When my husband came out several years ago, I experienced
all the stages of crisis and coping that I’ve written about in my books and
articles. I know what you’re going
through! One theme recurs in my attempts
to help straight spouses recover. It is the
importance of seeking effective guidance from a professional, competent
Talking through your challenges and inevitable pain is
immensely useful in regaining equilibrium and healing emotional wounds after
your spouse comes out. Mixed-orientation
families get lost in an emotional storm, in danger of capsizing. A good navigator can help guide you through
these treacherous seas.
Whether you decide to work with a clinical psychologist, licensed
social worker, or pastor, it’s important to choose a person who is
professionally competent, credentialed, and compatible with your personality
and needs. It also saves time if your
counselor has experience with the problem you face, specifically the challenges
of mixed-orientation families. Choose wisely!
What should you look for when selecting a therapist? Gathered from extensive interviews with
people who have experienced counseling, here are nine qualities shared by the
best professionals. Consider their
advice when engaging a suitable counselor to steer you from crisis to calm.
1. Flexible. Rather than applying a single, rigid formula
or pushing “right answers,” the counselor first listens deeply to assess
individual symptoms and needs. There is
no one-size-fits-all attitude. Good
therapists offer a whole tool kit of techniques and approaches to create balanced
2. Unbiased. Effective therapists do not bring prejudice
into their work. They feel no intolerance
toward homosexuality and they do not encourage gay-bashing in conversations
with family members. They maintain an
open, unbiased mind.
3. Takes a broad view. Though
the focus is your straight spouse crisis, a good counselor brings up related practical
issues like your safety, housing, and health care. Children’s needs are considered in light of your
new reality. What pressures are evident
from religion, extended family, your social network? Are there serious underlying personal issues
that need attention, like fear, guilt, shame or anger? All of this is examined.
4. Explores other resources. An
effective therapist calls attention to sources of help already at hand. How can you use available resources to best
advantage? Whom can you trust and talk
with in your family, your circle of friends?
Finding a confidant or keeping a journal as you work through decisions can
be extremely useful as you chart a new course.
How can you help yourself, be proactive?
5. Caring and trustworthy. Effective counselors demonstrate empathy,
patience, and genuine concern for clients.
Listening carefully and without judgment, they remember what you’ve told
them in previous conversations and put it into context. They offer you a safe space to say what you
haven’t said or couldn’t say before—and they help you make sense of it all. Trust
grows from this fertile ground.
6. Qualified and experienced. Your
best therapist will be professionally educated and experienced with similar
cases, therefore knowledgeable of typical patterns. Such counselors help clients process each
stage of straight spouse recovery and they know when to back off and when to nudge
7. Realistic. It will take time to
achieve complete personal stability and healing. Don’t expect immediate miracles or a magic
pill to bring instant results. Look for
a therapist who is judicious in recommending medication that simply dulls
emotional pain. Be wary of one who
rushes to a pre-conceived solution. A
hard look at your own role in creating ongoing emotional pain may be part of
the eventual resolution. You should be
aware that even after successful therapy, it is normal for grief or anger to be
triggered occasionally--even years afterward.
That is to be expected.
8. Encourages wellness. Each
session ends with genuine encouragement and hope. Good counselors know their clients are
fragile and they bolster them with comforting assurance. Believing that you’ll survive and thrive has
a positive influence on outcome. “I’m
going to be okay” is a powerful mantra, crucial to eventual recovery.
9. Celebrates healing. Ethical therapists work themselves out of the job, urging clients in positive ways to get past their obstacles and to move on to greater Happiness. The most trusted and successful counselors celebrate their own success and that of their clients.
No one has a perfect life; everyone has some burden to
bear. One of the great gifts of working
with competent counselors is their assurance that you are not alone and that your emotional challenge is not unique. Just knowing that others have felt the same
way brings comfort. It is also reassuring
to learn that others have survived the straight spouse crisis and have moved
through it to greater serenity.
Whether you choose to work with a professional counselor or
therapist is up to you. But people who
make that decision discover valuable tools and guidance to nourish and
integrate body, mind, and spirit and to regain contentment.