People have a lot of questions surrounding couples counseling. Who goes? What if we’re dating and not married? What issues are legitimate? Are we too young? The list of questions are varied and many. I hope this blog post helps answer questions you might have about couples counseling and whether it’s a good option for you and your relationship.
Who goes to Couples Counseling?
I have seen countless different types of couples during my career, but relationship counseling is appropriate for any couple, of any age, and at any stage of their relationship whether dating, partnered or married. In fact, it is best to seek counseling when problems first start showing up in the relationship instead of down the road when you’re almost ready to “throw in the towel”. Tackle them when they are manageable and before resentment has clouded the issues and before the issue becomes more complex. I love it when I have a young couple in their 20’s come in who want to resolve problems quickly and learn valuable tools and skills that will help their relationship succeed for the future. It becomes more challenging to heal a relationship if problems have rooted themselves over the course of time, so if a couple is having trouble resolving problems on their own, I would suggest seeking out a therapist who can mediate, help the couple listen to one another, empathize, express needs and better communicate. So, whether your 20 or 80, relationship counseling is a good choice. And, even if struggle is long standing in your relationship, counseling offers hope to break through the worn out, circular cycles that don’t work or lead to solution.
Why go to Couples Counseling?
A therapist can help break the repetitive and unhealthy patterns in which couples often find themselves trapped. How many times have you had “the same argument” about different things? How many times have you recycled the same line of defense, line of reasoning or position only to reach a predictable and familiar stalemate in the end? If you are one of those couples (and there are many!), then relationship counseling could be helpful. Relationship counseling affords a couple the opportunity to examine problems with a fresh filter and a mediator who can interrupt the unhealthy cycles and patterns of interaction and communication. After I know my couples’ destructive pattern of communication, I interrupt it in session and this is an opportunity to learn what triggers the pattern and how a couple can move out of it. As someone on the outside, I highlight where the breakdown occurs, and pinpoint when both stop “hearing” and resort to “defending”. Too many couples engage in “case building” instead of relationship building. They act as opponents trying to build a case against each other attempting to demonstrate why they are right and their partner is wrong. While this may be a good strategy in court, it’s detrimental to a relationship. Instead of building trust and understanding, it builds opposition. In addition to helping clients gain insight into why and when communication turns sour, a good relationship counselor will also help couples learn how to communicate more effectively which involves understanding the needs and feelings of one another and not reacting defensively towards them. It’s a way of deepening intimacy through developing greater understanding of each other. A counselor provides tools for communication, helps the couple build bridges between differences, build trust, improve understanding, work through resentments, navigate and explore difficult topics and helps decipher compatibilities and incompatibilities. A good therapist should help a couple move away from the “content” of an argument which goes nowhere and redirect them to the process which involves emotions, boundaries, needs and more.
Couples come to counseling for a wide range of reasons. Below are just some examples of many:
- Communication issues
- Life transitions – school, career, move, children, retirement, etc
- Unmet emotional needs
- Trust issues
- Substance use/abuse
- Value differences
- Sexual problems
- Parenting issues
- Financial struggles
- Anger or abuse
There is really no right or wrong reason to come to counseling. If a couple is struggling in their relationship, and their attempts to resolve it are ending up in the same place every time, then couples counseling is a good choice. Many couples I’ve seen have worried their problems weren’t “big enough” to warrant counseling, but were happily surprised when they saw the positive result. If you are considering relationship counseling, a good place to start is to make some calls to different therapists and get a feel for them over the phone. Most will give you a complimentary phone consultation and that is an opportunity for you to give them a brief outline of what you’re going through. Choose the therapist that feels right and you feel most comfortable speaking to – go with your gut!
How long does Couples Counseling take?
This is a very difficult question to answer! I have had a couple come in for one session and get everything they wanted and leave with smiles on their faces and I’ve seen some for several months because they enjoy and value the process as it helps them grow as a couple. And, I’ve had everything in between. Partially it depends upon what issues a couple wants to resolve and it largely depends upon how hard a couple works. I joke with my clients saying I have the “easy job” and they have the “hard job”. Because their work starts at the end of session until they see me again. If couples continue to engage in the same methods of communication and interaction and don’t implement new tools, there will be little, if any, progress. But, if couples really work hard to employ new forms of communication and use new tools, they will most assuredly see results. And, clients will know early on if things are improving or if things are getting better. If they are not improving then either the couple is not changing anything and is expecting a different result, or perhaps they are not getting what they are wanting from the therapist and I suggest expressing your needs to the therapist. If you still don’t get the type of session you’re seeking, consider going to a different therapist who matches you better.
How much does Couples Counseling cost?
The industry standard for a session with a licensed therapist is approximately $130 to $150 per session. I have a sliding scale and while my standard fee is $130 per session, I go as low as $85 per session. My fee is based on ability to pay and I don’t ask about your income but ask you to choose a fee in that range that doesn’t put you in a financial bind. Insurance is an option if you have mental health coverage but must be with a therapist who is contracted with your insurance network. The only insurance I am contracted with is Tricare. Keep in mind that if you do use insurance, it is mandatory for the therapist to diagnose you with a mental health diagnosis and this will become part of your medical record. When you pay out of pocket, there is no diagnosis made on your medical record and confidentiality is strengthened as no third party is involved. If you cannot pay the fees of a licensed therapist, working with an intern is a great option. Interns are not students, but are pre-licensed professionals who have completed their masters degree and are accruing additional hours before testing for their license. Interns typically charge anywhere between $50 and $90 per session. Geoffrey Faustman, MA and Aubree Papaj, MS are experienced interns under my supervision and are both skilled in couples counseling. You can visit their website for more information about the and their services by clicking on their names. If you cannot pay the fees of a pre-licensed professional, you can also obtain counseling through an agency where graduate students are working towards their masters degree and obtaining experience. Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities and First Avenue Counseling in San Diego are all good resources. Trainees in those agencies typically charge between $30 and $50 per session.
I hope this helps answer some questions you have about couples counseling! If you have any more questions, please feel free to call or email me and I’d be glad to talk.
Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her.
Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00.