Couple Therapy / Marriage Counseling
This form of therapy helps couples, married or not, identify problems, manage difficulties, and ultimately improve their relationship. An intimate relationship is one of the most important relationships one encounters in life. Because couple and marital counseling deals with two people and the dynamics that exist in their relationship, the counseling is more intense and at times more complicated than work with individuals. Counseling is also offered to non-married cohabiting couples and committed same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
Psychoanalytic couple counseling focuses on helping individuals recognize their own unconscious processes as well as those of their partners. The process helps to uncover any childhood conflicts that have gone unresolved and are therefore influencing the state of the current relationship. The counselor attempts to understand the current situation relative to the client’s connection with interactions that occurred at early developmental levels. Psychoanalysis is one approach a counselor may adopt to help the clients.
Another widely used and thoroughly researched method of couples therapy is Behavioral Counseling which focuses on observable behaviors. This process attempts to improve positive exchanges while decreasing negative interactions. Homework, assessment tools, and at-home and in-session observations are used regularly in this approach. In general, this is time-limited and symptom-focused counseling.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in couple counseling is also a widely used therapeutic tool. CBT focuses not only on behavior but on the interpretation that each partner makes about the other’s behavior. The goal is to identify the thoughts that are destructive to a healthy relationship, assess if such thoughts have any validity or accuracy, and modify the thoughts accordingly. As an example, when a partner uses language such as “always” and “never” when talking about the other, the counselor may encourage that partner to seek exceptions related to these statements. A CBT approach tries to discover assumptions that are not accurate and assist the couple in discovering more accurate assumptions. For example, if one partner believes happy couples never fight, the therapist might help him or her form more accurate assumptions.
Couple and marital counseling is dynamic and intense. It requires the counselor to be active and direct. When negative interactions occur between partners, the counselor must block their communications and redirect them to more facilitative, respectful, new patterns of communication. A positive counseling experience allows the couple an opportunity to explore new behaviors and practice the skills they learn.
A consideration unique to couple counseling is whether to see both members together at all times or to explore whether separate individual sessions would at times be helpful. Each couple and marriage therapist makes this decision based on his or her therapeutic approach. Some therapists first see the couple together and follow up with individual sessions to determine individual concerns. Often in these cases, the counselor is also seeking to determine individual commitment to the relationship to assess the degree to which the counseling is likely to be successful.
Therapy might be useful for couples who are:
- Having relationship problems and want to resolve these conflicts
- Facing the end of a relationship but hope to try to work things out
- Ending their relationship but want to end on good terms
- Experiencing sexual or intimacy issues within their relationship
- Engaged or about to make a long-term commitment but want to improve their relationship
- Who needs help before going forward
- Or individuals who are struggling with relationships and want to build better personal relationships in the future