What is Your (my) Success Rate?


Measuring Counselor Success

A client recently asked me a question I had not heard before. They asked, “What is your success rate?” I could not give a clear answer. The best evidence I have are anonymous surveys. The surveys I have received are overwhelmingly positive, but in fairness, fewer than 2% of clients choose to complete them. I get it. We live in a world where there are surveys about your experience buying a diet coke. Surveys help improve the quality of Columbus, Ohio, relationship counseling, but people are busy and may not see a direct benefit for themselves.

What Makes for a Successful Outcome?

Beyond surveys, it isn’t easy to know if clients have been successful. The Gottmans measure their success by working with couples and interviewing them a full six years (or up to 25 years) later. Many of the couples they work with agree to pre and post-measurement as a condition for therapy. A good measure of success is how well clients are doing over the long term. But how well clients are doing is dependent on their goals. For example, for some married couples, divorce is not an option, so success is staying married regardless of what happens. On the other hand, some couples want to know if they are compatible, and choosing to end a bad relationship is a success. It’s important to determine how the counseling agenda is determined.

The Counselor’s Role is Important, but the Couples’s Role is Just as, or More Important

No counselor can force clients to meet their goals. It is like going to physical therapy or using a personal trainer. They can guide you and push you, but you must do the hardest work. Do couples practice what they learn in treatment, at home? Do couples actively participate and participate honestly and fully? How long have relationship problems gone on? Do couples stay in therapy until they have met their counselor’s recommendations not needing further therapy while following a recommended schedule for frequency? Have client’s met the criteria for what the Gottmans consider to be the end of successful therapy?

Can Couples Accept Their Perpetual Problems?

As great as the Gottmans are, they have found that 69% of relationship problems are perpetual and unsolvable. These problems are considered unsolvable because they deal with deep-rooted personality characteristics, culture, compatibility, values, and goals. These problems can be managed somewhat with interventions, so they aren’t as disruptive. Still, using these interventions takes considerable practice and effort. The Gottmans say when you commit to a partner, you choose what problems you are willing to live with, and for the most part, I agree.

Can Couples Take Constructive Feedback and Accept Their Own Role in Relationship Issues?

Some couples come to therapy with a single goal of having the counselor fix their partner. Accepting some responsibility (except perhaps in extreme circumstances) is critical to the success of the relationship. No matter how good your personal trainer is, unless you do workouts on your own and eat a healthy diet, you may not get great results.

Some Signs That You Will Need More Counseling Than is Typical

  1. You have seen many counselors and failed – It is possible that you have had bad luck with a lot of counselors. It is also possible that if everyone has been a failure, it wasn’t just them :). It is possible you haven’t found the right fit yet. You may also need to be a better client or may not have been fully ready in the past 🙂 (just telling it like it is).
  2. You have had problems for a long time without getting help – The average waiting time between couples experiencing serious problems and getting help is six years. Counselors are used to this. Just know that the longer you wait, the more time it’s going to take to heal.
  3. You have failed to repair your relationship on your own but aren’t open to the input of an expert – Counselors certainly don’t know everything and good counselors will want your occasional constructive feedback. But if you have tried and failed and immediately reject your counselor’s suggestions, you may have a tough time getting better.
  4. You aren’t willing to do homework – Oftentimes, homework simply involves practicing what you learned during relationship counseling, in real situations. It often isn’t a huge extra time commitment. It is easy to get busy and forget to practice, but there are consequences for doing this.
  5. You have a negative outlook – Again, no judgment here, but many clients come in feeling understandably depressed. A relationship counselor can help you work on your depression, but the attitude clients have about counseling is often a self-fulfilling prophecy and we can work with you to improve upon it (or you may need to work on yourself in individual counseling first). You may not be experiencing depression but just have a negative outlook on therapy (which, again can be self-fulfilling).
  6. You don’t make it a priority – It is easy to start on a positive note, think everything is going better, and stop treatment too early. I made the same mistake when I tore my rotator cuff and stopped doing exercises after seeing improvement. I made excuses that I didn’t have the time. I made the same mistake when I got in a car accident and stopped getting needed treatments after insurance stopped paying, and now will likely have some symptoms for life.
  7. You want immediate results – Counseling is usually not a quick fix. Most couples spend years or decades developing issues, and they won’t all go away with a few hours of treatment (and maybe none of them will go away that soon or ever). There are no shortcuts. Just like trying to heal a physical injury, the first step may be to stop the bleeding. The second step is to assess what is really happening. The third step is to treat the root causes, and the final step is to maintain positive gains.

But Finding a Good Fit is Still Important

You may need to decide what type of counselor works best for you or give your counselor feedback on what styles you would prefer they employ. Some clients want structured exercises and want their counselor to always have a detailed plan. Some clients prefer to show up with their agenda and spend most of the time informally talking through it. Some clients want a referee (but you have to learn to change your patterns and take direction with the help of the referee or you are just paying your counselor to watch you have the same fights you have at home). Some clients need directiveness and someone to push them. Some clients walk away at the first sign of constructive feedback from a counselor. Research shows it can take about four sessions to tell if counseling is helping (unless it is really bad or you don’t click at all). It can take 8-15 sessions of hard work on everyone’s part to get lasting results. For some couples, it can take years. And some couples are just not compatible and equipped to be happy in their relationship.

Good News

The good news is that couple therapy can improve your relationship in many cases. It can also help you accept what you cannot change. It can help you realize that the grass isn’t always greener, even though it may seem that way in the heat of an argument. Sometimes couples only come to therapy because they have hit rock bottom. While no one wants to hit rock bottom, it can be the catalyst for positive change.