Posts

The Pursuit of Happiness by Dr. Mike Olson

Portrait of FamilyAs a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses in individuals, as well as relational patterns/problems in couples and families. The standard reference for classifying diseases (nosology) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V)(1). This manual provides a standard system for naming and categorizing (nomenclature) mental and emotional illnesses.
Competence to make sense of complex physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms in a manner that can lead to successful treatment is of paramount importance in healthcare. There is, by necessity, a place for the deductive and circular reasoning that guides professionals in helping clients.
This approach, while critical to the formation of an accurate clinical picture, is insufficient. What do I miss when I only wear the glasses of pathogenesis and psychopathology? I may miss some of the key factors that can lead to health, wellness, and ultimately, happiness. The term “salutogenesis” is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. He used this term to describe an approach that focused on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. He also argued against falsely dichotomizing or separating health from illness but rather thought of this as a continuum (2). Antonovsky pointed that more than just disease and illness need to be considered in our scientific approaches to help others. The pursuit of happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. An article published by Forbes revealed that Americans spent 11 billion dollars on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress management programs in 2008, alone, a 13.6% increase from 3 years previous. We are clearly looking for happiness in a lot of places, but is there a science to uncovering it? A branch of psychology, called “positive psychology,” is beginning to shed light on this question. In a “Psychology Today” post by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., he states “positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”(4) Positive psychology, he points out, is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these make us feel. Peterson cites a few of the findings from positive psychology science, which include:
1. Most people are happy.
2. Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reasons to be satisfied.
3. Most people are resilient.
4. Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
5. Crisis reveals character.
6. Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living.
7. Religion matters.
8. Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
9. Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can “buy happiness” if it is spent on other people.
10. As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (Greek origin, referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous) trumps hedonism.
11. The “heart” matters more than the “head.” Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
12. Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
13. The good life can be taught.
Attractive couple portrait.This last point speaks to the reality that one can learn to be happy and it is not simply, as Peterson put it, “the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel.” A physician colleague of mine often starts his conversations with his patients with a simple question, “What do you want your health for?” or “What gives your life meaning or purpose?” What a brilliant and simple way to change a focus in a system that often starts with “What seems to be the problem?” I’ve thought about practical ways to introduce this into my own life and family. An easy starting point for me was asking my children, “What was the best or most meaningful part of your day today?” This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about issues/problems that have come up and work to develop solutions for them; it just means I intentionally shift our focus to the good, the resourcefulness, the beauty, and the strength that lies within each of us and those around us.
References:
(1) http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm.
(2) Antonovsky, A. “Health, Stress and Coping” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979.
(3) http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html.
(4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not.

michael3About the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

Stay Confused in Relationships by Kurt Attaway

stay confused 2When it comes to marriages, families and any relationship, one thing is pretty certain: conflict will arise at some point. Because relationships are about connection, it is essential that we learn the art of resolving conflict. Conflict creates distance, separation and strain on a relationship. On the flip side, resolved conflict creates closeness, connection and confidence that the relationship can persevere through challenges. Learning how to deal with conflict in a relationship is a vital skill for growing a healthy, vibrant relationship.

So how do you do it? How do you resolve conflict? Simply put…”Stay Confused!” Conflict often arises out of misunderstanding, miscommunication or simply when two people miss each other. If the goal of a relationship is connection, then we must remember to stay confused during moments of conflict so that we can work toward communication, understanding and, ultimately, connection.

I encourage people to stay confused during conflict because it results in questions. Additionally, it helps to limit defensive interactions. If you are confused, you have not made up your mind about the situation. You do not have a position you are trying to defend. Instead, you will seek the other person in conversation through asking questions. Throughout my life, whenever I find myself confused, my natural tendency is to ask questions. During conflict, asking questions and seeking the other person through a process of communication and sharing can help build interactions that naturally combat conflict and help bring the relationship through the issue being discussed.

So, the next time conflict emerges in your important relationship, don’t too quickly jump to a conclusion; instead stay confused and ask questions until the issue is addressed and connection is discovered. Staying confused can help you turn conflict into connection.

Kurt leadershipAbout the Author: Kurt Attaway is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate in Texas. Kurt graduated with his Master’s from UHCL. Kurt works in private practice at The Center for Couples and Families, and serves as the Director of the WholeFit Leadership Team.

