When I was asked to write an article about “marriage counseling” two things immediately came to mind. First of all, we are generally more inclined to refer to it as “couples therapy” these days, particularly in the world of clinical psychology and also in deference to the growing body of work which focuses on the experience of this unique form of psychotherapy. The second thing which came to my mind was the personal nature of this request, as it was couples therapy that first brought me to therapy and it was couples therapy which had a profound impact upon both myself and my relationships in general.
The particular form of couples therapy I encountered is known as Imago Relationship Therapy, developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD with his partner Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. It is an integrative form of couples therapy, attempting to assist couples in achieving healthy, loving communication in sharing their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a way which creates connection, not disconnection. It is integrative in that it incorporates the principles of psychodynamic, cognitive, and emotion-focused therapy into a methodology designed to facilitate greater emotional and psychological intimacy.
The powerful nature of this process inspired me to return to school to become a psychologist specializing in couples therapy. I now encounter couples in my clinical practice seeking to reduce the pain and anxiety in their relationship and to address the unconscious forces which manifest in their most intimate and originally most loving relationship. Whether focused on the topic of unmet needs or ancient hurts and resentments, the couples therapist is called upon to invite his clients to a journey of self-exploration and self-discovery which is full of both hope and fear.
Men often find the prospect of therapy to be frightening and stigmatizing. The goal of the couples therapist is to create a sense of safety in the clinical setting and offer assurances to the person’s experience of the process and the validity of that experience, as well as provide some hope as to the positive nature of their decision to seek counseling. Ultimately the therapist seeks to recreate a sense of safety and trust in the couple’s relationship and restore the feelings of love and intimacy that originally existed in their relationship. It is an extraordinarily challenging endeavor for couples as well as an extraordinarily rewarding one. Those who are willing to do the work and are open to the process often find an immense sense of healing, particularly when they have assisted their partner in his or her healing as well.
By: Dr. John Brennan, JD, PsyD, Associated Faculty at MSP