In this article I will discuss the difference between individual counselling and couples counselling. I will look at the importance of remaining neutral with both clients in order to encourage them both to feel comfortable in the room. Bion (1977) I will explore the importance of not believing my own hypothesis and remembering to ask the couples if they agree with what I am bringing to the session. I will look at the importance of looking at ways to bring back healthy communication that might have been lost. I will look at the effectiveness in exploring both party’s history to see how it might be affecting their relationship. It is helpful for the healing of the relationship for me to remain curious and ask questions. Boscolo & Bertrando (1996).
I have noticed that there is a difference between working with individual clients and working with couples. When working with an individual client it is important to build a therapeutic relationship between us. When working with couples it is more about bringing back a healthy flow of communication for the couple in order to enhance their relationship. When working with couples it is still important to build a therapeutic relationship to help the couple feel comfortable working with me but primarily it is their bonding that is important. When working with couples I have found it useful to explore what their relationship was like when they first met.
Sometimes couples can be so focused on the issues they face at that moment that they have forgotten just how different it was in the beginning. It can be interesting to explore what the attraction was to each other and we can look at what action might be needed to bring this attraction back.
By remaining neutral when working with couples both clients have a much better chance of feeling comfortable in the room. If one client does feel that the session is one-sided, we can explore why the person might feel this way. Sometimes this might be the way the person feels in the relationship and this is a great opportunity to explore this together. It might be that the person feels I am siding with the other, this is also a good opportunity to explore what I did or didn’t do to encourage these feelings. Whatever the reason this a good chance for the person to hear encouraging communication within the relationship. It is also helpful for the other person to hear what the person is saying and exploring what triggers this. Bion (1977)
It is important to remember when working with couples not to become too attached to my own hypothesis, remembering I can bring my ideas into the session, but it is the couple who are free to agree or not. This is where remaining curious can be helpful – it is helpful to ask questions about the relationship. By asking questions it can encourage the couple to feel open and speak about issues they are facing.
When working with clients it is helpful to explore the couple’s past to see how different it might have been for each person. I have worked with a couple recently, for the purpose of this article I will call them Jim and Mary, who came along feeling frightened that their relationship was drifting away from them. The couple felt sad about this as it was clear they loved each other very much. Mary felt that Jim was pulling away from her both emotionally and physically, her way of reacting to this was to become vocal and angry. Jim’s way of coping with this was to pull away more and shut down. This led to a cycle where each person’s coping mechanisms triggered the other. When we looked at their pasts Mary’s mother had a personality that was outspoken and strong – she was the more dominant person within the relationship. Her dad was not there for her emotionally and would come and go in her life when she was a child, leading to feelings of anger and fear. She felt the same feelings when Jim pulled away as she did when she was a child. Jim was brought up with a family who never spoke about their feelings and had a mother who would bottle up her feelings and become withdrawn. Once we explored this in session Mary no longer felt Jim’s pulling away was personal and became more relaxed and less pushy, this helped Jim to be more open with Mary.
Exploring a couple’s past can help discover what from their past triggers their feelings in their present. We can easily bring our past experiences into our relationships and not even know we are doing so. Part of couples counselling is bringing past triggers into our consciousness, so we are able to express this to our partners. This is healing communication.
In conclusion, when working with a couple the goal is to always try and heal their fractured communication, to help them see through the anger. Anger and resentment can build up, forming an invisible wall that blinds each person of any nice thoughts they once had. Counselling helps couples explore each other’s triggers from the past, if they have them, and helps them to really see each other similar to how they did at the beginning of the relationship.