Fight Fair by Kenneth Jeppesen, MS, LMFTA

business man with laptop over head - madSurveys have shown that for the most part, couples divorce because they don’t feel loved. One of the biggest things that makes us feel like our spouse doesn’t love us is fighting. Since we can’t expect to remove all conflict from marriage, what are we supposed to do? The answer is to change the way we fight. Today I’ll share one thing that can start to change the way you fight.

When we get in a fight with our spouse, our emotions are running high, and we feel attacked. Researcher John Gottman has found that we experience the fight-or-flight response which he calls being “flooded.” Our heart rate gets up around 100 beats per minute, our digestion stops, the blood rushes out of our limbs to prevent from us bleeding to death if injured, and most importantly, our brain mostly shuts off except for one part. The part of our brain that is highly active during fights is the part that looks for threats. And when we are in a fight, we perceive our spouse to be a threat. Even if there is never any physical violence, there is a very real threat to our self-esteem and our happiness if we are in conflict with the person we are supposed to love and cherish. When we are flooded and our brains are on high alert for threat, almost anything we say will cause more harm than good.

For this reason, Dr. Gottman recommends a time-out. It takes at least twenty minutes for our bodies to calm back down. While we take this time-out, we can’t be thinking about the argument, or we will continue to be in this state of physiological arousal. In order to calm down, we have to think soothing and calming thoughts. Dr. Gottman has found through his research that men have a harder time with this. Men are more likely to mull the argument over in their heads, thinking thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this.” Women are much better at thinking thoughts like, “Everything is going to be fine, we’re still in love.”

MP900387517It is a lot harder to think calming thoughts when we are charged up with emotional energy. It can be very helpful to do something physically demanding during the twenty minute time-out that will drain that energy. Sprinting, for example, is quite effective. Afterwards it’s much easier to take control of the thoughts we’re thinking about our spouse and relationship. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help with this if we will develop it as a skill.

When you feel yourself getting flooded with emotion and adrenaline, that’s when it’s time for a break. But walking away from your spouse during an argument can make things much worse. When you call a time out, make sure that you agree on a time when you will come back together to continue the discussion. In part two, I’ll share how to make the fights less distressing in the first place.

Kenneth-Jeppesen-Headshot-e14380277335081About the Author: Kenneth Jeppesen is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Weber State University, and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is currently at the Provo Center for Couples and Families

The Key to Sexual Fulfillment? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Couple holding hands.THE KEY TO SEXUAL FULFILLMENT? IT’S NOT WHAT MANY PEOPLE SAY IT IS…

CHASING AFTER MIRAGES
You see the headlines screaming at you from the magazine rack at the grocery store. They say things like “Rock His World Tonight,” and “101 Forbidden Positions to Spice Things Up!” If you check your junk mail you’ll likely find invitations to try supplements guaranteed to enhance your anatomy. Neither holds the key to sexual fulfillment.

Our culture has become obsessed with sex, as evidenced by the rampant popularity of internet pornography and erotic novels like 50 Shades of Grey. In our craze over kink and fixation over the size of body parts, we may think we’re breaking taboos and tapping into sexuality’s full pleasure potential, but it’s never enough. When things don’t satisfy like they used to, we go for something more extreme.

Some think that sexual confidence comes from having a movie star (or porn star) body and go to unhealthy lengths to get there. Others believe that the key to sexual satisfaction is learning more techniques than a kung fu master. People try to maximize their sexual pleasure by hooking up with as many partners as they can, chasing the novelty. Through it all, they try to quench their thirst for sexual satisfaction by chasing after mirages, but the overflowing fountain lies in a different direction.
The key to sexual fulfillment has always been the relationship. It provides the soul and beauty of human sexuality. Take that away and sex doesn’t reach its full potential. Certainly there is a room for creativity and experimentation in the bedroom. There’s also plenty of evidence to support that physical fitness has sexual benefits. In some cases medical treatments are legitimate and helpful. But without the trust of commitment and the affection of intimacy, the sexual experience fails to meet its potential.

MP900387517“HOOKING UP” NOW CAN IMPAIR LIFELONG COMMITMENT LATER
In their book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain that sex naturally creates a strong emotional connection through the release of bonding hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. These uniting effects of sex facilitate lifelong pairing. Combined with the release of the “pleasure” neurotransmitter dopamine, these bonding hormones create a sexual experience that is both physically and emotionally satisfying.

