Counselor or therapist?

My husband and I fight a lot. We went to counseling, but I felt let down because the counselor told us what we should not be doing, which we knew, but never told us how to overcome our bad habits and behaviors. I feel like a counselor should help me find the tools to fix my marriage, not just tell me things I already know. Is that too high of an expectation? Where do you get the tools to work on yourself and your relationships? How do I find a good marriage counselor?

Do you want a therapist or a counselor? A therapist is a state-licensed professional with a degree. Counselors are wounded healers; they have suffered through difficulties and have triumphed. Now, they offer their experiences to others and typically use tried-and-true techniques to guide people out of pain. The term “counselor” is generic and can be used by anyone who has appropriate training, but not the background required for a license.

Finding a professional therapist is a simple, four step process: First, ask your friends for referrals. If a friend had a negative experience with a therapist you’re interested in, don’t be dismayed. Your interactions might be different. Second, check the therapist’s license and education. Google the appropriate licensing board to ensure that your therapist is in good standing. The therapist might also have a Web site that explains what kind of therapy she or he offers. (I’m a fan of Jungian therapy.) Third, interview the therapist. When you’ve narrowed your list to two or three therapists, conduct short, focused phone interviews. Ask when they seek therapy in their own lives or what kinds of courses they take for continuing education. Fourth, listen to your instinct and intuition. What is your body telling you? How do you feel about each therapist on your list? If you feel uncomfortable, that can be positive. Few people are at ease being seen as they really are. If a therapist is telling you what you already know, ask yourself why you need to hear it again (because you clearly do) and what it will take to start practicing what you know.

When I need relationship tools, I turn to the process at www.thework.com so I can see my part clearly. I also talk to trusted friends. You can find valuable tools for arguing fairly in my March 16, 2006 column “War and peace”.

While looking at photos of my father recently, I was surprised to remember times that he made sexual advances to me. It seems he could either be my best friend or he could be overtly sexual and verbally abusive. I have dealt with incest from other male members of my family in therapy, but I have not faced my father’s sexual advances. He was sexually abused as a child, but he never dealt with it before his suicide. Can you help me forgive my father?

Try this: Sit in a quiet place where you’ll be undisturbed for at least two hours. Gather all the photos of your father and place them before you. Pick up one photo at a time and allow yourself to remember all the times that he did not make sexual advances to you. Your father was your best friend and he was verbally and sexually abusive. Can you accept the reality that these behaviors existed in the same person? Resolving this conflict will help you understand that for your father (and other members of your family), sex, love and power were intertwined so rigidly that one could not be experienced without the others. The unfortunate legacy is this: People who have been abused often expect love to be mixed with pain. So practice love without pain and see how your life transforms.

Meditation of the Week

I introduced Byron Katie, author of <i>Loving What Is</i> and <i>I Need Your Love: Is that True?</i>, at her recent Sacramento appearance<i>. </i>Witty, mesmerizing and full of wisdom, she guided audience members into releasing their defenses with realities like, “Love does not hurt. Our war against love hurts,” and, “No one leaves me until I’m ready.” Are you ready to live as an open heart and open mind?