Five Qualities to Look for in a Marriage Counselor

Choosing the Right Marriage Counselor is Vital for Getting the Most out of Couples Therapy.

One of 209 Gottman Certified Therapists worldwide, Dr. McMahon has advanced training in three other models.

Hi, I’m Dr. Kathy McMahon and I’ve trained marriage counselors for the past 30 years.  Marriage counselor qualities are the concrete issues to look for before picking your professional.  Don't take anything for granted.

Here are the Five qualities that, in my opinion, that are the most important in finding the right marriage counselor.

That’s the reason so many marriage seeking help fail:

People pick an “All Purpose” Therapist!

These qualities are hard to find.

Five Qualities to Look for in a Marriage Counselor

Marriage Counselor Qualities  #1: Training in Marriage Counseling.

Pretty obvious, right?  Don't most counselors have training to see couples?

Absolutely not.  In fact, one well-respected couples therapist suggested that states license couples therapists to improve the quality of services you'll receive.

Ask: “Do you have specialized training in marriage counseling? How did you get that? Reading? Coursework? Supervision?”

It comes as a surprise that many graduate programs in counseling offer the student no specific courses in marriage counseling. Even programs specifically devoted to marriage and family therapy may offer as little as a single course in how to be a marriage counselor. And none in sex therapy.

Don’t look for a generalist when it comes to keeping your family together.  Look for a specialist.

Couples therapy and marriage counseling is a specialized profession, just like dentists and brain surgeons.  Both work on heads, but are hardly interchangeable.

Quality #2: The Marriage Counselor Practices Evidence-based Longer-Treatment Sessions.

Ask: “How long each session will be?”

The evidence is in: Research tells us that effective couples sessions are at least one hour 20 minutes in length. Skilled Marriage Counselors don’t hold 45-50 minute sessions, unless they’ve worked with a couple for some time, and have a specific reason to make a solid clinical judgement to hold a shorter session.

Quality #3: Look for a Marriage Counselor who Sees Marriages!

The reason is simple:

Marriage Counseling requires a completely different set of skills than Individual Psychotherapy.

Practice Makes Perfect.

Ask directly:

“How many couples do you see every week? What percentage of your practice is working with couples?

The answer should exceed 50%.

That’s a simple fact. It’s a different skill set requiring different tools. Passivity isn’t one of them.  You can sit and emphasize with an individual for an entire session.  Not great therapy, but you can do it. 

Try doing that with a couple, and you're not only going to be totally ineffective, you'll be seen as insincere to boot:

Therapist:  "I can see how you'd feel that way, Jane."

If you needed surgery would you ask: “How many of these operations have you performed in the last year?” Wouldn’t you choose the MD who performed hundreds of them vs one or two?”

John:  "Wait a minute, Doc.  A minute ago, you told me I had a point.  Now you say you agree with Jane.  Which is it?"

I can’t tell you the number of couples we see who say:

“Our last marriage counselor just sat there, and let us fight.”

I tell them:

“That was no marriage counselor…“

Quality #4: A Marriage Counselor with Integrity Who Works for You, Not Your Insurance Company.

This is a hard one for most people to hear, but it’s the truth: Your health insurance isn’t going to pay for it.

V61.01 is the code for Relationship Problems (Marriage Counseling).  That's a diagnostic code most insurance won't go near, any more than car insurance does brake jobs.  They consider it "normal wear and tear" of life, not a mental illness.

  • Have a Mental Illness?  You're covered.
  • Have a Terminal Marriage?  It's on your dime.

And if you make a call, and some “All Purpose Therapist” tells you that they’ll take your insurance, ask them directly:


Dr. Heide is completing Gottman Method Certification training. She conducts her practice in San Juan and Miami, Florida.

“How can you tell which of us has a mental disorder?”… How do you know, from just talking to me over the telephone?

I’ll tell you how:  They’ll say: “Everyone has something!” and they’ll write fabricated notes describing you or your partner’s mental illness, and how they are treating it.

It becomes part of your permanent medical record. But will what they write be real, or something they made up to collect your insurance money?

And because insurance will only reimburse for a 45 minute session, instead of the evidence-based 1 hour 20 minute session, well…you can see the problem.

We end up with a lot of people feeling they got couples therapy, and blaming their marriage when it fails.

Quality #5: Look for Leadership.

A “take charge” personality. A leader. No B.S.

Ask yourself:  “If they’d mess with the truth with my health insurance company, what are they willing to do with my marriage?”

Someone who is going to tell you just how they see things.

Look, marriage is tough in the best of circumstances. A real live marriage counselor has their hands full doing the work that they do.

And they are in high demand.

You want someone who has the ability to tell you the truth, to tell you what is going to be required of you to change things around. Not someone who is going to tell you what you want to hear.

A leader. A strong personality. A Specialist, not an “All Purpose Therapist."

Five Qualities to look for in a Marriage Counselor:


1.  Well Trained in Marriage Counseling

2.  Conducting 1 hour 20 minute Sessions

4.  Works for You, not your Insurance Company

3.  Seeing Mostly Couples

5.  A “Take Charge Personality.”

After all, what’s your marriage worth to you?


At Couples Therapy Inc. ~ we hire nothing but the most talented Marriage Counselors on the Planet. We’re changing the face of couples therapy, and demanding excellence in this unique sub-specialty of counseling.  Evidence-based treatment is demanded of each and every clinician.  Some actually train professionals on how to conduct Gottman Method Couples Therapy.

We’re PROUD of our team.

We only see couples, in 1 hour 20 minute “evidence-based” treatment, and we don’t lie to you or for you.

Want to Learn more about Effective Couples Therapy?  Contact us!














About the Author Dr. K

Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her Intensive Couples Therapy practice on the edge of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.

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