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7 things to expect in couple’s therapy from a Licensed Couples Therapist.

Acknowledging that your relationship could benefit from couple therapy is a brave choice. For far too long, therapy has been a taboo topic and couples entering into therapy were whispered about in hushed tones. For the record, going to couple’s therapy DOES NOT mean you are getting a divorce. And if divorce is an outcome of couple’s therapy, it can be helpful to maintain a respectful relationship during the process.

As a society we have begun to embrace mental wellness and help-seeking as appropriate and beneficial. Yet, putting your relationship on display for a third-party observer can still feel scary. If you have been contemplating a couple’s therapy or have just started, I am writing this article for YOU.

It’s normal to feel nervous and scared when starting anything new. Here is a little insider’s perspective on the process:

  1. Finding the right fit: Choose a therapist that specializes in relationships or has advanced training in treating couples. Couple work is much more than having another person in the room. It is a dynamic process wherein we are observing what is happening between the couple and also within each partner. There is a deeper process at play and the focus should not be on which partner is right/wrong. Therapists that specialize in couples work typically have LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) as credentials. When interviewing a couple therapists, clients should feel comfortable asking about relevant training, how much of their caseload is couple’s work, and their approach.
  2. The paperwork part: You will each need to sign consent for treatment forms that your couple therapist will review in your first session. This details confidentiality specific to couples’ work and the frequency in which you will meet. Your therapist can also expand on their treatment model. Emotionally-Focused Couple Therapy and Gottman Method are two popular and evidenced based theories. However, a good couple therapist will be flexible to their client’s needs and their style of relating.
  3. Defining the problem: The therapist will gather information of your presenting issue. They will be interested in knowing what you both define as “the problem.” If you have ongoing conflict, that is brought into your session, the couple therapist will observe how you interact. Here we are paying close attention to the nonverbal signals that you communicate during conflict. Humans are social creatures, and nonverbal communication is much more powerful than verbal communication. A couple therapist will bring attention to the conflict cycle, create safety in the room for both individuals and reflect what they observed. If your couple’s therapy session, leave you feeling like you just replay you fights from home in front of the therapist, address it. While we need to observe your relationship in conflict, it should not go uncontained.
  4. Gathering History: Couple therapists need to gather information about your family of origin and previous relationships. This helps us understand your “relationship blueprint” and ways you may seek love from partners or self-protect during conflict. Your couple’s therapist will want to see each of your individually to gather this information. This is not a session to bash your partner, but rather speak on your previous relationship experiences and express any serious concerns you have.
  5. Goals: How will we know that our relationship improved? Your couple therapist will want to have both partners visualize and discuss what the hope for the relationship is. From here If one partner is not certain they want to remain in the relationship, therapy will focus on this first. It would be pointless to not address this and work towards strengthening the relationship. Discernment Therapy, was designed for this type of work, and is an additionally specialty to look for in a therapist if this is a current issue in the relationship.
  6. Homework: Depending on their treatment orientation, therapists may give homework outside of session. I typically encourage couples to nickname their conflict cycle and catch it in action, even after it occurs. Whether your therapist prescribes homework or not, expect that a 50-90 minute session one time a week is not enough to “fix” your relationship. Bonded relationships require consistent effort to create change and grow.
  7. Check-In: After the first 3-5 sessions that assess your current relationship concerns and gather valuable information, your therapist will check-in with you about the process. This is a great opportunity to express any frustrations with the process, or concern that it is not the right therapeutic fit. Modern couples therapy is collaborative and if you don’t feel a connection with your therapist, don’t force it. A good therapist will explore your concerns and if needed help you find another therapist.

Your relationship does not need to be in trouble to enter couples therapy. Any attempt whether preventative or preservation is a positive step for relationship health. Our close relationships have significant influences on our physical and mental health. It’s important to invest in them.

Rebecca McDermott, MS LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Pennsylvania. She owns Connected Counseling, LLC a group practice in the Greater Philadelphia area. Rebecca specializes in helping couples strengthen their relationships and deepen their love bonds. If you are interested in working with Rebecca email rebecca@connectedcounselingpa.com or sign up for the monthly newsletter “The Connection Guide.” One email a month for a lifetime of better relationships.

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