He or she doesn't have to be Freud to help. I just liked this photo.
As we’re addressing the concerns of you, women with stepchildren, a reality is taking shape. Namely, many of you could benefit from counseling. Either couples work or individual work, but something. But as stepfamily researcher, social psychologist and stepmother Elizabeth Church, Ph.D. notes in her book Understanding Stepmothers
, it’s possible that a therapist treating a couple in a repartnership with kids will do more harm than good. Church details that many of her patients came to her after being treated by therapists with no training, familiarity, or real experience helping remarried couples with kids. The results were unfortunate: therapists telling women to “treat stepkids just like they’re you’re own” and otherwise importing a first-family model to address stepfamily or stepcouple reality. Since stepfamilies are different, that doesn’t work. These couples understandably became frustrated, discouraged, even hopeless before finding real help.
I asked Kela Price, a certified stepfamily coach and co-founder of www.todaysmodernfamily.com, to weigh in. Here are her thoughts on how to find a coach, therapist, or psychologist who can help you:
Guest Post by Kela Price, Certified Stepfamily Coach
Choosing a therapist takes some serious consideration. Choosing a stepfamily therapist takes even more. Navigating through stepfamily life is a challenge and choosing the right counselor to help you do so is imperative. Many think that choosing a therapist with a slew of academic credentials and qualifications means that he or she is the best fit for their stepfamily, but this is rarely the case. There are far more important factors to consider when choosing someone who can truly understand and help this family system.
While it’s important to have some academic training or education, it’s more important to have the right academic training and/or education. Many stepcouples make the mistake of just choosing someone based on whether or not they have a degree and what particular school they graduated from; however, even if that individual graduated at the top of their class, with a psychology degree from Yale, Harvard or Columbia University, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified to guide your stepfamily through your challenges. What matters is that you interview the candidate to see what experience they’ve had specifically with the stepfamily.
I’ve known and counseled stepcouples who have been discouraged because they express that counseling didn’t work and are therefore hesitant to try it again. This is because many traditional therapists will try to apply a first family model to a stepfamily, and it does not work. Additionally, there are therapists who have only read about stepfamilies in a book and then attempt to counsel a stepfamily. Again, it doesn’t work. The most qualified therapist for the stepfamily is one who has the academic training or education specifically in the area of divorce, remarriage or repartnership with children and the stepfamily dynamic, and also one who has lived or is living the stepfamily life. Academic knowledge alone doesn’t work because in order to apply that academic information to your treatment of stepfamilies, you have to first know if it is correct, and in order to know if it is correct, you have to know how a stepfamily operates. In order to truly understand and know the inner workings of a stepfamily, you have to have lived it! The right combination of both professional and personal experience is important to consider when deciding on a stepfamily therapist.
I encourage anyone who’s about to enter into a stepfamily (the best time to get counseling is BEFORE you enter the stepfamily, not when you’re in crisis mode) or is in a stepfamily situation and feeling in need of help (it’s never too late to find the help you need!) to ask their potential therapist, counselor or coach the following questions to determine whether or not he or she is qualified to help in this area. Don’t be afraid to interview them prior to choosing, as choosing the right therapist can prove to be a great benefit for your family.
Interview Questions for Your Stepfamily Counselor Candidate
1. Specifically, what kind of stepfamily training have you had?
2. Do you treat stepfamilies different from first families? If the candidate says, “No, the stepfamily operates much like a first family and so the treatment is the same,” keep looking!
3. Have you ever been divorced and/or remarried and experienced stepfamily life yourself?
4. What are some of the unique challenges that stepfamily co-parents face, and (specifically) how do you handle those?
5. Why do you feel that so many remarriages fail as opposed to first marriages, and what specifically do you do to help strengthen the remarriage?
6. How many stepfamilies or stepcouples have you worked with?
Phone coaching is an increasingly common option for individuals and couples for a few reasons. For many stepcouples, finding qualified counselors in their area is extremely difficult as there aren’t that many of us out here. As such, when distance is a major factor, phone counseling may be their best option. Additionally, some find a coach or counselor’s office sterile, intimidating and uninviting, and are less likely to truly open up. For some men, the thought of counseling makes them want to run, let alone if they have to actually sit in front of someone and discuss their feelings. For them, phone counseling isn’t as intimidating and is the only way their spouse can get them to attend.
Overall, phone counseling/coaching can be just as effective as sitting face to face with your counselor or coach. It’s not for everyone and it’s most important for you to choose the option that works for you.