So you’ve decided to work on your relationship, and get some assistance from a therapist, kudos! Or maybe you’re still on the fence, questioning whether it’s the right time, and wondering what the process is like, check out my previous post to determine if now is the time.
While couples therapists can't necessarily gurantee the exact outcome of your relationship, here are 8 things you can do to understand the process and have a great expereince regardless of what happens between you and your partner:
1. Find a therapist who specializes in working with couples.
Think of it as you would with your regular health care. If you were to walk up to a clinic to see a doctor, and on the door a sign read, “Specializing in all ailments, from A-Z,” I’m not sure about you, but that wouldn’t elicit very much confidence in me that I had someone who truly specialized in what I was looking for.
There are many generalist therapists, and many of them are wonderful, however if I’m looking for help with my eyesight I’m going to go see an optometrist because that’s their specialization. The best way to find out a therapist’s specialization is to ask them over the phone before setting your appointment. If you’ve already set an appointment you can use the first session to ask any questions you might have about their specialization, and the way they work with couples.
2. Ask about the process.
Walking in to a first session can feel overwhelming, and you might not know what to expect. Most therapists use the first session as a opportunity to get to know you, and some will do what’s call an intake, where they ask many background questions that may not seem specific to your presenting issue, but are still important.
Others may include an intake questionnaire in their initial paperwork and have you complete it prior to coming to your first session. Either way, asking about what to expect for your first session over the phone or by email before walking in the door will help to alleviate some of the anxiety that can come up when you start couples counseling.
3. Use the first few sessions to learn more about the therapist’s process and gauge for good chemistry.
One of the most important parts of therapy is the relationship you will have with your therapist and it is often one of the best predictors of successful treatment. If you’re not totally comfortable, be sure to let the therapist know what it is that’s causing you discomfort. This will give the therapist an opportunity to address your feelings, and change course if necessary.
4. Take notes.
A lot can be discussed in a single session and because you can get caught up in the emotions that you’re bringing in to session, it’s important to write down any recommendations your therapist may be making including homework that they may request you do throughout the week.
5. Follow through with any homework that’s being given.
This may seem pretty obvious, but many clients forget and show up to their next session without working on things at home. Life can get in the way but if your relationship is important, then the things that your therapists is asking you and your partner to work on throughout the week will only help you reach your goals quicker. Some things may feel uncomfortable and are in fact designed to get you out of your comfort zone and to try things you may not have in the past. Trust in the process and do your best to complete tasks assigned in therapy.
6. Know that sometimes things can get worse before they get better.
You will likely be touching on things in session that are uncomfortable. They may be things you and your partner may have been avoiding due to the difficult emotions those topics bring up. It’s normal to find yourself feeling a little down in the beginning of therapy, so be sure to take notice of what you’re feeling between sessions in order to discuss them with your couples therapist and ask for recommendations about dealing with those emotions between sessions.
7. Continue to provide your therapist with feedback.
While many couples therapists make it avhabit to periodically check in with their clients about their level of satisfaction, some may not, but remember that you are the consumer and have the right to bring up any concerns or questions about the course of your treatment. If there’s something they haven’t addressed that you’d like to discuss let them know. A good couples therapist will be happy to accommodate or address any issues you may have.
8. Check in with your partner regularly regarding your progress in therapy.
It’s easy to get caught up in doing the work and engaging in the process of couples therapy, but in couples therapy there are two customers. Be sure to check in with your partner about how they feel things are going throughout the process. You may feel like you and the therapist are really hitting it off, but if your partner isn’t feeling the same, it should be addressed with the therapist. Again, the relationship between the therapist and clients tend to determine the outcome of therapy.
It’s also important to remember that while therapists are professionals and have many years of training that have helped prepare them for working with you and your partner, they are also human. Most therapists I know are life-long learners who are happy to make any adjustments needed to be sure you feel like you are getting the best services possible, but they don’t know what isn’t shared with them. Having an open relationship with your couples therapist is a beautiful thing, so don’t hesitate to ask questions and provide feedback!