I’m excited to announce that Sydney relationship counsellor Shushann Movsessian joins Clinton Power + Associates to provide high-quality couples counselling, marriage therapy and singles coaching to clients in Coogee, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
Shushann brings a wealth of experience having worked with a range of singles and couples in the relationship counselling field for over 20 years. Shushann has worked with a large and diverse range of populations within her practice that equips her to work with many of the issues that singles and couples struggle with.
- her training and experience as a Sydney relationship counsellor
- what lead her to become a relationship and marriage counsellor
- the different populations she works with in her Coogee office
- the common types of issues she deals with in her couples and singles work
- her philosophy and approach to working with couples
- a successful case study of a couple she worked with and the outcomes
Transcript of Video:
Clinton Power: Hello, this is Clinton Power from Clinton Power Counselling and Psychotherapy. I’m here today speaking with my colleague, Shushann Movsessian. I’m very excited because we’re actually changing our name to “Clinton Power & Associates”, and Shushann is joining me as a relationship counsellor and an associate.
Welcome, Shushann. It’s great to talk to you today.
Shushann Movsessian: Thank you so much, Clinton. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Clinton: I wanted to speak with you so I could give the people in my news to at least get a sense of who you are and how you work. Just to start with, Shushann, give us a little background to your training and experience that has lead you to become a relationship counsellor.
Shushann: Okay, thanks, Clinton. I have a Master’s in Applied Science in Social Ecology through the University of Western Sydney and I also have a Diploma in Process Oriented Psychology. One of the beliefs in process work in counselling is the systemic approach. I believe that we all are innately drawn toward living our wholeness, that our relationship conflicts, physical and emotional disturbances and dreams, they’re all unconsciously attempting for us to live our wholeness and live through our wholeness.
I have over 20 years of experience in private practice. I started many, many years ago working at the Royal Women’s Hospital, running groups for women who had been survivors of childhood sexual abuse. And from that of course, throughout issues around relationships, I work with couples, and I’ve also worked with young people.
I’ve worked for eight years as a relationship and family counsellor at Relationships Australia and was one of the first counsellors there trained as a child consultant for couples who are separating. I’m also trained in a program called REACH, which is Respecting Ethnic And Culture Heritage. This has been really important as part of my training and experience in working with people with ethnic culture issues, gay and lesbian couples, people from various socio-economic backgrounds, people with either physical or mental health issues.
Part of the expertise in my training lead me to teach at the Jansen Newman Institute for several years in the area of cross-cultural counselling as well as for the Australian College of Applied Psychology. I’m currently on the faculty for the Metavison Holistic Counselling College in Bowral.
Clinton: Such an extensive history, Shushann. So much experience, that’s why I’m so excited you joining Clinton Power & Associates, because I think you do bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to your couple’s counselling. We also get back a long way. We worked at Relationships Australia together a number of years ago.
I know from my experience it was certainly a training ground of having to deal with so many different types of couple issues and presentations. I know you and I have spoken many times about the broad experience we received from that organization.
But tell me more about how did your passion for couples counselling and relationship counselling come about?
Shushann: Well, Relationships Australia was the main one, but I also worked for a little while as the manager for a family support service. I found that often, families and young people would come to see me through that. I did a lot of work with domestic violence in relationships.
One of the opportunities in Relationships Australia was not to just work with the women, which was really important, but also to work with men and help turn things around for men who were in domestic violent relationships in some way and helping them work through their own life issues. I’ve got to appreciate that relationships and families come in incredibly diverse packages.
It really helped me looked at the social and family structures and networks that also have large impact on a relationship, and once we start working on the relationship as an organism that it has an amazing impact on the rest of the family, the extended family, the children, as well as work life.
Clinton: Absolutely. Well, let’s talk about the types of populations you work with, because part of why I wanted you to join me was because you do work with so many diverse populations. But can you give us maybe just a brief flavour of some of the types of populations you have worked within your practice?
