Choosing a therapist is an important decision…
If you and your partner are looking into couples therapy you want to be working with a therapist who can provide the best possible support for your relationship. There can be a lot at stake.
Any therapy should be a collaborative effort; a process through which both you and your partner feel understood and supported by your therapist. When working with a well-trained and experienced couples therapist you can expect:
- thorough assessment that includes seeing the two of you together as well as individually,
- a clear, shared understanding of what the goals of your therapy sessions are and
- clarity and confidence about the approach that is being taken to reach those goals.
You can also expect to have a therapist who is passionate about working with couples.
When choosing a couples therapist it is essential to choose someone who has solid training and experience. Working with couples requires a very different skill set and process from that of working with individuals. If you have relationship issues, you want a therapist who specialises in couples and relationship issues. Whether your therapist is a Counsellor, Psychologist or Mental Health Social Worker is far less important than the training and experience they have in couples therapy. Unfortunately, many therapists who are willing to work with couples have limited or no specialised training in the area, and many only work with couples sporadically.
Gottman Couples Therapy
Gottman couples therapy is well established and based on the research of the Gottman Institute over 40+ years. A clinician who utilises the full Gottman process will undertake thorough assessment before commencing the work of trying to improve your relationship. Thorough assessment identifies key issues that need to be addressed that a couple themselves may not have recognised. For example, a couple may want to improve their communication skills but not recognise that hurts and misunderstandings from the past are undermining their current communication. Learning communication skills is important… so is healing unresolved hurts and reconnecting emotionally.
Many people like the Gottman process because it offers much more than talking about issues. The Gottman approach includes clear structured processes that you learn and work with during sessions and can practise at home on your own. I provide lifetime access to downloadable resources that you can use electronically or print for yourselves.
The Gottman framework lends itself to easily incorporating elements from other forms of therapy; it is structured but also flexible. Within the Gottman interventions I will often include components of EFT, IFS, ACT, compassion-focused therapy and the Enneagram.
Structure of therapy
Research indicates that couples therapy is most effective when there is a degree of intensity at the start of the work. Sessions can then gradually fade out as the couple’s relationship strengthens. I aim to work with new couples weekly initially. Therapy sessions are a minimum of 2 hours. I also offer 3, 4 and 7hr sessions for couples who would like to undertake more intensive work. Working with these intensive sessions at the start can seem like a significant commitment but can end up being more efficient in the long run.
The number of sessions that each couple needs varies significantly. Couples with a single current issue that they’re finding tricky to move through might have around 10 hours of therapy. Couples with particularly complex issues may have more than 50 hours of therapy. For most couples it’s worth anticipating 20-30 hours of therapy. More important than the number of sessions you have, is whether the therapy you are engaging in is effective. Are you making progress on your goals?
Format of therapy
Online and face-to-face therapy have been shown to be equally effective. Some people have a preference for one format over the other. If you think your preference is face-to-face therapy but your local options are limited, it’s worth seriously looking at online therapy as an option. Working with a great therapist online will be more effective than working face-to-face with a therapist who doesn’t have the expertise.
Most of the couples I see prefer online sessions, a few couples work solely face-to-face, and some utilise a mix. This might involve undertaking assessment face-to-face and transitioning to online for therapy sessions. Some couples commence with face-to-face sessions but then transition to online having experienced its effectiveness and advantages. One of the demonstrated benefits of online therapy is greater translation of the skills gained in sessions into the home environment where they have already been practised.
Very occasionally, patterns exist in a relationship that make working online more challenging. In these situations I suggest transitioning to face-to-face sessions. If distance precludes, I’m able to refer you to a colleague. It is always my desire that you get the support that is best for you.
Things to watch out for
Couples therapy is not a place of adjudication or a way of working out who is right, who is wrong, or who is to blame. A good couples therapist feels like a facilitator, coach and cheer leader for the relationship not a judge.
Therapy should feel balanced. You can expect that both of you will be encouraged to be curious, open and willing to grow. It is important that you’re willing to learn about yourself as well as each other.
Medicare does not provide cover or rebate for couples counselling. Many health insurance companies provide rebates for suitably qualified therapists for both individual and couples therapy. If you have private health insurance I’m happy to discuss this with you.
Looking at fees, and rebates is useful information. That said, a low session fee becomes irrelevant if the time and effort you’re putting in isn’t making a difference. It’s also useful to note that high fees are not necessarily an indicator of the therapist’s training and experience.
Taking all of the above into account, if either of you doesn’t feel comfortable with a therapist then try another.
The assessment and feedback phase of any couples therapy provides opportunity for finding out whether the therapist is a good fit for the two of you. At the very least, at this point you will have gained valuable insights and information about yourselves and your relationship.
Additionally, most therapists are happy to have a brief phone call to answer questions and share a little about the way they work. This also provides an opportunity to get a sense of whether they will be a good fit for you.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO PHONE OR EMAIL IF YOU’D LIKE TO DISCUSS YOUR SITUATION
p. 0432 99 88 31