• Couples Counseling, Part 1: Why I love working with couples

    There are two areas in my practice that I am particularly passionate about at this point in time: working with couples and working with people whose lives have been impacted by cancer.

    (Quick but important side note: if you are reading this and looking for a therapist but do not fit into one of the above categories, please still give me a call so we can talk further about what you are looking for in a therapist. There are many great therapists out there and it’s definitely worth finding the right one for you – which may or may not be me. It’s important to know a therapist’s specialty, but it’s not always the most important thing.)

    For the next few weeks I’m going to alternate talking about these topics, and since cancer was the topic of my last post, I’ll jump right into couples work today.

    (Second side note: if you’re curious about “why couples and cancer? That’s a strange combination…” click here ~ I am honored to be a part of this amazing team of clinicians.)

    I had a light bulb moment the other day when I was meeting with a new client for the first time. Most of my practice has been with couples recently (although I love individual work as well), and I’ve gotten quite comfortable having 2 people in the room with me. Not all therapists love couples work, but I do. This recent moment in an individual session gave me at least one insight into part of my love for couples work: the pace at which things unfold. 

    Here’s the thing. When people come in for counseling with lives intertwined, they know a whole lot about each other that I (obviously) don’t know yet. If one person tries to spin the story, the other person is there to call them on it and offer an alternative version of the story. When it’s only one person on the couch, that doesn’t necessarily happen. People come in by themselves and they can tell the exact story they want – often truth with some strategic exclusions, or simply a very slow unraveling of the truth.  Sometimes it takes time for the whole story to come together because there is only one author, and frankly because it’s sometimes hard for each of us to be 100% honest even with ourselves. I know, I’ve been on the couch before and have taken my time getting to the parts that feel the most shameful, ugly, embarrassing or secretive. I have edited my own story, and more often than not what I’m leaving out is exactly the issue that brought me to therapy in the first place.

    With couples, though, the process is accelerated. 2 people self-correct more quickly with 2 versions of the story unfolding simultaneously ~ sometimes in alignment, sometimes running on parallel but never intersecting tracks, and sometimes crashing wildly into each other until the dust starts to settle and the picture begins to form. Not to say that this picture is fully accurate, but it’s information. And as a therapist, I love information.

    The beauty is that often each partner has not even fully heard or understood the other person’s story prior to sitting down in therapy together. Maybe they thought they knew exactly what the other person’s story was already, so they stopped listening quite as carefully. Maybe the believed their stories to be one and the same. Or maybe they had been desperately wanting to know, but didn’t know how to ask and possibly felt afraid of the answer. Whatever the reason, couples counseling provides a unique opportunity to listen in a way that we don’t often listen to our partner in day to day life.

    If you are considering couples counseling, don’t let fear of different versions of the same story keep you away. It’s in the differences that the most helpful pieces of information, the most interesting and informative parts of the mutual story, usually surface. And that’s when change can begin.

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