Couples counselling… a cliched term which is often feared and misunderstood by potential clients and onlookers.

The questions herein are rooted in some of the most common questions and misunderstandings encountered in couples counselling. We trust that through reading this, you will realize that relational struggle is normal as is asking for help to cope with and even thrive in your intimate relationships.

1. What is couples counselling?

Couples counselling is not a sign of weakness, defeat or shame.

Let me first start by telling you what couples counselling isn’t… couples counselling is not a sign of weakness, defeat or shame. You have not failed when you ask for help to maintain and improve your intimate relationships and it is not a social-ill/ taboo to engage in couples counselling (or any other therapy for that matter). These are extremely dangerous narratives which prevent many struggling couples from asking for help.

Couples counselling is actually a good and liberating process. It is 1) acknowledging that there is a problem, 2) feeling relieved that you don’t have to hide it anymore, and 3) feeling empowered because you have the tools to address it. Acknowledgement, relief and empowerment are 100% certain for every couple in therapy and those are just the benefits of the first few sessions!

2. When should we seek couples counselling?

Irrespective of when you seek couples counselling, we celebrate you because you are one step closer to attaining a healthier, happier relationship!

At The Connect Group we honour couples for seeking counselling irrespective of what stage of their relationship they are in. We have however noticed that most couples seek out counselling as a last resort. It’s the final attempt to restore a relationship after months and years of relational break-down. Couples counselling can and often does work at restoring relationships that are so close to permanent break down. But it is definitely a harder and more complex process when there is a history of unresolved ‘stuff’ to work through.

We, therefore, advocate for couples seeking ‘preventative’ counselling. Preventative counselling is the process of preparing for the relationship and preempting any possible issues that may arise in your relationship. Premarital courses are popular examples of preventative counselling, damagingly associated with ‘religious preparation’ for marriage alone. Premarital (or pre-relational counselling as we like to call it), is for everyone wisely wanting to prepare for a sustainable, long-term relationship. Preventative counselling can also mean booking sessions to resolve a problem in its formative stages so that you prevent it from worsening and becoming increasingly damaging and harder to resolve.

We are also big advocates for ‘maintenance’ counselling. Maintenance counselling is much like a service/maintenance plan on your vehicle. We understand that regular services prevent big problems and big expenses on our vehicles, but struggle to recognize the same applies to our relationships and mental health. Maintenance sessions are scheduled check-ups intended to evaluate the well-being of the relationship, address any problems and equip the couple with tools to sustain ‘a smooth ride’.

Irrespective of when you seek couples counselling, we celebrate you because you are one step closer to attaining a healthier, happier relationship!

3. Is couples therapy only for heterosexual couples?

For LGBTQ persons in particular, asking questions about your counsellors training and personal beliefs are essential in making you feel professionally supported and comfortable in your sessions.

Couples therapy is broadly defined as intimate relationship maintenance and healing between two parties. The definition is not exclusive to heterosexual parties, therefore couples counselling should rightfully be accessible to LGBTQ couples too.

Accessing a service because it is your right is however not the only factor worth considering when choosing a couples counsellor. Couples also need to ensure ‘rightness of fit’ between themselves and their counsellor. For LGBTQ persons in particular, asking questions about your counsellors training and personal beliefs are essential in making you feel professionally supported and comfortable in your sessions.

At The Connect Group, we humbly recognize our limitations in this regard, and feel it would be a disservice to counsel LGBTQ couples without sufficient training and personal interrogation in this regard. Whilst we pursue more inclusive couples counselling practices, we refer you to a pioneer and personal hero in the field, Dr. Ronald Addinall: ron.addinall@uct.ac.za.

4. Will you be able to tell us who is right and wrong in the relationship?

It is far more empowering when partners realize their wrongs and take responsibility for being better, than having a counsellor point out their flaws and dictate fixing them.

Your couples counsellor is not there to assign blame nor will your counsellor take sides. What your counsellor will do is listen to the experience and feelings of each partner and affirm them so that he/she is heard and validated without interruption. Your counsellor will also reflect that experience back to the other partner equipping him/her to listen to narrative and not deflect it. Additional questions will be asked to help partners take ownership of their contribution to the problem, to make apologies and commit to small practical steps toward change. It is far more empowering when partners realize their wrongs and take responsibility for being better, than having a counsellor point out their flaws and dictate fixing them.

5. Will you ask us about our sex life?

Talking about sex is not reserved for your sessions alone and so part of the ‘sex talk’ in your sessions will be equipping you to talk about it at home because communication about sex will yield better sexual experiences too.

Yes… we will ask about your sex life because sex is foundational in any intimate relationship. What makes it even more necessary to talk about is that 50% of couples experience some sort of sexual struggle or dysfunction which remain unaddressed and manifest into other issues in the relationship.

