How to Choose a Marriage Counselor

Most people don’t realize that Couples Counseling is one of the most challenging specialties in our counseling industry. That’s why many therapists don’t offer it.

Let’s consider this analogy. If you developed a heart condition, you would begin with a visit to your primary care physician who is a generalist. But you would not receive all the help you need there. You would need to see a cardiologist who has years of advanced training in heart conditions.

If your marriage is in trouble, it behooves you to seek a Couples Counselor who is a specialist with high levels of expertise not a generalist with many areas of focus.

Your marriage is precious.

Counseling children and families requires different skills than marriage counseling. I don’t offer children and family counseling. I refer.

Counseling abused women and perpetrators requires a different set of skills. I don’t offer that. I refer.

Counseling for alcoholism and addictions requires a different set of skills. I don’t offer that. I refer.

Couples Counseling requires a unique set of skills. I offer that.

* NOTE. The following words can be included with the term couples counseling: co-habitating couples, engaged couples, and dating couples who have an exclusive commitment and want to get it right this time.

Do you know?
A qualified person can obtain a state license to offer professional counseling authorizing them to provide marriage counseling, but have very little training in counseling couples.

Many graduate psychology and counseling programs don’t require marriage counseling courses. They are offered as electives. Of the licensed counselors who offer Marriage Counseling, few have extensive post-graduate training in this area.

I have completed two years of Couple Counseling training with Dr. John Gottman and one year of training with Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couple Counseling. These are two of the most heavily researched programs in the world.

Why is it helpful to have both spouses in the session?
Many times people who request individual counseling have relationship issues. If only one individual comes to counseling, I can’t see the whole picture. An alliance is built with one person. That’s only natural. We can make improvements for sure, but often the spouse is left behind, and that sometimes weakens the relationship. I don’t want that.

I want to help people develop healthy relationships whenever possible. Research reported by Dr. Sue Johnson (Emotionally Focused Therapy) shows that when the spouse of a client is present in sessions (even for individual counseling), the effectiveness of the therapy doubles.

How does Individual Counseling differ from Couples Counseling?
In couples counseling, the relationship is the client. I am watching for the interaction between the couple so we can transform the dysfunction in the relationship. It’s not about one person being right or wrong. It’s about the unconscious destructive cycle that takes them under like a giant tidal wave. I help the couple rise above the tidal wave, dismantle it, and employ skills to build strong emotional bonds where both people feel safe and loved.

Securely attached couples are happy couples.

Having said all this, I do offer individual counseling. Sometimes a romantic partner refuses to attend counseling. Not everyone is in a romantic relationship. Not everyone has a relationship issue. I also work with people who suffer from anxiety, depression, grief and trauma (PTSD).

When you interview couples counselors, be sure to ask these questions to discern their level of competency.

You’ll see my answers below.

Q: How many years have you been offering couples counseling?
A: I have provided couples counseling for 4 decades.

Q: OK, but how much experience do you really have? Have you been working full time in this profession, or part-time while raising children or doing some other kind of work?
A: I have been working full time since I began my professional career in 1975. This has been a life-long spiritual calling, and like Mother Theresa, I never plan to retire. When I was a young therapist in my 20’s, a famous psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Lowen, said to me, “It takes 30 years to make a good psychotherapist.” I didn’t want to hear that at the time, but now I know what he means. It takes a long time to see a lot of cases, and learn from on-the-job-experience and advanced education, not just completing a graduate program and getting licensed.

Q: Do you specialize in couples counseling or combine it with other types of counseling?
A: I have narrowed my professional counseling practice to (1) couples counseling, and (2) counseling for adults with anxiety, depression, trauma and stress-related diseases. I also specialize in Highly Sensitive People. This narrow focus allows a high degree of competency in these specific areas.

Q: What is your graduate degree? Is it from an accredited university?
A: I earned a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology in 1976, and I earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1973, both from Illinois State University, an accredited program and university.