When a relationship dissolves (often because too-early physical intimacy has created an illusion of emotional intimacy which fades), the rupturing of these bonds can cause intense depression, much more so than if sex were never part of the relationship. As this cycle is repeated, with bonds made and broken time after time, the brain releases less and less of the bonding hormones in order to curb the emotional damage of breakup pain. Over time, therefore, a person associates sex less with commitment and emotional closeness and more with simple pleasure.

While sex without attachment may seem appealing in today’s hook-up culture, it’s actually second-rate sex. Scientifically speaking, you’re getting the effects of dopamine release without the full pleasure of emotional bonding. What’s more, down the road this process can impede a person’s ability to bond sexually with a long-term partner. Staying faithful can be difficult if the brain has come to associate sex with variety instead of intimacy, affection, and fidelity. Today’s fun lifestyle can be tomorrow’s relationship devastation.

The good news is that, with effort, these associations can be reversed as persons enter into, and stay in, committed and healthy relationships. Oxytocin and vasopressin levels can gradually start to increase again and bonding may resume over time. If you’ve had a numerous sexual partners and want to be in a healthy committed relationship, it may be time to make some changes. If your sexual experience is limited but a long-term relationship is your goal, you can take precautions for the future.
SEX IS LIKE…PIZZA? QUALITY REQUIRES TIME AND CARE.
Odd as it may sound, physical intimacy is a lot like pizza. During my bachelor days I microwaved my share of pizzas. They always came out soggy. I contrast that to a date I had where we made our own pizza from scratch, rolling the dough, grating the cheese, chopping the ingredients, and cooking it in a brick oven. It took nearly an hour, partially because we were playing and flirting, but mostly because quality took time. It couldn’t be rushed. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailPeople try to microwave their relationships so they can get to sex as soon as possible, but the best kind of physical intimacy is the kind that comes after a relationship has slow-cooked in the oven. In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. John Van Epp explains that waiting in dating can improve sex in a committed relationship later on. It takes time to really get to know another person, to build trust, and to truly commit.

This process is distorted by early sexual involvement because the bonding hormones create a false sense of intimacy. This means that having sex (or engaging in passionate sexual foreplay) early in the relationship can make you think you’re more in love than you actually are. It can cause you to trust someone more than you should or think you know them more than you actually do. Dr. Van Epp explains that saving sexual involvement until levels of knowledge, trust, reliance, and commitment are high minimizes the emotional risks of sex and maximizes a relationship’s potential to endure.
“JUST A KISS GOODNIGHT…”

Sex can be one of life’s greatest experiences, so why not do it right? Taking time to develop a committed relationship of trust, friendship, and respect before getting sexually involved isn’t about being prudish, it’s about being smart. This mentality is slowly making its way back into pop culture, as evidenced by Lady Antebellum’s hit song “Just a Kiss.” Consider these selected lyrics in light of the current topic:

So hard to hold back when I’m holding you in my arms
We don’t need to rush this
Let’s just take it slow

I know that if we give this a little time
It’ll only bring us closer to the love we wanna find
It’s never felt so real
No it’s never felt so right
Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No, I don’t wanna mess this thing up
I don’t wanna push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life
So baby I’m alright
With just a kiss goodnight

No I don’t want to say goodnight
I know it’s time to leave, but you’ll be in my dreams
Tonight

??????OVERCOMING SEXUAL PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
With media often portraying sex as a toe-curling, earth-moving experience between hot young people with perfect bodies, those wanting to replicate that (or even believing it to be ‘expected’) may feel inadequate when reality happens instead. There seems to be a standard of amazing sex that some of us chase after, resulting in a type of performance anxiety. Like speaking in public or interviewing for a job, the more nervous we get about our sexual performance, the more likely we’ll have a frustrating experience and feel embarrassed about it.

I was fortunate once to attend a seminar by noted psychologist, marriage counselor, and sex therapist Dr. Michael Metz, who introduced me to the idea of “good-enough sex.” His research shows that couples who focus on emotional intimacy, the pleasure of physical touch, and feeling happy together are able to relax and enjoy sex whether everything “goes right” or not. They know that sex doesn’t have to be amazing to be satisfying. It can be “good-enough.” Here’s the kicker, though: couples who focus on affectionately enjoying each other, with “good-enough sex” as the standard, end up having amazing sex more often than the couples whose main concern is having amazing sex! (“Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351-362)

MP900440326The fact is, the human body is an imperfect organism. It’s not going to work perfectly every time you have sex (or do anything, for that matter). It’s nothing to be ashamed of, yet so many feel shame when it happens. Difficulty getting aroused, staying aroused, or achieving orgasm happens to everyone at some time or another. Acknowledging this, and even expecting it from time to time, normalizes socially what is quite normal physiologically, which in turn minimizes shame and “performance anxiety.”

