This form does not yet contain any fields.

    Why Work with a Professional Knowledgeable of Stepfamily Dynamics?

    It has been estimated that approximately 20 million remarried, repartnered, and stepfamily couples reside in the United States and this number is expected to increase. With 1300 new stepfamilies forming each day, the number of people entering into these relationships each month could fill Madison Square Gardens almost six times! More than half of Americans have been, are now, or will be in one or more step relationships during their lives. It is curious, though, that the literature has largely failed to recognize said couples by remaining primarily focused on first families and the divorce process. This blind eye is also evident in the fact that the 2000 U.S. Census failed to include information about marital status.

    The unfortunate repercussion of this ignoring of remarried couples is that they may be viewed as being carbon copies of first families. Work in the field has identified unique aspects of remarriages and stepfamilies, and the need for unique treatment models. Thus, it is inferred that “remarriages and stepfamilies are inherently different from first marriages, and it is imperative that clinicians be aware of these differences” (Gurman, 2008, p. 499). A clinician who applies the ‘nuclear family myth’ to remarried couples is in actuality working against the couples’ effort to achieve effective functioning. Such a therapeutic intervention is similar to trying to shove a square peg into a round hole; doing it is detrimental to the couple and places unrealistic expectations on them.

    So what does all this mean? It simply reiterates the point that not all interventions, therapists or coaches are equal. Rather, it is important that a therapist’s knowledge matches the needs of the client. Thus, it may be in the best interest of clients seeking assistance for stepfamily concerns to seek a therapist intimately knowledgeable of stepfamily dynamics and indications of research in the field.

    Tips for Finding a Stepfamily Therapist 

    1. It is important to know that not all mental health practitioners are created equal. For example, a Psychologist may not necessarily be a better therapist than a Mental Health Counselor or Clinical Social Worker, and vice versa. Those seeking mental health services need to look at the professional's credentials and areas of specialty to determine whether or not he or she fits their specific needs.
    2. It is also important to note whether a provider holds a graduate degree in addition to certifications in their area of speciality. Completion of a graduate degree program from an accredited university demands intensive study and a commitment which typically spans over a couple of years. This is in contrast to some certification programs which may only require a couple of days of study.
    3. Visit online referral directories that specify therapist information and specialties. The Stepfamily Foundation and the National Stepfamily Resource Center are two such agencies that have online directories of practitioners who have undergone specific clinical training in working with stepfamilies. Other valuable directories may be found at Psychoogy Today and All these directories are organized by state making it easier for consumers to find practitioners local to their area. Please note that you will want to confirm all credentials held by those listed to differentiate between practitioners who have extensive training versus ones that merely hold a certificate from a few days of training. 
    4. Ask for a referral from a trusted source; family, friends, clergy, school counselor, your physician, or your child(ren)’s teacher.
    5. Check out your local community resources, such as self-help lines, family organizations, and academic institutions (counseling and psychology departments can be valuable resources). Ask specifically for practitioners trained in stepfamily dynamics.
    6. When speaking with therapists, inquire about their credentials and what training they have had in stepfamily dynamics and working with stepfamilies.
    7. Ask a therapist how stepfamilies differ from first families and how said differences impact their treatment plans for stepfamilies and/or those engaged in step relationships. The literature indicates that traditional theories in family and marital counseling do not necessarily apply to the stepfamily unit. A therapist knowledgeable of stepfamily dynamics should be able to discuss with you these findings and how said theories may be applied appropriately.
    8. A knowledgeable therapist should also be able to recommend resources, such as books, articles, agencies, websites, etc. that can provide further information pertaining to stepfamilies and step relationships.
    9. Interview potential therapists and gauge your level of comfort with them. Given the impact the client-practitioner relationship has on the therapeutic process, individuals should expect a therapist to offer some sort of free consultation (whether this be in person, over the phone or via email). This is also a good practice in order to determine whether the clinician's skill set matches the potential client's needs. If not, the therapist should be able to offer a referral. 
    10. And lastly, if you find the therapeutic process is not working you should speak with your therapist. If after such discussion your feelings remain unchanged, the therapist should be able to make a referral. 


    Finding a therapist who best fits your needs is important as it only enhances your ability to reach your goals. Still have questions regarding qualifications of therapists and finding a stepfamily provider in your area? Email us your questions or comments, and view our products section for valuable educational resources for those in relationships, step or not.



    1. Gurman, A. S. (Ed.). (2008). Clinical handbook of couple therapy (4th ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

    2. National Stepfamily Resource Center. (2009).

    3. Stepfamily Foundation, The. (2009).

    4. U.S. Bureau of the Census (1998), Marital status and living arrangements, Current Population Reports (Series P20-514), Washington, DC: Government Printing Office