My Role As A Couples Therapist
There are differences between couples therapy and individual therapy for both the clients and the therapist. The sessions can be longer, sometimes the couple has to figure out how to take turns speaking, and immediate feedback from either partner to the other can have a tremendous impact. The role of the couples therapist can be a surprise to the couple, especially if one or both partners have been in individual therapy before and expect couples therapy and the couples therapist to operate the same way. The following are what I tell new couples to clarify my role with them:
I do not keep secrets for one partner
Sometimes a partner will communicate to me between sessions to tell me something they think I should know about the other that was not mentioned in session but should not be discussed because it is a sensitive topic. When this happens, I make sure I do not hold secrets between partners and will encourage this partner to bring up the secret and work on it in a couple therapy session.
I create and maintain emotional safety in therapy sessions
The work necessary to repair the relationship cannot occur in couples therapy without emotional safety. If one partner insults or is verbally abusive to the other during session, I will point this out and warn them we cannot move forward until they can be with each other within the boundaries of emotional safety.
I do not favor one partner over the other.
My job is to be objective even if one partner seems responsible for the issues in the relationship. If I spend more time asking questions to one partner I will tell the other partner why I am doing this. I have nothing to gain giving one partner more attention.
I am the advocate for the relationship
I say these words during the first session to a couple to let them know where I stand. Saying these words reinforces my objectivity.
I do not decide who is right or wrong in the relationship
Sometimes a couple will take turns blaming the other for the issues in their relationship as if they are lawyers and I am appointed the judge or the jury. What's more important than who is "guilty" is repairing the relationship and to shift their mindset from blaming to rebuilding.
My real client in couples therapy is the relationship
This is why I ask for the history of the relationship as I would from an individual client. I want to understand what the relationship was like when it thrived and what caused the decline...from each partner's perspective.