A few weeks ago, I said here that I had made the decision to start a clinical program for couples therapy. Well, there are 3 levels and I have just completed level 1 ,the easiest and least time consuming level to be sure. The certification process will take the better part of a year and in addition, it. is. not. cheap. But nothing worth anything really is, now is it? I am so much smarter already.
Since I got my Masters in Social Work in l993, I have been primarily focused on grief work and spent 14 years in pediatric oncology. That consisted of crisis intervention (it is a bitch to be told your kid has cancer y’all), grief therapy, child and adolescent counseling, family counseling at times, doctor counseling often (as in, get your ass back in that room and give them that information again, better this time) and occasionally couples therapy, but all in the confines of the hospital and cancer experience. When my kids just kept coming, I finally gave it up in 2007. It was too hard emotionally, too hard on my kids who had to deal with me having to leave abruptly (I was on call for death), too hard, too hard… Since then, I have done mental health work with actual mentally ill people. It is boring actually because it is mostly treated by medication; no one ever cured a schizophrenic with talk therapy. No one.
Since my divorce, my own couples therapy (a total failure) and all of the reading and writing I have done about divorce, I’ve gotten really interested in CT and I think it will give me something clinically interesting to focus on going forward. A Bored Cuckoo Momma is not good.
Couples therapy gets a really, really bad rap.
There are actually blog posts and articles here on DivorcedMoms by people saying how absolutely useless CT is. One of them, written by our own Deja Vow, was carried on Huffington Post, ‘Marriage Counseling Made My Marriage Worse’ and came in with a whopping 163 comments (most agreeing with her) and had 831 shares on FB.
I hated it. I hated to read how terrible her therapist was (really, really terrible from the things she wrote) and I hated to see how many other people had also had dismal experiences.
But then again, I had one of those dismal experiences myself.
Stanley and I went, finally. I had been begging him for several years. By the time he agreed to go, I was mostly done. I thought that he would like the therapist, she was a fellow Brit, and I thought that maybe he wouldn’t feel ganged up on since I was about a billion miles ahead of the game, both in terms of my profession and my ability to process emotion verbally while he is like a cave man that pounds on rocks to get his point across.
I don’t know. Maybe she sensed my ambivalence and didn’t try hard, but it did absolutely no good; she would assign homework and he wouldn’t do it, just like I expected he wouldn’t. I would sit there on the sofa, me on one end, him on the other, both turned away from each other, and cry when she asked if he had done his homework.
I think a large part of the failure of CT is because it is predestined to fail. First, people wait way too long to go. Actually, research shows that couples report on average they have been having problems in their relationship for 6 years before they go to counseling.
6 years people.
(Stanley and I were Exhibit A on the poster titled
COUPLES WHO WAITED TOO LONG TO GO TO COUNSELING)
Most of the time, by the time both partners are agreeable to going to CT, one of the partners has already emotionally checked out of the marriage and is only going to have a safe place to tell their partner that they want a divorce.
(Stanley and I were Exhibit B)
CT can only work if both partners are still emotionally invested in the marriage and will commit to doing the work. Otherwise, it becomes the place where you say the words, “I want a divorce” and decide how to tell the children and split assets, which is fine, there is a place for that too.
I’m studying The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. John and Julie Gottman are very well known and respected in the field, they do research based work and their theory makes sense to me.
I will tell you that my CT, did none of what they teach.
If she had, we might have done better.
Gottman teaches that you spend 3 sessions assessing the relationship. In that time, you have the first meeting as a joint session, ‘explain to me your perception of the problem’ and ‘what did you like about each other in the first place’ sort of thing. At the end of the session, you have each fill out questionnaires that evaluate their commitment to the relationship, their level of marital satisfaction, etc. In session 2, you meet with each of them alone, 45 min for one partner, then 45 min for the other, going over their questionnaires and getting their story and individual goals for therapy. In Session 3, you give them your impressions and help them make a plan for therapy. There are no secrets allowed, the therapist will not keep secrets.
If our therapist had done this we might not have spent 10 sessions walking around the elephant in the living room which was, “He won’t even bother doing his homework and I am done.”
BTW, Al reports that their experience was no better, he was already done and it was a complete waste of time. But again, that isn’t the fault of couples therapy.
Anyway, I’m sure I will be laying some little snippets on you from time to time whether you want them or not. So get ready.