Earlier this spring, I remember reading an article where Oprah said that she had never been to therapy before; that in her mind, her best friend, Gayle King was her "regulator". When you think about all that Oprah has shared regarding childhood trauma, weight battles and pressures with her platform and then you add to that the fact that she gives out so much advice for a living, that seemed rather ironic to me.
It also reminded me of why I oftentimes say to my own clients that there is a difference between something being therapeutic and actually going to therapy. To me, at least once in life, everyone should see a therapist (or counselor or life coach). It's simply a good idea to have a professional help you to look at things from an "outside looking in", totally objective perspective, whether it's for the purpose of healing, revelation, goal-setting — or all of the above.
If you're someone who has either never been to a therapist before yet you've been strongly considering doing so as of late or you've tried it, got burned, and are leery about attempting going again (even though a part of you feels like you should), as a marriage life coach myself, I wanted to share 10 questions that you should personally run through. Ones that can help you feel a lot more confident about sitting on a therapist's couch — for a season.
1. What Specifically Do You Want a Therapist For?
When it comes to this first point, let me say that it would be a bit unfair for anyone who is a therapist to automatically expect you to know what kind of help that you need. After all, getting to the root of that is actually a part of a therapist's job. At the same time, it is a good idea to have some sort of ballpark idea of what you're looking for and the desired outcome you'd like to have. Like me? I work specifically with people who want to keep their marriage together, get it to thrive or those who desire marriage. Sometimes, I'll work with singles who are trying to get some areas of their life together; however, based on how complex and serious those issues are, I'll refer them out.
So, how do you start with your search when it comes to targeting exactly what you want or need? Well, do you want personal or professional assistance? Does it have to do with relationships in any way? Perhaps you've got some patterns/habits that you'd like to break. Are there things about how you live your life that you sense may be rooted in childhood trauma? Maybe you feel stagnant and you need someone to help you to get "unstuck" and set some goals. Ask some questions until you are able to "scratch an itch" so to speak. By the way, if there is something (or one) that is internally nagging you that won't seem to go away, that is a good indication that it should be brought up in therapy.
2. Will a Life Coach Do?
I once heard someone say that the main difference between a therapist and a life coach is a therapist focuses on one's mental health while a life coach is about helping someone reach their goals. I can definitely see there being a lot of truth to that; however, oftentimes a therapist is also considered to be a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor while a life coach? Some have "letters behind their name" while others do not. It kind of all depends on how much education you'd prefer the person you are working with to have. For instance, a lot of church folks go to see their pastor for counsel yet many of them aren't licensed therapists (or even licensed life coaches); they would be more like a life coach. I've been very open that I am a life coach as well. My work comes from years of experience while a friend of mine, who is also a coach, recently got certified.
Personally, when I'm dealing with a person or couple who I feel have some really deep-rooted issues, oftentimes I will recommend that they go to a therapist in addition to seeing me. However, if you're basically looking for assistance in identifying core issues and mapping out a plan on how to move forward, many times a coach (in an area of expertise that you're looking for because there are many different kinds) will fit the bill.
3. Is Their Ethnicity and Gender Relevant?
Not too long ago, a friend of mine asked me to refer them to a life coach. When I asked them what area they wanted to focus on, they said that they needed to get professionally organized and also create some long-term goals. Because this individual is pretty "fist in the air" (I'm sure you get what I mean by that — LOL), I assumed that they wanted someone Black. To my surprise, no. "I would actually prefer someone who sees life from a different lens because a lot of my clients aren't Black." Noted.
Some of you who are die-hard Insecure fans can recall the journey that Molly went on to find the right therapist for her. And yes, sometimes, being with someone who shares your ethnicity and/or gender can be a real comfort because you tend to feel like they get exactly where you are coming from. Anyway, whether that is the case for you or not, definitely factor this in while making your selection. It can make finding your right fit so much easier for you.
4. Do They Share or Respect Your Value/Belief System?
As a marriage life coach, I've worked with a few atheist couples in my time (actually, atheists tend to say married a lot longer than many Christians do…that's another article for another time, though). Because I strive to be a Bible follower, I've been asked if that was difficult to do. Eh, a little challenging only because I am someone who believes that marriage is a faith-based union; however, not impossible because I also believe that you can have morals and not be of the same faith system as I am. Still, since I tend to bring up God and Scripture quite a bit, I do make sure that prospective clients know that I think marriage is a covenant relationship and that I use the Bible in a lot of my counsel — at least a lot of the time. At the same time, there is actually a verse in the Word that talks about speaking in parables (applicable stories), so that folks who wouldn't understand Scripture can understand where you are coming from (Matthew 13:13). Taking that in has made it easier to communicate with folks from all walks of life.
