Why Is Our Marriage Counselor Asking Such Weird Questions?

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Reader’s Question

My wife and I recently started visiting a psychologist for couple counseling. We’ve noticed he sometimes asks completely random and off-topic questions that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I’d like to know, why is he doing this? Is this some kind of technique he’s using?

Two examples:

  • My wife mentioned that she enjoys watching a particular TV show. He asked her about the plot, who the producer was, and how many commercials there were, and how long she estimated each commercial was in minutes. He dwelled for several precious minutes in asking about commercial breaks and lengths. We had no clue how this was relevant or important. We then went back to the original topic.
  • After talking to me about a particular issue, he turned to my wife and said, “I’d like to ask you something, but you don’t have to answer.” At this point we thought he was going to ask a serious question. He asked, “How do you say plumber in Arabic?”. We were not talking about plumbers.

In each case the random question would go to my wife. So, what’s going on here?

Psychologist’s Reply

Of course I can’t speak for the psychologist you’re seeing, but I can assure you that what you described does not match any therapeutic techniques or approaches with which I’m familiar. I frequently find myself trying to convince a person or couple to seek assistance from a mental health professional. Unfortunately, experiences such as yours add to the stereotypes and reluctance associated with counseling.

Stereotypes regarding counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists include the notion that they themselves are psychologically disturbed. There’s also the common misperception that therapy is mysterious, and that therapists have deep powers of insight and manipulation. Neither set of stereotypes makes mental health treatment very inviting, and they keep many people from receiving the treatment they need, or questioning therapists when something seems amiss.

Unfortunately, education and a license to practice do not ensure that the individual mental health professional is competent, or even not impaired in some way by his or her own issues. Effective therapists are psychologically healthy, focus their attention and energies on the client, and are genuine and rather transparent in their interactions with clients. In other words, counseling should not feel weird or leave you scratching your head as to why the therapist behaved in a particular way.

Because therapists may vary so widely in their approaches and effectiveness, and because it’s important that clients experience comfort and trust with their therapists, I always advise interviewing therapists until an acceptable one is found. Then, if you have questions or concerns about what is happening during the sessions, feel free to ask about them directly. A good therapist will be just as open in trying to resolve the issue. If it seems that the therapist does not treat your questions respectfully, or tries to deflect the issue, this may not be an individual with whom you can work productively.

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