Why I’m No Longer Doing Couples TherapyJan 27, 2023
Why I’m No Longer Doing Couples Therapy
I spent over a decade learning how to become a relationship therapist, but in 2020, I gave it up. I walked away from both my identity and my career as a couples therapist, and I turned my attention to becoming a powerful relationship coach. Here, I share the story of why being a couples therapist wasn’t working out the way I’d hoped, why I made the transition to couples coaching, and what’s actually different about the two.
How it all started
I’ve been obsessed with relationships since I was a child. I remember, at the tender age of just 10 years old, wondering when I would finally find the person I could marry. Meeting the love of my life couldn’t happen soon enough.
As I grew up, I think I tried to make EVERY relationship I had be “the one,” which of course led to my complete devastation each time it turned out that they weren’t. But there was no talking me out of it; I was convinced that if I just tried hard enough, I could make every (any!) relationship work.
Not surprisingly, I found a great interest in learning about relationships, what makes them tick, and how we can do them better. In that pursuit, I stumbled upon the field of Couple and Family Therapy. Immediately, I knew that this was my place; helping people with their relationships was what I was meant to do.
Doing the work
After getting both my Masters and PhD in Couple and Family Therapy, I dove into a private practice, rich with individuals, couples, and the occasional family system. As a queer and polyamorous person myself, I attracted a lot of folx from the LGBTQIAP+ and Polyam/Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) communities, which then became my specialty. Each person taught me something. Each client inspired me, humbled me, and challenged me. However, it was my work with couples that I especially enjoyed.
I continued to believe that there had to be some way to help “save” every relationship. I saw how much pain and distress my clients were in as they kept getting stuck in the same conflicts, patterns, and hurts, and I deeply wanted to help. I applied everything that I’d learned during my education and experience, but the progress felt unbearably slow. I’d work with some couples for a year or more, and still they’d come back reporting the same kinds of issues (albeit maybe a little better) that they were having when we started together. It was disheartening, to say the least, and it left me questioning whether maybe I just wasn’t a very good therapist despite my clients frequently saying otherwise.
My own relationship hell
Meanwhile, I was going through my own relationship hell. Calvin and I were in frequent conflict ourselves, and once again I found that the concepts and tools that I had been given in my therapist education were not sufficient to help resolve our issues. I kept trying to address and communicate about the things that were not working for us, which would turn into a fight, and eventually end in his shut-down and withdrawal, which felt like torture and created panic for me, which I wanted to talk about, which made him pull away even more. Round and round we’d go.
Like most couples, I thought we needed to be able to communicate so that we could stop this pursue-withdraw pattern I was all-too familiar with. But communication wasn’t working, which made communication (in my mind) our biggest problem. Turns out, it wasn’t. (Check out this article to learn more about what the real problems are!)
To help with my own struggles, I tried working with a couple of different therapists. Most of them didn’t get my queer and polyam identities, or the intersections of race and neurodivergence in my relationships, or the impact of my greysexual identity, or how the fact that there were children in the mix played a really big part in all of this. I felt like my life situation was too uncommon for most standard therapists, and I knew enough about mental health and relationships that it was hard to find someone who could offer me more than what I could offer myself. So, I didn’t get the support that I really needed.
I started to realize… “Something is missing here.” If everything I had been taught wasn’t working very well for my clients, and wasn’t working very well in my own relationship, and other therapists I was trying to work with seemed to be even less helpful than I was (especially given my minority intersections), then maybe the problem wasn’t me. Maybe the problem was with how and what I’d been taught about supporting relationships.
The move toward something different
As you might have guessed, Calvin and I were eventually able to bring our relationship from the brink of total destruction and into the ease, joy, and fulfillment that we have now. What it took, however, was indeed me having to set aside most of what I had learned in my therapist training and start really looking at how my OWN stuff (including my ideas about the right or best way to do relationships) was affecting our relationship. I had to turn my focus toward how to help ME so that I could start changing MY part in what wasn’t working between us.