Anyway, the bottom line here is you don't want to see someone who could end up doing a lot of debating with you or you're going to feel patronized around because you both have a different set of values or belief systems. If you're Jewish and want a Jewish therapist or agnostic and would prefer someone who won't bring up faith at all in your sessions, that makes total sense; it's pretty wise to look for that. You're already gonna have a lot to unpack. No need to start, right out of the gate, not seeing eye to eye about core foundational issues.
5. Have You Ever Seen a Therapist Before?
When I say that there is someone in my life who needs to go to therapy, stat — there can't be a bigger understatement when it comes to this topic. While the core of him is good, he makes some of the most redundantly toxic choices that I have ever seen in my entire life. The real catcher is he's so cryptic when it comes to how he moves that a lot of people come to him for insight. It's a mess. The few times when he has at least allowed me to broach the topic of counseling, he once shared that when he took a chance and tried, the therapist actually did something that was extremely unethical; they started developing feelings for him. And so, as of now, that has caused him to stay as far away from therapy as possible.
If you're hesitant about going to a therapist because you've never been before and you're not sure what to expect, that is totally understandable. Just try and keep an open mind. No one can make you do anything you want to do — including staying with someone you don't like or continuing in something that doesn't seem like a wise fit. On the other hand, if you're damning therapy because of a bad past experience, what I will say is, just like there are some good and bad people in general, there are also some good and not-so-good therapists. To swear off all of them because of one unfortunate situation would be a shame. Besides, how can one meeting — possibly a couple of times — with someone new hurt? You're still in control. No matter what. Always remember that.
6. How Do They Act in the First Meeting?
I'm gonna be straight up with you. Seeing a prospective therapist/counselor/life coach for the first time is a lot like a first date. And just like first dates, there are several red flags that you should look out for. Ready? Here are 10 of 'em.
- If they're late. It means they don't respect your time.
- If you feel like they are over-talking you. They aren't good listeners.
- If they come off condescending or patronizing. You need to feel comfortable.
- If they are distracted. That's just plain rude.
- If you feel like they're giving more of a monologue than dialoguing with you. You aren't to be their audience member.
- If you feel a hell of a lot worse rather than better. No one should feel like shame imposed by the therapist. Do keep in mind that therapy may bring about really uncomfortable moments so that you can get to the root of matters.
- If you sense gaslighting or manipulation. A therapist shouldn't be emotionally controlling or violating you.
- If it seems like a religion session. A faith-based therapist is one thing. Trying to recruit you is something else.
- If you feel no sense of peace. A good fit will bring about some clarity or "ah ha" moments, even from the first meeting.
- If you just don't "click". No explanation needed.
7. How Does Payment Go?
This is huge. Some therapists only take insurance (and well, you already know how that goes). Some will change insurance companies and just drop you (even if you've worked with them for years). Some are willing to work out some sort of out-of-pocket payment plan. The bottom line with this point is assume nothing. I know some people who were really hurt when, after several years of seeing (and becoming really comfortable with) their therapist, they had to part ways because their therapist left their insurance network and so they couldn't afford to keep seeing them. Let me tell it, before even going to the first session, this should be addressed. It would be a shame to find someone you really like, even upon the initial meeting, only to realize that you can't afford them.
8. How Committed Do You Plan on Being to the Process?
I believe I can speak for all people in the counseling field when I say that nothing is more taxing than working with clients where we seem far more invested in their betterment/healing than they do. I can't tell you how many couples I've worked with who don't do the assignments and/or will show up late and/or will cancel/reschedule at the last minute — over and over again. Or, they want to meet far and few between, when their problems clearly indicate that they need to be seeing someone, at least a couple of times a month. Matter of fact, I know a couple who's basically been in some sort of therapy, ever since they said, "I do". However, they are infrequent as all get out and are constantly in a pattern of expecting the therapist to save them from divorce whenever they allow things to go too far. Saving you at the last minute? Yeah, that is not our job. And it's not even fair.
Anyway, once you've met with a therapist for a few times, they should be able to give somewhat of an assessment of how often you should see them and how long it will be necessary (at that level of intensity, whatever that may be). If you know that you are not going to commit to that, you might want to wait until you can. The reality is that some people have a bad experience in therapy, not because of the therapist or the therapy itself; it's because they are mentally and emotionally all over the place and refuse to do the work that is required. And as best-seller author Iyanla Vanzant often says, "We're not gonna fight you for your healing." We shouldn't have to.