Being in a relationship where trust, reliance, and commitment have developed over time, where friendship is paramount and affection is unconditional, diminishes the shame of a less-than-stellar sexual experience. There’s no fear of losing your partner because you didn’t “rock their world this time.” There’s less anxiety over trying again, which makes sexual satisfaction much more likely in the future. What’s more, couples who communicate openly and honestly are more able to give (and apply) loving feedback about sexual needs.

CONCLUSION: “THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART”

To be clear, once again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for healthier bodies. I’m not saying “don’t try new things or get creative with your partner.” I’m not advocating against medical intervention when necessary. What I am saying is that without the level of trust that comes with strong commitment, without the type of comfort that comes from unconditional affection, we rob ourselves of sex at its most satisfying. If we rush sexual involvement we’re likely to develop emotional bonds that end painfully and risk our ability maintain lasting romantic relationships. Taking the time to develop a deep love and abiding commitment before intense physical intimacy allows us to grow closer with confidence Tom Petty famously sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” That’s true, but it also yields the greatest rewards.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

What is Reunification Therapy? by Michelle Jones, LCSW

stock-1

What is Reunification Therapy? Reunification Therapy is court ordered therapy after a high conflict divorce. The purpose is to help repair the relationship between the divorced parent and child.

Divorce is difficult in so many ways. Emotionally, financially, mentally – not to mention the dealing with how to handle property, possessions and of course, the kids. There might not be anything more difficult than figuring out how to handle your soon to be ex-spouse and your kids. Going through the court system in the context of high conflict divorce, sometimes a custodial parent will deny the noncustodial parent access to their child/ren by interfering with phone calls, denying visitation, and making it difficult to have meaningful contact. Over time this can cause a disruption in the parent-child relational bond. When there is access blocking, it is usually combined with undermining and disparaging of the rejected parent to the point where the child becomes confused and may even turn against a once loved and safe parent. Often the children are forced to choose between the parents and typically align with the alienating parent, whom they spend the majority of their time with. This is called parental alienation.

When a previously accepted and stable parent has been separated from their children and feels this relationship has been damaged, they often seek relief from the court by asking for reunification therapy. When one parent is seeking reunification therapy, there is typically another parent who resists the therapy. Due to this, reunification therapy works best when it is court-ordered. The Court Order should support the recommendations and service agreement of the treating therapist and should include the expectations of cooperation by both parents, with sanctions for noncompliance. Treatment goals should be clearly defined with the intent to improve the damaged relationship and to progressively increase contact.

MP900289480When seeking reunification therapy there are some important things to consider in order to have a better chance for effective treatment.

First of all, Reunification Therapy is in a process of evolving and does not yet have a standardized theoretical model or a theoretical foundation. Unfortunately, this can lead to many therapists making it up as they go along, often without time sensitive goals or structure, which leads to treatment failure. Further, therapists who lack specialized training in reunification therapy can actually cause more harm than good.

Secondly, it is important to be aware that there are many different types of therapies, each with their own unique ways of defining and intervening with problems. In the medical model, when you need help with a skin disorder, you would seek out a dermatologist, or if you had cancer you would quickly be referred to an oncologist. In seeking help with family relational problems in the context of high conflict divorce you will need to carefully select a therapist who has advanced knowledge and specific training in divorce issues and family therapy interventions. When seeking reunification therapy, the treatment model of choice is family system’s theory.

?????????????????There are important reasons for this. First of all, when a child is rejecting a once loved and safe parent, the breakdown in the relationships is most likely caused by the changing structure of the family unit. A qualified family therapist can assess the boundaries and alignments in the family relationships to see if they are healthy or not. The treatment focuses on changing the family interaction patterns, rather than focusing on any one individual as the identified patient. A family system’s therapist can do a proper assessment, get both parents involved and then work to restructure unhealthy alignments and interaction patterns.

When seeking treatment use caution as many therapists have no knowledge or training in family systems or in the specialty of high conflict divorce. These therapists are not qualified to make proper assessments or give the needed interventions in these cases. MFT’s or Marriage and Family Therapists are highly recommended as they receive the most extensive training in Family System’s Theory and are the most qualified and specially trained to intervene when there is a disruption in family relationships.

