That’s the name I give to those reams of paper already printed on one side, fit only for recycling. The remains of old binders of stuff from grad school account for this week’s batch of junk paper for my printer. Like a paper I’d written almost 20 years ago: Assumptions, Approaches and Issues in Marital Therapy: A Personal Definition.
Amazingly, what I believed then, minus the naïveté and lack of experience, is largely the passion and promise of what I believe today:
1. Ease the pain. Right off the bat, a therapist’s job is to give a couple hope about the future, no matter if it’s separately or together. A therapist’s first role is to soothe heart hurt, restore faith, and normalize anger. The hard work can wait for later.
2. Children’s and pets’ behavior is about you. Overstated, but you get the point: Misbehavior, theirs or yours, is a symptom and not necessarily the cause. When you want things better at your house, start by working on the big boys and leave the small fry alone.
3. You’re driving the bus. Where we go is yours to decide; my job is to help you get there. A good travel agent doesn’t tell you where you want to go; you tell the agent. Think of me in that way, gathering information then putting a package together that gets you on your way, there if problems arise.
4. I’m not immune to the issues you have. Part of my skill is being able to tune in to your problems. I’ve often been there and done that, so I may see in your struggles things I have yet to resolve in my own life and relationship. That’s called counter-transference, and all therapists are touched by it.
5. For each step back take 2 steps forward. The family system we grew up in, and how relationships worked within it, predict behavior in our relationship now. Think of it as an individual version of “driving the bus.” Called individuation or differentiation, couples therapy looks hard at each partner’s ability to separate from those automatic behaviors we learned about ourselves and relationships so long ago. Remember that it takes two strong individuals to make a relationship work.
6. Without Action, Knowledge is wasted. Put another way, “So what’re you gonna do about it?” The whole aim of coming to therapy is “behavior change” and not just “changing your mind.” Those are things for me to know and you to learn.
7. Crisis = Opportunity. Going into marital therapy, or any kind of personal work, is an adventure whose outcome is largely unknown. What I do know is that when things come to a head tremendous opportunity for growth exists when things burst. Relationship is dynamic and as individual as each of you and the two of you together.
Hardest for me to learn has been that I can never want change more than my clients do. You will be (and ought to be) the trump card, driving force, bus driver, agent for change, mover and shaker.
What I know is that all of my skill, compassion, and knowledge will never be enough to right a boat when the passengers have jumped ship.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist, Coach, and Relationship Specialist who, for almost 20 years, has been in private practice along Colorado’s Front Range. She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis longer than most relationships existed so she sees and specializes in working with couples where invisible disability is part of the relationship mix. Kathe and her husband, David, teach Couple Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs. Get the schedule and learn more at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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