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How Long Does it Take to Improve Your Marriage?

When it comes to couples counseling, we all want to know how much time, energy, and money it will take to improve. A common question is: How long does it take to improve your marriage? But what they’re really asking is “How long will it take for us to get the momentum we need once we come to counseling?

To improve, it takes a lifetime

Our friends who’ve been married for more than forty years tell me they’ve had several different marriages. And they also say they are different spouses than they were when they said, “I do.” In essence, they’ve been married to several different people, even though it’s the two of them.

All stages of marriages open up dimensions of our journey that we couldn’t imagine before. And each transition moves us into a “different” marriage. Most of us began with a lustful romance. Then we build careers and have children. We settle into an ebb and flow of adjustments. At every turn we have opportunities to grow and grow up. Each juncture is a choice to become aware and intentional.

Our challenge is to risk vulnerability and intimacy with ourselves and our spouse. Click To Tweet

It’s common to become misaligned when one spouse grows while the other doesn’t. But changes are inevitable. And we need to grow beyond messy relationships and marriages. Our challenge is to risk being vulnerable.

To get short-term help, it takes categories

Couples who seek counseling usually fall into one of three categories. They are: crisis mode, control mode, or construction mode.

Crisis Mode

The first is crisis mode. One or both believe that therapy is the last resort. If it doesn’t work, one or the other has made plans for a catastrophic exit like divorce.

Just to be clear, crisis mode is not the same as counseling. Most couples on the verge of divorce need additional help to get them out of crisis mode. And to clarify, a marital crisis is not the same as a mental health crisis.

In addition, couples’ work is not appropriate for those hiding affairs. Nor is it feasible for those with severe addictions, depression, or mania. Rather, it’s absolutely crucial to get out of crisis mode and assess the damage before counseling can begin.

Some therapists are more skilled than others in handling crisis cases. But do not assume that crisis management is the same as counseling.

Unfortunately, some claim that couples counseling leads to divorce. But they don’t take into account that crisis management and counseling are different. Also, some counselors have more training than others to assess for emotional and verbal abuse within the relationship. Ignoring these and other crucial factors make couples counseling ineffective.

Couples counseling is not appropriate if certain other issues interfere. Rather, it causes more damage to both individuals if underlying manipulation, secrecy, fear, or a mental health crisis is going on.

Control Mode

The second major category is the control mode. One feels the need for change and the other doesn’t. Neither wants to divorce, but if they don’t get help, one is sure the marriage is heading in that direction. An undercurrent agenda of “social engineering” prevails. Social engineering is a term I use for our unconscious tendency to control others. The control mode is where one person wants the comfort of sameness while the other needs change.

Construction Mode

The last major category is construction mode. Premarital or newlywed couples come in to make sure they’re on the right track. Transitions such as parenthood, empty-nest, or blended families fall in this category. They both want to build healthy and growing partnership habits. They want to be proactive.

It’s always wise to establish the counselor/client relationship before you need one. Think of how we want to be established with a primary care physician. When issues arise, we have familiarity and trust of the counselor and therapy process.

To grow, it takes change

None of us wants to talk about the “D” word. Whether that “D” means death or divorce, it’s a subject we avoid. But if we don’t face endings, we’re unable to become unstuck from our relationship messes.

What’s important is to honor the worth, value, and dignity of both individuals in a relationship. To get beyond the messiness, it may be time to realize an old marriage is not working anymore. It needs to change.

Think of changes as a divorce from toxic patterns, reactions, and unhealthy dances. We need to say goodbye to the old and hello to different ways of being. Otherwise, the commitment to a destructive marriage degrades both individuals. Long-term toxic patterns in relationships account for stress-related illness or even premature death.

To get beyond the messiness, it may be time to realize an old marriage is not working anymore. It needs to change. Click To Tweet

How long does it take to improve your marriage? It’s a life-time of growth throughout the categories and stages that marriage can provide. And the right counselor can show us how in addition to couples who are doing it.

Your next step

Buy One Get One Free for “Beyond Messy Relationships” book.

Professional Counseling

What Kind Of Professional Counseling Do I need?

 

What kind of professional counseling do I need? If I wrote a letter to my younger self, I would say, Don’t hesitate.

Don’t just lolly-gag & wait for change. Make that counseling appointment now. Click To Tweet

We can be so confused about our needs. And even more confused about what kind of professional counseling we need. Now that I’ve been practicing for over a decade, I’m convinced the public needs clarity about who’s who when it comes to professional counseling.

Why it’s important to know about professional counseling

The professional mental health and wellness field can be so mysterious. What do all those initials behind a person’s name mean anyway?

We’ll cover the differences between those in unlicensed professions in another post: life coaching, business coaching, and spiritual direction. For now, let’s address those who are licensed counselors.

Why look for those who are licensed in their field?

It assures us of their training, education, expertise, continuing education, and accountability.

Just as we don’t trust an unlicensed surgeon to do a kidney transplant, we shouldn’t trust an unlicensed counselor with the tender organs of our souls.

Now that may be a dramatic example for some. But would you even want to consider a tooth extraction by an unlicensed dentist?

On the other hand, you may only need your son-in-law to change a light fixture rather than hiring a certified electrician. In that case, we only need a counseling intern, life coach, spiritual director, or a wise friend.

Our relationship and mental health needs can be mysterious. We don’t know whether our issues are like an old light fixture or a decayed tooth. A first appointment with a licensed professional counselor can help you sort that out. Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t assume medication is the only treatment

It’s the high-dollar TV commercials who promote antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. We automatically go to our primary care physicians or OB/GYN’s even before considering professional counseling.

Most are unaware that talk therapy from a licensed counselor is a better first line of treatment before considering medication. Click To Tweet

When medication is necessary, it’s always wise to combine it with counseling.

Psychotropic medication is just a small portion of treatment. A combination of medication and talk therapy is many times more effective for wellness than medication alone.

Who’s who when it comes to professional counseling? 

Here’s an overview of non-medical professional counselors. Psychiatrists are not on the list because they are medical doctors trained to prescribe psychotropic medications. They rely on non-medically trained professional counselors to help their patients. A few may also counsel their patients.

Here’s another confusing fact. Each state in the United States has their own laws around licensure. Each profession has their own code of ethics. Titles may vary slightly from state to state. For the sake of simplicity, this list pertains to Tennessee.

A basic understanding of professional counseling differences

This is not a comprehensive list. It’s a simple overview of those trained to diagnose and treat mental illness through non-medical therapies. All are required to continue their education. Many have additional certifications in specialized therapies such as Imago therapy, Gottman, EMDR, or Emotion Focused Therapy.

You’ll find the following professions through private practices, agencies, or counseling centers. All of these professions are Master’s degrees or higher. They are trained to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders through non-medical treatments.

Licensed Professional Counselor with Mental Health Service Provider Status (LPC-MHSP)

Many LPC-MHSP’s focus on individual therapy. Many have additional training in relationship counseling or group therapy.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

LMFT’s have a family systems point of view.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker. (LCSW) 

LCSW’s have a broader social and systems perspective.

Licensed Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral counselors generally are ministers, rabbis or, priests with a spiritual focus.

Licensed Clinical Psychologists – (Psy.D) 

Licensed clinical psychologists are the only ones on the list who are rightly called Doctor. They’re also trained trained to administer psychological testing for Attention Deficit Disorder and other diagnosis.

With this clarity, please tell yourself, Don’t just lolly-gag and wait for change. Make that counseling appointment now.  

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