The following questions are commonly asked by people inquiring about couples therapy.
Do you have evening or weekend hours?
Yes. Our commitment to couples means that we have to be available when they are. In most relationships both partners are employed so we try to make ourselves available when both of you are available. Evening hours are available Monday through Thursday until 9pm, and Friday until 5pm. We do not offer weekend appointments.
Will our health insurance help pay for our therapy?
Probably not. Unfortunately, most insurers do not have couples therapy as a covered benefit as they do not see it as a health care service. They are currently ignoring the accumulating evidence that a satisfying relationship is highly correlated with health and longevity. You should call the member services number on your health insurance card and inquire as your company may be an exception.
How long will couples therapy take?
It varies. Length of therapy depends on the condition of your relationship when you start and on what you expect to accomplish. Your therapist will evaluate the current condition with you and will help you set realistic expectations right at the start.
What makes a couples therapist different from any other therapist?
Not every therapist is well suited to couples therapy. Many therapists will try to do it as an adjunct to their practice, but are not trained for it or temperamentally suited to it. Couples therapy is not like individual therapy done simultaneously with the partners. Couples therapy relies on a relationship theory and focuses on the interactions between the partners while maintaining an awareness of what is happening within each individual. The skilled couples therapist must be grounded in individual therapeutic methods, but must have additional specialized skills for working with relationships. Further, any kind of therapy can be emotionally intense at times, but it takes a special kind of therapist to be comfortable with the emotional intensity of two partners at the same time without feeding into it or unnecessarily smothering it.
What qualities should I look for in a couples therapist?
The therapist who specializes in working with couples has at least two important qualities that distinguish him from therapists who work with individuals.
Commitment to your commitment
Individual therapists tend to be oriented to relieving symptoms or helping people feel better. Sometimes this is done at the expense of the relationship. This happens when divorce is recommended as a way for one of the partners to feel better. We view this as one of those situations when the operation was a success, but the patient died.
As specialist couples therapists, we are oriented to preserving your relationship. If you hire us to help fix things, you can expect us to be 100% behind that goal. We will not be recommending separation or divorce.
If one of you is ambivalent about remaining together and wants to explore that further, we are happy to refer that partner to an individual therapist who is sensitive to relationship issues.
We think all therapists who are practicing independently, individual or couples, should have a solid base in professional training. In Michigan, this means at least a master’s degree in social work or psychology. In addition they should have a minimum of several years of supervised practice in psychotherapy. State licensure insures that therapists meet these minimum requirements. The therapist’s license must be publicly displayed in his office.
Couples therapists should have special training beyond the minimum that licensure requires. This training is specifically about working with couples. It is provided by certificate programs of varying lengths. Ask your therapist about his specialized training and his current theoretical orientation.
Will you tell us if our relationship is hopeless?
In line with our commitment to your commitment, we will not pronounce your relationship dead until you do. We have seen too many “miraculous” recoveries. As Mark Twain said “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” We don’t want to make that mistake. If one or both of you decide to end the relationship, however, we will remain available to help you communicate as effectively as possible during your separation.
Are there stages to couples therapy?
Couples therapy has three stages: assessment, treatment, and relapse prevention.
The assessment phase consists of collecting and organizing information about the relationship. It includes conjoint sessions discussing the history of the relationship, areas of concern and goals for treatment. It may also include individual sessions with each partner and written questionnaires to be completed by each partner. The assessment phase concludes with a conjoint session in which treatment recommendations are discussed and goals are established.
The treatment phase has three parts, as follows:
Part 1 Clarification of the partners’ respective positions. Partners come into therapy having already tried everything they can think of to solve their mutual problems. They feel frustrated and stuck. This may have occurred because individuals have suppressed thoughts and feelings which get expressed in indirect or distorted ways. Alternately, individuals can be hypercritical in their expressions, provoking the partner’s defensiveness. The first task in therapy is to help each partner to express thoughts and feelings about themselves, their partner and the relationship clearly and effectively.
Part 2 Increasing understanding of interacting sensitivities and gridlock. Some couples react to efforts to clarify their respective positions by engaging in the same sort of stalemating interactions that have been frustrating them at home. The therapist acts to break up the gridlock and open dialogue on how the respective positions are mutually depriving and frustrating. The effect is for each partner to become less critical of self and other.
Part 3 Developing a shared perspective on the sensitivities and maintaining an ongoing dialogue on them. Partners who are discussing their respective positions and interacting sensitivities are talking collaboratively about their problems. Therapy has helped them to establish a two-person observation post from which they can view their relationship. Once partners are able to view the relationship from a joint perspective, it may be possible for them to have ongoing and developing discussions about it.
Treatment strategies may include conflict conversations that are structured by the therapist in new ways and debriefing of conflict conversations that have occurred outside of therapy. The therapist may also suggest activities for the partners outside of therapy for the purpose of increasing intimacy and other positive feelings.
The relapse prevention phase consists of follow up sessions spaced increasingly apart in time after the treatment phase has ended. Partners do well as long as they are trying. If they become complacent about their relationship, they will tend to fall back into old habits. The purpose of follow up sessions is to help remind the partners of their goals and the strategies that have been found useful in reaching them.