What is couples or relationship counseling?
One of my true passions is working with people in relationships. My focus in relationship counseling is on improving communication and problem-solving skills, understanding relationship patterns, increasing empathy and emotional engagement towards one another, which, in turn, improves the sense of connection between partners.
This work can feel more focused and results-oriented than individual therapy may seem at times. The reason I call this both couples and relationship counseling is that I frequently work with polyamorous people who may have more than one primary relationship partner. I also work with many same sex couples, as well as relationships in which one or more partner is transgender.
When and why do we need relationship counseling?
According to research conducted by John Gottman, most couples wait, on average, six years before seeking counseling for relationship problems. This means that the relationship is in a high level of distress when they finally get to counseling, and it can take a lot of work to make the repairs that are necessary to save and improve the relationship. My wish for couples is that more of them will begin to turn to couples therapy as a preventative measure — a way to learn to take care of their investment in one another and learn skills and tools to help keep their relationship joyful and strong.
How do we begin?
We will meet for the first session together with all of us in the room. I have tried to do 50 and 60 minute sessions for the first meeting, but I’ve found that it’s just not long enough to do a comprehensive intake, so the first three sessions are 75 minutes.
After that meeting, if I think I can be helpful, I will invite you to continue to the second part of the assessment. You two may want to go home and discuss together whether you want to continue. Part two consists of you each filling out some paperwork and meeting with me individually for 75 minutes. After those meetings, we’ll have a fourth session in which we discuss treatment goals and a plan to be sure we are all on the same page.
To summarize, getting started entails a thorough assessment, as a team and individually. After this assessment, we will mostly meet all together as we move forward. Some couples prefer the 60 minute sessions and others feel 75 is a better length of time to cover all that comes up in a session. Infrequently, I may feel that an individual check-in will help move the work along, but if so, they will for a specific purpose and usually only if we are working together longer term.
Will our relationship make it?
Most couples come to me seeking hope, healing, and repair of a relationship that has experienced some damage and distress. We can work on healing your relationship and learning better ways for you to connect and feel heard and valued. But some people seek couples counseling because they need help disengaging from a relationship with kindness and care. They want to separate in a way that allows them to to be good to one another. This is something I can also help with. Some clinicians feel that all relationships must be saved. I recognize that sometimes relationships need to end or transition into a friendship or something else.
What brings people to relationship counseling?
Some of the relationship issues I have worked with have included communication problems, sexual issues, navigating consensual non-monogamy, deepening sexual fulfillment and exploring fantasies, recovering from affairs and infidelity, and co-parenting issues. When working with relationships, I sometimes give exercises to practice at home between sessions. While I offer 60 minute sessions for those who want them, I find that 75 minute sessions are usually more effective for relationship counseling and I strongly recommend these longer sessions, especially at the beginning of treatment when we have a lot of work to do together. Some people request 90 minute sessions, which I am happy to do when my schedule permits.
What is your training in relationship and couples counseling?
In terms of my training and philosophy about working with couples, my strongest influences are Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy and John Gottman’s Relationship Institute work. I have completed Level I and Level II Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. I have also completed a 32 hour Clinical Externship in Emotionally Focused Therapy, taught by Sue Johnson. I have also attended Dan Wile’s Collaborative Couples Therapy groups. I have consulted with Hanna Levenson, Ph.D., a Certified EFT Supervisor. If I am bringing my work to Dr. Levenson, you will be made aware of it and I will have you sign a consent form allowing me to discuss your case with her.
If you would like to learn more about these approaches to couples work, I recommend reading John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert and Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love. These books are both written to be easily understood by people who are not mental health practitioners and can help you begin the conversations that can help improve your relationships. Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin and Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern are two new additions to the block.