The thought of seeking couples therapy can be very stressful, especially when couples are attending a session for the first time. Many couples might be nervous thinking that the therapist will decide the fate of their relationship for them and ask them to break up as a result of couples therapy sessions. While such concerns are absolutely valid, it is unlikely for a therapist to do so. In fact, it is considered unethical for a therapist to make any decisions for their clients, whether that be making the relationship work or parting ways.
What does an ethical couple therapist look like?
Couples therapy requires an environment of trust and safety, thus finding the right therapist is critical for the therapy process to be effective. Here are some green flags you might want to look for and some red flags you might want to avoid in a couples therapist.
|Green Flags||Red Flags|
|The therapist creates a safe and non judgemental environment for both partners||Therapist finds it difficult to be objective and let’s their own opinion influence the therapy process|
|Empowers the couple to make decision for their relationship||Gives advice on what the couple should do regarding their relationship|
|Helps both partners to have a healthy dialogue with each other||Takes sides and supports one partner over the other|
|The therapist has a plan based on the couples goals||The therapist might take a directive stance & make goals for couples|
|The therapist is open to feedback and adapts according to the couple’s needs.||The therapist acts defensive when they get a feedback|
What does couples therapy look like?
Couples therapy focuses on helping couples work through the challenges that they are facing in their relationship. Couples therapy provides both partners with a safe and neutral space to understand their relationship better, and develop healthier ways to relate with one another. The therapist will help partners to open up by creating a trusting and confidential environment.
The initial appointment in couples therapy is usually focused on understanding the relationship history and the challenges that the couple is currently facing from both partner’s perspectives. The therapist will ask questions to gather information about the same, The expectations and goals that the couple hopes to achieve from the therapy process are also discussed.
In further sessions, the therapist will help the couple to explore their relationship dynamics to identify core issues and also look for unhelpful patterns of interaction that might be impacting the relationship. When key areas of work have been identified, the therapist will help both partners to learn skills to communicate and understand each other in better ways. The therapist might assign homework activities for both partners so that the concepts discussed in therapy can be used in real-life experiences.
Is Couples Therapy Effective?
Having explored the process of couples therapy, you might be wondering if it really helps in improving couples relationships. Let’s look at what research has to say
A research conducted in 2012 suggests that couple therapy positively impacts 70% of couples receiving treatment. Another research conducted in 2020 had similar findings, where it was found that 60-80% of distressed couples benefit from couples therapy.
Benefits of couple’s therapy
It can be hard for a couple to work through certain relationship issues on their own, couples therapy can be an option in such situations where the couple feels stuck. The potential benefits of couples therapy are:
- It provides couples with clarity on unhelpful dynamics existing in the relationship
- The therapist brings a neutral, honest perspective about the relationship which might encourage partners to look at their relationship in new ways
- It gives the couple to look at and acknowledge positive aspects, strengths in the relationship.
- Couples regularly get an environment to address things that might otherwise be left unspoken between them. The time they spend in therapy also allows them to make their relationship a priority.
While couples therapy can be an effective way for couples to work on their relationship, it is important to acknowledge that working through relationship issues requires patience and long term commitment. It’s unfortunate that an average couple waits for 6 years before they seek professional help.
It is highly unlikely for an ethical therapist to decide the fate of the relationship for their clients. Thus, the responsibility of making a decision remains with the couple themselves. An ethical therapist, acts as a support, providing the couple with a holistic view of their situation and also helps them develop effective strategies to reach their goals. Successful couple therapy provides both the partners ‘clarity’ that they deserve.
- Bradbury, T. N., & Bodenmann, G. (2020). Interventions for Couples. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 16, 99–123. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-071519-020546
- Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 145–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x
- LPC, M. R. P. (2021, November 22). 11 Valuable Benefits of Couples Therapy. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/benefits-of-couples-therapy/
- McNeil, D. (2021, October 4). What to Expect When You Go to Couples Therapy. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-to-expect-when-you-go-to-couples-therapy/
- Shields, C. G., Finley, M. A., Chawla, N., & Meadors, W. P. (2012). Couple and family interventions in health problems. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 265–280. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00269.x
- Wittenborn, A. K., Woods, S. B., Priest, J. B., Morgan, P. C., Tseng, C.-F., Huerta, P., & Edwards, C. (2022). Couple and family interventions for depressive and bipolar disorders: Evidence base update (2010-2019). Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 48(1), 129–153. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12569
- Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Going To Couples Therapy. (2019, October 13). Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/when-to-go-to-couples-therapy-and-how-long-it-takes-to-work