Everything You Need to Know About Counselling for Couples.
What Is Couples Counselling?
Couples Counselling takes place with a licensed therapist who has clinical experience working with couples. They are most often a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), who is employed to help couples involved in a relationship gain insight into that relationship, resolve conflict, and improve relationship satisfaction by introducing a variety of therapeutic interventions.
Although the practice of behavioral couples therapy may vary depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following general elements:
- Focusing on a specific problem (i.e. sexual difficulties, lack of intimacy, jealousy etc.)
- Solution and/or change-oriented interventions
- Active participation on the part of the therapist in treating the relationship itself, as opposed to the individuals
- Clear treatment objectives
What Can We Expect in Our Couples Therapy?
The majority of couples who enter couples counselling for the first time, really don’t know what to expect, and this is to be expected.
Usually, your therapy session will start as the professional asks some opening interview questions regarding the history of the relationship. As the treatment progresses the therapist will delve deeper into each partner’s family-of-origin, values, and cultural background.
If they feel it is warranted, the counselor might use the initial sessions for crisis intervention.
The role of the counselor is to try and guide the couple as they identify the issue(s) that will become the focus of their treatment. This stage is very important for establishing treatment goals and planning a structure for treatment as counseling progresses.
During treatment, the therapist will help the couple gain insight into the relational dynamics creating the problem and guide both partners to understand their roles in the dysfunctional interactions. This greater insight on relationship issues and distress will help them change the way they perceive the relationship and each other.
Another crucial aspect of couples therapy involves actually changing behaviors. Couples therapists will often ask the couple to complete tasks away from the interview process in order to apply the skills they have learned during their couples counselling sessions, and add these to their day-to-day interactions.
The majority of couples end up with a greater knowledge of their relational patterns and with the necessary skills to effectively communicate and problem-solve with their partners, thanks to their therapy.
Without doubt, any type of successful relationship is hard work. Much like vehicles, they require regular maintenance to keep them running smoothly. It is better to repair problems before they get out of control and become larger complications further down the road.
Couples who are invested in their relationship, can do some of the basic maintenance and repairs themselves, but at other times, behavioral couples counselling with the help and guidance of a licensed professional may be the best way to go. This type of relationship counseling is focused on improving relationship satisfaction and offers conflict resolution between a couple. The ultimate goal for me, as a professional counselor, is to help build or repair healthy relationships and to address any issues that may be present.
When Should We Have Couples Counselling?
Ideally, before the relationship is not in a real crisis. Unfortunately, just like looking in the mirror, you only notice the changes when they become a problem as they develop gradually over time. Most couples will not bother doing anything if there’s nothing urgently wrong.
“I wish more couples reached out for therapy before they had a catastrophic problem”.
Couples counseling can be a great resource while you’re going through a specific life event. But it can also just be about strengthening some aspect of your relationship.
With regular attention, couples counseling can be preventative. You and your partner will be in a much better position to spot and deal with those larger issues if you’re not at each other’s throats.
How Do We Find a Therapist Who is Right for Us?
Finding a therapist who is right for you as a couple is possibly the hardest part of the whole process. It takes time and effort. It might take a couple of weeks, or even months, to find the right person. It is important to spend the time and energy going through this process as it will produce better results for your relationship in the end.
Think about your location and scheduling requirements? Do you have a gender preference, or want someone from a certain cultural background?
I would recommend getting a referral if you can, see if any of your friends know of anybody. You could also ask a trusted medical professional, such as your Doctor.
It is important that you keep an open mind. “You might have a mental image of how you think the right therapist looks like, but allow yourself to be surprised. You don’t really know how it feels to be in the room with someone until you are actually in that situation, talking to them face to face. Both of you must feel comfortable and respected.
How Should We Prepare for our First Session?
Obviously you need to ask about their fees and their professional background. Make sure they are licensed. Please do not expect a ‘free trial’; therapists are professionals and will ask both of you to come in for a proper first session, which you will be expected to pay for. Couples therapy is usually a bit more expensive than individual therapy.
What if my Partner is not as Keen as me on having Therapy?
Hopefully you are both invested equally in receiving therapy, after all it is a relationship. However, quite often one of you is going to be more open to the process than the other.
“When one person wants to go more than the other, it’s very important that they let their partner know how much they appreciate their willingness to go”.
It should be crystal clear that it is an opportunity for both of you to explain what is on your mind and express how it is making them feel, couples counselling is not just a one-way street.
Once both of you are in the room with the therapist, it is their job to draw out the less-enthusiastic half. A good counselor is trained to do that. Your goal as the invested half of the relationship is to get your partner through the door, where the professional takes over.
What do we do if the Therapist does not appear to be working for us?
If one of you isn’t feeling comfortable with the direction therapy is going, do not quit immediately. Try talking to your therapist about it. “A lot of people think that they’re going to hurt their therapist’s feelings if they say they’re uncomfortable in the room, or upset about something the therapist said,” but a good therapist should welcome that information. “Communicating what you are feeling about the sessions can actually lead to very fruitful conversations“.
Of course, sometimes it just is not the right fit, despite research and that’s okay too.
What Kinds of Results should we Expect?
This is totally dependent on the individual situation, as no two are the same. Even the best therapist cannot perform miracles and save certain relationships.
Sometimes couples come to therapy not even sure that they want their relationship to be saved. “All I ask of my clients is their commitment to doing the work,”.
It’s nice if they’re committed to the other person, but the most important thing is that they’re committed to working to improve the relationship.
You need to be explicit about your expectations and goals. “I think it’s a good idea, in the first few sessions, to figure out one or two goals that you want to work on as a couple”. “Sometimes progress is hard to measure. Feelings might shift without being noticed at first, or there might be a slight change in behavior in one or even both people However, it is very important to pay attention. Remember, even the slightest pieces of progress is progress.
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