Therapy Note: Couples

Too often, myths and misconceptions about mental health services prevent people from seeking support.  My goal is to provide a space where these myths and misconceptions may be examined.  The blogs titled “Therapy Note” dispel or provide clarification to some of the more common myths for the population/topic listed in the title of the note. 

Myth 1:  If we need couples counseling, the relationship is over.

Reality:    Couples counseling is a way to address relationship stress and/or challenges.  It does not mean that the relationship is over.   All relationships require work and effort.  However, when that work feels more draining than rewarding, it is time to take a moment to look at what is troubling the relationship.   

Tip:  Be open about your fears and concerns during your first session. 

Myth 2:  Couples counseling never works.

Reality:. Some relationships do end after counseling. However, this does not mean that it never works.  It is important to look at the factors that surround the rate of success. Three common factors are timing, commitment to the relationship and fit of the therapist. 
1.    Doing repair work after a high frequency of negative interactions may feel exhausting.  The couple may feel drained instead of encouraged by the interventions and counseling becomes ineffective.  
2.    When one or both partners do not want to maintain the relationship, it is harder to commit to the process. 
3.    In couples counseling, it is important to have a therapist who is able to develop rapport with both partners.  If the methods, skill set or personality are not a match, the process may not be effective.  

Tips:   There is no wrong time to seek support.  There are times when it is more proactive instead of reactive.  Reach out when the idea initially comes to mind.  (If your relationship is a tree, seek support when the leaves start to wither instead of when they start to fall off). Be honest about the type of support you want.  Find the therapist who is right for your relationship.  

Myth 3:  All Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) work with couples.

Reality:  Marriage and Family Therapists receive training in family systems and interpersonal relationships as part of their graduate work.  However, not all MFTs treat couples. 
 
Tip:  Be sure to ask the therapist prior to scheduling an appointment if working with couples is a specialty/ population that is part of the practice. 

Myth 4:  The therapist will tell us to stay together or to break up.

Reality:  The therapist may provide interventions, recommendations and suggestions for the course of treatment.  However, it does a disservice to the couple to make decisions on their behalf.  The decision to maintain or end the relationship is up to the partners in the relationship. 

Tip:  If you disagree with or are uncomfortable with the direction of treatment, let the therapist know. 

Myth 5: The therapist will take sides.  

Reality:  The therapist is a neutral party.  The work is with the relationship between the partners and the partners as part of the relationship.  The therapist may be empathetic and validate feelings.  However, it is not the therapist’s responsibility to judge or assign blame.  

Tip:  If you feel as if the therapist is blaming or shaming you, voice your concerns during session.