Pick the Professional That's Right for Your Relationship
For some couples, professional help is a last resort only necessary when the relationship is in crisis mode: Day-to-day interactions are rocky, sex is difficult or absent altogether and communication is breaking down. However, as it is for individuals, couples therapy is useful for preventing problems and working through them. Whether you're trying to save a struggling partnership or make sure it doesn't need saving in the future, finding a qualified professional can be a game changer.
For some people, the process of finding a good professional is daunting. Do you need a coach, a therapist or a counselor? Can a couples therapist help with sexual issues? By doing careful research on the topic, you can choose a sex or relationship counseling professional with confidence.
When to seek help
There are many reasons a couple or individual may want help regarding their sex life or relationship. Some problems a couple might have addressed in counseling include:
- Sexual issues
- Communication barriers
- Money problems
- Impending life changes, such as getting married, having children, moving or changing jobs
- Mental health issues affecting the relationship
However, some couples who are perfectly happy in their relationship may visit a counselor to strengthen their bond, monitor for any lurking unwanted habits, have a safe space to discuss conflicts before they worsen and more. You shouldn't avoid professional help because you think your problems aren't "bad enough," as anyone can benefit from talking to a professional and gaining an additional perspective.
If you have the thought, "Maybe I should talk to someone," who's that someone? You could mean a sex therapist, a couples' counselor, a relationship coach or any combination of any of those words. Before you commit your time and resources to a professional, make sure you're picking the right person. Let's break down some common qualifiers.
Relationship versus sex
Depending on the issues at hand, it may be more beneficial to choose a sex therapist over a couples therapist, or vice versa.
A relationship or couples therapist can assist with issues like communication, problem-solving skills and conflict resolution. Some couples therapists may be less comfortable or experienced talking about sexual topics in-depth, so if you are facing sex-specific problems, such as mismatched libido or a lack of intimacy, consider a sex therapist. These professionals have the same skills as a traditional therapist plus additional education related to human sexuality. A sex therapist may specialize in topics such as erectile dysfunction, sexual trauma or pornography addiction, in addition to many other areas.
Individual versus couples
Although relationships are undoubtedly a two-way street, conflict can arise from one person being unable or unwilling to work through their own internal struggles. Couples therapy may be beneficial in these circumstances, but it may be important for the person to work through their problems individually.
This may be especially true for individuals who have experienced trauma. Although a partner can better learn how to support someone who's endured trauma in couples therapy, only the person who experienced it can learn to process and work through it. You may decide to choose individual therapy on its own or in addition to couples therapy. Sex therapists can also work on an individual basis.
Counseling versus therapy versus coaching
These terms can be very confusing to differentiate, but generally speaking, a counselor is a catchall term that may include licensed therapists, clinical social workers and psychologists, as well as less stringently regulated titles such as coach. Because this term is hard to specify, take the time to check what the professional purports to specialize in.
As for the other terms, a therapist must have an advanced degree and state licensure a coach does not. Finally, couples therapy tends to have a past and present orientation, while couples coaching is focused more on the future.
Things to consider
Now that you understand the kind of professional you're seeking, it's time to evaluate a few more additional aspects. When choosing between individual professionals, do as much research as you can upfront, including vetting the potential therapist for accreditation and educational background. For example, if you are searching for a sex therapist, check for AASECT certification, a sign that they are well-trained in their field.
Some professionals may offer a phone consultation to see if they're a good fit. Regardless of how your first meeting works, you should have questions ready. Think about the problems you are facing in your relationship and your values, your lifestyle and what learning methods work best for you. You can check to see if your insurance covers the counseling—in some cases, it does not, but there are ways around it. For example, one of you may have a diagnosis and the other can be there for support. And during this pandemic, a diagnosis of "adjustment disorder" has been widely accepted by insurance due to people struggling to adjust to the many changes in our lives. In addition, investigate alternatives such as Betterhelp, ReGain and TalkSpace if you're looking to get counseling that insurance does not cover.
No matter what kind of sex or relationship counseling professional you choose, they are there to provide tools to improve your interpersonal skills within your relationship. While seeing a professional does not guarantee a relationship will survive, doing so is an excellent step if both members of a couple feel strongly about making the relationship work.