Absolutely. What I tell patients is that a divorce ends a marriage, however it does not end our issues, nor does it end our pain; that is residual. And so although in our society you can get a divorce, and if all parties agree on the terms, you can be legally divorced within a matter of minutes. Counseling certainly is going to take a substantial amount of time, but the long term payoff for that for each individual as well as their relationship is great and rewarding.
It certainly can. Affairs happen for different reasons, and it's very, for couples who are wanting to heal and repair the marriage, heal and repair the trust, it is most important that they seek out a professional who is experienced in working with individuals and couples who have experienced the betrayal of an affair. As important as it is for individuals to seek counseling after an affair, it is equally as important for them to seek counseling from a professional who is experienced in working with couples who want to recover their marriage from the affair.
To distinguish yourself publicly or in writing as a marriage counselor, in most states there are specific laws that require an individual to be licensed in order to practice marriage and family therapy. Now, that being said, that does not mean that all individuals are licensed, and there are individuals, for instance pastors, who work with couples and even perform what they would consider marriage counseling. So there are examples of professionals who often are not licensed and do not have a formal degree or licensure in counseling, but nonetheless practices as a marriage counselor. Each individual should know the laws of their state.
It is important for all professionals who are engaging in any form of counseling with a couple or an individual to operate within their scope. So, as important as it is for someone to be licensed who is practicing privately and presenting themselves in the community as a professional of counseling, there are other professionals who are not necessarily licensed, who can practice. But I would say to any couple looking for counseling, one step of the process is to ask about the qualifications of the available counselor. Ensure that their counselor has been properly trained and they are operating within their scope and therefore qualified to address the issues that the couple is presenting to them.
There are multiple ways currently online that an individual can seek out names of professionals and read demographics on them that distinguish what their credentials are and their areas of specialty. Beyond that I always encourage individuals to contact anyone by phone or e-mail initially. Initiate either a face-to-face conversation or minimally a conversation on the phone and specifically ask them if the area in which they are seeking counseling for is within their scope of the counselor's expertise? Meaning, do they have special training? Do they have a special certification? Also, that conversation gives that individual an opportunity to know relatively quickly what their level of comfort is with this particular counselor. The couple can ask themselves Is this someone that I can connect with? Is this person appropriately empathic?
If a couple is coming to marriage counseling, clearly something about their relationship has stopped working for them. And I think, more than anything, we typically see that couples have become very polarized, and each of them feel a heightened sense of loss and betrayal by the other. The issues over time that have accumulated, that have prompted them to come to counseling, are issues that need to be addressed and worked through. If there is a willingness to work through the issues that have gone unaddressed or unresolved, to address the accumulation of emotions that ultimately have led to this overwhelming sense of betrayal and mistrust and polarization, then there is hope. Hope, I think, is determined by willingness more than by anything else. When couples ask me What is it gonna take, and how long is it gonna take, my classic response is, "It's gonna take what it takes." How long? The rest of your marriage. Because the skills that we learn, the changes that we make are not temporary. They are not intended to be temporary, they are intended to be long-term. So if individuals stop behaving in the new ways that they've learned to behave, then we see regression back to what got them here originally.