The Counseling Hub | Columbia, Mo
Let me just say from the outset that we're passionate about couples counseling, and we spend a lot of time reading up on, thinking about, and working with couples. Suffice it to say, this'll get lengthy (as it should). Buckle up folks, you're in for a ride. ;)
What is couples counseling?
Let's start with the basics. Couples counseling is a style of counseling (obviously) where partners come in for help regarding some sort of issue. One exception to this is premarital counseling, which is more about coming in prior to issues popping up (and/or heading things off at the pass). While we specialize in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, there are plenty of other approaches to couples counseling (although are bias is that none are quite as good, nor are they as widely researched).
*While we absolutely work with people in poly relationships, we use "couples counseling" as a term to describe our work.
In a more concrete way, couples counseling is:
- Dyadic Interactions
Basically, you and your partner spend the majority of the time talking in couples counseling. We don't play around with this one. Your couples counselor (meet our team!) should be spending time getting you and your partner to engage in the conversations that need to be had, practicing the communication patterns that need to be established, and encouraging you to open up to one another in a way that you probably haven't known how to do prior and/or didn't feel comfortable doing prior to coming in.
- Specific Techniques and Interventions
You and your partner should, literally, be learning new ways of interacting with each other. Your couples counselor is responsible for helping you to learn those ways. That's the bottom line. Additionally, your couples counselor should have specific interventions for key moments and conversations, to help you and your partner get the most out of the conversation and experience.
- Practice, Practice, Practice
Even if you know what to do, do you do it? Realistically, you're here because you don't know what to do. So, keep this in mind. It's one thing to learn about something. It's completely different to actually practice the thing you learned. While your couples counselor will spend time teaching you about the four horsemen and healthy communication, they'll also give you plenty of space to practice what you're learning. This is critical to your success. There's no understating that. It's the difference between reading a manual on how to swim and actually getting into the water to practice the breast stroke (or doggy paddle!).
- Catching the Horsemen (as they're galloping through your conversations or conflict)
Phew. The four horsemen. These things are, literally, killers of relationships. They're also critical in couples counseling because they need to be caught, reigned in, and tamed. Your couples counselor should spend plenty of time helping you recognize when they come up, as well as teaching you (and helping you to practice) the antidotes to the four horsemen. The latter bit is absolutely necessary.
Why do couples come in for couples counseling?
Well, then, we're happy you asked! There are numerous reasons couples come in for couples counseling. These can be related to a partner having an affair, partners engaging in 'negative' conflict, lacking good communication, struggling with sex-related issues, wanting premarital counseling, lacking intimacy, or feeling disconnected.
The reality is that the list isn't even exhaustive. And you know what? Some people don't even know why they're there, they just know that things aren't the way they used to be and that they're not happy with the current state of affairs.
We say this with the utmost sincerity - any reason you want to come in is okay. Seriously. If you're not sure of why, if you're not sure if it's worth it, if you're on the fence, if you're feeling on the verge of having an affair, if you're unhappy but haven't told your partner how unhappy you are, or any other reason, it's all okay. We can work through and with all of those things (plus more).
What can I expect?
Well, you can expect some of what's highlighted above - talking to your partner, using specific techniques and interventions (although not every session and not all the time), and learning and practicing antidotes to the four horsemen.
What's more important, however, is what you can expect from your couples counselor. You can expect to be met with:
How do I decide if I need couples counseling or individual counseling?
This is easier to speculate about than to actually answer. The long and short of it is this: it's our belief that if you're dealing with a relationship issue, then couples counseling is right for you. Regardless of whether you think it's "your issue" to fix, if it's showing up between the two of you, then it's relevant for couples counseling.
And if there's something that requires/need individual counseling? Then we'd usually recommend that you do both at the same time. Research indicates that doing individual counseling along with couples counseling can be (and is) more effective than simply doing individual counseling. For example, if partner A has to work on self-esteem or boundaries (within her relationship, but also in general), then that work can be done solo, sure, but can also be done in the context of the relationship, which can be super helpful.
How do I choose the right therapist?
This probably sounds silly, but one of our favorite things is getting clients hooked up with the right counselor. You know why? Because that makes so much of a difference!!! A lesser known fact about counseling is that your success is partially based on the trust you have in and the support you feel with your couples counselor (our team is seriously awesome, we promise).
Here's some basic information on what you should look for in a counselor, but below you'll find a little more nuanced information for what to look for in a couples counselor.
- Qualifications, Certifications, and Licensing
There's the basic requirements for you to know your couples counselor is qualified, but then there's the more nuanced things to look for. For example, if you're looking for a couples counselor, then you probably want to go for somebody who has additional training and experience in working with couples!! Yes, seems obvious, but it isn't always obvious.
A lesser known fact by our non-counselor-oriented friends is that individual counseling, couples counseling, and family counseling are all distinct things. It might seem like you could do all three if you were trained for one, but the reality is that they are each their own ballgame. Our team loves that there are different specialties (because nobody can be exceptional at every single thing!), but we also want you to know that it's important to look for people who actually specialize in couples counseling.
- Goodness of Fit
Sure, there are simple ways of telling if your counselor is any good, but the reality is that if you're not feeling comfortable with your counselor, then it doesn't matter how good they are, the counseling probably won't be as effective.
Basically, you want to feel safe and supported with your counselor. You also want to feel heard and understood. You also want to spend time with somebody who does a thorough assessment of you and your partner (which is something we make sure to do, especially since we use the Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach)
Long story short, you can love your counselor and they can have all the qualifications in the world, but if you've been going weekly for a year and nothing has changed, then it might be time to move on. And while "breaking up" with your couples counselor can be hard to do, my guess is that breaking up with your partner because couples counseling hasn't been effective would be even harder.
We've said it before, but it's worth it to note again - we're passionate about couples counseling and relationships. We strive to do the best work we can, using the Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach, and ensuring that our team has proper training and qualifications (and supervision or consultation) in order to do the most effective work possible. It's, literally, our mission to help people cultivate, repair, and maintain fulfilling relationships in their lives. And we take that very seriously.
If you have other questions or want to know more about couples counseling, email our Client Liaison right now and you'll get taken care of.