9. Has the Therapist Ever Been to Therapy?
This. One. Right. Here. If you're someone who's always been hesitant about going to therapy because you've heard that some of the craziest people are therapists — I'm not gonna lie and act like there's not some truth to that. There are many narcissists who are therapists. There are a lot of arrogant people who are therapists. Some folks use being a therapist as a way of escapism from their own demons and drama because it makes them feel good to fix other people's stuff rather than dig deep and tackle their own. And then there are some therapists who are so delusional that they think everyone needs their insight while they can't humble themselves to hear what they need to do with their own lives.
This is why I think it is totally NOT out of bounds to ask a prospective therapist if they've ever been to therapy before. While the reasons why are not really any of your business, you can learn a lot about someone who is willing to admit that either they've had past issues that they've needed to tackle or, like Meryl Streep's character did in one of my favorite movies (Prime), they go because they hear so much of other people's stuff that they need a professional to help them to process it all and set good emotional boundaries.
One of my favorite licensed counselors, I saw in high school, college and many years into my 20s. Now I have a therapist friend that I run things by when I need them. They are an absolutely godsend. So yeah, a therapist who has a therapist isn't something to side-eye. It's actually something to smile about.
10. What’s the “Proof of Purchase”?
Something that I apply to churches and therapists is, if after about a year, you see no signs of personal growth and progress, that's probably not the place for you. Best believe that, also like a lot of churches, unfortunately, there are some therapists out here who are perfectly fine running your credit/debit card, listening to you and not really tracking for your growth. A thorough therapist will actually talk about where things stand and how you're doing, periodically. And you should expect that because a therapist is supposed to provide you with tips and tools to be better as the result of interacting with them. You definitely shouldn't be stagnant or worse — worse.
I am passionate about people getting the health that they need, so of course, I could go on. I'm hoping that this will help to at least provide you with some peace of mind. Therapy is a blessing. Asking the right questions can lead you to the best therapist. It really can.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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7 Sex-Related Problems That Ruin Sex (And Possibly Your Relationship)
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to define one of the main purposes of sex in a long-term relationship: “Probably the most intimate form of communication that we have is sex because it’s an act that connects one’s physical, mental and emotional state to another human being simultaneously — and communication doesn’t get much more profound than that.”
That’s part of the reason why the term “casual sex” irks me to the billionth degree (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”); it’s because, even if you think that sex with someone is next-to-nothing, there is so much going on within you (oxytocin highs, if you’re unprotected, fluid bonding, chemical reactions in your brain, etc.) that doesn’t know if someone is “the one” (in your mind) or not. So, in many ways, it acts like they are (check out this YouTube video from a Catholic woman who studies some unexpected ways that sex affects us physically here; sex goes deep, y’all!).
Yeah, sex is so much more than a notion, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it is such a barometer for long-term relationships overall — because, as I’ve shared before, I once read that, “Good sex in a relationship is 10 percent of the relationship while bad sex in a relationship is 90 percent of the relationship because sex tends to set the tone for what’s happening in the rest of the house.”
And that’s why I think that there are certain sex-related issues that can not only damage your sex life with your partner but could also end up ruining your relationship if you’re not careful (very careful). Let’s get into seven of them now.
1. Being Unaware of Your “Body Clock”Giphy
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve come to me in some serious trouble, in part due to their flailing (or partly nonexistent) sex life. When I ask them if they went to premarital counseling (if you’re engaged, please do; you have a 33 percent greater chance of avoiding divorce when counseling transpires), many say “no” and the ones who say “yes” usually say that it was no more than 3-5 sessions and the topic of sex barely came up (le sigh). Meanwhile, with my premarital meetings, I try and stick with intimacy for three months if I can because there is a lot to unpack, from what you learned as a child, to your first time (or if you are a virgin), to your needs and fantasies, to how you see it from a spiritual perspective — like I said, there is a lot to unpack there.
Take the mere practicality of sex, for example — and more specifically, your body clock. Do you prefer to have sex at night or in the daytime? A lot of couples struggle with intimacy because one prefers the former while the other likes the latter. Do you keep track of when you’re ovulating? It’s pure science why you are probably hornier during that time of the month (because your body is signaling that it’s time to conceive) vs. the fact that you might not be the most interested in sex when you’re PMS’ing. Are you premenopausal? Hormones shift a lot during that time, and here’s the thing — while menopause only lasts a year, the premenopausal stage (which typically starts between 45-55) can last between 7-14 years. Even paying attention to when you have more energy (some do in the day…morning sex, anyone? While others do early in the evening) can play a role.
So yeah, getting to know your body clock (and discussing your partner’s clock with them) can play a role in how much — or how little — sex you have…and that can add life or drain it from the relationship overall.
