It can be a big step to consider couple therapy – exposing difficulties in your relationship to someone else.
I’m often asked what couples can expect from the first session. It’s natural to be curious or even anxious about what’s going to happen.
To begin with, I introduce myself and my ethical way of working. This includes confidentiality: that the discussions in the couple therapy sessions will be kept private between us. It’s important to create a sense of safety and security for the people who are participating. I give an information sheet that covers these points as a guide to the therapy.
Usually, I then invite each person to talk briefly about how they see the situation from their perspective. This is an opportunity for each individual to give me their input about how the relationship is troubling them, as well as the good points that keep the couple together.
When each person has given their views, the three of us can talk about the underlying issues or tensions, to see how improvements might be made. I can offer an initial idea of the kind of things that I can add to the mix: communication skills; frameworks and models about how relationships work (the relationship vision, life-cycle of relationships, expectations and needs from the other person such as Imago patterns), as well as tips and techniques regarding how to address conflict or make joint decisions. I also offer psychological support and practical ways to tackle sexual problems or lack of sex.
This first session is a useful way to have a conversation about how therapy can help the couple relationship. After that, further appointments can be made, or the couple can take some time to think about it away from the therapy room.
There’s no hard sell, because it’s a highly personal decision where both parties need to commit to the process.
My stance is that I will work to support the relationship where the couple stays together, unless one or both clients say they want to separate. I uphold clients’ autonomy and I can support the couple whether they work on staying together or whether they are considering separation.
The conversation in couple therapy depends on the contribution and participation of the clients. I work with whatever each person wants to discuss. There’s no set formula, because I am responding to the material brought to each session.
For the most part, couples gain understanding about the dynamics between them and how each person can contribute to any improvements. It can be massively helpful to have the counsellor there to facilitate the conversation, ensuring each person is heard, ensuring fair play. Each client usually has their areas of vulnerability and different preferences, which I strive to uphold.
In my experience, the couples who get the most out of relationship therapy together:
- want to attend, even if it can be emotional at times;
- commit to several sessions to gain momentum and establish new patterns;
- each take responsibility for their part in the relationship;
- really want to see positive change or at least understanding why things have been going downhill.
When these conditions are in place, real long-lasting happiness can happen.