When you have come to the conclusion that your marriage needs the help of a marriage counselor, you set about ensuring you find the right one. Sometimes you can only rely on hearsay and the real test of a good counselor lies in the treatment. Only when you have had a chance to interact with him/her can you gauge whether they are right for you and your problem.
TIP: Find out how you can save your marriage without involving a marriage counselor.
Let us assume both spouses have agreed that counseling is a requirement. This is the basic premise for a marriage counselor to be successful and effective in dealing with the problems a marriage may encounter. You can't clap with one hand, and similarly you need the whole-hearted support and cooperation of both spouses to make counseling worthwhile.
When there is friction between a couple and you have to discuss your problems with an outsider, even if he is a professional, every little thing helps. Your first meeting with the counselor will help you decide whether you can be comfortable with him/her. This meeting is important to establish familiarity and instill confidence that the marriage counselor you have chosen will be able to help you.
The counselor might choose to see each of you separately which is for the best. That way each of you can talk about your problem freely, without the other intervening to explain his side of it. It also helps the counselor gain an insight into each individual's personality, style of functioning and contribution to the relationship and the problem at hand. He will possibly also meet with you together to assess certain dynamics between the two of you as a couple. There may be certain forms that the marriage counselor may require you to fill up to provide him with further information that will help him to help you.
After this first meeting, it would be wise for you and your spouse, to frankly discuss how you feel about your counselor. It is not enough if only one of you is happy. This is one very important level that you both have to agree on. It will be detrimental to the overall success of counseling if only one of you is satisfied with the marriage counselor. If the issue you may have with the counselor is something petty, maybe it will help not to jump the gun, but try a couple more sessions before you make a decision. However, if one or both of you just cannot vibe with the counselor, and don't feel an innate confidence in him/her, you should look elsewhere but do not abandon the idea of counseling altogether though, as the reason you sought counseling is still prevalent.
Initially the marriage counselor may need to see you more frequently, maybe even once a week. As he finds you making progress and requiring less intervention, he may make the consultation fortnightly, and finally even monthly or biannually. Sessions normally last for an hour.
Punctuality is important, for you as well as your marriage counselor. If you feel he is always making you wait for unduly long intervals, let him know you don't appreciate it. If your spouse is not particularly keen on the counseling in the first place, waiting around will put undue stress on both of you and will only serve to worsen the situation.
You need to feel you are getting value for your money. Your counselor should give you the time and attention you deserve. If your sessions are rushed it is not conducive to good therapy. Also, a good session is one in which there is a give-and-take. It is not only about you and your spouse talking about your problems. So at what point should your counselor start contributing with remedial measures?
Preferably, after the first session or couple of sessions itself, your marriage counselor should start suggesting a plan of action for you and your spouse to work on. Thereafter, your meeting should be about fine-tuning the strategy and brainstorming on how you can better it. Also, about problems you are facing in implementing the plan. If one or both of you is losing heart the marriage counselor should be able to talk you through your discouragement and creatively encourage you to pursue your therapy through to its logical conclusion.
Your counselor may show that he truly cares about your situation by even giving you his cell phone number or contact numbers at home, to enable you to call on him in a dire emergency, especially if one of you has been fighting intense depression or mental illness. This approachability instills in you a sense of confidence that he is there for you whenever you really need him.
Once you sense that the situation improving, and so does your counselor, he may change fire-fighting strategies to more proactive ones. He may suggest ways to now work on improving the quality of your married life.
Ultimately, marriage counselors are just that, professionals who are there to help you. They are not Gods, to look on as the last resort, who will offer a miraculous solution to your predicament and take away all your problems. They are only facilitators, who can offer guidance, motivation and show you the way. The final call is yours; it is you, as a couple, who has to be truly committed to helping yourselves.