Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Couple's counselling, Family counselling

Can relationship counselling cause more harm to couples and families?

Did you read the news article about psychologists practicing couples counselling without proper training?* The article states that in some cases, couples counselling can actually cause more harm than good. I agree.

It can be difficult to find the right Therapist to do individual work with issues like anxiety, depression and so on. But rarely is the work dangerous to the individual.

But when your most important relationships are on the line you really want to be sure you have found the right Therapist. Why? If you see someone who just happens to work with couples but is not specifically trained to do so, you risk losing your relationship. And a lot of times couple and family counselling is the last resort to repair or save the most important relationships in your life.

This work requires a completely different set of therapy skills. The Therapist must be able to contain a session so that conflict doesn’t escalate. A Therapist is working for the good of the relationship and must know how to keep the sessions moving and on track. The work is fast paced and goal orientated.

You could say I am immersed in this field – some of you already know I have a whole training business dedicated to providing training to other Therapist. And yet despite my experience when I work with others I am constantly asking myself questions like this:

Am I being ethical?

Am I being fair and balanced?

What are my blind spots or triggers?

Am I working with my client’s goals or have I run away with my own agenda?

These questions and more safeguard the people who see me. But not every Therapist who sees a couple or a family has had sufficient training or has learnt how to have these self-checks in place.

So how does one find a well trained Couple and Family Therapist?

  1. Check that the Therapist has post graduate qualifications in couple therapy (for couples) and family Therapy (for family work). They should be able to tell you specific training they have done in this regard.
  2. The Therapist should have a sound knowledge in working systemically. If they don’t know what this means, then there is a problem.
  3. The Therapist should be a member of an association dedicated to relationship counselling. In Australia this would be AAFT.
  4. They should have continuing professional development training in couple and family work. This means attending day training in this area at least two times per year.
  5. It is not possible to be a specialist in all areas of therapy – there is just not the time for it. Make sure your Therapist is not too generic. Advertising everything indicates they are not specialised.
  6. Your Therapist should have a clinical supervisor who is also trained in relationship counselling/therapy.
  7. Your Therapist will not be able to claim through Medicare – which is for mental health problems.

Once you have chosen your Therapist:

  1. Try them out. Do you feel like your Therapist has control of the session so conflict doesn’t get out of control? Is there a plan for the work that you both/all feel good about?
  2. The session it should be balanced and fair between people. Everyone should walk away feeling heard and understood by the Therapist.
  3. Your Therapist should be “active” in the session giving you clear directives and feedback to move you towards your relationship goals.

Unfortunately, the really good Couple and Family Therapists in private practice can be difficult to get into. But asking these Therapists for a referral is the best way to ensure you see a highly trained and respected person.

And on a positive note I can reassure you that many Therapists are ethical and continue to train in this specialisation very seriously. I see many excellent Couple and Family Therapists repeatedly at my training and know they attend other training as well.

Seeing an ethical well trained Couple and Family Therapist can be life changing for your important relationships. Call us today on 02 8968 9397 to arrange an appointment.

*You can read the article we refer to here: “Poorly trained relationship counsellors doing more harm than good, experts say”by Antoinette Lattouf and published by ABC News, 27th Aug 2017.


About Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families.  She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families.  She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter.  Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute.  She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.

If you feel as though you could benefit from talking with a Therapist please contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

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