Q: What year were you licensed?
A: 1986, just after licensing was established in Georgia. My license number is 000300.

Q: What post-graduate training do you have in couples counseling?
(1) I have completed level 3 of 3 in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. In addition to couples therapy, I provide psycho-education for couples in my annual Valentines Retreat and Private Couples Retreats.

(2) I have completed a year-long training program in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy founded by Dr. Sue Johnson. I also attended a seminar in Healing Trauma with Couples taught by Dr. Johnson.

I participate in on-going continuing education. I’m serious about it.

Q: What does the research say about the effectiveness of your Couples Counseling programs?
A: Many popular types of marriage counseling have no documented research behind them. Advancements in neuroscience (brain science) over the last ten years allow us to see into the brain, and to know exactly what therapies work and which do not.

I chose to train with Dr. John and Julie Gottman and Dr. Sue Johnson specifically because their programs are based on massive amounts of research that prove their effectiveness. Research shows that 75-85% of couples improve their relationships. Even with distressed couples where there is an affair, 73% of the couples improve.

•    Click here for FAQs about John Gottman’s research.
•    Click here to learn about Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

Q: What makes you unique compared to other counselors?
Many Christians seek a licensed professional counselor who is a Christian, and that’s why they choose me. I belong to the Episcopal Church. I am non-legalistic, grace-filled, compassionate and inclusive. As I listen to the heart of Jesus, I hear: “All are welcome here.” I counsel people of all religious denominations rooted in the love of life and mutual respect. You don’t have to have any religious affiliation to work with me. Some clients say they are spiritual and not religious. Occasionally, clients say they are agnostic or atheistic.

Personally, I think the greatest healing comes when we combine holistic psychological counseling with an ever-deepening intimate relationship with God. God gave us the ability to understand how to use our minds and our emotions to help heal our relationships and our bodies. As we develop a deeper intimate relationship with God, we experience even more inner peace and wisdom. We have more ability to love and to receive love from others. We develop our unique God-given gifts and share our gifts to make the world a better place for us all.

I employ a holistic approach. I want to understand you and your relationship at depth. I look at the interaction of the body, mind, emotions, spirit, relationships, and life style. I want to know about your exercise habits, quality of sleep, nutrition, work, financial management, and stress. Each area affects the others.

Medical research shows that in 75-90% of all primary care visits, patients experience stress-related illnesses. If we address the problem from the level of the symptoms, we’re using band-aids to try to heal underlying issues that remain hidden. I want to spot the entire pattern and help you transform it.

I work closely with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Cindy Libert, who is board certified in family medicine, and is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.

I combine soft touch with high tech.

I am a highly sensitive person, which means several things. I am naturally empathic so it is easy to understand people, and build bridges between people to mend their relationships. I have a highly developed sense of intuition so I can understand your feelings, even the ones you don’t know how to put into words. I am compassionate. My heart goes out to hurting people and kittens that need rescuing. I love the beauty of nature and thrive in quiet peaceful surroundings. I provide this kind of healing environment for my clients in marriage retreats and personal retreats in the North Georgia Mountains and Florida beaches. Research shows that healing accelerates in the beauty of nature.

I also have an analytical side. Fascinated like a deep sea diver exploring beautifully colored coral reefs and fishes, I search for nuances of intricate patterns of human behavior. I am a bottom-line, results-oriented person.

Some clients want to tell stories of suffering over and over again, but that doesn’t change anything. It just prolongs the suffering. I like to balance listening and talking, developing a genuine emotionally intimate relationship with my clients. I like to hear enough of the story so I can see the pattern, help my clients feel understood and cared for, and then transform the pattern so they can create a high-functioning life style.

To make an appointment or to ask more questions:
If you would like a complementary 10-minute phone interview to discuss the possibility of becoming a client, please complete the contact page.

I’ll do my best to contact you within 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. Monday-Thursday.

I’m wishing you deep inner peace, wisdom and flourishing relationships.

Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor in GA, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in NC