One Size does Not Fit All in Couples’ Therapy
Reflections on therapeutic approach
One of my clients recently recommended me to her friend, who was in need of a couple’s therapist. When asked about my therapeutic approach, unsure of how to respond my client in turn queried me, “what kind of therapy is this, anyway?” We had been working together for some time, and she had been openly appreciative of the process, as well as her progress along the way. Yet the idea of how that process or progress was facilitated – puzzled her.
Hesitant to label my therapeutic approach, I was more curious than resistant. Certainly the question was valid; I’d given it serious reflection on several occasions throughout my career, typically when asked to provide a bio or a profile. Invariably the question never satisfied me, and my answers typically felt incomplete.
Truth is – one size does not fit all, when it comes to couple’s therapy. Every individual presents a unique universe of personality, life and family experiences; when two people connect, there’s a catalytic charge to the whole thing. Because of these influences, couple’s therapy is dynamic with many variables interacting at once.
When a couple is in turmoil, senses and emotions are heightened.
Uncertainty about each other and the process are characteristic. It’s key to the foundation of successful therapy that the therapist develops a good connection with each of the partners – naturally requiring diverse approaches. As Carl Rogers (seminal Humanistic theorist) observed – it’s important to find the right fit, for the right person, at the right time.
Beyond the inherent dynamics within each relationship, another consideration is the changing essence of relationships overall. Intimate relationships are evolving in new directions. What may have worked in theory or practice a decade or two ago, rarely fulfills our expectations of what a successful healthy relationship might feel like today. Human drives and desires remain constant (e.g. attachment, communication, appreciation), yet relationships have new realities that require emerging new therapeutic approaches.
Now when asked about my therapeutic approach, I clearly state that I work from a client-centered (Humanistic), solution-focused stance. I use models that include mindfulness (Transpersonal), body centered relaxation for anxiety (Somatic), emotionally focused therapy. Depending on the client and the issues, I may lean more heavily on thought-based practices (Cognitive Behavioural, Dialectical). I observe clients dominant learning style prior to determining if a more or less directive or psych-educational tool might be required. EMDR is an empirically supported as a leading tool for trauma and working with sub-conscious blocks – which I use, if appropriate.
In short, skillful couples therapy is a bit like jazz music, in my experience.
First you must learn several methods of technique, then you practice, practice, practice, most importantly then, let it all go in order to play – it’s a bit like a great relationship itself, no two are the same.