Referring Couples for Counselling: Knowing When to Refer

Premarital or married couples can sometimes present difficult issues (i.e. drug or physical abuse, and serious mental disorders) that some clergy and facilitators feel uncomfortable handling. In order to receive the best treatment, these types of couples may require a higher level of professional care by someone who is trained, and has more experience with these issues.

If you feel stuck in working with a couple and do not know the best response to a problematic issue, a referral may be necessary. A professional, such as a Counsellor, Psychologist or Marriage and Relationship Educator or Therapist, can help with these couples. Many of these professionals assist couples with challenging issues including alcohol and/or substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse, mental disorders such as clinical depression, anxiety, or compulsive behavior, and relationship challenges such as infidelity, and devitalised relationships. A Facilitator should consider a referral if he/she feels unqualified to deal with a presenting issue or if there is a sense their efforts are not leading to growth and positive change in the couples lives.

What are My Referral Options?

For dealing with couple relationship problems, a licensed Counsellor, Psychologist or Marriage and Relationship Educator or Therapist who specialises in couples therapy is often the professional most adequately trained to work with these couples.

Sometimes it is clear that one individual in a relationship is struggling with personal issues such as an addiction or clinical depression. A psychologist can often help with testing, diagnosing, and providing therapy for individuals. A psychiatrist or general practitioner/doctor can treat medical issues, such as bi-polar disorder, with medication and rule out underlying medical problems that can sometimes be confused with mental disorders.

Establishing a Relationship with a Professional

If you do not currently have a clinical supervisor or health professional that you can contact for questions or a referral, you should locate a qualified professional in your area or contact us to assist with a referral. Make an appointment to meet with him or her so you can establish a relationship and feel comfortable consulting with them and referring couples to them. A licensed professional, such as a Counsellor, Psychologist or Marriage and Relationship Educator or Therapist, will also help you determine which professional is the best referral option for each specific case.

How to Find a Professional Referral Option

If you are looking for a professional with whom you would like to consult or refer and cannot locate anyone, we suggest that you contact us. You are not required to share specific information about the couple, simply an overview of what has been reported in the inventory and/or what you are experiencing or sensing is sufficient. Call us on (02) 9520 4049.

You can also search google under “Counsellor”, “Psychologist” or “Marriage and Relationship Education”, or contact associations such the Australian Counsellors Association or the Marriage and Relationship Educators Association.

Making a Referral

Once you have decided that you would like to refer a couple to a professional, you should let the couple know your intentions. Explain that you feel they would benefit more by seeing a specialist who has more professional training. When possible, provide them with a list of 3-4 options they can choose from and contact to set up further sessions. You should consider following up with the couple at a later date to ensure that they have connected with another professional.

For more immediate concerns, and information on abuse, please visit or refer the following:

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Call toll-free 1800 737 732.

Visit website


Lifeline: 13 11 14

Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your State. Anyone across Australia experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide can call 13 11 14.


Police and Ambulance: 000

Dial 000 in an emergency and in cases of immediate danger.

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