Shushann: Sure. Well, as mentioned, the culture diversity that I’ve worked with has included gay and lesbian. It’s included what is known as “blended families.” So you can have very complex structures in that where you might have a couple who have separated and they have children from their previous relationships, and they also have children in their current relationships.
You’re looking at dynamics in relationships within that broader network that couple is part of. They may be dealing with their grandparents on both sides of their family, sibling issues that come up around quality of time, around communication styles within differences in families. So I always see this as couples and families, this diversity being this incredible microcosm of this wonderful diverse community that we’re part of.
And of course, if we can embrace that diversity and embrace the sense of what is normal and what is healthy in a relationship, then that is a relief because each family or couple dynamic has its own unique kind of way of being. But it’s also part of I guess what I call part of broader humanity that there are these recurring things that also happen no matter what the diversity is.
These things like communication that is open, building aspects of communication and practices that build goodwill, that build respect in a relationship, that nurture trust and safety and love and the relationship, and of course their nuances to that. But these are the foundational things that are really important.
Clinton: Great! I know you’re also done a lot of work with singles and in particular single women and men who have perhaps been struggling for quite a while in terms of finding a partner or found that they’ve hit some roadblocks in terms of their ability to form or sustain a relationship. So tell us a little bit about the work you’ve done there.
Shushann: Such an important question, Clinton. Thank you for asking that. Yes, I do have a large population of women who come to see me as well as men who I feel that because relationships are changing over the years, we are in a time where relationships aren’t just forming for socio-economic reasons.
Women aren’t just getting married for that in a way that they may have perhaps in their mother or their grandmother’s era, and were looking for a relationship that has deeper layers of social and even spiritual compatibility, that there are values that we are searching for, and social connection, friendship connection, sexual connection that may have not been as important. And because we are more independent as women, we are trying to balance a relationship between our work and our career and our aspirations, to some people their life purpose, their passion in life. Also have a committed relationship that’s supportive, that people can have if they want can have children with or though that’s changing as well, and to grow with.
I feel that more and more—this is a real highlight. Yes, people are wanting to have children, but people are also wanting to have a deepening in their relationship. I think because we do have these work commitments and career commitments, it’s very hard for people—this is the feedback that I get—to be partners.
We do have kind of modern dating scene through the internet. When I was growing up, it was sort of going to your local dance or something like that, and that’s really changing now. There are good things about that, but there can also be particular issues around that as well, particular blocks around that kind of smorgasbord type arena that you can get. I don’t know how to quite describe it with the internet.
So there is a longing and a form of connection and I think that the internet definitely is one of the ways in that. There are organizations like meet up that offer social groups, interest groups that I think are a great idea for people to get together and are more likely to meet people who have similar interest in that way. I feel like I’ve waffled out a little bit about that, Clinton. I hope that answers the question.
Clinton: No, it answers it really well, and that—[Interposing]
Shushann: Definitely it’s an issue is what I’m trying to say, yeah.
Clinton: Yeah, that’s been my experience as well and certainly perhaps more single women than single men, but certainly for both genders. The whole landscape of the internet dating and meeting online has certainly changed the way we connect with people.
I think like any issue, any new technology, there’s pros and cons. I think it’s something really important that people are trying to navigate as well. So it’s great to know that you’ve got a lot of experience in that area as well.
Shushann: Indeed, and it feels like it’s across the board. It’s not older women, it’s often women in their 20s and of course women in their 30s start to feel that kind of urgency if they’re wanting children. They’re feeling that pressure of meeting someone and having a child and they fear that it’s going to be too late to do that.
Clinton: Yes. So give us a flavour or maybe a brief snapshot of what are some of the other issues you tend to see in your practice whether it’s couples or maybe individuals that are already within a relationship.
Shushann: Sure. Well, with couples it’s really interesting. Apparently, the three most common areas that couples have conflict with are sex, work, and money. I feel that’s not too far from the truth actually. What is common with couple relationships that I see and you may have the same in your practice, Clinton, is that there’ll be an issue that might start out as small what I call smoke.
