Couple psychotherapy shares similarities with family psychotherapy, but couples counseling or psychotherapy focuses more on the interrelation and relationship of two persons. Like in family psychotherapy, individual causes are not explored here as it is believed that all psychological changes and psychological problems affect a person individually (a person’s behaviour, emotions, conflicts, thought processes) and have an impact on his or her interpersonal relationship.
What are the benefits of couple psychotherapy?
Couple psychotherapy delves into the present difficulties of the couple, including both personal symptoms and problems and interpersonal conflicts. For example, constant arguing with your partner may cause sadness, anger or anxiety (usually all the three feelings are evoked). Another example is when one of the spouses has emotional control difficulties, he or she finds reasons to start arguments.
The goal of couple psychotherapy is to achieve a higher degree of satisfaction in the interrelationship of a couple. The psychotherapist who has specific expertise is an impartial third party: he or she listens to both partners, helps them express their thoughts and feelings, reflects and explains the causes of problems, and provides relevant information. The psychotherapist also helps partners gain new perspectives in their relationship, which motivates them to change their behaviour or attitudes, to perceive that they are greatly attached and emotionally dependent on each other, in need of each other’s support, care and comfort (this type of dependence may be likened to an infant’s dependence on the parents). Changes in the relationship may be various, for example, adopting a different communication style, resolving psychological problems, or setting realistic expectations for each other. Couple psychotherapy also includes training on how to communicate effectively and how to listen to each other. Partners learn to avoid rivalry between themselves and competition with others, to set common goals, to share responsibility in their relationship, express positive feelings to each other, and say what they do not like. In summary, it is assumed that couples are learning to build a new, emotionally positive relationship and a safer attachment to each other.
Typically, sessions are attended by both partners but counselling may also be given to one of them providing it is in the interest of both. One of the major challenges in couple psychotherapy is changing your reactions to your partner’s behaviour. Other difficulties encountered in the process of therapy are the discussion of controversial, embarrassing or shameful events or the disclosure of well-kept secrets. Sometimes it takes a longer time.
Short-term counselling needs 1 – 3 meetings whereas psychotherapy requires 12 – 24 sessions. Short-term counselling is targeted at resolving conflicts, searching for new alternatives and learning to overcome difficulties a couple faces in their daily life. Long-term couple psychotherapy delves into the history of the couple’s relationship concentrating on the partners’ feelings, the ratio between dependence and autonomy as well as willingness to change.