Michelle JonesAbout the Author: Michelle Jones, LCSW, graduated from Brigham Young University in Clinical Social Work. She has worked in Utah in several treatment centers helping individuals and families for nearly 15 years. She serves as a member of the executive committee of the National Parents Organization whose mission is to promote shared parenting and reform family law. She has a private practice and is the Director of Reunification Services at the Center for Couples and Families in Northern Utah.

Couple Counseling…What to Expect? by Mahtab Moradi

??????Seeking couples counseling can be an emotionally draining process for both spouses. Initially couples may experience a sense of hope followed by acute episodes of anxiety and depression. It is normal to feel more distant after sessions. Each spouse may experience feelings of anger, guilt and shame. Depending on each person’s past experience with therapy, couples vary in their ability to communicate and problem solve. Many couples give up before seeing results. Typically this is the time that core issues come to the surface. This is also a time when couples feel most vulnerable. There is something comforting about what feels “normal” and for some this means tolerating the problems instead of taking risks.

 

1.  What are some common interventions in couples counseling?
Couples counseling involves emotion focused therapy, communication skills training, problem solving strategies, and exploring emotional patterns and values that impact the couple dynamics. The role of the therapist is to mediate and coach each spouse to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and productive manner.
2.  What is the duration of counseling?
Couples should expect to meet 2-4 times per month for the initial 6 months. As each spouse becomes more equipped to problem solve, session can be reduced to 1-2 times per month. For real change, couples should expect to be in treatment between 6-18 months. Solution focused interventions are helpful for some couples with acute distress and do not yield the same results for couples with more chronic issues. There are individual differences in how we benefit from therapy. Some of us are more prone to resist change and may feel forced into the process.
business man with laptop over head - mad3.  What are some common issues that bring couples to seek counseling?
Communication problems, parenting conflict, in-law issues, blended family issues, lack of intimacy, infidelity, conflict in values, financial in-equality, alcoholism, substance abuse, and abuse are common reasons couples seek counseling.
4.  What couples do in between sessions?
It is recommended that each spouse does their best to maintain normalcy between sessions. Couples should avoid letting marital issues dictate their lives. This is especially important for couples with small children. The purpose of marital counseling is to allocate that time to those core issues. Discussing difficult topics outside of sessions is not recommended especially in the initial 2-4 months of therapy. This is because change takes time. Some therapists recommend no discussions while others give specific guidelines and homework assignments targeted at practicing communication skills. It’s important to communicate your needs to your therapist. Some of us do better with structure and having something to do in between sessions and for others this time can be utilized to exercise self-reflection.
5.  When are couples vulnerable for marital distress?
It is best to seek help before problems dominate our relationship. Couples are most vulnerable for marital distress during life transitions. Couples who have small children under the age of 5 are at highest risk due to the challenges of becoming new parents and role changes.
MP9003091396.  Who benefits from couples counseling?
Couples who have equal investment in staying married have the best chance of recovering. It’s important to communicate ground rules before beginning the process. This includes, both spouses making a commitment to invest their energy into making changes and refrain from making threats of divorce or separation while seeking help. Many therapists also implement a “no secrets” clause during this process to promote mutual trust. Couples who take the team approach are also more likely to take responsibility for their actions, offer support, and embrace the idea of change.
Couple holding hands.7.  What are some tips to surviving couples counseling?

  • Pick a therapist you trust and is competent in their work.
  • Be kind and forgiving to yourself during this process.Let a trusting friend and family member know you are seeking help without sharing details.
  • Be mindful of how the process may be impacting you (e.g. noted signs of depression, poor self- esteem, negative self-talk, symptoms of anxiety). Ask for help if you need support or referral for individual therapy.
  • Avoid isolating
  • Be present with your spouse. Acknowledge that both of you are going through this process together. Show support and respect your spouse’s need for personal space and emotional reflection.
  • Be aware of your language and avoid taking your frustrations out on family members
  • Make it a point to create a positive outlet to your emotions. Show gratitude for having the opportunity to get help and re-evaluate your relationship.
  • Plan a vacation. Give yourself permission to take a break.

 

Mahtab 2-  webAbout the Author: Mahtab had earned her Masters in Psychology (Marriage and Family Therapy) at University of Houston – Clear Lake and an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. She completed a postgraduate fellowship at UTMB in Behavioral Medicine and Medical Family Therapy. Her work currently focuses on severe mental illness and helping young adults cope with schizophrenia, bipolar and recovery. She helps families embrace change, identify core issues and explore opportunities for growth.