Let’s face it, there is much mystery about what psychotherapy is all about, and many myths about couples therapy in particular.
In Part I of my 2 part series on 10 myths about couples therapy, I’m going to attempt to debunk some common myths.
The sad thing is that couples who do seek therapy usually struggle through 6 years of distress before getting help.
Why don’t they get help sooner? Probably because they don’t know much about the process, and aren’t terribly hopeful that it will help.
And that leads us to:
Myth #1: Couples therapy doesn’t help
It is common to think that you just talk on and on, and don’t get anywhere. Basically, you just vent. How is a 3rd party going to help your relationship? Venting isn’t going to help.
Fact: Seeing a good couples therapist with whom you feel comfortable can definitely improve your relationship, and can also save it. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), for example, is one form of couples counseling that has been rigorously researched, and has been demonstrated to result in improvements for 90% of couples who go through the process, regardless of the level of distress they start therapy with.
EFT offers much more than a venue for venting. In fact, EFT offers couples a road map and a specific process that helps bring even the most distressed of people back together again.
Myth #2: Couples therapy takes forever
You always hear about people who spend years and years in therapy, who don’t seem to get anywhere. Just look at Woody Allen.
Fact: Couples therapy does not have to take forever. If you or your partner have a history of trauma, couples therapy can definitely take awhile to have great results, but it won’t take forever. Further, you’ll achieve improvements along the way.
For couples without histories of trauma, Emotionally Focused Therapy has been shown to help within 8-20 sessions. A few months of your life is probably worth investing time once a week to save your most precious asset (your relationship).
Myth #3: The therapist is going to take sides
This myth is all too common. People hesitate to see a couples therapist because of the fear that they’ll take sides.
Sadly, I’ve heard that’s happened.
Fact: A good couples therapist will not take sides, rather, they will side with the relationship. If you and your partner are seeing a couples therapist and are committed to working things out, the therapist’s client is your relationship. The understanding is that you and your partner will be healthier if your relationship is stronger. (please note – this is the case for most relationships, but in certain relationships such as those characterized by intimate partner violence, the therapist’s agenda may differ, as safety is always the first priority)
It is therefore futile to take sides.
If you see a couples therapist and feel strongly that s/he is taking sides, bring it up. If you feel that the issue isn’t properly addressed and you feel uncomfortable seeing that therapist, find someone else. A good couples therapist should not take sides.
Myth #4: All therapy is about is talking about childhood
Inherent in this myth is the idea that talking about one’s childhood endlessly will not help in the here and now.
Fact: While some background is important for the therapist to understand, most couples therapists do focus on the here and now. Your partner was probably not in your life when you were 5.
An EFT trained therapist may spend a session or two asking about some of your early experiences, as they likely have an impact on how you relate to the world and form relationships in general, but couples therapy is really about changing patterns, not living in the past.
Myth #5: Couples therapy just involves catharsis
Catharsis is when you just “let it all out.” In the past, some couples therapists had husbands and wives hit each other with blow up toys.
Fact: Research has demonstrated that having couples hit each other with blow up toys doesn’t work. Catharsis really isn’t what’s needed. You probably let it out on each other a lot; paying someone to host you and allow you to scream at each other in their office isn’t going to do you good.
Good couples therapy is much more than catharsis. It gets underneath what’s going on when you’re letting each other have it with each other. Good couples therapy, like EFT, slows everything down so you have an up close look at your own process and get to share that with your partner.
You’re not just going to yell at each other, you’re going to have an entirely new experience of yourself and your partner when you start with the right therapist.
So don’t be afraid of couples therapy!
It has helped countless couples enrich and save their relationships.
Stay tuned for the next 5 myths debunked next week.
Cheers to your best relationship,