Psychotherapy and counseling are synonymous terms to describe a professional relationship between a trained clinician and client (the “client” may be an individual, couple, family, or group). The initial task of the therapist and client is to jointly decide how best to address the client’s presenting problem(s), what avenues of exploration to take, interventions to be used, and to prioritize the urgency of issues. Most therapies,
in some form or another, foster increased awareness or insight of the hidden and not so hidden parts of ourselves, including symptoms and defenses (the mechanisms that protect us from further pain). As we become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, actions, perceptions, and experiences, we tend to have greater acceptance, choice, and freedom in
life – all of which contribute to a potent sense of well-being. An analogy of how this works: Ideally, we want a varied menu at a restaurant because it gives us more choices. Similarly, if we have a longer internal menu of perceptions, experiences, and the like, we end up with greater choices in life.
Common areas of conflict for couples are:
Couples seek therapy for a wide varity of issues. Some examples include the following:
- Frequent fighting
- Not feeling close/feeling emotionally disconnected
- Commitment issues, e.g. infidelity
- Parenting disagreements
- Sexuality, e.g. loss of desire
- Physical illness of self or partner
- Abuse (verbal or physical)
- Financial worries/money conflicts
- Grief and loss
- Extended family difficulties
- Bi-cultural differences
- Life transitions, e.g. job change, retirement
- Alternative life-style challenges
- Pre-marital concerns
- Divorce mediation
Relationship problems are more easily resolved earlier when they are acknowledged before the stage when both partners bicker constantly and can barely tolerate the other’s presence without insults. It is important to understand that it only takes one person to change your relationship: altering one part of the equation yields a different sum! If your partner is reluctant to come in, please consider coming to therapy alone, as this is likely to effect a change in your relationship. It is not unusual for people to join their partners in therapy because they feel less threatened, have more, hope, don’t want to be left out, or they’re just plain curious!
In couples therapy, the therapist’s focus is what goes on between you and your partner (rather than intensively concentrating on your internal experience, though that may be a part of it). In my experience with couples, time and again I see people come to therapy when they are desperate, as a last resort, when the relationship is in jeopardy. This is understandable in that often one person will want therapy while their partner has doubts; it is common for people to feel embarrassed and afraid that the therapist will take sides or think that the problems will go away in time. Therapists recognize that the couples’ dynamics are complex and will not make decisions about “fault” – assigning blame is never a part of good therapy. Instead, the role of the therapist is to be non-judgmental while facilitating better communication between partners and helping couples explore their concerns productively.