I get a lot of distressing phone calls from individuals who have had a major event or relationship disaster that has shaken them to the core. They desperately want to work on things, and have taken the brave step of contacting me, but aren’t sure their partner will be on board with coming to an appointment.
I get it. Taking the first step can be scary. The counseling and mental wellness industry has a stigma and some unfortunate stereotypes that we are working against. Sometimes people have assumptions that the Therapist is going to “tell them what to do,” “take one person’s side,” or even that we have magical powers and will force people to stay together. These are common, though misguided, fears and concerns.
Any Couples Therapist worth their salt is going to be respectful, non-biased, and non-judgmental. The session should focus on what the individuals or couple wants, including even mixed agenda items like, “I want to understand how this happened because I didn’t know you even wanted a divorce,” or “I don’t know if I can do this anymore, but we are going to be co-parents regardless.” Asking friends and coworkers for their recommendations will help easy any anxiety about who you will be meeting and what their approach looks like.
There are several other approaches to consider. One strategy is to have a phone consultation with the Therapist either with both parties or the hesitant party to ask any and all questions about the Provider’s background, experience, approaches, and what to expect. Most Couples Therapists are well versed in explaining this to folks and can be very helpful. For example, here’s mine: http://mbradycounseling.com/2016/07/what-to-expect-in-couples-counseling-with-brady-counseling-solutions/
Another approach would be in-person consultation to meet the Therapist in-person, without the pressure of a session. Many Therapists offer a free or reduced-cost consultation for exactly this purpose. Consultations can be 15-30 minutes and allows the Therapist to provide an overview of what they might expect should they decide to pursue sessions.
A third idea is to come to session with a stipulation to ease any pressure. Invite the hesitant partner to come to couples therapy only as support to you. Make an agreement that they can be in the role of observer and supporter only. If they are unsure about therapy, or fearful that the Therapist may ask them too many questions, or other pre-conceived negative notions, an offer of amnesty for the first session might allow them to test the waters in an environment without pressure and allow them to come in and get familiar with the Therapists style. Then they can then make a decision based on their actual experience. Knowledge is power.
Finally, you could consider coming to counseling on your own. Most relationship issues are a dynamic of give and take, and a Counselor can work with you to identify some of the relationship patterns that you may be able to affect by gaining insight into your part of the dynamic.
Micah Brady, LICSW, LCSW-C, CTC, eRYT