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Couples Counseling

Although in fairy tales, the prince and princess live happily ever after, those of us in the real world know that relationships are actually hard work. It is no surprise that couples often seek professional help when the going gets tough. Some common reasons people present for couple counseling include:

  • Communication break down
  • Money pressures
  • Sexual incompatibility
  • Lost the 'spark'
  • Infidelity
  • Imbalance of power
  • Lack of trust
  • Living separate lives
  • Problems with extended family
  • Empty nest and adjusting to major change
  • Adjusting to parenthood
  • Different ideas on child rearing, lifestyle, friends, finances, etc

Often, relationship problems occur when the couple's communication has broken down, or, an event (such as an affair, the birth of a child, or when children leave home) has occurred which throws the relationship out of balance. Learning how to live harmoniously with your partner is a skill which can be taught.

Couples Therapy: CBT and ACT

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a specific approach to psychological treatment which has been shown to be highly effective for many different types of issues. CBT helps you to examine the negative patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving which can become habitual and lead to unhappiness. In couples therapy, this means identifying your negative patterns of interacting with your partner, and learning how to challenge and adjust them back into more helpful ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

CBT for couples also emphasises the importance of behaviour change. Many couples realise that their relationship has somehow become 'last priority' in their lives. Your therapist will suggest specific techniques to redress this and help you to learn how to put the relationship higher up the priority list, for good.

Couples CBT also helps people to learn how to communicate more effectively, by teaching specific, research-based communication skills.

CBT for couples is not about blaming one partner for all of the problems, or about 'fixing' one partner. In every relationship there are two people who are responsible for how the relationship is or isn't working. Rather than focusing on what your partner can do to change, CBT focuses on what YOU can do to change the relationship - and if both of you focus on changing your own patterns, then both partners change, and the relationship is greatly improved.

An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach to couples counseling also explores each person's thinking habits, using mindfulness techniques to help people disengage from problematic thoughts which interfere with the moment. ACT therapies focus on developing compassion for the self and for the other, and identifying values to help the relationship evolve to a different, more satisfying level. Although relatively new, ACT approaches to couples work are demonstrating very positive results in the research.

Treat Yourself Well Sydney psychologists and clinical psychologists use a combination of CBT, ACT and mindfulness techniques tailored to each couples' specific needs.

What if we're not sure if we still want to be a couple?

If you are feeling ambivalent about whether or not you want the relationship to continue, or if you are sure that you want the relationship to end, couples counseling can still be of use to you. In this case, CBT for couples may help you to end the relationship in a respectful and useful manner, avoiding the destructive aggression that many couples go through when a relationship ends. If one or both partners are feeling undecided about whether or not to keep the relationship going, individual sessions may be recommended with the aim of helping the decision making process.

What happens if couples counseling isn't right for us?

In some instances, your psychologist may decide that at the present time, couples counseling is not appropriate, and may instead recommend that one, or both partners, pursue individual therapy prior to engaging in couples counseling. There are a variety of reasons why this course of action may be recommended. For example, if the relationship is abusive, or if one or both partners has an anger management problem, these issues would need to be addressed prior to couples counseling, as it is absolutely imperative that both partners are safe and able to control their emotions prior to working in a couples context. Your psychologist would discuss any such decision with both of you in detail if they felt that couples counseling was not the right option at the time, and go through various options with you.

How do the sessions work?

In couples therapy, it is standard practice for psychologist to assess you first as a couple, then assess you for one session each individually. Following this, the psychologist will see you again as a couple to give you the results of the assessment and to discuss the treatment plan. This is all part of the assessment process, and it allows the psychologist to gather important information about how you interact as a couple, as well as get to know you both individually.

Individual therapy and couples assessment sessions take one hour.  There may be an additional one hour session in which the therapist gives you feedback from the assessment and where the treatment plan is discussed. Ongoing couple sessions after the assessment phase go for one hour.

How long will it take?

Couples therapy usually lasts around 6-12 sessions, firstly on a weekly basis, then moving to fortnightly and then monthly appointments, as you learn to implement the skills you have learned in counseling.

If you are interested to learn more about whether CBT for couples is for you, please call us on 9555 4810 or email us at essentials@self.net.au