| Dr. Steven
Choosing the right couples therapist can be a frustrating, confusing,
and expensive process. Part of the confusion for some couples comes
from not understanding the difference between a general practitioner
and a Relationship Specialist.
Under any circumstances, it is advisable to see a therapist
who has earned at least a master's degree, an MA or an MSW, in either
psychology or social work. For more expertise, a therapist with
a doctorate degree, a PhD or a PsyD, has received the highest level
of training available in the field.
Most competent therapists with MA or PhD credentials practice
as generalists. That is, they have a general, rather than a specialized,
understanding of how to work with individuals, couples, and families.
Relationship Specialists, on the other hand, have focused on becoming
expert at working only with couples. Relationship Specialists devote
their training, experience, and education to having a deeper and
more comprehensive understanding of couples than would be expected
of a generalist.
Many general practitioners advertise that they work with
both individuals and couples. In practice, however, it is the rare
professional who can competently treat both couples and individuals
given the special skills, education, training, and experience required
for each respective client population.
General practitioners who work with both couples and individuals
tend to treat fewer couples than individuals. Does this make a difference?
It might. For example, a general practitioner who spends eighty
percent of their professional time working with individual clients
and twenty percent of their professional time working with couples,
ultimately builds eighty percent of their skills working with individuals
and only twenty percent of their skills working with couples.
On the other hand, a therapist who works exclusively with
either individuals or couples, but not both, builds one hundred
percent of their skills within their respective specialization.
This important issue has been addressed in the professional journals.
For example, Dr. Pascoe, writing in the Journal of Couples Therapy,
notes that "therapists are attempting to master the skills of becoming
couples therapists which is no easy task.... This particular method
of psychotherapy does not lend itself well to all therapists. ...
It is this writer's firm conviction that not all individuals should
attempt to practice couples therapy."
As you consider which therapist to trust with your relationship,
remember that not all therapists who advertise couples treatment
are Relationship Specialists. The only way to find out whether a
therapist is a generalist or a Relationship Specialist is to ask
questions. General rule of thumb: A Relationship Specialist treats
only couples and does not work with individual clients.
If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally
or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm
yourself or someone else, please phone the 24-hour-per-day Crisis
Line at 215-7082. A trained counselor will help you through your
Dr. Steven Cohn is the Director of the Portland
Couples Counseling Center. He specializes in treating couples from
all backgrounds. If you would like to schedule an appointment with
Dr. Cohn or if you would like to request a complimentary brochure,
please phone 503-650-7230.