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The Process of Couples Counseling: It’s Not Scary

Kali Kerstetter MSW, LSW
Counselor, Insight Clinical Counseling and Wellness, LLC

Couples counseling gets a bad rap. The movie, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” opening scene is a couples session, their first session. It felt awkward, clunky and unauthentic. Who asks about their sex life before asking how they met? Unrealistic. Ever seen the movie “Meet the Fockers?” (I love that movie!) Remember the scene with Roz Focker and her group therapy session? It’s a little cringey! And neither of those examples are anything like realistic couples therapy sessions.

Couples counseling is a powerful tool that can help couples navigate challenges, improve communication, and strengthen their bond. If you’re considering couples counseling or are curious about how it works, this beginner’s guide to show you the way. We’ll explore the process of couples counseling, including what to expect, different therapy approaches and who can benefit from couples therapy. As always, my goal is to remove the black veil and the “big scary” so you can approach couples counseling, and counseling in general, with confidence and start your journey towards a more fulfilling and peaceful relationship.

Step 1: Initial Assessment and Goal Setting

The first step in the process of couples counseling is the initial assessment. During this session, the therapist will gather information about your relationship history, current relationship status, individual backgrounds, and current concerns. The assessment process looks different for each therapist. Some may conduct sessions with both individuals in the room for every session, others may request doing individual sessions with each person and then coming together, you may also do a mix of individual and joint sessions. This is an opportunity for both partners to express their needs, goals, and expectations for therapy. Together, you and the therapist will set goals for the counseling process, outlining what you hope to achieve and the areas you wish to improve.

Step 2: Ongoing sessions

During treatment, your therapist will help you gain insight into the dynamics causing problems in your relationship. They’ll guide you and your partner to understand your roles in dysfunctional interactions. Couples therapists will often assign partners homework so you can apply the skills you learn in treatment to your day-to-day interactions. This greater insight into relationship issues and distress will help change how you perceive and respond to the relationship and each other.

Step 3: Progress and Working Through Challenges

As you continue with couples counseling, you’ll work through challenges and make progress towards your goals. The therapist will guide you through discussions, exercises, and interventions designed to enhance communication, deepen understanding, and improve your relationship dynamics. It’s important to remember that progress may take time, and there may be ups and downs along the way. The therapist will provide support and guidance to help you navigate these challenges and keep moving in a positive direction.

Couples counseling encompasses different forms of therapy, each with its unique focus and approach. Emotionally Focused Therapy emphasizes creating secure attachment and fostering emotional responsiveness. This approach helps couples identify and address underlying emotions that contribute to relationship difficulties. The Gottman Method focuses on building trust, managing conflict, and nurturing shared meaning. It provides couples with practical tools and strategies to improve communication and strengthen their bond. Other forms of therapy include Imago Relationship Therapy, which explores childhood wounds and their impact on adult relationships, and Narrative Therapy, which focuses on reshaping negative relationship narratives.

Anyone in a relationship with someone can benefit from couples counseling! Engaging in couples counseling can lead to positive outcomes and continued growth in your relationship. As a newly married individual, my partner and I have discussed attending couples therapy to enhance our communication skills and navigate new boundaries within our newly defined family.

After attending couples counseling, couples often report improved communication, enhanced emotional connection, and a deeper understanding of each other. The tools and strategies learned in therapy can be applied long after counseling ends, allowing you to navigate future challenges with greater ease and confidence. Even better, couples counseling provides a safe space to address issues and build a foundation of trust, fostering a more fulfilling and harmonious partnership.

The process of couples counseling is a journey of growth, connection, and transformation. Removing the scary from couples counseling allows you to approach counseling with a sense of empowerment and hope. Remember, couples counseling is a collaborative effort, and progress takes time. Nothing happens overnight, right? Embracing the journey, not the outcome will lead to new opportunities to work through challenges, improve communication, and build a stronger bond with your partner. With the support of a skilled therapist and your commitment to the process, you can achieve positive outcomes and enjoy a more fulfilling and harmonious relationship. Does that sound scary to you? See you in the therapy room!

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