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Understanding Which Therapist To Use Is Essential.
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: After struggling with marital problems for several years, my wife and I decided to seek professional help. We began with suggestions from friends, but ended up in the yellow pages which are packed with listings of marriage counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, ministers, lawyers, and others who seem to fit the bill. My wife likens this process to going to the grocery store and trying to choose among fifteen brands of spaghetti sauce. What is the difference and how do we "get the right brand?"

Answer: Today, the term "counselor" is an overused term which loosely refers to advisors with varying educational levels, backgrounds, and training. In some states, almost anyone can hang out a shingle claiming to be a "marriage counselor." So, before choosing a " marriage counselor," it is important to understand the types of professionals, their credentials, and what they can offer.

Here's a thumbnail sketch:

1. Social Workers generally have earned a Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) which typically includes various marriage and family counseling courses.

2. Ministers and religious-oriented counselors may or may not have college and graduate training. When dealing with religious counselors, it is important to remember that his or her background may dictate his or her counseling philosophies -- including recommending reconciliation under all circumstances.

3. Psychologists generally have earned either Master's or Doctorate degrees which require two to five years of post college degree training. Their course of study includes marriage and family counseling training. Psychologists do not have the authority to prescribe medication or admit a patient to a hospital if that becomes necessary.

4. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can address both medical and psychological issues related to emotional disturbances. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe medication and admit patients to the hospital.

5. Physicians generally do not have the desire, will not take the time, and/or may not have the expertise to help deal with marital problems. This does not mean that the few remaining "Marcus Welby's" won't do a good job -- if you can find them. But some doctors tend to medicate patients too quickly or refer them to others.

6. The vast majority of lawyers are not trained to give psychological advice, so don't expect a sympathetic ear. Although lawyers can listen, give legal advice, and make referrals, it is doubtful that they will see both a husband and wife in a counseling situation.

7. Support groups are made up of people with similar concerns which may be led by lay people or professionals.

Before you begin, be sure to check out the individual through the licensing officials in your state. And because of the many pitfalls that you may encounter legally, it may be wise for you and your husband to get appropriate advice regarding the confidentiality of your relationship with a counselor, especially in joint meetings.

But remember: Although qualified therapists or marriage counselors can certainly help, no one can solve your problems. The therapeutic relationship should be used to help you determine where to go, but you must get there on your own.

Need more advice or help with this topic? Click here to get information about taking the "Next Step".

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