Monday, October 13, 2014

Setting an Agenda for Marriage Counseling: Five Questions to Answer Before Your First Session

Before you go into a business meeting you would set an agenda. Yet when couples schedule a meeting with a therapist they often fail to discuss their expectations and set an agenda for the session. If they discussed anything it expectations are only stated broadly such as we need to communicate better, but not how counseling would help to improve their communication. Rarely has the couple even considered harm that could come from the counseling session.

Here are five questions to help you set an agenda before you meet with your relationship therapist:

If counseling is effective, how will our relationship be different? To answer this question, it is helpful to think in terms of behavior change. How will you behave differently toward each other if therapy is successful. Don’t think in generalities, consider specific changes you would want to see in your interaction, then each of you consider what your contribution would be to this change.

How will the therapist help in our effort to change? Will the focus of the session be on the past, the present or the future? Will you expect the therapist to be more of a teacher, coach or judge? What role will emotions play in the session? What do you hope to take away from the session?

How will the work we do in the session change how we relate once we are at home? Do you expect to have a different perspective, gain communication skills, or have more motivation to work on the relationship as a result of meeting with your therapist? Do you expect to work on specific homework or more generally behave better toward one another?

How much of a commitment do you expect to make toward therapy? Do you expect therapy to be limited to a specific number of sessions or do you expect the length of therapy to be based on how long it takes to achieve your goals? Have you considered how much your are willing to spend in money, time and effort to build a better relationship? Can one partner make a difference in the relationship if the other drops out of therapy?

What negative outcomes could arise from therapy? How uncomfortable do you expect the therapy process to be? Could you generate greater tension as a result of hearing how much dissatisfaction exists in the marriage? Could one of you end up deciding to divorce while the other wants to continue working on the relationship?

By addressing your expectations of couples counseling, you and your partner can avoid having different agendas for your session with the therapist. Your expectations may also not mesh with the therapist’s expectations. The sooner you, your partner and the therapist can set clear goals, the sooner you will be able to make progress toward creating an improved relationship.

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