It’s hard enough to get in the door for couples therapy or marriage counseling. WE GET IT. Not only do we understand on a personal level, as many of our team have done their own counseling work (what good counselor hasn’t?), but we also understand because we hear what clients say. It’s anxiety-provoking coming in and opening up to, in essence, a stranger. Albeit a well-trained and (hopefully) approachable stranger, but still a person who you don’t really know.
This is in large part why we want people to know what they expect when they come into The Counseling Hub for couples therapy or marriage counseling.
Read on, my friend, and find out if you're in the right place.
1. Couples assessment is key.
This is hard to overemphasize. And it probably seem silly, but it’s really important.
Long and short of it is this. The first two sessions are spent on formal (and informal) assessment (this is in line with Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach, which is who/what we love and is super effective). It’s not uncommon for me to hear about people who have had previous couples counseling that included no assessment period and straight to “solutioning” the problem. This is wrong on so many levels and for a variety of reasons. One main reason for this is that we don’t even fully know what the problem is, so how can we expect to jump straight into a solution?
It's crucial that you and your partner have a rich, thorough assessment first. Think about it like this. Would you want to go to a doctor with a hurt arm, have them look at it from the outside (but not really touch it and not take any scans), and then tell you it's sprained?
Would you want to go to a chiropractor and have your back “fixed” without them doing an x-ray or at least feeling around for what the problem is, including asking about symptoms?
So why would you want to go to a couples counselor and jump straight into “fixing” something if your counselor hasn’t taken enough time to actually find out what the issue is?!
You shouldn’t want that.
Ideally, you'd want your counselor to do the right “testing” to make sure of a) the problem(s), and b) how to approach the problem(s) in a way that’s efficient and gets straight to the root(s).
This is why we do that thorough assessment. If we're not doing one, then we end up doing you (and your relationship) a huge disservice, as well as wasting your time, money, and energy.
2. You and your partner are going to talk.
This one is funny because clients are often surprised by it.
After the assessment and feedback period, you and your partner are doing the vast majority of talking... wait for it... TO EACH OTHER!!
Yes, you read me right. The talking that goes on in the sessions is between you and your partner (the vast majority of the time). The counselor role is to help you navigate the conversations in such a way that you each feel understood, validated, and safe. Our role is to help you dive deep wherever you need to (most clients don’t recognize the opportunities, especially
The philosophy behind this is that you and your partner are going to be on your own (i.e. without the counselor) once you leave, so we want you to actually learn how to do this. We don't want you to talk to us about your partner, especially when they're right there - we want you to talk to each other.
I could go one about this for days, but I'll leave it at that. Ask me if you have questions, though. ;)
3. You decide the destination, but we help with the navigating.
You and your partner might have hot button topics in your relationship, you might have recent fights, you might have old fights with wounds that still haven't healed, and you might have a lack of connection between the two of you. And that could just be the start of it.
We, as couples therapists and marriage counselors, don't care what you talk about, as long as it’s emotionally relevant for you.
Basically, we care that you talk about things that need to be talked about, but that doesn't mean we care what those things are. Does that make sense?
For example, if you need to talk about that time your partner didn't like your spaghetti, we're cool with that! So long as it's actually important and/or meaningful for you, or that you’re still angry/upset/hurt by it. You want to talk about the time that you thought about leaving? Perfect, as long as it’s still relevant/emotional/hard/distressing/important.
We don't care what you talk about in that it can be any topic that's important to you (read: the counselor doesn't choose the topic). This sounds easy enough, in theory, but can be tricky to navigate when you’re sitting on the couch. You might think, “What are we going to talk about?”
And, regardless of what the topic is, we'll have a way of helping your process and make sense of it (it = the fight, the disconnection, the lack of seeing eye to eye, etc.).
And that's that.
I've got nothing else to add. We love relationships of any shape and size. While the language we use frequently implies one partner, please note that we work with consensual non-monogamous relationships, as well.
Partner on, my friends!
About the Author
Tara Vossenkemper | Couples Therapist & Marriage Counselor
Tara Vossenkemper is the founder, owner, and therapist with The Counseling Hub, a counselor (LPC) in the state of Missouri, and an almost doctor (finishing up her PhD). She specializes in couples therapy & marriage counseling using the highly effective Gottman Method Couples Therapy (and is currently obtaining her certification, which requires three levels of training and ongoing consultation - it's a necessarily rigorous process that she loves).
Tara has a diverse set of clinical experiences, working with both adolescents and adults on issues ranging from eating disorders and anxiety to spirituality and existential crises. However, she is most passionate about couples counseling. Tara enjoys working with couples looking to decrease or enhance conflict, relearn healthy and effective communication, or are healing from an affair. She's also been formally trained as in the Prepare-Enrich Premarital Couples Counseling approach and the PREP Approach for couples counseling.
Tara is also earning her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri - Saint Louis. She's "ABD" (all but dissertation) and furiously researching and writing to finish things up. She's presented at national, regional, and state conferences, as well as locally, on the topics of discrimination, sexual minority distress, spirituality, healthy lifestyle and mental health, and private practice.