My approach to couples counseling is strongly influenced by the Gottman method, which is an evidence based approach to couples therapy. The research done by the Gottman Institute ensures that I am using counseling techniques that have been shown to be effective, and that I have evidence based information about what is healthy or unhealthy in couples communication and relationship dynamics.
The Gottman Institute has studied multitudes of real life couples, and has made scientific observations about what relationship and communication dynamics tend to result in long lasting relationships as opposed to dynamics that tend to lead to separation or divorce. I am very grateful for the wealth of understanding and insight that Dr. Gottman’s research provides for therapists like me to use.
The Couples Intake Process
The intake process for a couple usually consists of four sessions. First, both of you would come in to meet me together and give me an overview of your difficulties and concerns, as well as some relationship history. I would have each of you fill out a questionnaire packet after your first session. Then I would meet with each of you to get your individual perspective and some more individual information. The fourth session would be with both of you together again, to give my feedback and recommendations.
Once the intake is done, I recommend writing down your priority issues and goals on a treatment plan. This gives us some focus in our work, and ensures that we are all “on the same page.” Most often goals work toward improving the relationship dynamics, but sometimes the goals might have more to do with deciding whether or not to continue the relationship. One thing to keep in mind is that even though something is not specified on the treatment plan, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.
I encourage each person to identify goals that they can set for themselves to work on, rather than for their partner. This helps to acknowledge that you cannot change the other person, but that you can work on making the relationship better by trying to become the best spouse that you can be. A relationship is like a dance… you can’t directly control the steps that the other person takes, but you can influence the overall pattern by changing what steps you take.
Part of treatment planning is deciding how long you’d like the initial treatment plan to last, and how often you’d like to meet. I usually encourage weekly appointments to start. We might reduce the frequency later in treatment.
The actual treatment consists of discussing your difficulties, trying to understand each other, and trying to find resolutions and compromises that are acceptable to both.
In a typical session, I usually ask the couple to check in about how their day and week has been, and then to choose a topic they would like to focus on for that session.
As I observe you communicate, I will give you feedback and suggestions about your communication patterns. My job isn’t to make your decisions for you, but to help you learn to communicate with each other in such a way that you can effectively make decisions together, can give and receive influence, and can function as a team. The ultimate goal is for you to be able to do so without the assistance of a counselor.
I will also ask about how you interact when you are not in conflict, and give you feedback and suggestions about successful vs. unsuccessful relationship patterns. In other words… relationship patterns that tend to result in long lasting relationships as opposed to relationship patterns that tend to result in separation or divorce.
More specifically, I will be observing for strengths and difficulties you may have at each level of Gottman’s “Sound Marital House:”
- Do you have detailed “love maps” of each other’s lives (know each other well)?
- Do you share fondness and admiration for each other?
- Do you habitually turn toward each other in daily interactions?
- Do you have a positive perspective on your relationship?
- Do you manage conflicts effectively?
- Do you support each other in making your life dreams come true?
- Do you create shared meaning?
Combining Individual and Couples Counseling
Sometimes one partner’s individual issues may need additional attention, and could benefit from individual therapy.
If only one of you wants concurrent individual therapy, it is usually recommended that you see a different therapist for this (not the couples counselor). This is because seeing just one of the spouses individually would skew the couples counselor’s perspective on the relationship, and bias them to see things in a lop-sided way.
However, if both of you want concurrent individual therapy, then the couples counselor can see both of you individually as well. However, be careful to do this only if you are sure both of you will follow through with it, because if one of you drops out, then the other will need to be referred to another counselor for individual therapy. Switching therapists (for individual therapy) could be difficult if you are in the middle of sensitive work.
Treatment Plan Review
As with individual counseling, I like to check in after a pre-determined amount of time, to see what progress you are making on your goals, to re-assess your difficulties, and to make plans for your continued work toward goals.
At the time of the treatment plan review I ask for your feedback and we decide whether to continue therapy, for how long, at what frequency, and focusing on what goals or issues.
A typical treatment plan lasts three months (about 12 sessions), and most couples renew their treatment plan a few times. Of course, keep in mind that all treatment is voluntary and you can stop at any time.
If you are able to improve your communication and relationship patterns, and gradually feel more comfortable and secure in your relationship, then we can reduce the frequency of sessions to once every other week, or even once a month… and ultimately decide to stop altogether.
When you decide to stop, it is helpful to have one last session to review difficulties, goals, progress and any further work that needs to be done independently. We can also discuss ideas for maintaining the progress made and additional sources of support of information that may be helpful after counseling.
Sometimes couples will do several rounds of couples therapy through the course of their relationship. They may do premarital therapy, and they may receive therapy for various difficulties as time goes by. There may be difficult transitions, decisions or losses that you encounter as a couple. Just as with individual therapy, it is okay to return for a booster session, a short series of sessions, or for a new round of therapy if you feel a need for it.
Again, please don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about therapy. There is no obligation, and I’m happy to help answer your questions. You can reach me at 708-429-6999, extension 229. Or you can e-mail me through the contact page on this website.