What is Couples Counseling?
By: Dr. John D. Moore
Many people who call for couples therapy in Chicago often ask: “What is couples counseling and how does it work?” This article aims to answer those questions in a way that is straight forward and devoid of clinical jargon.
Definition: couples counseling is a process whereby two people meet with a trained therapist who is skilled at helping couples better understand the unique dynamics of their relationship through the process of talk therapy.
In most all cases, this counselor is a licensed psychotherapist with strong experience helping couples identify specific relationship roadblocks that are interfering with issues such as intimacy, communication, trust and happiness.
Couples Therapy: 4 Universal Themes
Though, the practice of couples counseling might differ depending on the theoretical orientation of the therapist, all couples therapy involves these four universal themes:
- The focus on issues impacting the relationship. Examples include: communication problems, sexual difficulties, jealousy, infidelity , monogamy, codependency and trust.
- Interactive communication with the therapist aimed at treating the relationship, instead of each person separately.
- Solution-focused and change-oriented interventions at the initial phase of the therapy.
- A clear establishment of the objectives/goals of counseling for the duration of therapy.
Couples Counseling: First Session
Couples therapy would typically start with some questions about the relationship’s history and some exploration on the family of origin of each person. Additionally, the therapist will ask about both individual’s cultural background. Depending upon what is happening, the couples therapist might also use the initial sessions for crisis intervention when needed. All of this is part of what is known as the intake process.
You should know that at this point, the therapist will make a decision if she or he feels they can offer assistance. In some cases, the counselor may feel they do not possess the necessary skills to tackle the problems impacting the couple. Additionally, the couple who has come in for therapy may not feel the person they are meeting is a “good fit” for their specific needs.
This is why it is important for the couple to have a conversation about attending couples therapy before making an appointment to come into the counseling office. In order for therapy to work, it helps to know exactly what you want out of the process. Below is a video that explains this point a bit further.
Developing Couples Skills
The couples therapist would help the couple to identify the present issue on which the treatment will be focused, establish the treatment goals and plan the structure for treatment.
Throughout the treatment stage, the therapist would help a couple to gain insight in the relational dynamics that maintain the problem while helping them to realize all of their roles in dysfunctional interactions. This is to assist them to alter the way they distinguish the relationship and one another.
Though gaining insight remains important, a significant element of couples therapy includes changing behaviors and identifying healthier ways to interact with one another.
Frequently, a couples therapist will assign both individuals a particular homework assignment focused on listening . The goal here is to build communications skills.
Most couples come away from therapy obtaining new insight into their relational patterns The end result can be growing emotional expression and developing the necessary skills that are needed to communicate more effectively.
How Much does Couples Counseling Cost
The prices of couples counseling will depend upon the therapist. If you are in Chicago for example and come to the Couples Counseling Center, you can expect to pay what the amount published in our fee schedule.
If you are working with a therapist elsewhere, you will need to inquire about the cost of each session. Again, it depends upon the therapist. In many cases, therapy can be paid for by an insurance plan but it will depend on the particulars of what that plan offers.
This is why we encourage all people seeking out therapy (for individual or couples counseling) to contact their insurance provider to find out exactly what kinds of counseling their plan covers.
Some plans allow for unlimited sessions. Other plans restrict plan participants to a specific number. Look at the telephone number listed on the back of your insurance card to find out the number to your insurance providers member services department. When you call, we encourage to ask the following:
- Does my plan offer a mental health or counseling benefit?
- Does my plan offer couples counseling or marriage counseling?
- Am I restricted to a set number of sessions?
- Is there a deductible?
- Is there a co-payment?
How Many Sessions are Needed in Couples Counseling?
This is perhaps the most common question asked by people who call for information about couples counseling. This makes sense when you consider that on average, each session can cost over $150 (if paying out of pocket).
So the answer to the question: “How many sessions are needed” is complicated because it will depend upon what is happening in the relationship. For example, if the couple is seeking guidance before marriage (aka: pre-marriage counseling) then the sessions tend to be fewer.
If, however, there are deeply entrenched issues impacting the relationship, time in therapy tends to be longer. Here, we are talking about issues related to trust, infidelity, communications and intimacy.
Generally speaking, the typical number of sessions is somewhere around 8 – 10 but to be frank; there are several instances where many more visits with the therapist are needed.
Bottom line: It depends on what is going on in your relationship or marriage.
How long is each session?
The vast majority of therapists work with a client on a 1-hour clock basis. Some couples therapists will offer extended sessions (1.5 hours) depending upon their schedule and level of expertise.
