Maybe you can report him for malpractice.

nonmember avatar jeri

In any profession, there are the good, the bad and the mostly in between. You should absolutely report this "professional" to their organization.

emszoo emszoo

Sounds like both of were the victum of a sociopath. No profession is exempt from sociopaths. I agree with jeri, I'd report this guy but sadly sociopaths usally get away with it. Maybe doing a little reading on sociopaths will help, it helped me after I became the target of one.

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