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What is couples counselling?
So couples therapy or couples counselling is all about two people coming into a therapeutic space because there is a difficulty or a challenge within their relationship. The difference between couples therapy and individual therapy is when you come into the space as an individual, it is all about your own stuff. And your own difficulties or challenges that you may have at that time and we just focus on you.
When you come into the couples therapy space. The therapist becomes the facilitator for the two people, or three people or however many people are in that relationship, right. So whether it’s couples or couples, it doesn’t really matter. But what the therapist is then doing is the therapist becomes the mediator between the partners or among the partners.
Why would people need couples counselling?
Most often than not people come into couples therapy when there is a difficulty or a challenge or conflict in a relationship. Let me give you an example of conflict. So for example, if there’s been infidelity or mistrust or deceit. If they have different ideas of how they thought this relationship was going to be. And they find it quite difficult to be able to work it out between them themselves, sometimes they will seek a mediator.
A lot of the time, the issues around physical and emotional intimacy tend to come up. Trauma in relationships, going through transitions, such as parenthood, immigration, or any kind of big move.
More often than not, I see couples around loss. So for example, the loss of a child the loss of one of their parents, or let’s say the loss of employment. Anything like that would take away from the homeostasis in the relationship. And they find that they can’t really figure a way out, going forward, they tend to ask for a mediator to be present.
So where would you be able to fit into that couples counseling space?
So, whenever there’s a disorder within the relationship space. For example, if one partner has a mood disorder or has some kind of a clinical condition. Helping the other partner through how to manage that how to support without the relationship, sustaining a huge loss is is is where we generally tend to step in.
If for example, there is complicated grief, which tends to go more towards disorder kind of stuff. Or, for example, if the couple is battling with infertility, it requires quite a lot of medical procedures and the couple needs support throughout that space. For example, the other reason that couples come in to see me is because of miscarriages. So how do you deal with that as a couple, the loss of pregnancy at any stage is traumatic. How do you deal with trauma? So that’s where I would help.
If a couple was coming in to see you, what could they expect from therapy?
I work from the client-centred approach. And what that means is that I don’t have a set formula for anybody. People coming into my space, I generally will develop or try to develop a strong relationship with them. Try to have a secure, supportive environment, and then we tackle the issues as and when they come up and are assessed within the space of trust. So to establish trust, and is really, really important.
I don’t believe that anybody, even though you may have similar difficulties, I don’t believe that anybody is a replica of somebody else. So I don’t do recipe therapy, unfortunately. I have good guidelines in terms of, facilitating communication. These are the broad strokes in terms of what their commonalities around but it has to be a space that is based on trust and respect. And, facilitating communication and making sure that people are speaking in an open authentic kind of way.
What is the average amount of time a couple would be in therapy for?
I do believe that there are some people that come in, and they only require a few sessions because really, they just need a little bit of help. And then, you know, they back on track again. But for example, if we talk about infertility, it’s a very complicated issue, there are multiple medical procedures. There is so much distress around, procedures not working. Is there one partner who is the contributing member to infertility, is there blame and guilt and shame and all of that, it’s complicated.
Unfortunately, a few sessions are just not going to catch it. And, I would want to support the couple through that process up until we get to the point where we have a favourable outcome. So, that would be a longer-term kind of approach. Perhaps not speaking to a couple may not come into the therapeutic space, religiously, every single week without fail, it depends on as and when, what is needed. But, you know, it might be a long term relationship overall.
What would bring someone in to couples therapy?
I think it’s a mixed picture. Unfortunately, as practitioners, I don’t think we do enough work to be proactive, especially in the space of clinical psychology. Where you’re dealing with disorders, so you get, diagnosis, and then you have management of a chronic condition. To encourage people to be proactive about relationships in general. It’s not a common thing. I would say.
I do also want to mention the fact that I actually have quite a lot of premarital counselling. When people have decided they do want to get married or they want to make a relationship or live-in relationship. I will have counselling, simply to help with that transition and strengthen and, build a resilient relationship. So people don’t only come in because there has been a traumatic incident or difficulty. Sometimes they do come in because they want to preserve what they have. So it’s a mixture. Predominantly, I would say, we have trauma that brings people in. But you get some amazing people that say, Nope, you know, the divorce rate in our country is 50%. And let’s not wait until there’s an issue, let’s learn how to do this better
What can a couple actually expect to happen in the therapeutic space?
