Dena Samimi-Ward, Registered Psychologist, is a member of the PsychSolutions team. Among other areas of focus, she specializes in couple’s counselling. In this interview, Dena describes what couples counselling is and when it needed.
1. What does couple’s counselling mean to you as a psychologist?
Couple’s therapy is about creating a safe space for couples to explore their goals as partners and individuals. In doing so, we can move towards open discussions that support both partners in feeling heard, increasing their skill sets, and shifting old patterns that may be no longer working for the couple.
2. What are common reasons for couples to seek counselling?
Couples come to therapy for a variety of reasons and at different points in their relationship. Some come early on in a relationship to explore how to best communicate, to learn how to accept differences, and as a way to expand their relationship rather than coming due to a detriment occurring within their relationship. Others are seeking a neutral space to speak openly and explore their values. Often, couples attend couples therapy when there has been some breakdown in communication and/or they may feel there’s a gridlock in big decisions needing to be made.
3. How do you approach helping couples to achieve resolution?
Within my practice, I utilize several different approaches from ACT’s values work, Gottman and Gottman, and Bader’s developmental model. Using these models, couples are guided in exploring the goals of both individuals and of the couple, allowing us to create clarity and focus. Then we explore the skills each individual needs in order to work together and meet the identified goals, such as how to be honest and truthful with each other, deepening commitment and exploring how each partner approaches love relationships and their patterns of attachments, and increasing patience and forgiveness. It also includes exploring values, stress reduction, communication approaches, self-differentiation, empathy building, and methods of “fighting fair.” All these skills, including others, help ensure the couple has the tools they need to improve and expand their relationship.
4. When should couples contact a psychologist. How often do couples leave it too late to seek counselling?
Often couples contact a counsellor as a last resort, when there has been a great deal of resentment, distrust, and disappointment built up. According to Gottman and Gottman, couples often wait six years* from the time they know they need supports before connecting with a psychologist. It is important for couples to take time and reflect on their relationship as they go through different stages of life together. The earlier the couple participates in therapy, the earlier we can decrease the buildup of negative patterns which influence communication breakdowns.
5. What signals suggest a couple needs counselling?
All couples would benefit from counselling, and if you find that there has been increased tension, hostility, inability to speak to one another, or you are noticing patterns that are not healthy, please contact a psychologist for support. Couples can also benefit from couples counselling to maintain healthy patterns and what is going well in their relationship. So, in essence, couples counselling is about enhancing a relationship, not just problem solving and working on difficulties.
6. What else would you like to share about couples counselling?
In couples therapy, the couple is the “client.” Therefore, we would not keep secrets within the sessions but would support the individual holding the secret to share the secret with their partner in a safe space. Just as with any other form of therapy, the effectiveness of therapy is dependant on the couples’ involvement in therapy, which includes participating in sessions but also completing and practicing the skills discussed in session. It takes time to change old patterns and it works best when clients are able to commit to at least eight sessions in order to begin seeing some shifts. That might seem like a lot at first, but the time spent within and between sessions goes by fast. So, a minimum of eight sessions ensures we have enough time to begin unweaving patterns that have been in place and have been engrained.
Please note that success in couples therapy means something different for each client. For some, it may mean changing patterns and building a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with one another. For others, it may be a healthy departure from the relationship, while other couples want to spend their time working on their communication skills to better co-parent their children. Successful outcomes can look different for each partner; hence the importance to focus on clearly identified goals at the onset.
Photo Credits: krists-luhaers-cDQAWnEiCpI-unsplash.jpg