Couples counselling is first and foremost relationship counselling. In other words, at the heart of couples counselling lies relationship. In fact relationships lie at the very centre of creating a meaningful life. We live with great strain and unhappiness when a relationship is in trouble. You will therefore find this form of counselling useful whether you are friends, ex lovers, divorcees, family members, team members, work colleagues, lovers, partners, neighbours, a traditional couple or in any other form of relationship with or without romantic connotations.
In this article I’ll provide an overview of the structure that serves couples counselling in my private practice in Stamford. The purpose is to show that psychotherapy can be a structured yet spacious and open ended process. A couple can feel secure in the knowledge that their relationship is entering a respectful place where they determine the preferred outcomes.
I am grateful to Relate, the charity offering relationship support throughout the UK, for training me in this field. They designed this model over many years in practice and research. Butler and Joyce penned it in their book ‘Counselling Couples in Relationships.’
We can divide the process of psychotherapy into three steps namely exploration, understanding and action. These steps don’t always follow chronologically. Sometimes exploring the issues underlying a couple’s distress leads to immediate understanding. At other times couples counselling may have to look deeper into the relationship to comprehend the nature of the challenges encountered.
When possible I prefer an intake session of an hour and a half. Please contact me to arrange a brief phone call or first session. We need to get acquainted, form a therapeutic alliance, complete the paperwork and do an assessment.
My approach is client centred. This influences the assessment process in as far as I don’t assess couples as immobilised receivers or subjects of therapy but rather as the experts of their lives.
An initial exploration in couples or relationship counselling starts in the first session as we look at the problems and challenges present. By the end of the first session we may contract about future sessions.
Understanding the nature and roots of a couple’s challenges requires that we understand the role of unexamined unconscious motivations on our thoughts and actions. This broad based psychodynamic approach works alongside a client centred perspective on couples counselling.
Various theories exploring our relationships come into play here: Attachment, systemic, life stage, splitting and projection and triangular relationship models to name a few. These and other models overlap, mostly requiring implementation in a synchronous and inclusive approach.
Couples counselling offers the unique opportunity of working on change in the consultation room as both parties are present. We work on two levels of change. On the surface we can work on doing the same things but in a different way. On a deeper level we can work on changing the ‘rules’ of the relationship in a way that benefits both parties.
When the time comes to work on change we will reframe, modify and challenge behaviour. Bear in mind that the relationship models mentioned in Step 2 hold sound change strategies which govern reframing, modification and challenging a couple’s behaviour. Most importantly the couple, individually and together, determines the direction and tempo at which we proceed.
In the final instance it has to be said that communication plays a vital role in sculpting a relationship into a form that pleases both partners. Couples, marriage or relationship counselling will therefore pay due regard to this aspect of a relationship.
I hope that this overview of the structure couples counselling may take, will give anyone interested in exploring the option of working with me, a fair idea.