Couples Counselling and why it differs


Annette Jones, specialist couples counsellor explains why couples counselling is both complex and rewarding and how it differs to that of counselling an individual.

1. How is working with couples different to counselling an individual?
There are numerous differences and the most importance aspect is that we are treating the relationship not the individual. Couples create something between them and it’s this that we focus on. Another important aspect is that the couple creates a container where they support each other; the couple relationship helps them regress so to speak. The individual is the focus of 1/1 therapy and the container is created between them and the therapist.

2. What are the main complexities of working with couples who often have different views/feelings on the outcome
Split agenda’s need careful attention and we have to help the couple negotiate and compromise. I also think that each of the couple wants and hopes that the other will change. They fantasize that if they change (as opposed to them needing to change) their problems will be resolved. We think of this as projective gridlock – it’s you not me!!! We also think of this as co-dependency or Symbiosis in Transactional Anaysis terms. This often takes a great deal of time to work with because defence systems can be engrained when resentment has built up.

3. Why would you recommend working with couples?
The ONS states that 42% of marriages fail and 34% of marriages are estimated to fail by their 20th year. Its good business because of this but that’s not enough to get you into doing this work. Couples generally attend counselling 6 years too late according to Gottman and are highly distressed as a result. Small changes in behaviour can therefore have a quick and stabilising effect. No-one gets married to break-up; these are heart rendering issues that touch the soul.

4. How easy is it to stay impartial when working with couples? 
You are there to facilitate communication and understanding between the couple, neutrality is always held in mind. Should impartiality come into the room, it’s important to notice this, reflect and give words to it, name it with the couple because it’s bound to represent an aspect of their relationship. Talking it through, we hope will shed light on the meaning of this within the couple relationship.

5. Is it possible for love to come back into a marriage/relationship?
Absolutely but this takes time, continued thinking and reflection. Couples are usually so angry and build up walls (defences) to fend off hurt and vulnerability. They have generally stopped sharing their feelings and thoughts for fear of further upset. Slowly but surely a brick can be taken out of the wall, one at a time as the couple re-establishes intimacy through talking and sharing their experiences in the sessions. Couple can give up too quickly to my mind, I always ask ‘what are your intentions for this relationship’ If they understand that then they have context for their efforts.

6 What can attendees expect to gain from attending the Cert in Working with Couples course?
A practical insight into how to underpin the therapeutic alliance. Trust takes time to build and yet interventions need to happen quickly to give hope to the couple. Normalising difficulties and sharing practical models with the couple helps broaden their understanding and depersonalizes. If you hold them in mind as a couple who can do this work and make this journey whatever the outcome the couple will settle into the work knowing you are holding and containing their anxiety.

Cert in Working With Couples starts Thursday 30th March. For more information please click here 

Recommended further reading for both clients and therapists

The seven principles for making marriage work – John Gottman and Nan Silver
Hot Monogamy – Dr Patricia Love and Jo Robinson
The couples journey – Susan M Campbell