|Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net |
“The way to have a successful and rewarding couples therapy experience involves you becoming an active partner in the process—being willing to address hot button issues, setting and pursuing goals for yourself, and listening to your partner’s challenging viewpoints with an open attitude. “ - Julia Flood, LCSW
Getting Your Money’s Worth in Therapy
by Julia Flood, LCSW
Many couples are at their wit’s end
when they begin couples therapy and look to their therapist as an expert to
provide direction, tools, and a safe environment to practice these in. These
are all perfectly reasonable expectations at the outset of therapy. However
once you have shared your point of view of the problems, have gotten some
outside feedback, and are feeling comfortable, that’s the time when you need to
become a partner in the therapy process. Instead of thinking of couples
counseling as a service provided to you, a more accurate way to
see it is in terms of education and coaching. It’s just like with a personal
trainer at the gym: if you don’t actually do the work, things won’t improve.
And more than that, it’s not just about making the most out of the session, but
making lasting changes in your relationship.
Some couples sort of just “attend”
couples therapy – they show up ready to spend an hour of their time and the
session fee, but don’t arrive mentally prepared. This can lead to frustration
and even disillusionment: The progress seems slower and slower, and the
positive experiences of connection and renewed hope you felt in the beginning
become distant memory, making it even harder to continue. You find yourself
doubting the entire therapy process, and wonder if you should perhaps cut back
or even discontinue. However, attending sessions irregularly because you are
ambivalent and disengaged is pretty much a recipe for an even more frustrating
and unsuccessful experience.
The good news is, the power to break
out of this downward spiral (which isn’t just about the end of therapy but
possibly the end of your relationship) lies in your hands. The way to instead
have a successful and rewarding couples therapy experience involves you
becoming an active partner in the process—being willing to address hot button
issues, setting and pursuing goals for yourself, and listening to your
partner’s challenging viewpoints with an open attitude. Here are a few tips on
how you can work to make therapy both cost-effective and rewarding:
commitment I’m talking about is not necessarily the one to staying with your
partner - maybe you’re still trying to figure that one out - but to the process you started in couples
therapy. And, yes, part of that package is not throwing the word “break-up”
around like a weapon every time things don’t go your way. Even if you don’t
mean it, it’s a low blow and ultimately not effective in getting the positive
reactions you crave. There’s always time for a break-up, but there may not
always be time to work on your relationship. For some couples it is helpful to
commit to an agreed-upon time frame during which you will try to work things
out and participate in therapy weekly. If you make the effort of investing time
and money, then why not give it all you can?
Put in the time, make the effort
higher your level of conflict or disconnection, the more regularly you will
need to come to therapy. Couples therapy is seldom a quick fix. However, what
happens in between the sessions may be as or even more important. Did you take
any notes during the session or afterwards? Do you know what you will be
working on this week? Do you know your partner’s goals, so you can spot his or
her efforts throughout the week? What gets in the way of making an effort this
week, and how can you plan ahead to make it work anyway? “It only works if you
work it”, as they say.
3. Create goals for yourself, not your partner
on what your partner needs to change comes natural but simply isn’t an
effective strategy and ultimately doesn’t get you what you want. When you’re stressed, do you try to control, nag, or whine?
Do you avoid and withdraw? These are very common responses, but – as you know –
very ineffective ones. What hinders you from “taking the high road”? Take an
honest look at your behavior towards your partner this week. Which ineffective
behaviors did you resort to? Where did you make an all-out effort? Identifying
more effective behaviors on your end will make up your goals for
therapy. Start with the only place you actually have control over: yourself! And
don’t forget: What did your partner do well this week? Complimenting your
partner’s efforts is a very effective way to have an influence.
Put yourself out there and try to get to the “feelings behind the
feelings.” Often what we feel on a surface level in a relationship is anger,
annoyance, resentment, and judgment for the other. Try to dig deeper and get in
touch with what triggered those thoughts and feelings. It is much easier to say
that you are “irritated” and “frustrated”, than admitting that you feel
disappointed, guilty, ashamed, insecure, or are having visions of being
abandoned. Owning up to your deeper feelings takes a lot of courage. Nobody
enjoys being vulnerable, especially when you’re feeling emotionally threatened.
But defensiveness breeds even more defensiveness. Often both partners have no idea
how threatening they seem to the other when they resort to ineffective
behaviors, and thus perpetuating the vicious cycle.
successful outcome of therapy in the least amount of time is something all
parties desire. A couple’s willingness to work hard, stretch out of their
comfort zone, and stick with it is probably the greatest predictor for a
successful therapy outcome, and consequently of the total cost of investing in
Julia Flood, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in San Francisco's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. She has been working in the mental health field since 1996 and specializes in couples therapy/marriage counseling, helping partners in crisis to break out of the vicious cycle of hurting and being hurt. You can find out more about Julia on her website: www.newstarttherapy.com, or by calling (415) 820-3210 to arrange an initial phone consultation. She is bilingual in English and German.
Labels: Couples Therapy, Julia Flood, Money