Author Archive for Shirlee Kay

Is This the End of the Relationship?

I was reading about Jon Stewart’s decision to quit the Daily Show, the American satirical news program that he has hosted for 16 years. It struck me that he could’ve been talking about the end of a relationship. He said: “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, Yup, it’s working, but I’m not getting the same satisfaction. These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, OK, I’m on the back side of it now.” Read More →

My Experience Working with Clients

I often read about what it’s like from the client’s experience working with a therapist.  I thought it might be interesting to know what it’s like seeing clients from a therapist’s prospective.

Since I started seeing clients back when I was training at TCCR some 25 years ago, I’ve always found it a privilege to be let into the internal lives of the people sitting opposite me.  My experience and feelings have changed considerably over the years from those early days. I now find it less stressful and far more enjoyable due to a confidence gained from my experience. There is a freeing up; a sense of exploration rather than a ‘getting it right’ need.  The way I work has evolved throughout the years and has brought me to a more relaxed and creative place. Read More →

Easter – a rebirth and resurrection of the couple relationship

Regardless of what your religious beliefs are, Easter can be seen as analogy for our relationships. Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar. Easter Sunday is the day that Jesus was said to come back to life after being crucified. At Easter, Christians remember the ‘Holy Week’. It also marks the end of Lent, the traditional time of fasting in the Christian calendar.

At Coupleworks, we see Easter as symbolising the ‘rebirth of the couple relationship’:
Reflecting on the ‘rebirth’ of our relationships is one way of rediscovering what it was that we were drawn to in our partner and the strong connections we felt when we first met. Taking the time to reach out and spend time with the people we love over the Easter holiday allows us to reestablish contact and remind one another that our relationship is meaningful and valuable.

The Resurrection of the Couple Relationship:
Whether our relationship have been fractured and bruised through reactive behavior or neglected, Easter provides the opportunity to let go of hard feelings, past hurt and other difficulties most relationships accumulate. Talking things through and learning to forgive one another and ourselves allows us to see the ‘new’ relationship emerge. This requires us to learn to take responsibility for our behavior and begin to understand the impact we have on one another.

Couple therapy is one way to explore and work through issues that get in the way of finding the love and care from one another that we need as human beings. Easter is about resurrection and redemption that can be seen as heralding a new era between people. Love and generosity is a Christian
teaching but whatever religion we are it most definitely serves our relationships well (and an enormous chocolate egg doesn’t hurt either).

Shirlee Kay


Couples naturally come into relationships with predetermined expectations, as well as their own unconscious understanding of how a couple ‘should be’.  This is usually based on what they experienced growing up with their own parents.

If we grew up with parents who did everything together: be it the shopping, household cleaning or making financial decisions, it would make sense that we might expect the same from our relationship.

Difficulties arise when couples are unable to accept that their partner may have different expectations from their own and when they are unable to accept these differences.

Ways of Working with Different Expectations:

1. Ask yourself, what are your expectations from the relationship and from your partner.  Be specific and clear.

2. Enquire where this belief came from, and question whether it is still important in your present relationship or if it’s an old belief system or pattern from the past.

3. Be curious and open about your partner’s expectations and try to accept that they may not be the same as yours.

4. Check in with your body (is your body tensing up?) to see if these differences cause you discomfort?  If so, notice the feelings and accept them.  When we accept our own feelings we can more easily accept our partners.

5. Talk about issues as and when they come up so resentment doesn’t build up.

6. Trust that your partner is NOT trying to injure you, just reacting from his or her own experience.  Trust you are both doing your best and it takes time.   Keep with it.

Shirlee Kay

Finding a Therapist isn’t always easy

Finding an individual or couple’s therapist should be straightforward and yet it can sometimes be a complicated process for people.  Asking for help can be difficult and finding the right person that you’re comfortable with requires the ability to be clear about what your needs and expectations are. Some useful things to ask yourself and ask the therapist you are thinking of working with are:

Useful questions to ask yourself:

  1. What location, time and day can you realistically commit to on a weekly bases?
  2. How much can you afford to pay weekly?
  3. Do you want short or long-term therapy?  Is it a specific issue you want to work through or are you interested in doing deeper work?
  4. Do you want to work with a man or a woman?
  5. Are language or cultural differences an issue for you?
  6. What do you want to get out of the therapy?
  7. Are you hoping that the therapist will solve your problems?
  8. Are you really ready to start therapy?
  9. Ask a professional or friend if they know of a good therapist.

