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What Should I Expect At My First Couples Counseling Session

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hi my name is dr. melissa esta bo i'm a

licensed psychologist here at Biltmore

psychology and counseling so we have

been answering some questions recently

about couples counseling some of the

basics that people might have some

concerns about or ways to approach their

spouse about this so today what we

wanted to answer is this question what

should I expect at my first couples

counseling session so first off if

you've never done couples counseling if

you've never done individual counseling

I can totally empathize and understand

where it can feel pretty daunting you

don't know if you're gonna have to

immediately jump in just jump into stuff

that's really painful you don't know if

it's gonna be something where you're

feeling like you're having to defend

yourself so we wanted to quiet some of

those fears and just give you kind of a

basically out of what it should look

like so that hopefully it feels inviting

and doesn't feel as daunting so one of

the first things that we'll do is meet

together as a couple so there might be a

place like session to session three

session four where we decide to say hey

let's divide you guys up for a session

so that we could get individually a

little bit more in depth history about

your childhood or about things that

would just not fit into the 50-minute

session that we typically do together

but the vast majority of the time you're

gonna present for couples counseling

together as a couple um during the

session the goal will be to address some

of the history of distress would have

been some of the themes that have led to

some arguments what are some places in

which you've really gotten tripped up as

a couple that have been kind of hard

sometimes I think it's hard to jump into

some of the depth right away and so

that's okay it's okay to kind of talk in

more generality saying we're arguing

about parenting or arguing about our

intimacy and sexual connection arguing

about those kinds of things but I think

again it's important to know okay we're

gonna highlight some of the places where

things have been rough over the past

years or a period of time another thing

that that that will touch on along the

way is what are your goals for therapy

so sometimes couples will go I have no

idea I have no idea what my goals are

you tell me

and there's certainly placed for a

therapist to say you know based on some

of the things that you've talked about

these would be some of the goals that I

would propose that we try to have a

conquer and and try to deal but again

there's that place for feedback to say

you propose some goals client can give

you some feedback of whether or not

that's a good goal or not and together

be able to come to a conclusion I

definitely have some people that come in

we have it all written out they're like

these are the exact things that I want

to be able to accomplish and that's

great too again as long as we're able to

decide as a couple then we'll be able to

proceed forward from there one of the

questions that I get associated with

that is what if we don't have the same

goals what if someone's coming in saying

hey we have had a lot of stress but I'm

gonna work on this relationship this is

we're fighting for this matters and

someone else is a little bit ambivalent

they're like I I don't really know I

don't really know what I want to do next

in in my opinion in those moments that

is the time to say well the goal of

counseling is to help that person be

able to decide where they're at if

they're able to see some help that the

relationship could heal that they could

feel like a healthy whole happy person

within the relationship then they might

then later say like yeah my goal is to

work on this this is what I want to do

if along the pathway they go you know

we're really trying this has been you

know a rewarding relationship in parts

but other parts you know it just feels

like we're hurting each other then again

that might be the goal of counseling is

to be able to talk through some of those

things and to potentially find a place

where you know the couple is able to

separate amicably and as peacefully and

lovingly as possible so from that goal

list the therapist is able to create a

treatment plan where they're able to sit

down and say okay so based on what your

goals are based on some of the history

that I've heard this is generally the

way I would see us approaching this and

so there might they might not be able to

give you like specifics of like every

session we're gonna do this this and

this but give you an overarching view of

hey this is the way we're gonna approach

things this is the way I think that we

could go about treating some of the

anxiety that's within the relationship

or this is the way I think that we can

propose healing some of the trust that

has been broken or breached over time

and so in the first session there should

be a general sense of you

hurt you feel understood you felt like

that person was able to advocate for you

again another kind of subtopic is the

fact that the role of a good therapist

is not to take sides with one person but

is to advocate for the relationship

together again based on these four pole

schools and so that that person should

really feel like hey my therapist was

advocating for me they understood me and

they were also advocating for the other

person so this wasn't a one-sided thing

and they should have just a general

sense that this person knows how to get

us out of this

you know problematic spot that we're in

so I think again it's important that the

couple walks away with a sense of hope

that whatever that pathway is going to

be whatever direction is to find that

there is a path to be able to get there

and then it's not necessarily gonna be a

miserable process to go through all of

this so some common questions that we

also get that couples will ask about the

first session is are you going to tell

me that I'm incompatible with my spouse

or partner are you gonna tell me that

divorce is the only option and so to

that I would say most assuredly no the

goal of the therapist is not to say like

hey I think that this is just too hard

I'm gonna decide that for you you

shouldn't stay together

you shouldn't go forward that is not

something that should take place so I

think a therapist might highlight some

of the parts that are hard but again

you're coming in saying I want help with

that and so their role is to help you

through that so I think that that's

probably the most common question that I

get is people being concerned are you

just gonna tell me that I should call it

quits and that there's actually no hope

and that should not be the case

another question that we'll get is what

are some good tips to be able to have a

good first session

and honestly I don't know that it's

necessarily being super prepared or

having a ton of conversations with your

spouse or partner before I think the

biggest thing is just knowing okay I

need to when appropriate when that

therapist has earned the right to hear

my story I need to know that I need to

be able to be vulnerable to talk about

some of the places that have been

embarrassing that have been hurtful that

have been distressing so I don't know

that people from the very first session

always feel comfortable enough to

totally kind of relax and lower their

guard and trust the therapist but I

think it's important to think like

that's a place that I should probably

get to so that I can find that place to

be able to connect and potentially you

know heal the relationship if that's the

goal so as always we'd love questions

like this and we'd love for you to

always send us over more so we can

answer them for future thank you

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