What kind of problems do couples deal with in therapy?
Communication: This can take the form of too much hostility, anger and conflict, or conversely, it can take the form of silence, depressive feelings, withdrawal, hopelessness or deadness in the relationship. Problems in communication frequently are connected to sexual difficulties as well.
Reenacting Old Patterns: Perhaps you find that you are behaving toward each other in the same way that you reacted to your parents during childhood. Conversely, you may find yourself replicating dysfunctional aspects of your parent's relationship with each other. This includes difficulties that survivors of child abuse and/or neglect as well as adult children of substance abusers bring to relationships.
Trauma: Many types of trauma can effect couples such as assault, rape, death, accidents, robbery, suicide (or attempted suicide), illness, disability, affairs and other types of betrayal. You may need assistance dealing with a current trauma, or dealing with a trauma that occurred in the past.
Life Transitions: Couples go through predictable developmental stages, each stage containing tasks that need to be completed successfully. There are also transitions that are not predictable such as career change and relocation (including immigration). You may need assistance with a present transition, or with the results of past transitions.
Commitment: Taking the next step, whether it be monogamy, cohabitation, marriage, or starting a family can bring up new concerns and issues. The two of you might need to explore unconscious expectations and fears, values, lifestyle differences, money management, extended family involvement, etc. Conversely, if you are choosing to break your commitment by separation or divorce, you may need assistance as well.
Diversity: In mixed marriages, ethnic, cultural and religious differences may lead to misunderstandings and conflict. If you are in a gay, lesbian, multi-faith, multi-racial or multi-ethnic relationship you might need assistance with the 'isms' whether it be from family, friends, or other sources.
How does couples therapy compare to individual therapy?
There are two major differences:
Safety: Many couples never come to therapy precisely because they fear that opening things up would worsen the situation or even destroy the relationship. They realize that they may want to say things to each other that they have been afraid to say for years, or one or both may fear that they will be ganged up on and blamed for everything. I am aware of the anxieties created by seeking help and therefore encourage a slow pace that honors the delicacy of the situation. As we move forward in understanding your couple's dynamics, it becomes apparent that no one person is to blame.
Roles: While each of you, particularly at the beginning of therapy, will spend time speaking directly with me, increasingly the time will be spent with the two of you talking to each other. During this time I will assist and support you with suggestions and observations. The three of us will collaborate in generating new understanding and behavior. How would we get started? A consultation can assist you in determining whether therapy might be useful for you. We will explore your present situation, needs and questions and concerns about therapy. We will come to understand whether it would be appropriate for you to enter therapy at this time, and if so what kind of therapy and whether or not we would like to work together. If the answer to this is no, I will provide you with referrals for other therapists.