Useful questions to ask a therapist before committing to working with them:

  1. Are you a qualified/accredited therapist?  What kind of training did you have?  If you are looking to see a couple’s therapist they should be trained in couple work.  It’s ok to ask specific questions.
  2. How many years have you been seeing clients?
  3. Do you specialise in a particular area?  If you have a specific concern ask if they have worked with others on this issue.
  4. What is the average number of sessions you normally see clients for?
  5. What is expected of me?

It’s important to listen to your instincts when interviewing a therapist.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them over the phone you probably won’t feel comfortable working together.

Tell them you will get back to them and ask if you can contact them if you have further questions.  The time and effort you put into finding a therapist will help ensure you find the right person for you.

Shirlee Kay


The Use of Antidepressants and Therapy

My views on antidepressants have changed over the years. Where I was once not in favour of their use, I now see their benefits with clients. The problem is that most antidepressants are too freely given out without thought or proper assessment and there is rarely follow up with clients to reassess their progress.

It is important to say that feeling low at times is part of the human experience and allows us the opportunity to know ourselves better and helps us to manage these feelings as they come and go.

Anti-depressants need to be prescribed by a Psychiatrist who is knowledgeable with psychopharmacology drugs. Because there are so many anti-depressants available, without a comprehensive assessment it’s difficult to pinpoint which drug will be best for which individual. An assessment will also help to differentiate whether the person is going through normal loss and grief or going through depression. This is a crucial distinction.

Antidepressants allow people to work through their issues with a therapist because it lifts the depression enough for the person to feel more hopeful and therefore allow them to begin to have another perspective on an issue.  I often use the analogy of a person standing in water up to their eyes; they can’t breath or do anything except try and survive.  If the water level is lowered (with antidepressants) it allows the person to see things differently.

Our brain’s neuropathways can change the way we think and experience things. If we have long periods of depression and our thought process is negative it impacts the way we see others and ourselves.  With antidepressants, we are able to bypass the depression and different parts of our self begin to emerge. With consistent and regular positive thoughts, our brain chemistry alters and our perspective can change.

My experience tells me that clients who are very depressed do not utilise the process therapy offers at that time.  The ideal combination is therapy with antidepressants. This can offer an opportunity for clients to understand the origin of their depression and work through and learn to manage their depression.

A new protocol is needed to look after clients from beginning to end to ensure they are on the correct dosage of medication and progressing. Psychiatrists/GP’s would do better to work together with psychotherapists/ counsellors in order to best serve their clients.

Shirlee Kay


Stages in Couple Relationships

Falling in Love/getting to know one another:

How we negotiate the challenges of becoming a couple determines the way we communicate as a couple in the future.

As the initial excitement/passion dies, the couple is weighing up whether their other connections are sufficient for them to take the relationship further. It’s important to note that a couple needs to experience this idealization stage in the relationship in order to move forward together.

This is the time couples get to know each other and start to explore what is means to trust one another and to stay together even when they are no longer on their best behavior.

Decision to Commit:

Becoming a couple: This is usually the make or break stage in most relationships. Declaring to one another and to the wider world that you’re a couple can be very challenging. It can feel very serious, which of course it is, so it is no wonder we often feel anxious about it.

How we become a couple depends on what makes us feel secure and safe in a relationship. It doesn’t have to be what society tells us it should be but for the couple to agree what works best for them. For some, it might mean moving in together and planning for the future; which includes getting engaged, married and having children.

But when one partner wants to move forward faster than the other, difficulties often arise. Feeling pressured to commit or feelings of not being wanted polarize a couple. We see many instances where one person is holding the ‘wanting’ in the relationship and the other is withdrawing, feeling immense pressure to do something they don’t want to do. It’s a dance that many couples become entangled in and can follow them throughout their relationship. It can also set up a dynamic between a couple that says “ You forced this on me, I didn’t have a choice” or that “You never wanted me enough, I had to beg.”