There’ll be signals in the relationship and the communication that starts to show very early on, that there’s a breakdown in the communication and it might start to deteriorate the goodwill and the sense of safety and trust in the relationship. If they can be picked up earlier, my feeling is that’s better. So before the smoke becomes fire, it’s really important to address those issues, breakdowns in communication, old patterns of communicating that can be hurtful or can breakdown the goodwill in their relationship, and changing those around.
If they left to become the fire, it can be harder to address because there’s an escalation then that happens in the signal in the relationship that things aren’t okay. It’s often one or the other. Most often women, because many of the couples I see have young children and it’s still as often the woman who is the main caretaker of the child.
The partner is often at the peak of their career. So the husband’s often working and so there may be distancing that happens with that, with work eats up a lot of their time together. And so if some of those issues aren’t addressed earlier, they may be spoken about but not adequately addressed, then they can start to escalate. Then a conversation may become an argument, an argument may become more intensified, and create more distance.
So part of the idea of the couple’s work is to then go back, kind of rewind and find where some of those issues started to be visible in the relationship and look at what I call the “interactional sequence” looking at where the areas or the problem areas come up, communications and how to address those.
Similarly with singles, there may be an internal dynamic that happens either around looking for a relationship internal belief systems that may be limiting or negative for that person around themselves and working at addressing those reframing them into beliefs and self-taught that’s more positive sometimes with individual that becomes of internal dynamic. And of course with couples that can then sometimes be projected into the relationship.
So we see perhaps a part of ourselves that we criticize we see that in our relationship that can be projected onto the relationship.
Clinton: Yes, I think you and I have quite a similar philosophy in particular working with couples. I often describe it as a dance, that couples getting to a dance that overtime become very familiar, becomes quite ingrained, but it also doesn’t serve them, it’s not helpful and over time they become destructive.
So the process of couple’s therapy is really about, first of all, becoming aware of the familiar dance, but also looking at how we can start to put in some new steps, so they can start to have a different dance.
Shushann: Absolutely. That’s right. That’s a great analogy, Clinton. I love that. I see couples like an organism as well, anything like a tree or a garden, that might be bit of a cheesy kind of metaphor, but something that you need to nurture and you need to feed up on a regular basis for it to grow and for it to thrive.
So if you’re not sort of caring for it, if you’ve not watering it, you’re not giving it the attention that it needs on a regular basis, then problems start to arise, starts to become unhealthy.
Clinton: Yes. I wanted to ask you about your philosophy and approach to couple’s therapy, but I think we’re already talking about it at the moment. Is there anything else you want to add about that?
Shushann: Basically, the foundational work that I look at is that—looking at the foundations of the relationship, is there a foundation of mutual respect, goodwill, trust, and love in their relationship?
So if saying the word “love” or “I love you” isn’t enough, there needs to be some practical tools and actions. Sometimes couples even have agreements that they make like their credo where they are actually verbalizing how they got to live their relationship what other values that they’re going to live by and what does that look like on a practical level.
I think that again and again the problems that appear in a relationship can lead back to that credo, to that kind of foundation. So if the goodwill starts to breakdown, what is it that’s created and how do we rebuild that to support the organism of the relationship? How do we revive and how do we make it a healthy functional and happy organism?
Clinton: Yes. I also get this question from individuals, they say, “Look my partner won’t come to therapy. Is it worth me coming alone?” So I’m just curious for those that are watching, what’s your response to someone who has that dilemma?
Shushann: It’s such common, isn’t it, Clinton? Yes, I do get that and I will often of course say, yes, come along, because I do feel that couples and relationships are part—talking about this organism that when now look at it as a systemic framework that when we address one aspect of it, it inevitably has a flow-on effect on the other parts of the organism.