2. Comparing Your Present with Your PastGiphy
There is a wife of almost 20 years I know who, when I asked her if she thought that her husband was good in bed, she paused for a second, shrugged her shoulders, and simply said, “I was a virgin when I got married, so I have nothing to compare him to. I mean, he’s good to me.” On the flip side, there’s a now divorced couple who I also know (who almost made it to 20 years) who had multiple partners before each other while also having a deep interest in porn who once said to me, “Sometimes, there’s as much as 15 people in our bed because of all of the people from our past and the porn that we’ve seen that’s running through our heads.” Yeah, y’all can act like body counts don’t matter, but there is so much evidence out here that says otherwise — that couple just gave one that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.
You know, one of my favorite throwback shows is King of Queens (Kevin James, Leah Remini). A few weeks ago, I watched a rerun where Doug and Carrie were talking about the images that come up in their minds, sometimes during sex. Neither was too happy about it, and I can totally see why. I mean, if sex was just about “getting off” (and it’s not), then whatever. However, AGAIN, it’s also about connecting with your partner on a mental and emotional level, and that’s hard to do if you’re there with them in the body while you’re fantasizing about a celebrity, a porn actor (porn is usually acting, don’t let it fool you) or an ex (check out “You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?”).
And what if that is what’s going on? I once spoke with a sex therapist about this very thing. What she said is people should be less concerned about celebs (if it’s on occasion) and more concerned about that ex because rarely is sex with an ex…just about the sex.
And that’s why this point made the list. If you’re physically with your partner and mentally or emotionally with your ex at the same time, please don’t ignore that. There are definitely some unresolved issues there that you need to work through, whether it’s with a therapist, counselor, or coach, a trusted friend (who won’t add fuel to the literal fire), or even with your ex — although you might want to run that by your partner first because…I’m pretty sure you’d want him to do that with/for you. RIGHT?
3. Not Being Clear About Your Sexual NeedsGiphy
Question — if someone were to walk up to you right now and ask you what your top seven sexual needs are, along with what your top five sexual dealbreakers are, would you be able to answer? It really is kind of wild how many people get upset with their partner for not being able to sexually satisfy them when even they can’t articulate what they need/require in order for that to happen. Yeah, it’s another article for another time about how many people UNREALISTICALLY (and yes, I am yelling it) think that someone loving them well means that they should be able to read their mind. Nope.
It truly can’t be said enough that sex — especially good sex — is about communication. Hmph. It makes me think about a clip that I saw from Tonight’s Conversation podcast (can’t find it at the moment; sorry) where a woman asked how she should tell her partner that he hasn’t been pleasing her, I believe she said for years. My first thought was if he doesn’t know that, she must be faking orgasms (more on that in a bit) which is not only lying — well, it is —, but it’s also pretty counterproductive because while he thinks that he’s “getting the job done,” she’s not fulfilled and resentment is setting in.
Please don’t let rom-coms (fiction) and social media (which is oftentimes fictitious) have you out here thinking that a good lover is someone you automatically gel with who knows exactly what to do; sometimes that is the case, and oftentimes it isn’t.
So, if the sex-related issue that you’re having in your relationship is that your sexual needs aren’t being met, first do you (and your partner) a favor by doing some sex journaling (check out “The Art Of Sex Journaling (And Why You Should Do It)”) so that you can tangibly see what those needs are and then plan time within the next week or so to pour a couple of glasses of wine, put on some 90s R&B and discuss with your partner what you need. Because actually, what a good lover is, is someone who listens and retains. This brings me to the next point.
4. Minimizing Your Partner’s Sexual NeedsGiphy
A husband once told that when he and his wife were in premarital counseling, something that he mentioned was a bona fide need was fellatio. According to him, his wife told both him and their counselor that she loved giving head. Fast forward to eight years of being in their union, and guess how many times that act went down? A measly four. FOUR TIMES (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”).
It’s another message for another time, the amount of people who will “false advertise” during the dating stage in order to get to their goal of marriage. It’s also another message for another time how much that is a form of manipulation that tends to backfire in ways that the manipulator is oftentimes not prepared for.
For now, what I will say, is never think that just because something may not be a need for you that it isn’t a legitimate one for someone else. I mean, how would you feel if that’s how someone treated you? Yeah…exactly.
Yet that is just what happens in a lot of relationships, including when it comes to their bedroom. They will think that their needs should be met, hands down, yet when their partner comes with what’s important to them, all of a sudden, there is dismissiveness, nonchalance, and/or excuses — and how could that not rear its ugly head on so many levels?
