What happens in couples counselling?
PHASE 1: RELATIONSHIP PAST AND DESIRED FUTURE
1. Most of the first session(s) will be information gathering and assessment of how you got where you are and what you might need to do to move forward. However, this doesn't mean you won't walk out feeling or thinking differently about things. We will also move toward identifying outcomes/goals for therapy.
Clarissa allows more time for longer (1.5 hours) so that you don't walk out frustrated that you only got time to say where you came from and no idea of where to go. (As happens in many other short sessions of couples therapy)
I know you are coming to couples counselling because you want solutions, and I want to help you find them as soon as you can!
PHASE 2: WHO ARE YOU BOTH REALLY, AND HOW DID YOU GET WHERE YOU ARE NOW.
2. The second -third sessions moves towards a deeper investigation of your past both together and before you met, for this contributes to who you have become and what you bring to the relationship. New research into couple relationships shows over and over that attachment styles play a huge role in your mate-ship patterns. So in session 2 or 3 Clarissa will analyse each partners attachment patterns and explain how your individual style can lead to greater understanding of how you operate in the relationship. Please allow 2 hours for this session.
PHASE 3: WHAT ARE YOU DOING AND WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE.
The following session(s) look more closely at the interactional patterns that often underly a deep sense of misunderstanding in relationships. Clarissa will use her observations and insights to provide feedback and strategies at the most fundamental level of your relationship. You will be instructed and educated on skills for successful relationships that are specific to you.
PHASE 4: MAINTANENCE OF CHANGE.
Most likely you have spent years in a negative interactional pattern before feeling enough pain to do something about it, so establishing change is going to require awareness and commitment. We are creatures of habit and habit is the easiest path, especially if it is a well worn one. Change maintenance sessions will be spread out according to your individual needs.
HOW MANY SESSIONS WILL WE NEED?
Its a how long is a piece of string question, but most couples will get a lot of benefit from 3 - 4 sessions with significant relief being felt early on. Others need 6 or more. It is really up to the duration and severity of the issues you are dealing with and your individual ability (and desire) to change.
The main thing is that you are ready to work at repairing the relationship and stopping whatever it is you are doing that contributes to the pain of the other. Many couples come in wanting to tell on the other using counselling as if there is a school teacher there for them to dob on their mate. This is not therapy, it is what us therapists call acting out, or if you were kids it is acting up. This will prolong therapy and often cause more damage.
A common scenario observed with my couples attending counselling is that they feel great relief after the first session (some are even get their relationship back on track from that point on!!),
As couples return for the second & third session feeling an alleviation of the problem and then two things can happen. They keep feeling well and we can step down therapy OR the original issues resurface and disappointment is felt. This is where many might feel that counselling is 'not working' however, a forward, backwards motion is a natural part of the change process. Bearing in mind, we are dealing with 2 people, while 1 may be ready for change, the other may not.
Research shows that lasting change needs 3-4 months to establish itself in a person or system and this is when they are really attending to consciously make changes.
Couples who recognise this forward- backwards pattern as part of the 'work' of therapy and persevere are those who get the most benefit from counselling. As they say, Rome was not built in a day and anything worth having is worth working for.
How long therapy takes depends on several factors
Frequently Asked Questions about couples counselling
"Does going to therapy mean I have failed in my relationship?"
No, quite the opposite. You wouldn't feel a failure to visit a mechanic for a broken car or an accountant to help with your financial issues yet most people are not taught how to fix a relationship or how to make it work. Getting relationship help is the most sensible thing you can do and the sooner you do it the better.
"I know people who went to couples therapy ended up getting divorced, how do I know this won't happen to me?"
I know it's a very natural fear for people who come to couples counselling that they are there for the other partner to dump them. Of course I can't promise anything but I can say that I have had more couples stay together and work it out than I have had split up.
"How can talking about your problems change anything?"
The golden question. For a start, couples counselling offers a equal playing field for each person to be heard, something that might not be happening at home! Secondly, I will help you see (or hear) things that you will otherwise be oblivious to. Finally, the way I do therapy isn't all talking, I have some interactive exercises that help you shift beyond 'just talking' to really understanding what's going on.
"We tried couples counselling before and it really didn't make a difference, how will this be any different?"
If you had a bad hair cut would you give up cutting your hair or would you keep looking for a skilled stylist who understood what you wanted? Sometimes it a matter of finding a therapist who gets you as a couple and can cut through the BS and help you really see and do what you need to.
How to get the most from couples therapy
As with any therapeutic endeavor, couples counselling is best approached as a collaborative event between the couple and the therapist. At the lower part of the page is an article on getting the most out of couples therapy, but first let's cover a few important points.
Who suggested counselling? More often than not it is one partner who suggests counselling. This partner is often the woman as women are used to talking about their problems. The other partner, often the male, is not as socialised into talking about problems and may resist the idea. Indeed, he may not even see there is a problem and struggle with the idea of going to talk about this 'problem'.
On the other hand, it can be the male partner who suggests counselling, often in response to an issue he sees in his partner that he needs assistance with managing e.g. post natal depression or an eating disorder.
In same-sex couples, it can still be one partner who is more motivated for change than the other. Same-sex relationships do have their own specific issues, but at bottom the issues with misunderstandings and mis-attuned attachment patterns are the same with any pair.
In other instances we can find that one partner wants the other to go to individual counselling to 'fix' his or her problem. While sometimes it is 1 partner who brings a little more 'baggage' than the other there is still a lot to be gained from analysing the relationship patterns overall. After all, it does take two to tango!
While it is interesting who 'called' therapy, what matters most is that both partners attend with an open mind and develop a commitment to working on the problems within therapy sessions and more importantly, outside of session time.
Why couple and individual issues are best dealt with in joint counselling
Family systems theory and the field theory of Gestalt therapy have long realised that many of our seemingly 'individual' psychological issues are a result of relational trauma, that is, they are an outgrowth of a problem the person has, or has had, in a relationship. This theory has been reinforced by years of research into attachment. One of the fundamental principals of PACT couples therapy is that the relationship is the best place for healing wounds of all kinds. We don't exist in a vacuum and one partner's psychological pain does not exist in isolation. Where one partner goes, so does the other. So whether a person came into a relationship with an issue, or the issue developed within the relationship – the relationship itself is the best place to achieve healing.
What if my partner doesn't want to come to counselling?
Unless both of you are on the same page with coming to counselling one partner is likely to feel they are being 'hauled in' to the session. The reluctant partner is either resistant or truly unable to see the problem, let alone know how counselling could help. Alternatively they worry that the counsellor and their partner might be colluding to 'fix' them, or feel that they are now seen as the source of the problem.
A couples therapist's job is to help both of you see what's really going wrong in your relationship and then and guide you toward your own solutions.
Won't a female therapist side with the woman's point of view?
While it is true I am a woman, I also have a deep understanding of the male psyche and what makes a man tick. I am not on any one's side but there to assist the two of you to move forward. I believe in relationships and it is not my place to call it off, any more than I would suggest you stay if you really want to break up. I am there to help you either way. If breaking up is what you eventually decide to do, then I will help you both to achieve that, and trust me, while breaking up sounds straight forward, it isn't. However, many couples come into counselling to save or improve a troublesome relationship. Very often these troubles have deep roots so resolution may take a while. While PACT therapy is pretty effective at cutting through to the real causes of dissatisfaction, change can still take time.