Although I’ve studied many of the Ancient Wisdom Teachings, and paid attention to the current “revealed wisdoms” of the New Age—some of which are valid and viable while others are fluff—the most important thing I’ve learned as a therapist is to listen to what each person’s heart is saying. By listening to the message from my client’s heart, I can determine to what type of treatment they will most readily respond.
Sometimes all a client needs or wants is just regular talk therapy, in which they tell me the story of what’s bothering them and I reflect and help them sort through their thoughts. To me, the human psyche is like a snarled up ball of yarn that I turn every which way looking for a loose thread. When I find that loose thread—which usually presents itself as an illogical or disconnected statement—I start to pull, unraveling the storyline of my client’s life and uncovering the pain and the resulting faulty logic that has led them onto a spiraling downward path to the confusion they’re now feeling.
Then we sort through the original pain and the faulty logic, neutralizing it with a more mature, enlightened, uncomplicated perspective. Along the way, better habits are developed—of communication style, of healthy, constructive thinking and uncomplicated emotions.
In Couples Counseling, the format becomes somewhat more complex. Now two people—with their communication styles, thinking patterns and emotional expressions—must be considered. And a way must be found to help them get along with each other while remaining true to themselves. One of the first questions I ask in my head during a couples session is, “do these people love each other?” If I am satisfied that they do appear to have love for each other, then all that is necessary is to clear the path toward healthier communication between them. If there is no love apparent, then my first task is to find out what happened to douse the flame and if it can now be re-ignited.
Generally, a maximum of six sessions is required for a couple who truly wishes to repair the rents in their relationship. Sometimes I will see each individual once or twice, in alternate weeks, in order to get a sense of any private complaints and needs that they may not wish to express just yet to the partner. It is important, though, for a couples counselor to keep a neutral stance, and that includes not seeing one partner more often than the other. If it becomes abundantly clear that one or both partners needs extensive individual psychotherapy, I will generally refer them to a colleague for that work. Likewise, if a client has been working with me in individual therapy and decides s/he needs to do some couples work, I will usually refer the couple to a colleague. This policy averts the potential for favoritism.