Home' LOTL : April 2004 Contents Do the mere words "couples counselling" conjure up instant
fear and trepidation? Do you think it's a last resort for a
relationship that's beyond help? Have you ever wondered if it
could help you and want to know more about it?
What is couples counselling? Couples counselling is where two
people meet with a therapist in a confidential setting to work
through issues they want to confront. We all experience problems
from time to time and sometimes these problems can lead to
feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, isolation and feeling 'stuck'.
It is around this time that either one or perhaps both people will
consider breaking up. Couples counselling is a good place to
work through these feelings. The therapist is there to help both
people and should not make value judgements or take sides. It's
the therapist's job to encourage understanding, communication
and resolution. The therapist should also provide 'tools' that the
couple can use outside of therapy sessions.
Who is it for? Couples counselling is suitable for variety of
people and situations but to give you an idea the following are
some common scenarios:
Where one person is working through a particular issue
(e.g. addiction, disorders) but both people need support
to sustain their relationship.
Where a couple feels stuck with unresolved issues.
Where a relationship is over but there are ongoing issues
to work through e.g. children, pets.
Where two people who aren't in an intimate relationship
have issues about decisions they have made together e.g.
lesbian mother and donor dad.
Where family members want to confront an issue or
conflict. e.g. sexuality.
Although we are primarily talking about two people, it is
possible and sometimes necessary to include others who are
part of the issue.
What can I expect? It's quite normal to feel ner vous before you
even make the phone call. The therapist knows this and you
should feel free to ask any questions which may help alleviate
your ner ves. Be aware that the therapist will probably
discourage any dialogue before meeting you to make sure you
both feel you are on an even playing field. In my experience the
ner ves disappear within the first 15 minutes of the first session.
There should be a sense of getting to know the therapist as well
as the other way round. By the end of the first session you
should at least feel safe with the therapist. In your first session
the therapist will be working to understand why you are both
there, what your needs are, listening to your stories, watching
the way you interact, noting communication styles and giving
you feedback and a strategy for working together.
What will I get out of it? Good communication is the key to
resolving most issues. The therapist will show you where you
may be going wrong, and how to communicate in a healthier
and more positive way. You and your partner will be
encouraged to understand each other better. The therapist will
be there to help you identify problems and support you while
you work toward some form of resolution.
How do I know if I've found the right therapist? Not all therapists
have been trained in couples counselling, and you should
check this out before you make an appointment. The jury is
also out on whether you should see the same therapist for
couples counselling and individual sessions. I believe it's OK
and can in fact have great advantages as long as there is a clear
distinction between the sessions, and no conflict of interest
between any of the parties. Although lesbians often prefer a
lesbian therapist, theoretically it should not make a difference.
Unfortunately I do see clients who have felt judged by non-
lesbian (or non lesbian-friendly) therapists. Don't be afraid to
shop around if it doesn't feel right as all therapists are different.
Lastly and most importantly you should both feel safe with
your therapist -- safe enough to explore tough issues with the
knowledge that the therapist won't let things get out of hand.
PHOTO CATHERINE DE SOUZA
IF CRACKS HAVE BEGUN TO APPEAR IN
YOUR RELATIONSHIP, CONSIDER COUPLES
COUNSELLING. BY JACQUELINE MCDIARMID.
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