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What do you do as a therapist to help each individual in a relationship?
Couples therapy helps each person in the relationship develop a clear understanding of how their own history affects their relationship with their partner. In this process, the way their two individual histories interact becomes clearer. This helps to identify what their triggers are, and most importantly, why they are triggered. Triggers are things that upset them beyond what is obvious within the context of a disagreement. There are often patterns of behavior and thinking that come from someone’s family history that interact and cause problems for the couple. Understanding these dynamics in the context of a relationship helps prevent relationship bumps from becoming mountains.
What should couples expect to happen during therapy?
Some couples come in with a vague sense of unease and distress. Others are clear about the problem but don't know how to solve it. By the time they leave, couples should have more clarity about what the problem is and have some specific tools to address it. They should expect to understand more about their own underlying struggles and traits and how those contribute to their relationship problems. They will develop better tools to address these underlying problems so they learn how to reduce the frequency and intensity of conflict. They will learn how to improve their relationship by strengthening communication skills, including listening, and feel more emotionally connected to their partner.
What helps couples therapy succeed?
Relationships improve with awareness and practice. Doing something over and over again to override bad habits helps people make change. In order to have successful therapy sessions, couples must practice the skills discussed in therapy at home. When they practice communication skills and use insights learned during couples therapy, they often report that they feel more connected to their partners and better able to reduce problems. Specifically, they will be able to communicate more effectively in order to get their individual needs met and improve their conflict-resolution skills.
What training models guide your treatment practices?
I tailor my treatment to the needs of the patient. I consider myself an eclectic therapist and borrow from many schools of thought.
I use a relational approach, which includes gathering family history to understand the past, cognitive behavioral therapy, and strengthening communication skills. One technique I employ is Imago, which provides couples with tips on listening to each other more fully. I introduce guidelines for making marriages work, based on the research of John Gottman. The work of Susan Johnson, called “emotionally focused therapy,” helps couples develop a deeper understanding of their partner’s feelings.
In addition, I use insight-oriented techniques which use information gained from gathering couples’ family histories, to help clarify the issues and help them devise a plan to move forward.
I look at each individual’s family history and explain how it informs who we are, how we handle conflict and relate to our partners. I help couples see how their family history, and patterns of relating, thinking and communicating can lead to conflict when they interact with their partner’s own history and way of relating.