We head to the bedroom on Homes & Lifestyles this week. And we don’t just talk about the best way to decorate this very personal space – we do talk about that and it’s amazing – but we also talk about navigating romantic relationships. Specifically, we talk about making meaningful connections with our partner and with ourselves. Because how we treat ourselves directly relates to how we treat our partners and how we expect them to treat us. Self-care and self-love are often the first steps to connection.
On the show, Kim is joined by Kimberly Nelson, a Registered Provisional Psychologist at Flourish Psychological Services, to dive further into this topic. After the show, we caught up with Kimberly to talk about how to approach counselling, specifically relationship counselling. Kimberly guides us through selecting the right person to talk to, what to expect, and when to seek guidance.
Who is relationship counselling for and who can benefit?
Relationship counselling is for anyone who wants to improve their relationship(s). The quality of our lives is often tied to the quality of our relationships. Even with individual therapy, I want to know about your relationship with yourself – how you treat yourself, how you talk to yourself, and how you ask for and accept care from others. How we treat ourselves plays out in what we accept in other relationships too.
In romantic relationships, we’re looking at how effectively the couple functions together – how well they communicate, handle conflict, and meet one another’s needs, both in and out of the bedroom. Interestingly, happy, stable couples don’t necessarily have less conflict, they’re just generally better at routinely repairing the relationship.
With platonic relationships (i.e. family, friends, business partners), we may still look at communication, conflict, goals, and clarifying roles. In any relationship, trust, effective communication, healthy boundaries, shared values and goals, and managing conflict are potential areas that can be improved through counselling.
What’s the best way to find someone you can connect with?
Speaking to your family doctor, word of mouth, or professional sites, such as Psychology Today, are helpful places to start. Sites like Psychology Today allow users to search potential therapists by location, speciality, therapies offered, and rates. You can also see if they offer online booking, free consultation, or direct billing to insurance companies. Here is my profile on Psychology Today as an example.
More than any one type of therapy, the strength of the therapeutic relationship is the strongest predictor of whether a client will reach their goals in therapy. As such, it’s important to find a good match with your therapist. You can’t be all things to all people and neither can a therapist. This is why therapists typically offer a free initial phone consultation. You can get a sense of whether you might be comfortable working with them and you will also have an opportunity to ask questions about their work, credentials, or therapy in general.
How do you know you need relationship therapy?
The short answer is: if you think you do, you do. Unfortunately, research suggests that, couples often come to therapy six years after the problems started. This can create a big hill to climb. Ideally, we want to address issues early. In fact, even happy couples in the early stages of their relationship can benefit from improved communication or conflict skills when the relationship seems easy, motivation to please one another is high, and there isn’t a closet full of hurts to deal with. Singles can also work with a therapist to review patterns in their dating history and to create goals and improved skills for future relationships.
What are some of the reasons people seek out therapy?
People commonly seek therapy during life transitions and major stressors, such as a new marriage, birth, divorce, a death, or a job change. For example, when raising a young family, couples report the lowest levels of relationship satisfaction.
Sometimes there is a crisis, such as infidelity. Just as often, it is a nagging sense of disappointment. After long hours at work, raising kids, aging, etc., people can find their relationships have lost the spark. They may find themselves fighting over the same issues again and again. Another common complaint for couples is differing levels of sexual desire.
What’s the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? Does it matter for relationship therapy?
The terms therapist and counsellor are not regulated. Anyone can say they are a “counsellor” or a “therapist.” Be sure to review credentials.
A psychologist on the other hand, is a protected professional designation. In Alberta, Psychologists are regulated by the College of Alberta Psychologists and are required to abide by the professional ethics and practice standards of the College. Most insurance companies require counselling to be done with a registered member of the College to be eligible for reimbursement under insurance plans. However, each plan is different and clients must check with their insurance providers to confirm the requirements.
What can patients expect during their first visit?
The first session is an opportunity to meet one another and see if there might be a good fit and to ask any initial questions you may have. Your therapist may ask about basic health information (such as current medications) and take a brief history of the problem that brought you to therapy.
I always ask clients three questions in the first session. I ask why therapy, why now, and why me? This helps me explore what the client’s goals might be, what prompted the appointment, especially if the problem has been long standing. Lastly, it tells me if there is something about my work or my profile that spoke to them and possibly gave them hope for change. For some clients, choosing a therapist may be related to something as simple as the location of the practice, the fee schedule, or office hours.
Is the initial session a couples session or solo session?
That depends. It’s ideal if partners can work on the relationship together. However, that’s not always possible. Individuals can work on their relationships in individual therapy. For example, sometimes one spouse demands that the other attend therapy on their own, if the relationship is to continue. An individual client may want to learn relationship skills to take home and apply to their marriage. Sometimes individual counselling is the first step before couples counselling.
For couple’s therapy, usually the partners attend together. However, each partner may attend occasional individual sessions with the therapist. In this case, individual sessions are meant to supplement the couple’s work and there is usually an explicit agreement that anything discussed in the individual sessions may be brought into the next couple’s session. The purpose of this agreement is to preserve the shared trust and bond between the therapist and the couple.
What can be expected throughout treatment?
As Phoenix Brill, the owner of Flourish, often says, “Sometimes, the water gets murky before it clears.” Some sessions can feel wonderful. It can be a great relief to have a skilled professional listen intently and empathize with you. When is the last time you felt truly listened to and understood? However, change can be hard. Learning new insights and skills takes work, but even small steps can lead to big changes!
How many sessions are needed?
Again, it depends. In private therapy, this tends to be individualized depending on the client’s needs and resources (including time and energy – not just finances) and whether they have achieved their goals or not. Once therapy is completed, clients may return for maintenance sessions or to tackle new goals (PS maintenance isn’t just good for cars!).
In community based programs, there are often set limits, such as 6 or 12 sessions. This can also be true of brief therapies (e.g. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy) or structured and skills based therapies (e.g. manualized Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).You can enjoy Kim’s full discussion with Kimberly on the show this Saturday, May 19 at 10:00 a.m. on CTV Calgary. Each week on Homes & Lifestyles, we are joined by inspirational Calgarians who help us dive further into our weekly topics. This week is no different and we thank you for your time Kimberly.
Kimberly has provided additional resources below.
Esther Perel is a masterful therapist and currently has a fantastic series available on iTunes and audible (free for Audible members). Where Do We Begin explores a variety of couples in a therapy session. It offers a unique opportunity to be a fly on the wall on in couple’s therapy. https://www.estherperel.com/podcast
You can sign up for the marriage minute email with great, science supported tips for making relationships their best. https://www.gottman.com/marriage-minute/
Gottman has a wonderful weekend course for couples, yes even happy couples, who want to stay that way! (https://www.gottman.com/couples/workshops/art-science-of-love/).