Whilst your counsellor may be comfortable talking about sex, we recognize you and your partner may experience it to be uncomfortable and invasive. And so it is essential that your counsellor normalizes the conversation making it as approachable as possible. Talking about sex in your sessions is not just about identifying sexual issues to address in the process, it is also about modelling what raw and unfiltered intimate speech should look like at home. Talking about sex is not reserved for your sessions alone and so part of the ‘sex talk’ in your sessions will be equipping you to talk about it at home because communication about sex will yield better sexual experiences too.

6. Can I ask my counsellor about their relationships?

Asking your counsellor questions about their relationships is welcomed, however be prepared that receiving answers is not guaranteed.

Asking your counsellor personal questions is a common form of projection in couples sessions… when the conversation gets tough, your counsellor knows to expect you to ask him/her something about their intimate relationships and/or experiences. A wise counsellor will not immediately answer nor refuse the question, instead, they will determine the motivation for the question by asking, ‘I am wondering why you want to know that about me?’. The answer to this question helps the counsellor determine whether their self-disclosure will distract the couple from their counselling process or perhaps propel the process because the disclosure makes the counsellor more trust-worthy, more human and/or more relatable to the client.

So, asking your counsellor questions about their relationships is welcomed, however, be prepared that receiving answers is not guaranteed.

7. Will we get homework?

Counsellors partner with couples to help them resolve their own problems. Simple, approachable and time-sensitive and couple specific homework tasks help us do that!

Couples therapy requires application of your learnings outside of sessions and so homework tasks should be expected. Completing homework tasks help couples identify further issues for resolution in counselling and also helps couples practice what they have learnt in session so that eventually they are equipped enough to resolve their problems on their own and no longer need counselling (Yay!). Progress cannot and should not be limited to sessions alone as this results in an over-dependence on your counsellor to resolve all of your problems for you. Counsellors partner with couples to help them resolve their own problems. Simple, approachable and time-sensitive and couple-specific homework tasks help us do that!

8. How long does it take?

Your counsellors assessment within the first 1-2 sessions should answer these subjective questions and therefore provide you with an estimated number of sessions to book before seeing progress.

The short answer is that couples counselling, just like any other counselling process takes time. The amount of time it takes depends on a number of subjective factors including 1) At what stage in the relationship and problem development did you seek counselling support? 2) How present and committed to the process (including the completion of homework tasks) is the couple? 3) How frequently and regularly is the couple booking and attending sessions? (It is recommended that weekly sessions are booked for best results). 4) What is the magnitude and depth of the issues which require intervention in session? 5) How well the couple is able to communicate in session?

Your counsellors assessment within the first 1-2 sessions should answer these subjective questions and therefore provide you with an estimated number of sessions to book before seeing progress. It is our experience that you can aim to unpack and deal with one issue per session. It has also been our experience that the simpler couples issues have been resolved in a recommended minimum of 6 sessions.

9. Can we really recover after an affair?

Taking responsibility for the affair rests on both parties shoulders, and recognition of that along with an authentic apology usually expresses itself in a mutual commitment to explore the causational struggles which lead to the affair.

Recovery after an affair is possible. However, from the get-go, your counsellor will help you redefine recovery to include reuniting with ones partner or liberating oneself from the relationship, forgiving and overcoming the trauma of the relationship. The possibility of reuniting after an affair is largely dependent on the authenticity of the apologies expressed by both parties. I say both parties intentionally because the reality is that an affair is often the manifestation of long-tern intimate relationship struggles that have been ignored or denied by both parties. Taking responsibility for the affair rests on both parties shoulders, and recognition of that along with an authentic apology usually expresses itself in a mutual commitment to explore the causational struggles which lead to the affair. Affair recoveries are painful and hard work but do yield successful. For some this success means forgiving and recommitting to one another whilst for others it means forgiving and ending the relationship- either is a recovered and good solution!

10. How do we finance sessions?

A good counsellor will immediately debunk any narratives claiming more ownership of the session, and possession of their partner because of financial affluence. An even better counsellor will negotiate a rate allowing each party to contribute within their means.

Couples counselling is a joint process and as such we believe sessions should be financed jointly too. Whether this means drawing funds from the parties 2 separate bank accounts or mutually consenting to reserve the funds for sessions from the family pot- what is most important is that a feeling of mutual financial contribution is in the room so that there is mutual ownership of the session too. A good counsellor will immediately debunk any narratives claiming more ownership of the session, and possession of their partner because of financial affluence. An even better counsellor will negotiate a rate allowing each party to contribute within their means.

Couples counselling is generally a more costly process because there are two parties in session. Further to that, medical aids, unfortunately, don’t classify couples counselling as a medical procedure and therefore don’t pay for these sessions unless they come out of the general medical savings attached to your medical aid. A qualified mental health practitioner with additional training in couples counselling may charge anything between R600-R2500 a session. At The Connect Group, you can expect a slightly reduced bracket of R600-R1200 per session.

We recognize that the above figures may cause you to gasp. And so the encouragement is to talk to your counsellor first because negotiation is always possible!

 

 

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