Does Relationship Counselling Work

It is widely acknowledged by therapists that Relationship Counselling is the most challenging type of all counselling.

A therapy approach that combines both individual and couples therapy and that takes into account how people interact with each other in a bigger picture, is the most effective way forward when it comes to couple counselling.  As a result, the counsellor becomes a facilitator rather than a mediator.

Perspective is key when it comes to Relationship Counselling, particularly in a South African context. We have such a matrix of social constructs operating in this country – race, class, gender, and culture…to name but a few. Therefore, it is essential that the therapist is non-judgemental and makes no assumptions about a couple of values. If a therapist does not understand the worldview of a client’s specific context, it can be a very frustrating process for all involved.

Another area of challenge is the “mixed agenda” couple, where divorce is on the table for one of the parties, but not necessarily for the other.  In such instances one person knows he or she wants to leave the relationship, hasn’t told the partner yet, is attending therapy as a tick box exercise or is bringing the therapist on board to help soften the blow for the partner. For this reason, the therapy process can help ease what can be a traumatic experience, especially in cases where the partner is left shell-shocked, bitter and angry by a spouse’s desire to leave.

One of the counselling methods that is proving to be promising in couple’s therapy, is based on the attachment theory of parenting and the effect that upbringing can be carried into adult relationships. A person with a secure attachment is comfortable being close to others, has fewer insecurities and enjoys expressing and receiving love with ease. People with an anxious attachment style, however, desperately crave love, but never quite believe the other person loves them enough. They are at risk of being demanding and needy of their partners. Finally, individuals with an avoidant attachment style learn from childhood that you cannot turn to people for love or security, because they never experienced it as children. These people will probably approach life in a cynical manner. A gift given to them by their partners, for instance, no matter how genuinely intended, will be received with a lack of emotion and dismissed as meaningless.

Assisting individuals to understand not only their own attachment style but also that of their partners is a constructive process that could help both parties perceive that healthy relationships have people who are engaged and emotionally responsive to their partner. Also, the key to the relationship is empathy, trust and acceptance.

It is the counsellor’s responsibility to facilitate a process whereby the couple explore what can be a life-altering decision.  If a relationship fails without each person examining and realising their own contributions to the challenges that were experienced, there is a possibility that similar issues will arise in the ensuing relationships of the individual.