Mar 07

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.

Dec 23

A Charlie Brown Therapy: Lucy’s Ineptitude As Shrink

When the award-winning TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas initially aired in 1965 we also saw a Charlie Brown therapy when he turned to Lucy’s psychiatric booth to deal with holiday depression. A Charlie Brown Christmas continues to be one of the most watched shows at this time of year.

A recent article about this classic, entitled “Annie Hall for Kids? Yes, But Darker!: Recapping A Charlie Brown Christmas,” (Bruce Handy and Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair) is worth reading for its humorous interpretations of the “Peanuts” kids’ characterizations from an adult point of view.

In this beloved Christmas special, it’s notable that Charlie Brown seeks “therapy” for his depression by going to his friend Lucy’s psychiatric booth, where she regularly provides her services (for “5 cents please”) in the “Peanuts” cartoon strip.

Yes, shrinks and clients out there, Lucy believes she can solve any presenting problem for this amount of money. And no, her advice is generally not worth even that.

The first time, in fact, that Charlie ever consults therapist Lucy—during a previous bout of depression—she simply replies, “Snap out of it, five cents please.” Like the Charlie Brown that he is, though, he doesn’t stop trying.

Could it be that Charlie Brown would be cured by now of his recurrent depressive episodes if Lucy were more compassionate, competent, and, well, knowledgeable? Probably not, actually—because, as Charlie’s purported friend, she also lacks another key shrink ingredient, therapeutic objectivity.

That being said, one of the saving graces of the following Lucy-treats-Charlie session is that Lucy ultimately does seek a solution for his Christmas malaise that actually makes some sense.

Merry therapy to you and yours this season.