Couples In Therapy: The Challenges For the Therapist

In a March 2nd article about couples in therapy (New York Times) writer Elizabeth Weil states, “The fact that couples therapy stresses out therapists has long been an open secret.” She adds that a recent issue of The Psychotherapy Networker, whose readers are mostly mental health professionals, asks “Who’s Afraid of Couples Therapy?” A key article inside the issue is “Why We Avoid Doing Couples Therapy.”

Weil interviewed various therapists about this topic. The following are some of the factors cited as contributing to making couples therapy feel more challenging as a modality than individual therapy:

  • dealing with more anger and volatility
  • dealing with secrets between partners
  • one partner might think you’re bonding more with him/her
  • one partner might think you’re effective; one might not
  • increased need to be on top of things in the moment
  • interactions need to be more actively structured
  • couples often present too late to be helped adequately
  • more triggering of therapist’s own couples/family issues
  • lack of consensus in the field about what works

Entering couples therapy as clients is similarly daunting for many. Many partners, in fact, stick to addressing relationship issues separately, as in individual therapy. And often that’s okay. Maybe even preferable sometimes.

Even though the following video clip is very brief, it says a ton about what can occur when a couple does go this (separate) route, however. The topic in the scene is sex, but it could be any other relationship issue and still make a certain point.

It’s from the classic film Annie Hall (1977), starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

In case you missed it, here’s the transcript:

Alvy Singer’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?

Annie Hall’s Therapist: Do you have sex often?

Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.

Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.

If you’d like to see trailer for the whole film, please click here.

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