What happens in Couple Counselling?

What to expect…

Couples who are having problems in their relationship may benefit from attending a counselling session that focuses on their relationship. It is normal to approach the first session with trepidation and apprehension, and hopefully will be able to relax into the process and come to value the experience and the benefits.

The first session is primarily an information gathering session in which the counsellor will ask you to discuss your history and your troubles. Couples counsellors use a variety of modalities and techniques to help you work through your relationship problems, including open discussions, role modeling, role playing and analysing negative patterns of behaviour.

Professional  counsellors are trained to avoid personal bias when counselling a couple. Many couples are apprehensive if they have never attended a relationship counselling session before. Additionally, couples might have questions like (1) how the counsellor will conduct themselves during the interview, (2) whether the counsellor will take sides or (3) what they may have to reveal as part of their couples therapy.

While relationship counselling might sound intimidating and scary at first, many couples can find their relationship will benefit if they attend with an open mind and a willingness to work with their partner. Not only can couples resolve current conflict and distress, the benefits have been shown to last for years after therapy.

In many cases, the counsellor is able to narrow down the focus of the therapy in order to identify the primary issues which need addressing. Although every practitioner has their own unique approach to relationship and couples counselling, there are a few common elements to be found. Some of the post common areas of conflict include communication issues, different values and expectations, and trust issues.

How to prepare…

Just bring yourself! You do not need to bring anything to your first session of couples counselling, nor do you need to prepare in any formal way. Many couples like to spend some time thinking about why they are going to counselling, and what issues they might want to discuss whilst there, but this is not essential. A counsellor will be able to ‘start the ball rolling’ by asking the right questions to get you thinking and talking about the problems you and your partner are experiencing in your relationship.

What topics will be covered?

The first session is where the ground rules and boundaries for the relationship counselling are set. During this first session, you and your partner can expect the counsellor to talk about confidentiality, mandatory reporting situations (for example, in circumstances of child abuse etc), policies regarding cancellations and what methods they use when they work with couples on relationship issues.

Once this information is covered, the counsellor will generally take a brief history from you, covering the issues or problems that are bringing you to counselling, as well as a history of your relationship. They may ask questions like;

  • What issues have you been experiencing in your relationship?
  • How long have these issues been a problem in your relationship?
  • Have you ever been in relationship counselling before?
  • What have you and your partner done to try to resolve these issues?
  • What are your expectations of couples counselling

In this way, the initial session is more of an information–gathering session, although real and meaningful issues are often discussed and  time providing can be worked on at this very early stage.

The real work of counselling will usually start during the second session, when the counsellor has a better idea of the nature of your problems, and the business aspects of therapy has been taken care of.

How is a session conducted?

Initially, both people in the relationship will attend a couples counselling session together. This helps to establish an association with the counsellor that is clearly about the couple and their relationship. Some relationship counsellors and indeed some clients then find it beneficial to see the counsellor individually, in turn, before meeting up again as a couple.

Some relationship counsellors will only ever see their couples clients when they attend together. If you are in these circumstances, but you have a particular issue that primarily affects you as an individual, such as depression or an addiction, then your couples counsellor might suggest you see another psychologist or clinician for individual therapy to attend to that particular issue.

The counsellor’s first task is to set you and your partner at ease and make you comfortable. Counselling or therapy is about developing trust with your counsellor so that you feel comfortable and safe talking about issues that may be very personal and extremely difficult to discuss. A professional and ethical counsellor will make every effort to allow both of you to tell your side of the issue when it comes to talking about the issues you and your partner are struggling with in your relationship.

The counsellor may use several different types of methods to help you and your partner in the counselling process. This may include:-

  • openly discussing difficult topics,
  • sharing feelings
  • analyzing your behavioural patterns and the ways in which you communicate
  • teaching you techniques to help you improve your communication methods,
  • role playing,
  • role modeling,
  • asking you about your childhood and family history or
  • pointing out discrepancies in your and your partner’s behaviour.

You may also be asked to undertake projects or practice tasks between sessions (like homework) in order to help with the counselling process. For example, you may be given an assignment regarding how to touch each other (give a massage that is not sexual in nature at least once before the next session), or you may be asked to record your feelings or arguments in a diary and be asked to report back on the experience during the next session.

Therapy bias?

Professional counsellors work very hard to recognise and contain their own personal biases – if they are concerned about how these might impact on the therapy, they might even disclose to you up front what they are (this may occur at the beginning of therapy or at a time in therapy when an issue comes up that pushes against their own personal feelings). However, many counsellors will work through their own biases in their own counselling or supervisory processes (many good counsellors believe that they should be in their own therapy if they are practicing).

Examples of biases that might confront a counsellor include strongly held religious beliefs (or a disdain for them), beliefs about homosexuality and same sex couples, or a belief about the commitment of marriage. If you are concerned about any biases or potential bias that you might face, you should discuss these openly with your counsellor.

Another way in which personal bias is often a concern for couples is a fear that the counsellor might side with one member of the couple over another. Although this is certainly a cause for concern, what you will probably discover is that most ethical and professional counsellors work very diligently to ensure that this will not happen. Both parties are not only allowed to speak about their viewpoints and experiences, but they are even allowed to disagree during the process.

How might a couple benefit from therapy?

Couples can benefit from therapy in a variety of ways. Quite often, our problems as couples is not that we do not love and care about our partner, rather we do not know how to communicate well about our needs and wants.

The benefits of couples counselling can include:

  • Learning better communication skills and how to really listen to our partner without jumping to conclusions or starting an argument;
  • Learning how to better understand the struggles, challenges and fears of our partner;
  • Learning how to fight and disagree with each other without destroying each other in the process;
  • Improving intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual
  • Learning how to honor family relationships (particularly in blended families);
  • Learning about personal boundaries and past history that we may not have known before;
  • Deciding whether there is enough of a relationship to salvage;
  • Mediation for a relationship that is ending.

Where can I go for counselling?

If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship or want to learn how to connect more deeply and emotionally, you may find talking with a counsellor helpful. For more information or to schedule a consultation you can

1 thought on “What happens in Couple Counselling?”

  1. I wanted to find out more about couples counseling after hearing my sister and her husband express interest in it. It’s good that you talked about how the first session is mostly an informational one during which the counselor would ask you about your problems and past. I’ll be sure to let her know about this so she knows what to anticipate. I will definitely look for experts that can provide couples counseling for them.

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