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what to expect from your first couples counseling session

What to expect your first couples counseling session

Most people don’t know what to expect from the first couples therapy session.  Starting couples counseling can be intimidating and knowing what to expect can help you and your partner manage expectations.  It will also help better prepare you for a successful experience.

In order to explain what starting couples therapy is like, I will describe the way that I typically work with partners.  Remember that every therapist may approach things differently, but this will give you a good general overview of what the process looks like.

Before you start

Before starting couples counseling, I always do a phone consultation with one (and hopefully both) members of the couple.  The purpose of the phone consultation is for you to learn more about the process of couples work and to ask any potential questions you may have.  On my end, I’m also listening to make sure I’m the best person to help you with your situation. If I don’t think I’m the right person, I’m always happy to suggest other therapists who may be a better fit.

Anticipating the first session

Before we start, you’ll get access to my client portal online where you can fill out paperwork, set up payments and schedule future sessions.  The paperwork is pretty straight forward. You’ll learn more about my policies and procedures and provide me with more information about your goals for couples therapy.

First couples counseling session

The first couples counseling session can be uncomfortable for some people.  You’re inviting a stranger into the inner life of your relationship. During the first few sessions we’ll be learning more about each other and setting clear goals for our work together. Again, you’re interviewing me to make sure I’m the right person for you.  At any time if you feel like I’m not the right fit, I encourage you to let me know.  That way I can help you find someone else who may better meet your needs. Also, I’ll be asking many questions and learning a ton of information during out first few sessions.

Setting goals

In couples therapy, it’s really important that everyone is clear about what the shared and individual goals are.  In our work you’ll articulate what you’d like to be different in your relationship. Then I’ll help you find individual goals to work on that will bring you closer to that reality.

How does change happen?

First things first, I can’t change your partner.  I don’t have that kind of power. However, I do have the ability to help you figure out what you can do to make the situation better.  Change happens when you and your partner take individual responsibility for your part and are motivated to do the hard work necessary to have a different experience together.

I’m nervous

For some people, the idea of coming into couples counseling and talking about your relationship is stressful.  That makes perfect sense. It will take some time to feel comfortable with the process. We will be talking about areas of your relationship that you want to work on.  For those uncomfortable with change, being nervous is a perfectly acceptable place to start.

I’m excited

For other people, the idea of couple therapy is exciting.  Perhaps you’ve been dealing with a similar issue for a long time and you’re ready to get to work and make some meaningful change.  This is also an acceptable emotional experience to have at the start of a process like this.

You’re getting to know me

During the first few sessions you’ll be getting to know me.  During that time, I’ll encourage you to check in with yourself about how it’s going.  Over time, you’ll hopefully develop trust in me and the process.  The most important thing to me is that you get the right support for you and your relationship.

What does the process look like going forward?

At the beginning of our work together, we’ll meet all together and individually.  For the first session I typically will meet with you as a couple.  After that, I’ll meet with you and your partner individually for one session each.  The purpose of the individual session is so that I can learn a lot about your history in a very quick way.  We often take in much of what we know about relationships from those relationships we’ve seen modeled for us in our life.  I like to have that background so that I can help you in the present. After the individual sessions, we’ll meet all together again and usually stay that way moving forward.

Is there a lot of work outside of session?

The short answer is yes.  While we can make lots of progress in session, I will make suggestions for things you can do together in between our meetings.  We’re going to be exploring ways you can improve your relationship and the more energy you can put into that, the bigger the rewards.

I’m feeling hopeless about my relationship

Many couples begin the process of couples therapy feeling hopeless. Sometimes they’re not even sure if they want to stay together. Whether you decide to stay together or not, the process of couples counseling can be helpful.  You don’t have to make the decision about staying or going at the beginning of the process. Couples counseling can be a useful way to learn what you want from a relationship and how to make that a reality.  Those are useful lessons for this relationship or the next.

How long will it take?

Again, this will vary by couple.  I recommend sticking it out for at least six months.  While it’s a big investment of time and money, so is a break-up or divorce.  While it’s true that you can have some small wins in the first few sessions, it typically takes longer to make meaningful and lasting change.

To learn more about working together and improving your relationship, set up a free phone consultation through my website today.  I look forward to speaking with you.

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.

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