If one partner comes in and starts working on it, it inevitably has as an effect of the other partner. So let that partner decide whether the relationship is actually good for them, whether it’s working and then there’s a decision to be made around that. Or it will actually encourage the other partner who will obviously hear about what’s going on in the individual session. More than often, they also come along and want to have their say or want to also work and see that there are benefits in going to see somebody.
I think it is a kind of still for some people an unusual, are just comforting thought to come and speak to a person that they’ve never met before about something as private as their relationship. But I think once they do come along and see that there’s a sense of goodwill from the therapist’s neutrality and support for both people that there’s not going to be the sting of you are a bad person and you are the good person, but it’s more about how we’re working on this together that helps create more confidence in coming and working.
Clinton: Yeah, you said that so well, Shushann. I often think that when that situation arises, probably as one partner having some fear or concern that I’m going to be blamed or criticized or found to be wrong. I think what often happens is when they do come, they realize that this is about supporting the relationship. It’s not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking at that dance again and how can each start to do some difference steps.
Often, I find that when the partner can see that that’s how it is and they feel less threatened, they can become very engage in getting on board with working on their relationship and making it a better relationship.
Shushann: And you probably found this too, Clinton, that once that step has taken to come is actually a relief, that finally we can sort of talk about this in a way where there is another person. Because sometimes, what happens is at home, you may not listen to each other, you may talk over each other or it may escalate.
What’s good about having a neutral party like a therapist is that you can get support around being heard and also supported around how to express things that can be heard in other way can be received and responded to.
Clinton: Yeah, that’s just lovely. Shushann, can you share with us perhaps a case of where—just kind of give us flavour of how you work and maybe some of the outcomes that your clients report.
Shushann: Yes, absolutely. Well, I was thinking about that this morning. I think I wanted to share I guess a more typical kind of case that I have. I think I mentioned it earlier as we were talking that often you will have a young couple or a couple who come to see you have a young child or a couple with young children, and what this can do—I think many couples don’t realize the actual impact that children have on the relationship.
That it has a real impact on intimacy, on time and as much as both of course love the child, there has to be some kind of renegotiation around how time is spent with the children as well as away from the children so that there’s couple time as well as time as a family. And so what can happen is that there’s this kind of polarization where often the wife can be the main caretaker, caregiver in the family and the husband is the main provider.
Usually with couples with young children by that stage, men are often at their peak earning time or their peak career time, so they’re often taken away for longer periods with their work. This can create distancing and conflict in the intimacy of the relationship.
What I had recently with a couple was a husband have a very demanding academic career and the wife was quite creative and she had no time for creativity. They have a beautiful child but difficulties with sleeping and sleep happens that exhausted them both. So then the husband’s off at work long hours. She said it’s getting to her creativity, feels she never has a break from her child, and this of course manifest as conflict in a relationship.
So we had to go back and look at the relationship as an important priority and how they re-nurture that. One of the things around re-nurturing the relationship was actually looking at how they nurture themselves individually. How do they actually give to themselves and make boundaries around their work or even around their children, so that they can feel they can move towards each other not from an exhausted place but from a place that’s more relax, more open, and more receptive.
In this particular relationship, we went back to this foundational place. About where is the goodwill, where do they think the goodwill is, what’s broken down the communication? What sort of practices, as you were saying earlier, hurt the relationship?
I always love referring to that wonderful ratio that, John Gottman, the family therapist talks about, that for every one criticism we actually need five acts of goodwill. Five acts of appreciation and gratitude to build the goodwill in their relationship. And of course, when you’re tired in a relationship and you’re stretched, they can just go out the window.
Simple things like saying “thank you” or what you appreciated about your partner can—we forget about those and the irritation and criticism comes into play. We look at the things that have been in play in the relationship and how they gradually start changing those in terms of simple things, how they communicate.
Often one would feel hurt by something that was small, and putting things out, this is the whole principle of putting things out when there are smoke rather than they when get to fire. If there is a little hurt and you’re conscious of that, go back and make amends, heal that while it’s small.
