Archive for counselling

Rituals and Relationships

Every culture, every family, every couple indeed every individual, has their rituals. Some have been there for centuries – others are of a much more recent origin – but all are important to the formation of identity. Of course it is also true that as human beings we will at times seek to establish our identity by rebelling against the rituals that others use to define us. How many family arguments begin at that point where one or other parent says ‘Well that’s not the way we do things in this family….’

Often, in the counselling room, I am confronted by conflicting rituals, where one or other members of the couple will talk about their frustrations with the other. Their partner’s behaviour seems so unreasonable to them – Why? Because their way just isn’t a good way to mark an event, to celebrate something, or to do a particular task – it’s much more than that… it isn’t the right way to do it. Often it seems as though they are appealing to the therapist to validate their position, almost appealing to a moral adjudicator outside the couple’s experience. The secret as ever is to keep your own ears open to the assumptions you are making and then to share them with your partner whilst being open to hearing a different perspective on them. There is often no right or wrong way of doing things – just different.

But rituals don’t all need to be set in the context of negativity. The fact that every culture has them shows us just how significant they can be in helping us to feel safe, bring comfort, form our identity and mark stages of our lives. In building long term relationships rituals can have an important role. One of the things I encourage couples to think about and to seek to establish are forms of rituals in their own relationships. In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday night curry, or a date night once a month or if they always buy flowers or a gift for each other on particular anniversaries – it is for each couple to work out what’s meaningful for them in their relationship. What matters is that they find some building blocks to create solid foundations for themselves – to create rhythms and traditions that are about the new couple that they are forming. This brings shared meaning and deepens connection in a relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

Supervision: how it serves clients

It is widely accepted that all counsellors, whether experienced or starting out, will benefit from regular professional supervision. A supervisor acts in a mentoring role, providing emotional support as well as information and guidance.
Geldard and Geldard (2001).

Supervision provides a safe place for therapists to discuss their client work with a trained/experienced Supervisor. All the client work discussed in supervision is totally confidential between therapist and the supervisor. This can be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on how many clients the therapist is seeing.

Supervision is perhaps the most important component in the development of a competent practitioner. It is within the context of supervision that trainees begin to develop a sense of their professional identity and to examine their own beliefs and attitude regarding clients and therapy. (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2007).

So how does supervision translate to our clients?

It provides a sounding board for therapists to voice their concerns about their clients.

It educates and expands a therapist’s knowledge, understanding and skills.

It offers feedback that enables the therapist to gain an objective insight into their own performance and skills to better serve their clients.

It gives a chance for a different perspective. Even therapists can have blind spots and lose objectivity. Supervision helps to see how they can be more helpful to their clients by pointing out when and where their viewpoint/boundaries with clients might have become blurred.

Supervision challenges ethical dilemmas ensuring that professional ethical standards are maintained. Duty of care for clients is the most important role of a Supervisor. The client’s best interest always comes first.

Supervision supports the therapist when they are struggling with their own issues, ensuring that these issues do not bleed into their work with clients.

Good supervision is necessity for all therapist to use their own resources better, to manage their workload effectively, learn new skills and theories; it keep them in check and aids self-development. At Coupleworks, we believe clients are entitled to expect high standards from their therapists. They bring in sensitive and vulnerable material so it’s more than reasonable for them to expect the most professional service we can offer in return.

Shirlee Kay

Coping with Grief and Loss

‘I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorry most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these words in response to the sudden death of his friend Arthur Hallam. But it does not need a death to trigger grief – the break up of a relationship; unrequited love; missed opportunities; the abuse of trust – each in their own way results in grief and loss. At Coupleworks helping our clients to begin to process these feelings is part of our work.

Almost 50 years ago Elizabeth Kubler Ross frustrated by the lack of studies on grief, and inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, described the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She was also concerned to underline that not everyone who is grieving will go through all the stages and the stages may not be in that order. Everyone’s grief is his or her own and there is no right way of experiencing it, nor can you predict how intense it will be. However they remain a useful tool to help people see that what they are experiencing is normal and natural and accepting this can be very helpful.

The 5 stages of grief:

Denial: in this stage the individual is trying to deny their loss, they can’t believe it is happening to them, they feel as if it is a mistake. If the loss is sudden and unexpected then sometimes there may be numbness like waiting to wake up from a bad dream – all will be better tomorrow but it isn’t.

Anger: The intense reality of the pain can feel too much as the denial stage wears off, but a way of avoiding that pain is for the individual to look for someone to blame. It can be themselves for not doing something or being there or directing it to others.

Bargaining: Here the characteristic phrase is ‘If only….’ I had done this or been there then it might not have happened. This is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, to feel as though despite what has happened we still have some control.

Depression: what is the point of going on? I can’t be bothered any more…. The feeling of sadness and pain just seems so overwhelming, and ordinary things that we enjoyed previously feel mundane.

