Have you ever wondered what does a counsellor do in a couples counselling session?
I’ve often noticed people are curious about what happens behind the closed doors of a counselling office.
Perhaps there’s the intrigue about what secrets or problems people are divulging to me in the counselling sessions. And I think people are naturally curious about other people and wonder if the problems others struggle with are similar to their own problems.
Then there are the people that love gossip and drama, and just want to know the juicy details about others.
Well I’m sorry to disappoint, but what goes on in a couples counselling session is less about listening to the content of what people share and more about the process of how people are relating to each other.
Here are some of the most common things you can expect in an effective couples counselling session. If your couples counsellor is not doing some of these things, it may be time to ask them why.
1. Your couples counsellor will be interested in your current problems and issues in your relationship
The first thing I ask any couple I work with is, “What’s brought us together today?”
It’s a pretty basic question, but I want to know what are the issues, problems, struggles, or difficulties that have led to this couple reaching out to me for couples counselling.
This is the most logical place to start so that I have a handle on what’s going on, so we are all on the same page.
2. Your couples counsellor will inquire about how your relationship started
This is a really important part of the couples counselling.
I want to know what’s drawn this couple to be together? What were they attracted to? Why did they choose each other? Under what circumstances did they meet?
The answers to these questions helps me evaluate important milestones in their relationship, as well as have a mud map of where they’ve come from and where they want to go.
3. Your couples counsellor will want to know about some of your individual history
It’s essential that your counsellor asks you about your individual histories, so they can take note of any important historical issues that may have affected you in your life.
We are all shaped by our life experiences, and this in turn shapes how we relate to others.
So with these questions I’m listening for any significant life experiences that may be impacting the couple relationship.
4. Your couples counsellor will want to know what kind of relationship you desire
If you don’t have a map, you can’t get to your destination. So it’s important that you share what type of relationship you want to create with your partner.
Most people come to couples counselling because they are unhappy or dissatisfied with an aspect of their relationship.
So to get off to a strong start, I want to know exactly what they each desire in a relationship.
This then helps us chart a course for what the couple does want and doesn’t want. The vision is the destination and we can start to plan the journey of how to get there.
5. Your couples counsellor will be looking for your strengths as a couple
I don’t believe couples counselling is all about looking for problems.
I believe a good couples counsellor will also highlight the strengths they are seeing in your relationship.
This is important because it then means you can build on the strengths you already have in your relationship.
6. Your couples counsellor will be asking you about your individual relationship blocks
A good couples counsellor will help you get very clear about what you (yes, you as an individual!) need to start doing differently to improve your relationship.
The quickest way to bring your couples counselling to a standstill is to keep focusing on what your partner needs to change in order for you to be happy.
Let me be very clear: That approach is a losing strategy.
The quickest way to start to improve your relationship is to be open to discover your own individual blocks to relating effectively, and start to work on them for yourself.
An effective couples counsellor will make this a priority and be upfront about this from the beginning.
7. Your couples counsellor will be inviting you to relate in a different way in the session
Talk therapy can only get you so far.
Effective couples counselling involves you speaking with your partner (not the therapist) about the issues that matter to you.
And your counsellor will be inviting you to relate in different ways in the session.
I often use a coaching approach and will coach my couples live in the session, so they can experience how it feels to start relating in more productive ways.
This is a powerful way of learning and bringing about change.
8. Your couples counsellor will be proactive, responsive and give ongoing live feedback
I approach couples counselling very different to individual counselling.
I believe to be an effective couples counsellor you need to be very proactive and responsive to the couple.
Couples counselling is very dynamic, so it requires a dynamic counsellor who’s not afraid to step in and intervene when needed throughout the session.
If your couples counsellor is sitting back and letting you fight in front of them for long periods of time, it’s likely you won’t experience any long-lasting change.
A good couples counsellor will lead the session so you’re both heard and any escalations are interrupted.
Change comes from doing things differently, not repeating the same problem dynamics over and over again.
9. Your couples counsellor will give you awareness homework for outside of the session
While I don’t give my couples homework after every session, I do believe it’s important to do this sometimes, so you can practice more effective ways of relating and communicating outside of the therapy office.
A good couples counsellor will encourage you to notice unhelpful ways of communicating outside of the sessions, so you can start to respond differently.
If your counsellor never gives you homework or asks you to experiment with new behaviours outside of sessions, you may want to ask them why this is so.
10. Your couples counsellor will regularly review your work together
Couples counselling is rarely something that you start doing with no end date in the future.
An effective couples counsellor will pause and review your work together on a regular basis. This is so you can track what’s working and what’s not working in the counselling.
This also opens up the lines of feedback, so your counsellor can also change tack if needed.
Any effective therapist is open to feedback- positive and negative, so don’t be afraid to tell yours how you’re finding the therapy and if there’s anything you want done differently.
This will help you get the most out of your work together and support you in getting the best possible results.
What’s been your experience of couples counselling? Add your comments below and any other important points you think I’ve missed.
Clinton Power is a relationship counsellor and Gestalt therapist with over a decade of experience helping individuals and couples move out of relationship pain and create great relationships. Get Clinton’s FREE report: 10 Tips for Moving Out of Relationship Pain, by clicking the button below.
photo credit: blech?