So they go back and say, “Yes, look, I’m really sorry, I was snappy” or “I was a little bit short with you on the phone and I’m sorry about that” and not letting it go. Not letting those things go when there is still smoke.
Then from that making time on a regular basis just to listen to each other. We practice this in the therapy room, how we—what a gift actually is to be listen to without interruption without trying to interpret or second guess what their partners are going to say, but being open to being present and listening to your partner, and having terms in what a gift that is and how that immediately relaxes the other, where we can just stop and suspend our opinion momentarily and listen to our partner, knowing that we’re also going to have a turn for our partner to do the same for us.
From practicing that grew out a discussion of—well, what is our credo in this relationship? What sort of agreements we would like to see happen? What do we want to nurture in this relationship?
So there are certain values that came out of that. But then the values had very specific acts, very specific behaviour that reflected them. One of the values for example was around being listened to and being taken seriously, and how that was a act very simple thing- many of us do this.
Especially, if we got children, is this thing of calling to your partner in the other room and then you wouldn’t hear what your partner’s saying and you call back. That’s really irritating even though both of them were doing this.
Okay, so how do we change this? Even if you’ve got—unless a it’s like you’ve got your baby or whatever and you try to struggle with something, go in the other room if you want your partner to hear something. Don’t talk to them while they’re watching TV. Make sure the TV is turned off. They’re looking at you, or go into the room they’re in and let them know what it is that you’d like to say and vice versa. Don’t call out back from the other room. If you want to hear what your partner is saying then go into that room and listen.
So that’s a very simple example around building very practical agreements into the relationship. And this couple were great. They were come in here, we talk about stuff that work, then they go away and practice the stuff, and I think that is really key.
Coming into the therapy session, making agreements together, and then going and practicing that at home, really committing to each other to making these changes . One of things I say to couples is we can fall into these old patterns but we can change them. But it does take practice and it does take—actually, the belief is it takes 21 days to change a belief around with a new practice.
So it does take that commitment on both parts to make that change, but it can happen. It’s a bit of like that ad, “Won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.” You just have to practice. You have to commit to that and believe it and both have to do it. If one person feels that the other one is not doing it, they may give up. So it’s a real commitment around rebuilding the goodwill. And of course, as you practice that, it creates a sense of safety and trust in the relationship.
Clinton: Yes. I’m also hearing teamwork. A lot of those simple but powerful exercises you’re speaking about, Shushann, are really about building the teamwork between the partners and just highlighting how powerful that is when you get back on board with your partner.
And other thing that you’re alerted to as well is really connecting, making contact with your partner or one of the simplest ways you can do that is through eye contact. So as you’re saying don’t shout from the other room, but you go in and look your partner right in the eyes. And I think this is such a simple exercise, but it can really reduce the amount of misappraisals, misunderstandings that can occur when you make that eye contact with your partner—
Shushann: —absolutely, yeah.
Clinton: We do read so much nonverbally and it’s so important to include in part of the communication.
I’m so thankful for you giving up your time today and speaking to people on my blog about how you work. I think you’ve given us just a wonderful flavour of your approach and your philosophy of working with couples. You’re now available in my CBD office which is in King Street in Sydney to see your client.
So anyone watching this who would like to connect with Shushann and organize an appointment, you can do that through our website and our online appointment scheduler which is at www.ClintonPower.Com.Au . On the bottom of every page, we have a button there we can connect straight through our online calendar and book with Shushann.
So thank you again, Shushann. I really appreciate you giving up your time.
Shushann: Thank you, Clinton. So lovely speaking to you, and I look forward to meeting new couples out there.
Clinton: Yes, thank you for joining us. Bye for now.
Shushann: Thank you. Bye for now.
***Please note Shushann Movsessian is no longer an associate at Clinton Power + Associates. If you’re looking for an experienced relationship counsellor, please contact us on 0412 241 410 so we can connect you with one of our associates, or you can book online with our online appointment scheduler.***
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.