Intensive conjoint couple counselling - a fast track approach to relationship problems
When we think of couple counselling, most of us imagine a couple getting help with their relationship from a trained professional, with regular sessions over a period of weeks or months. This is not surprising because most couple counsellors adopt this format. However, the purpose of this article is to present an alternative way of working, which some couples may wish to try and which is much less widely known.
The expression ‘conjoint couple counselling’, means that, instead of having just one counsellor in the room, there are two practitioners, usually of different genders, working simultaneously with the couple. There are many advantages of this way of working, the most obvious being that both partners have more chance of feeling understood and neither feels outnumbered or ‘ganged up on’.
The two counsellors can model aspects of a well-functioning relationship, such as empathic listening, constructive disagreement etc., whether or not they are an actual couple themselves. Role-play (of ideal, or less than ideal, parents – often at the root of many couple problems) becomes possible and simply having two, sometimes constructively differing, perspectives on the relationship can dramatically increase the power and efficacy of the work.
Conjoint couple counselling is, then, a powerful way of working on your relationship, but one problem that frequently arises in all types of couple counselling is where work schedules or geographical location make it difficult for a couple to commit to regular weekly or fortnightly sessions. Intensive conjoint couple counselling can be a possible alternative here.
In this way of working, the couple commits to a maximum of two one and a half hour sessions per day over two or three days, after which there is a break of at least a month (in practice it can be two or even three months) during which, the couple can process and put into practice their insights from the intensive work. This demands a considerable commitment from the client couple, who need to be really motivated to work on their relationship; taking time off work, possibly travelling a considerable distance and committing to reflection and practice between the blocks of sessions.
The words ‘fast track’ in the title doesn't mean an easy fix – far from it - and some couples do need regular appointments to keep them ‘on track’ with the work they’re doing. However, the advantages of working intensively over a short period: That there is time for processing between each session of the block, but not enough to slip back into old patterns or get distracted by the demands of everyday life; together with the input of two counsellors mean that intensive conjoint couple therapy may be a more powerful and deeper way of exploring relationship difficulties than more traditional models of couple work.
 In the US, the term is also, confusingly, used to denote couple counselling sessions where both partners are present.
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About Geoff Lamb
Geoff Lamb has been practicing as an integrative psychotherapist and couple counsellor since 1985. He gained his diploma in couple counselling from Re.Vision/Centre for gender psychology and is a qualified psychosexual therapist.