If you don’t have any experience of relationship counselling, it’s easy to make assumptions or give too much credence to popular rumours. For example, many people are scared of their counsellor taking their partner’s side, believe they can’t benefit from counselling unless separation is on the table, or think they should be ashamed to admit to needing help. The truth behind these ten most common myths about relationship counselling will help to ensure that you have more realistic expectations.
1. Relationship counselling tries to keep couples together
Your counsellor wants what’s best for you and your partner, whether that means staying together, engaging in a trial separation, or splitting up for good. Consequently, there’s no need to feel wary about going to counselling just because you think you may well want to end your relationship. In fact, some separating couples go to counselling with the explicit goal of processing the loss and negotiating the end of the relationship.
2. Counselling is only for heterosexual, married couples
Regardless of the genders or legal commitments involved, relationships face many of the same key struggles. Although it’s always wise to find out the details of a therapist’s practice policies, your sexual orientation or marital status should not influence your ability to obtain counselling (except, perhaps, in some religious counselling centres).
3. Strong people should be able to solve their problems alone
There is a myth that only “weak” or “damaged” people need counselling. Firstly, everyone is to a certain extent “damaged” by past difficulties—even the happiest upbringing comes with some unhealthy messages or challenging experiences. Secondly, it is actually strong and brave to admit a need for help. As with your physical health, it is also wise to know when you could benefit from professional assistance.
4. Relationship counselling is for those in crisis
You don’t need to wait until you’re on the verge of separation before you make an appointment with a relationship counsellor. There are many times when counselling might be helpful—for example, when you’re making a big decision (such as whether to cohabit or having children), struggle to compromise, realize that you don’t handle conflict productively, or are concerned you’re losing your connection. Seeing a counsellor before a true crisis arises could end helping you to avoid encountering one at all.
5. You need to go with a partner
If your partner doesn’t want to go to counselling just now, this doesn’t mean you cannot access relationship counselling. Talking to a therapist who specializes in understanding the dynamics and challenges of couples can be incredibly useful, even if you go alone. Further, your partner cannot access information about your sessions and you are under no obligation to tell them what you discuss with your therapist (though it may be productive to do so).
6. You can move between the couple and individual sessions
While you can go for relationship counselling on your own, most therapists will not consent to begin seeing you as a couple after this. Neutrality is one of the cornerstones of relationship counselling, and it’s difficult to maintain a sense of neutrality when the therapist has a longer-standing relationship with one half of a couple. If individual counselling for a relationship issue leads to a decision to seek help as a couple, your counsellor can likely recommend a suitable counsellor to move on to.
7. Your counsellor will tell you what to do
The assumption that the counsellor is there to dispense advice has left many clients feeling confused after the first session. Some counsellors will make suggestions, most will help you cultivate tools and techniques that improve your life, and almost all will offer insights. However, the central focus will be on providing you and your partner with the space to find your way to a more satisfying relationship.
8. Your counsellor will take sides
If you’re looking for someone to finally tell you who is right about the chores or who is being unreasonable about trust issues, you’re in for a big surprise in counselling! Your counsellor is there to help you understand each other and facilitate conflict resolution, not to identify one of you as “the problem” in the relationship. You and your partner will both be asked to take responsibility for the roles you play in your current struggles.
9. A stranger can’t possibly understand your relationship
You will actually benefit from the fact that your counsellor is an objective, unbiased outsider. While there is a place for insights offered by friends and family, your loved ones likely find it hard to avoid taking sides, and they also lack the training required to assist couples with relationship problems—your counsellor will be well-versed in theories, techniques and relationship models that promote meaningful change.
10. All relationship counsellors have the same approach
Finally, while there are certain qualifications and accreditations required of all relationship counsellors, there are dozens of different approaches to counselling. For example, some are more directive, some are more focused on linking past to present, and some are more practically oriented. However, most potential therapists will be happy to tell you a little about their training approach to help you decide whether to work with them.