I tell couples to come in for an initial session and after that session, to go home, think about it, and decide if they want to come back. I believe couples need to find a good ‘fit’ with their counselor and also I believe they need to be willing to make some level of commitment to doing the work, even if they cannot yet commit to staying in the relationship.
The First Session:
The first session is different from other sessions because some of it includes talking about what you each want to get out of counseling, and what some of the issues are. Depending on what comes up, I may give you some information right then that helps make sense of what is going on. I will also tell you how we will work if you decide to come back, and hopefully give you a chance to have a short experience of how we will do subsequent sessions.
In the first session, it is more of a conversation among the 3 of us. In subsequent sessions, my focus is on helping the two of you talk to each other about the issues to look at them in new ways, to discover what fuels the conflict or disconnection. As part of that, I will coach you in using new tools to work with issues and to communicate more effectively around issues of conflict. My job is not only to have you do important work in my office, but to develop new skills and information you can use on your own long after you finish with me!
As those issues and fuels get clearer, I will help you design behavior changes that will most effectively address recurring issues and with which you are more likely to be successful. YOU will determine the changes that will be most effective. While I can coach and help you, the most effective changes are ones that come out of your work together and can also have ripple effects on other issues and frustrations in the relationship. The primary models of therapy I use are called Cognitive-Behavioral and Solution Focus. Which means we are not going to spend time digging around in the past.
Whose Side am I Going to Be On?
I am on the side of the marriage or relationship, and of each of you as you take baby steps of growth. I am not interested in deciding who is right or wrong, who is good or bad, etc. I firmly believe that BOTH people constantly create the climate of the marriage or relationship. Both people add to the distress and disconnection (even if they genuinely do not mean to!) and often they are unaware of what they do that is ineffective. So even though we are working on frustrations you have with your partner and vice versa, I expect each person to look at their own parts in the patterns of behavior or thinking that do not work well.
More About Sessions:
I usually give some things to do between sessions. Sometimes it may be to practice some of the skills you learned in a session. Sometimes it may be to do some brief writing. Don’t worry, it is not like writing an essay. Usually it is more like making a list of things like goals, values, or something similar. Spelling and grammar don’t count – and it is more for you than for me! I won’t read them all, but may ask you to share some with your partner.
Most sessions are 45 to 50 minutes if you live in the area, although I encourage people to plan for an hour and a half for the first session. If you are coming from out of town, we can either schedule an hour and a half first session and then do longer sessions so you can do more work quickly. For example, sometimes I have people come for 2-3 hour sessions, when driving long distances. That way we can reduce the number of sessions and spread them out more to cut down on the time and expense of driving.
I believe in short-term therapy. If you are investing time and money, you are either going to do work now -- or not. The goal is to help you do work more effectively on your own, not become dependent on me as the counselor.
If you are not within driving distance of my Melbourne, Florida office check out my intensive sessions described in the next column.