John Gottman has observed that, on average, couples come in for counseling after they have been experiencing serious problems in their relationship for 6 years. That means that when you sit in that client’s chair for the first time, you probably will be feeling angry, hurt and hopeless. You will probably feel blamed by your partner. You may be trying desperately to save your relationship – or you may be almost out the door and have agreed to give this one more shot. You might have had a horrible fight recently that leaves both partners exhausted and wounded. So now I’m going to share a prejudice of mine: People who seek the help of a therapist for couples work should see someone who is specifically trained to work with couples. A therapist who is really good at working with individuals, may not be so helpful with couples. Teaching communication skills can be very useful, for sure, but every couple brings with them a rich and complex dynamic. It is this dynamic (or system….or cycle) that a therapist needs to understand and touch. When we are stressed in our relationship we already feel alone and isolated. Working with couples from an individual perspective only strengthens this sense of isolation, I think. There are a number of wonderful ways to think about, and work with, couples in distress. Many like Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Others develop an expertise in John Gottman’s approach. Still others use Brent Atkinson’s Emotionally Intelligent Couples Therapy approach, or Dan Wile’s Collaborative Couples Therapy. I prefer Johnson’s work, spiced by the work of these other exceptional and gifted people. There are certainly more kinds of couples therapy out there. My suggestion is that whoever you work with, make sure they have specific training and focus in an approach to couples therapy.
Heard a great story on NPR this morning on parenting teens.