Couples counselling - How can it help?
Often couples seek counselling because of an accumulation of painful experiences between them that have led to it becoming impossible for them to communicate effectively. Discussions about what is difficult between them seem to either degenerate into angry exchanges of blame and judgement or end up in an icy silence. Either way, both people are left feeling hurt, distressed and isolated from each other.
Couple counselling offers a space where it is possible for something different to happen. It can give people in close relationship an opportunity to speak what has been unspoken and to hear each other afresh. Out of that may come a greater understanding and acceptance of each other that can help them see why their relationship has got into difficulties. This, in turn, may lead to greater clarity about the changes they would like to make, individually and together.
The counsellor's role is to facilitate more open and honest communication, not to give advice or tell people what to do. The foundation of effective couples counsellling lies in the counsellor's ability to listen deeply to both people without judgement or bias, to empathise with their feelings, and to be able to accept as valid each person's subjective experience even though they may be very different. It is important that both individuals feel the counsellor is trustworthy, genuine, empathic and non-judgemental.
As each person talks about their experience and feelings the counsellor can begin to get a picrue of the dynamics of their relationship. Patterns of similarity and difference may emerge, understanding of why each person behaves in particular ways can grow, without each person's feelings or perspective being seen as 'right' or 'wrong'.
A client who found couple counselling helpful summed up the experience in the following way:
"Meeting the counsellor in a neutral setting helped us both. Although one of us approached counselling with some misgivings, we found it did provide us with the means of resolving our personal problems. At different times we both found it painful but overall the whole thing proved to be an extremely helpful and worthwhile experience. It has give us the confidence to go back again, if it were ever necessary."
Couple counselling will only work if people are willing to risk being more open with each other and take personal responsibility for working towards a greater acceptance of each other, letting go of fixed ideas about how the other person 'should' be. It is sometimes hard work for all involved but it does have the potential to be immensely rewarding and to help couples find new ways forward in their relationship.
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