The first thing is that there isn’t an assumption that people are coming into my space simply because they fixing an issue. Generally, people tend to come into my therapeutic space. And I say, Okay, each person in the relationship gets an opportunity to explain why they are with me. And then we set them the goals in terms of what we want to accomplish in therapy.
So it’s a space where there’s active listening. And the ability to be able to speak without restraint, and not worry too much about, oh, my gosh, is this appropriate? Or is this inappropriate, particularly when it is about their own needs? So that’s definitely something that they can expect. It’s not individual therapy. So it’s more about being able to figure out what does the relationship need?
Obviously, when a relationship is on life support because of trauma, or, I want to say, a difficult situation or a challenge or conflict. It feels like it’s very difficult for the couple to think about why we were together in the first place, or why did I marry you? Why do I love you? So some of the couples therapy space is about, being able to reconnect in a safer environment. When people have lost their way from each other, it’s very difficult to have an open, honest conversation, because everything isn’t perfect everything feels antagonistic, everything feels like a threat or an attack. So that’s what I facilitate in terms of opening up the lines of communication.
Are there any red flags that couples should look out for the could indicate they might need therapy?
I think whenever there is prolonged distress in a relationship, and you’ve tried different things, and, you’re not quite getting to the point where this issue is resolved. I would suggest getting an intervention, whether it’s, from a pastoral counselling point of view, if you’re quite religious. Pastoral counselling is very difficult and different to the clinical setting, but having somebody who is a mediator is always the first step.
If pastoral counseling doesn’t work for you, or it’s not what you want to do, then I would suggest a marriage counsellor for sure. Simply because they’re looking for a solution. But if you don’t have the tools, then it’s very difficult to be able to find the solution. So if we do things, the way that you’ve always done things, and now something’s broken, that’s not going to work. So try not to leave an issue unresolved for a long time. That’s what becomes the block of resentment between people, and gin inevitably ends up splitting up people. Resolution is a very important aspect in terms of couples therapy.
Is there anything else around couples therapy that you could think of from a clinical psychologist point of view that people need to consider or take into account?
Okay, not so much from a clinical psychology point of view. But I do think that couples, even though they are in quite a conflictual situation coming to the table. They are a couple and they do need to agree on whoever the practitioner is. It can’t be that, they’re being forced in one person is being forced into the space because the other one prefers this particular therapist. So I would suggest that you find somebody that both of you are comfortable with, and you feel as though this is going to be a mediator who’s not going to favour one, one partner over the other, for example, it becomes a neutral space, and therefore we can work in a neutral space.
I would suggest that you also find somebody who’s able to offer a safe, secure environment. But more importantly, able to understand the dynamics within this relationship and all of the contributing factors.
For example, you know, I do quite a lot of work with interracial relationships. Because of the different dynamics coming from different ethnic backgrounds speaking different languages, you know, that’s just a recipe for huge amounts of conflict. I’m not saying that you know, interracial relationships, are doomed to fail, but they most certainly have quite a lot of challenges.
From the point of view, you know, that you grew up differently, you have different goals or different family structures. And now we were trying to blend these two ethnic backgrounds together, it brings up its own challenges. So you know, being able to have somebody who is knowledgeable enough to be able to hold that space is important.
Any last points about couples counselling?
I think that the one challenge we have as therapists or couples therapists is that people tend to wait too long. And it is when, as I say, the relationship is on life support that you reach out, whereas some of these issues can actually be managed. If they’re managed sooner, they don’t become so complicated.
So I would definitely suggest to people that are in longer-term relationships, meaningful relationships are always going to have challenges, that’s what makes them meaningful. It’s an opportunity to be able to grow together. So, rather than actually thinking that you’re failing at a relationship, we should be more inclined to, protect the space, the intimate space in a relationship. Rather than worrying about failures, success, I do think that, if we reach out sooner, it makes it easier for people to resolve issues without necessarily, you know, getting individually hurt, and distressed by the situation that just complicates everything.
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