People, for all kinds of reasons are delaying entering into serious relationships and causing huge anxieties for each other. Women want and need to start families and are torn between being clear about this and fearing they will scare their partner away. It often translates into a power play between couples and somehow, the goodwill environment a couple started off in becomes more like a battlefield with the loving relationship being slowly eroded.

These challenges and changes that these stages bring are a huge opportunity for us as individuals and as a couple to grow.

The Reality of Everyday Life:

Lets face it; it’s the everyday banality and irritation of living with others that begin to chip away at our relationship. It’s not the fact that the toothpaste cap isn’t on the tube, it’s the stories that we create like: ‘She knows this is important to me and I’ve asked her a thousand times and she still can’t manage to do it’. It’s also the way we ask and blame one another that impact on a relationship. All these pressures can impact even on committed and loving relationships.

  • Work/Life balance
  • Financial Stress
  • Family, friendships, etc
  • Banality of the everyday
  • Childcare and distribution of labour
  • Life Stages and Their Challenges:
  • Just when you thought you have dealt with what life has thrown at you and the relationship is finally settling down, guess what?
  • Children move home after university
  • Redundancy
  • Retirement/Illness
  • Aged parents

The way we, as individuals and as a couple are able to adapt to changes allows us the ability to roll with the difficulties life some times throws at us. Life isn’t always easy but it can be easier when we understand and appreciate some of the issues involved in the making of a committed and successful relationship.

Shirlee Kay

Is Mental Illness Biomedical or a Complex Mixture of Social and Psychological Circumstances?

In “Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family,” Valeria Ugazio challenges the idea that mental distress, the notion that being mentally ill, whether depressed, obsessive, phobic or schizophrenic is essentially biological.

Ugazio believes that pharmaceutical companies are invested in the belief that mental illness is biochemical because it is in their interest to do so. But more interesting is her idea that this exonerates everyone from responsibility and involvement in the patient’s problem.

Ugazio’s main point is that mental illness occurs when people are not able to choose between altruism and selfishness, dependence and independence, winning and losing, belonging and not belonging.

These issues, she believes, start in the family.  And although Ugazio is not interested in blame, she does trace family behaviour and their stories as the starting point of where mental illness originates.

Through numerous case studies, Ugazio skillfully weaves together a model that makes sense of why mental illness might develop, placing meaningful relation to particular life context.

She highlights how there are many factors involved within the family dynamic and how many opportunities, pitfalls and traps we can fall into when a family member suffers with difficult issues. She also points out that some of the stories themselves are part of the problem.  When a child is told he ‘is this way or that way’, a story is constructed within the family and it becomes difficult for the children to see themselves in another way.

There will always be times within our own family when we would rather avoid addressing difficult and potentially uncomfortable interactions with family members.  These become the opportunities to stay with the difficulties and work through issues directly.

So when you notice something isn’t right with a family member don’t turn away. Instead, turn towards the person in crisis.  This is what reconnects us and lends compassion and understanding to the people we love. That’s where the healing begins.

Shirlee Kay


Shirlee Kay featured in Cosmopolitan

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Whether you lost your virginity with your first serious boyfriend or it was a one night stand that’s best forgotten, the first time you had sex can affect your life.

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Crossroads in Relationships

Crossroads in Relationships

In every relationship there comes a point where a couple starts to think about moving forward.  This might mean a more serious commitment, such as seeing each other exclusively; introducing each other to parents; living together marriage or children.  This is a crucial and difficult time for couples to negotiate because it becomes a statement for themselves, friends and family that their relationship is serious.  This is invariably a make or break time between couples.

Who says it first?

Couples rarely feel ready to move their relationship forward at the same time and this can create an imbalance in the relationship.  If couples can learn to accept that difference doesn’t need to translate into rejection it can reduce tension and allow a couple to think about their relationship and move forward in a way that can accommodate them both.

‘But I thought we would have six children and move to Italy.’

When couples assume that their partners want the same things that they do problems arise.  Being clear with ourselves about what we expect from our relationship helps us communicate this to our partner.  Difference is not the problem; it is not being clear (and specific) about what these things are that result in conflict.

It’s a relief to say it as it is.

When we feel free to name what we need and want it helps to give shape and direction to our lives as a couple. Of course we need to learn to compromise, but as our mothers’ used to say: ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get.’ So get talking.

Shirlee Kay