Acceptance: this is the final stage and not everyone reaches it. It is the point of beginning to come through the grief – a gradual reinvesting of energy into life. There is an adjustment and acceptance that life can go on even without our loved one or those lost hopes.

Sometimes it can feel like the pain is never ending but time can heal and things may eventually become more bearable. We can find ways of living with the loss.

A few tips to help you cope and keep going….

1. Allow yourself to feel sad and express and release your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry – it is better than bottling up your feelings.
2. Look after yourself – don’t forget to take exercise even if that is going for a walk.
3. Sleep if you can and have a regular bedtime.
4. Avoid drink and drugs that temporarily dull the pain – you will only feel worse afterwards.
5. Plan ahead for grief triggers such as anniversaries or special reminders.
6. Find support and don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends
7. Counselling can be helpful to talk your feelings through and have a space to share the pain.

And perhaps hold on to those words of Tennyson, however difficult it may be to believe them – still less to feel them. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’

Sarah Fletcher

How to keep sex alive

Summer might only just be upon us but it is the season of weddings nonetheless. Many couples are experiencing the results of much planning and anticipation as they come to their big day. Many hopes and expectations abound as to what their life together will be like – the unknown of the journey ahead for many at this stage is exciting and yet possibly unnerving.

But what of those years ahead – one of the questions I am asked a lot in counselling is ‘How do we keep our relationship and particularly sex alive?’ Sex in the first couple of years of a relationship is passionate, urgent and much wanted for most couples. But then the ordinariness of life sets in – the familiarity, the pressures of work, young children bring time pressures and sleepless nights and suddenly years down the line couples take each other for granted and sex gradually becomes something that moves way down the list of importance, or it even becomes a matter of conflict for the couple.

So here are some tips for how to keep your sex alive after those early years in a relationship. Broadly speaking, sex will be better if you are more fully yourself, and if you are emotionally more connected to your partner..

1. Spending all your free time together can stifle difference and individuality. Those elements are needed for good sex in a long-term relationship. Pursue some separate interests – it is healthier for you both to be able to be fully yourselves and keeps some mystery and interest between you.

2. Show appreciation and say thank you to your partner. Daniel Keltner is quoted in the Observer saying that studies show that romantic partners who express gratitude are more than three times less likely to break up. The warmth and good feeling that is generated by simple gestures of goodwill can make an amazing difference to sex.

3. Stay emotionally in tune with your partner – check out how they are and take time to talk. Being connected emotionally is a starting point to being connected physically.

4. Take time to have fun together – play tennis – go dancing – enjoy a movie – or make time for a weekend break. Fun outside the bedroom can lead to more fun within.

5. Make the bedroom a digital free zone.

6. Schedule sex. Let go of the idea that the best sex is spontaneous. There can be fun in the anticipation.

7. Remember to kiss your partner and take time about it. It is a way of building real intimacy between a couple.

8. Try something new – surprise your partner. Don’t just use the same routine and path that you know works. Familiarity can become dull, and sexual arousal can be enhanced by a fresh approach.

9. Finally don’t look back to the past – enjoy who you are now both individually and as a couple and look forward to new and life-enhancing times together.

Sarah Fletcher

Feeling stuck

Couples often come into counselling feeling frustrated and stuck. They feel trapped and confused at certain painful and negative patterns in the relationship. They know it seems counter-intuitive not to just change the reactions which are causing such distress, but it is not that simple.

Therapy can offer a couple the space to reflect on the emotional tangle and gain insight into the dynamics of their particular ‘couple dance’ of hurt and resentment.

Often a set of ‘limiting’ beliefs is uncovered. These are beliefs which influence the way we think about ourselves and our partner, the way we understand the world around us, and affect our reactions to events and situations. A limiting belief is not always obvious. Like the fish who says, ‘Water? What is water?’ we do not realise we are swimming in it – but the evidence is in the stuck interaction. Their ability to accommodate, change and develop has become inhibited and stifled.

Each of us has sets of values and beliefs that we absorbed in our early years, and that are shaped by experience, but sometimes we assume they are human ‘Truths’. We tend to discount information that challenges our ‘Truth’, and focus on information that confirms our belief. We feel reassured by a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, if confronted by our partner’s contradictory and opposing belief, we feel disturbed and unsettled. We may feel betrayed. We may feel disconnected.

For example, in one family anger flares and is expressed loudly and vociferously, but then swiftly repaired. In another family, anger is suppressed and internalised, raised voices met with strong disapproval. A couple can get drawn into arguments about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, both feeling absolutely right, and a fractious and brittle relationship develops. The couple assume polarised positions and negotiating the difference seems impossible.

