What is marriage and couples counselling?

Couples counselling seeks to repair relationship difficulties between two people or enhance a relationship. The main aim is to try and bring the couple back to being close and connect, able to share life's experiences - both the positive and negative. When used to enhance a relationship it aims at strengthening the existing bond to ensure it stays strong in the future. Couples counselling can help partners work through issues they may face in a close and collaborative way. Learn to lean on each other and draw on each other's strengths and qualities. Essentially it is about helping couples become a close team. 

Why does this centre specialise in Emotionally focused therapy?

When the American Psychological Association looked at the question of what were the evidence-based approaches to couples counselling several years ago, they concluded there were two - behaviour therapy for couples and emotionally focused therapy. When the two therapies were compared in trials, they performed similarly at the end of sessions but then 2 years later, there was a drop in the results for behaviour therapy for couples while the results for emotionally focused therapy shown even greater improvement (this is in fact very interesting and rare for therapies, which generally always show reduced effectiveness further down the track when evaluated).

The centre's founder, Rowan Burckhardt, discovered emotionally focused therapy after several years of searching for an approach to relationship conflict that truly works. Having gone through this therapy himself, he saw first-hand how effective it was at changing conflict patterns. Given that there were no certified therapists in Sydney, he worked hard to become the first. He wanted to create a change in Sydney so that when a couple reaches out for help, it does not take them years to find a therapy that works, as it did for him. Instead they get the best available approach the first time and not endure ineffective or worse, unhelpful, therapies. Relationships are too precious for that!

we have communication problems. Does this approach address that?

The short answer is yes. Communication is a big part of relationships and often the first thing that is noticed when issues arise. Communication can be thought of like a tree, with the trunk, branches, and leaves being what is said between the two people and the emotions underneath being like the root system. Emotionally focused therapy focuses on working on the emotions underneath the communication because as changes occur there, the communication also changes. If, for example, one partner is yelling at the other than it is possible to suggest a different way to speak (communication training) or address the anger underneath the yelling so that there is no longer a need to yell (emotionally focused therapy). Working on the emotions underneath is more effective at changing the communication problems and is also longer lasting. 

We are having sexual problems. Will this therapy help us?

Sexual problems can be a result of emotional disconnection and/or other factors (e.g. physical problems or anxiety). A careful assessment would determine the causes for each couple's particular situation. Whether it is due to emotional disconnection or another psychological cause, the centre's therapist, Rowan Burckhardt, will be able to assist the couple in addressing this important issue.

ONE OF US HAD AN AFFAIR. CAN THIS THERAPY HELP US WITH THAT?

Yes, a number of the couples we work with have had an infidelity. This is usually a very painful event and can be hard for a couple to work through the impact and repair on their own. The discussions often quickly escalate into conflict or the topic is largely ignored. Our approach helps the couple process the event and address the issues that contributed to the infidelity occurring. We help the couple rebuild their relationship into a new, stronger relationship.

Will my therapist suggest we break-up?

No. This is too great a decision for any therapist to make on behalf of another person. In fact, our goal is to try and repair the relationship as much as possible. As long as neither person has said they are clear they want to separate, we will continue to fight for the relationship. We will be the last one in the room to give up on it.

I'm worried about the cost. 

While couples counselling does have a cost, it is also important to consider the cost, both financial and emotional, of either ongoing conflict or separation. Divorce is usually considered to have one of the greatest financial burdens a person can go through. There are also lots of emotional and physical health problems that are associated with poor relationships and loneliness. And, more importantly, the quality of people's relationships is the most important factor in making a person happy. A recent study by Harvard University followed people for 75 years and found that it is the quality of the participants close connections that was the most powerful factor in predicting their happiness. You can view the Ted Talk on this study here or read an article about it here. And so the question is, is it worth spending a thousand or two working on the thing that is most important to happiness? What could be a more important?

Is there anything I can do to improve my relationship without going to therapy?

Yes, there certainly is! A book has been written by Dr Sue Johnson that is aimed at helping couples resolve their conflict. It can be found here. This book explains how couples get stuck in conflict and how they can learn to break the cycle. It contains exercises the couple can do together. It is best if both partners can read it.

I've had a bad past experience with couples counselling. I'm worried about trying again.

Unfortunately, not all counsellors/therapists/psychologists have specific training in couples work and apply individual therapy techniques to relationship counselling. Or they just try and develop their own technique through trial and error. This will usually not work. Couples counselling requires specific training and the use of a therapy that has been carefully developed and refined. The therapy should have been shown to work for couples problems in studies that compared it over a substantial period of time to either another therapy or a group not receiving any therapy. It is important to be selective about who you choose to see. Regardless of who you decide to go with, it may be a good idea to briefly chat with the person first and ask about their training in couples work and the approach they use. If they use an approach other than behaviour therapy for couples or emotionally focused therapy, it may be worth asking them why.

WILL THIS THERAPY JUST BE LOOKING AT MY CHILDHOOD?

No, emotionally focused therapy is a present-focused therapy that emphasises the current dynamics between two people. We do at times draw on earlier experiences because they can help us make sense of the current dynamics but that is not what we mostly focus on.

How long will it take to repair my relationship?

If only we could honestly answer this we would. The extent of couples' problems differ so much that there is great variability in the amount of time it takes to repair. Much of what we learn about managing close and intimate relationships comes from the family environment we grew up in. Some people are lucky to have benefited from a childhood in which parents provided a good model of how to manage close relationships while others did not have such a good model. There are also subsequent relationships after our upbringing that shape our ability to engage with a partner. The amount of time the couple have been stuck in their conflict cycle also affects the amount of time it takes to create a new connection. All of these differences will mean that while for one couple 8 sessions will be enough, another will need 20 sessions. For most couples however, between 10 and 14 sessions will be required to become close and connected again, able to resolve differences and life issues in a collaborative way and without spiralling into conflict.

Do you offer therapy over skype?

Yes, Skype sessions are possible for people who would have trouble attending the practice in Surry Hills. Please enquire if this is relevant to you.

What do I need to do to make an appointment?

Just call our friendly receptionist and we'll work to find a convenient time. We offer after-hours appointments as well the usual business hour appointments.