Your partner’s sexual needs are essential, even if they are not your own. Never assume that you automatically know everything about them. Also, never assume that what worked two years ago is what will “scratch the itch” now. Hmph. Come to think of it, while you’re sipping on that wine and clearly articulating to him what turns you on, use that as an opportunity to ask him to return the favor. Listen with humility, receptiveness, and intent — the best kind of relationships process their partner’s needs with this kind of vibe…across the board.
5. Taking the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” ApproachGiphy
Lazy lovers. When you hear that phrase, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If it’s someone who is just lying there during sex, that would certainly qualify; however, I’m actually speaking of a different kind of laziness here. Believe it or not, some synonyms for lazy include words like apathetic, inattentive, tired, passive (cough, cough), procrastinating, neglectful, and slacking. So yeah, if you and/or your partner can use any of these words to define what sex is consistently like between the two of you — red flag, red flag…RED FREAKIN’ FLAG.
Speaking of being passive, another potentially serious sex-related problem is taking on the attitude that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. What I mean by that is, just because you know that getting on top and riding for exactly six-and-a-half minutes is what will get your partner off, that doesn’t mean that it should be your automatic go-to all of the damn time.
Why? Because. While a part of the fun of having sex is “reaching the peak,” another component that should never be underestimated is discovering new territory: trying new positions, creating a sex bucket list, taking (more) sexcations, playing sex-themed board games (put that phrase in Amazon or on Etsy’s site and go ham!)…you know, doing what will inspire creativity and deter either of you from becoming bored.
That said, a husband of 17 years once told me, “A man can be satisfied with the same woman. We just don’t want the same kind of sex with her.” Words to live by. Yes, indeed.
6. Using Sex as a Deflection or Coping MechanismGiphy
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good” — and with good cause. Words cannot express how many divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) women have told me that a part of what kept them in their marriage, for as long as they stayed in it, was the fact that the sex with their husband was beyond amazing…even though so much other stuff completely and totally sucked. Hey, good sex isn’t a bad thing (c’mon now); however, if it’s the only real thing that’s keeping you with someone, it can turn out to be a toxic deflector.
The reason why I say that is the purpose of sex isn’t to make love; it’s to celebrate it. And if all you’re doing with your partner is f — king and fighting or avoiding issues by stripping down or thinking that sex will “make it all better,” all the while not really knowing what the problem/issue is or what needs to be done to get down to the root of it, that is using sex as a pacifier and again, that’s not what sex is designed to be. Sex doesn’t deserve the pressure of being the end-all to “fixing” ish.
So, if what’s transpiring in your relationship lately is very little talking and a whole lot of sexing, and then once the sex is over, something still feels “off,” that’s a good indication that you’re misusing sex on some level. Get out of the bed, put on a robe, and do some talking (preferably in a room other than the bedroom; leave that space for sex and sleep only as much as possible). Because remember — as much as the wives that I mentioned said that their husbands once had them climbing the walls, those men are still ex-husbands now. Bottom line, sex is good, yet when it comes to keeping a relationship together, it will never be enough. Again, it was never designed to be.
7. Faking ItGiphy
I will never be a fan of faking orgasms. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini (we may be a lot of things, but “fake” isn’t really our style). Maybe it’s because I’m a very word-literal individual, and I know that fake means things like “prepare or make (something specious, deceptive, or fraudulent)” and “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” Or perhaps it’s because I don’t get how acting like you’re sexually fulfilled when you actually aren’t is doing anyone any good. Whatever it is, whenever a client (or someone in general because men fakealmost as much as women do) tells me that it’s something they do, I immediately find myself on a mission to shut that mess down (check out “Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP”). ALL THE WAY DOWN.
The main reason is that, regardless of if the motive is to hurry things along, not hurt your partner’s feelings, or it’s something more cryptic than that (cough, cough, some form of manipulation tactic), there’s no way around the fact that fakeness is tied to deception and deception is a word that should never be connected to a healthy sexual dynamic.
Besides, one could argue that faking is a form of deflection as well because…wouldn’t it be better to just get it all out in the open WHY you are doing it than to keep pretending when life is too short and great sex is too good to not get the absolute most out of it, as much as possible?
Besides, again, chances are that if you’re faking that you’re sexually pleased, you’re probably faking something else in your relationship (or situation), and how could that possibly be good, right, or beneficial?
Yeah, when it comes to being satisfied across the board, please don’t fake it. State your case in the way that you’d like to hear something said to you, and let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve got a good man, he’s gonna — no pun — rise to the occasion. If his ego can’t handle it, well…that’s something that you should find out sooner than later — when it comes to the bedroom and outside of it? Right? #shoyouright
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