Couples Counseling Benefits
Couples therapy does not always demand weekly visits and intensive psychotherapy where people dig in their childhood and highlight their skeletons in front of their partners. You are responsible for the process and that process comes with simple goals, such as:
- Discovering how to have a happier and healthier relationship
- Help you to understand better your partner
- Help you understand your yourself
- Teach you how you can support one another
- Explain how to ask for support from one another
- Learn to share your lives happily and productively
- Increasing emotional and physical intimacy
There are many small steps down the way, but the leading goal is that a couples therapist wants you to be happy with your partner.
Who Can Benefit from Couples Counseling?
As shared previously, couples therapy is good and suitable for any form of relationship, whether the couples are gay, straight, or mixed-race, old, engaged, dating or married. For instance, a newly engaged couple might find premarital counseling a great opportunity to resolve the relationship anticipations before they get married.
Another couple, perhaps one that has been sharing their lives with each other more than 25 years, might notice that couples therapy is a good way to regain the sense of romance and excitement in their relationship.
Couples therapy could be advantageous in resolving an ongoing or current issue, preventing the exacerbation of the issue or it can be just as an “examination” for a happy couple who are experiencing a phase of transition and increased stress.
Common areas of issue that can be addressed through couples therapy involve the problems with money, parenting, infidelity, sex, in-laws, chronic health problems, gambling, infertility, substance use, frequent conflict and emotional distance. We encourage you to visit our page that outlines the top 10 signs you may need couples counseling.
Common Reasons People Seek Out Couples Counseling
Couples therapy is the form of treatment that is designed to improve the connection between 2 people engaged in a long term relationship. Here are some of the frequent reasons people seek out couples therapy:
- A desire to work through reoccurring problems faced by a couple.
- Joint desire to have a happier and longer lasting relationship.
- Guidance on how to enhance their sexual satisfaction and grow intimacy.
- Learn how to operate more efficiently as new parents.
- Discover ways to prevent an argument from turning into a full blown fight.
- Identify common sources of stress might include health problems, employment issues or couples related finances.
- A joint desire to move work through and move past issues related to emotional and physical infidelity.
- A general goal of resolving everyday disputes and misunderstandings in a more peaceful and harmonious way.
- They wish to resolve the problems over major decisions like whether to have a baby or get married.
- They wish to adjust to a huge change in their relationship. Samples of challenging transitions involve: after a couple gets married, when the first baby was born or during the retirement of the either the husband or the wife.
- Starting a step-family or creating a blended family.
Whatever concern a couple might present during therapy, therapists typically assist them in enhancing their process of communication. A couples therapist encourages the couple to state their feelings, thoughts, and desires to one another in a compassionate and clear way.
The couples therapist is there to help both parties in the relationship better understand one another’s point of view. As the couple enhances their communication, they will find that their connection with one another strengthens and deepens.
Does Couples Counseling Work?
A common additional question many people who call the Couples Counseling Center in Chicago ask is: Does couples counseling work? The answer to that question is mostly “Yes” but contains a few qualifiers.
- Both individuals must be “on board” with couples counseling.
- The couple needs to have a clear idea of what they want out of therapy
- Both parties in the relationship should not expect instant results.
And it is important to state that couples counseling/therapy is not guaranteed to “fix” all issues a couple may face. Much depends on the couple itself, the nature of the problem and history of the relationship.
To be blunt, there are certain situations in which couples/marriage therapy isn’t going to work. An example of this might be a person who is going to couples therapy just to appease a partner but not really “present” during session.
A good counseling professional will make clear at the beginning of therapy the limitations of therapy, including potential risks and rewards. We encourage you to visit this page to learn more.
Couples Counseling Myths
There are a number of myths that have been attached to couples counseling. Most of these are based on nothing more than misinformation and stereotypes. Let’s take a look at some of the biggies:
- Couples counseling makes things worse
- Couples counseling is for crisis situations only
- Only couples who unhappy seek out therapy
- Couples therapy is a waste of time
The decision to seek out couples counseling, marriage counseling or relationship therapy may be one of the wisest things you will ever do for the health and longevity of your relationship. To be sure, it is an investment of both time and resources.
When both people are emotionally and psychologically invested in the couples counseling process, the chances of success, as measured by reaching the identified goals, increase dramatically.
We encourage you to learn as much as you can about couples therapy by exploring other articles we have on this website. Most all of these can be found on our blog. If you are looking for resources aimed at helping your relationship, can can:
Couples Book Recommendation
In addition to the resources mentioned above, a book you may want to consider is Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love by Naomi Berger. Inside, you will find page after page of useful insight on all things couples related.
Thanks for reading this Ultimate Guide to Couples Counseling!