They engage in what Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor describes as the ‘Walking the Devil’s Circle’. The limiting belief is the ‘Circle’. The couple walks, and keeps walking, convinced they are on the road to somewhere (convincing the other of what is right/wrong). But then, when they look down, they see the same footsteps going round and round in a circle. Because the interactions and counter-reactions have been repeated and repeated, there is no forward-moving path. Now there is a well-worn, and deepening, groove of a cycle which is difficult to escape and which makes the habitual patterns even more difficult to break.

However, the counsellor can support and encourage the couple in the challenge of thinking creatively about their differences. Counselling can help couples explore what it is that they experience as threat. What do they imagine they will lose by compromising? Why do they become so defensive with the person they love the most? When faced with difference of opinion, why does the relationship suddenly feel so vulnerable and insecure? When there is love and connection at other times, what happens in those moments of disagreement?

Empathy allows a flow of well-meaning understanding. The couple can experience ‘togetherness’ again. There is a mutual engagement in managing the difference. It is a relief to learn alternatives to the sticky web of distress, anger and destructive criticism. A softening of attitude establishes generosity and compassion and a process of turning towards instead of turning away. An alternative mind-set can take root and the stranglehold is broken.

Kathy Rees

Counselling when considering Separation

Couples sometimes contact Coupleworks when they are facing the end of their relationship and have the wish to separate as amicably as possible, and with consideration and understanding.

Counselling can offer support when the grief at the thought of a break-up feels overwhelming and help is needed with managing difficult feelings. This is particularly true if the couple have experienced other significant and painful losses in their lives. Broken attachments can provoke great anxiety – and counselling offers the time and space to think about needs and how to tap resources of support.

Being part of a couple can define and strengthen a person’s identity and suddenly being alone requires a re-figuration and understanding of oneself: ‘Who am I now?’ If there are issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth this can feel a monumental task. When there has been a custom of sharing, now there may be an aching sense of loneliness and panic. It may be important to identify and uncover one’s inner resilience.

If the threat of the end of the relationship has come out of the blue, then a partner may have trouble accepting a future that is not the one that was anticipated. Feelings of well-being and certainty have been shaken to the core and plans will need adjusting. There may be financial implications, child-care issues, even the selling of the home. It can be difficult to grasp the extent of the upheaval – and challenging to find the confidence to face life alone.

If there have been childhood insecurities, or rejections, or abandonments, past memories can resurface and create a worry that this present loss just cannot be managed. Starting over, facing the unknown, can cause panic and dread – but talking to an impartial counsellor offers a chance to think more calmly. Family and friends can sometimes find it difficult to stand back, not take sides, and be detached from their own concerns.

When there are feelings of betrayal, bitterness and anger it may be important begin to understand how things have come about. There can be benefit from gaining an insight into the dynamics of the relationship, the patterns of behaviour, and the impulses and reactions of each partner. Untangling the confusion may alleviate feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and prevent getting stuck in recrimination and blame.

Kathy Rees

Election fatigue

Q. How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?

A.  None. They will just spend the time blaming each other for the failure of the dud one.

As couple counsellors, we are often called upon to try and better understand the power struggle that erupts when partners don’t feel heard or understood by each other.
Couples can talk over one another, score points by attacking each other and loudly dismiss each other’s concerns until a situation becomes so loaded that it is hard for them to understand how they can ever find a peaceful middle ground.
If they reach the point of dissolve, they then often also disagree how best to parent their children.

Employing the same tiring rhetoric, the Dave and Ed election sessions appear to be getting just as fruitless as the couple desperately intent on trying to impress their audiences with just how right they are and how the other is completely muddled.

We, the poor kids in the middle of all this, now have to decide which parent gets our vote. They are both promising lots of treats and explaining how much better life will be if they are the parent making the big decisions about our health, wealth and safety.
Professional rivalry disintegrates into personal rivalry. Currently it’s all getting grubbier by the day. Playground politics rule.
Their couple sessions on TV and in the media are accompanied by each other’s back up friends and relatives. Leaders are only ever pictures clinging onto their spouses to ensure we understand how empathetic and family orientated they both are. Everyone is desperate to show their golden side. The shadows will come later.
Accusations, insults and assassination by media spin. It all gets in the way of the truth which is the same here as it is for our couples.
There is no ‘right’ way. There are two viewpoints to each truth. Sometimes more than two. Reason and compassion should be the main helpmates, but these are in short supply.
Counselling could help, but that would involve the tricky business of really listening, not just waiting to speak.

Currently it’s getting childishly competitive. Voting for the best parental guidance will be a confusing choice for many.  Mudslinging just gets tiring and messy for the audience. Will the victor sadly just be the biggest and loudest and the one that can throw the most dirt?
For many in couple therapy feeling victorious can be more important than caring about the other.
The winner takes it all. But will it make them happy?

 

Christina Fraser