New Therapists Offer Advice on When to Seek Relationship Counseling

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By Hope McCormick and Emily Rose Proctor

With Valentine’s Day falling in the month of February, couples may be reflecting on the quality of their relationships and wondering if they can make improvements. Fortunately, there are counselors in South Walton to help couples address any challenges they might be facing. We interviewed three fairly new therapists to the area for their perspective.  Marcia Butcher and Stephanie Craig both currently see clients at Community Church in Santa Rosa Beach (you can read their profiles on psychologytoday.com), while Patrick McCorry has just opened up an office in Destin (https://www.beachbluecounseling.com/).

All couples have ups and downs, and some conflict is normal. But Marcia Butcher, a local therapist trained in EMDR therapy and spiritual direction and who also offers intensive weekend couples retreats, said, “I recommend seeking counseling early in the marriage to learn about ourselves and our spouse. It’s much easier to work out differences when we understand who we are and who our partner is. … That’s one of the best things you can do for your relationship.”

Stephanie Craig, who recently moved here from Oklahoma after 17 years of practicing, said, “many couples postpone getting counseling until the relationship has eroded significantly, telling themselves, ‘it’s not that bad, we don’t need counseling yet.’ In contrast, I think it’s wise to seek counseling when you notice there are recurring relational conflicts that you aren’t able to resolve on your own. When you find yourself circling around the same issues and the same hurt feelings several times, it’s best to seek counseling before bitterness sets in.”

Sometimes individuals are dissatisfied with a relationship, but their partners won’t come to counseling. Craig said, “There is great benefit in participating in counseling without your partner to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship dynamics and your part in the problems. You aren’t able to control your partner, but gratefully, you are completely in charge of acknowledging any contribution you might be making to the difficulties in your relationship. And, you have the power to work on making changes to move yourself in a healthier direction regardless of what your partner does. Often, one person increasing personal insight and making changes results in significant shifts in the entire relationship dynamic.”

If you are considering therapy for the first time, Craig said this to help demystify the process: “In the midst of stress, it’s often hard to sort through your experiences and emotions alone. Your counselor is trained to ask strategic questions to help you gain increased insight into how you’re feeling and behaving. Your counselor is also trained to provide you with new tools to help you respond in more helpful ways to life stress and crisis. … Thankfully, your counselor is not your judge, creating a safe space to talk about things you might be afraid to share in other relationships in your life. What you share in counseling is private, confidential and protected so you feel confident in sharing openly.”

It’s important to find a good therapist who is the right fit. When choosing a therapist, McCorry said, “Most therapists offer a free 15 minute phone consultation.  I would suggest briefly explaining why you want to come to therapy. Then ask them directly if they have experience and are trained in the area that you need help with.” Butcher added, “[During the first session] I would assess whether or not the therapist is a good listener, is able to stay focused, not distracted, and if you feel safe emotionally with them.”

For more help finding a counselor that meets your needs, you may call the Mental Health Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties (http://mhaow.org/) at (850) 244-1040.  Our local 2-1-1 helpline also has information about local resources and an on call mental health counselor you can talk to 24/7 by calling 850-892-4357 (892-HELP).