Though I then tried to bring these ideas into my work with couples, it was a hard sell. They were used to being able to come into session and talk about a recent conflict or problem they were having. Each partner wanted me to hear and validate their sides and help the other partner see the error of their ways. Neither partner wanted to talk about their own stuff; they just wanted me to help their partner shift, change, and be better.
My clients didn’t have the framework for understanding what wasn’t working, the consciousness to see how they were participating in the problem, nor the skills to be able to engage differently with one another. So, more often than not, their attempts to talk about a problem in therapy would go about as well as their attempts to talk about the problem at home– not very well. And in the midst of a conflict pattern repeating in front of me, partners weren’t in a place to receive my new ideas or invitation to focus on their own part in the problem.
I finally had some idea of what might really help couples have a better relationship, and I still wasn’t able to get through to them the way I wanted to. It was both frustrating and disheartening. I wanted to find a better way.
Walking away from therapy
Turns out, I actually stepped away from doing therapy for reasons unrelated to the experience of doing therapy itself. Covid was happening, I’d started a business that required I move into the role of CEO rather than therapist, my family was moving, and we had 4 young children and no childcare; I had to take something off of my plate, and working with clients was the one thing I could really let go of.
Life, it seems, gave me the push that I needed. In the space that was created outside of my clinical work, I had the opportunity to reflect on my experience as a couples therapist and how I might be able to help couples even more powerfully.
I recognized that I wanted to be able to include a stronger educational component. I knew that couples would benefit from having a more solid understanding of what was really behind the problems they were experiencing and how they could empower themselves to be a part of the solution. I wanted to help partners see that the most powerful path to transforming their relationship began with learning how to heal, soothe, and manage their own shit. And, I wanted to support each person in growing their capacity to practice, what Calvin I came to call, Empowered Accountability, which I knew would be more effective in a safe container that did not include their partner right away. Yet I knew it would be a game-changer if both partners were doing this self-work at the same time, learning the same concepts and skills, and coming together in shared experiences around their commitment to becoming who they need to be in order for the relationship to improve.
Perhaps I could have done these things in the role of a therapist, but that’s not what people seeking couples therapy are typically looking for. And, fortunately for me, the model of relationship coaching offered a much better fit.
Relationship Coaching vs Couples Therapy
One of the major differences between coaching and therapy is that therapy is based on a medical model intended to treat clinically significant mental illnesses, and for that I am deeply grateful. Counseling and therapy can be powerful resources for improving mental health and healing trauma. Certainly, distressed relationships compound mental illness and activate (or even cause) trauma, and improving relationships can have a powerfully healing effect on these experiences.
Coaching, on the other hand, tends to be more focused on actionable steps for moving forward into thriving, self-improvement and actualization, and intentionally creating a more fulfilling life. Where relationships are concerned, this has always been the work I’ve been more called to do. I don’t want to just focus on helping couples improve their relationships enough to stop having struggles; I want to help couples improve their relationships beyond that point and into conscious empowerment for creating EXTRAORDINARY ones. So now, my training and experience as a licensed therapist supports me with the tools to help couples who are starting in a high level of distress, and my positioning as a relationship coach helps to keep them focused on and moving toward creating the relationship of their dreams.
Another big difference between coaching and therapy is that coaching tends to include a strong and intentional educational component. In my work as a couples therapist, I began to realize that a major barrier to greater success was that couples did not have the frameworks, knowledge, or language to understand what was really going on, much less how to effectively change it. Certainly, therapy also includes some psychoeducation, but it usually has to be slipped into the conversation amid discussions of problems and hurts, which is actually not a great moment for people to receive and integrate new information. I wanted to support couples in learning foundational relationship knowledge and skills in a more direct, intentional, and effective way. As a relationship coach, we have been able to create an entire curriculum that is now supporting couples in learning essential frameworks and skills that set them up for success in the healing and transformation work they are doing.
There are two final big reasons that I realized coaching was a better fit for the work I wanted to do in this world. First, I wanted to work with Calvin. As a trained life-coach himself, and the inspiration of a majority of the most important ideas we now teach to others, we both felt that it was important that his voice and perspective be included in the work. What’s more, our approach to working with couples is much better offered with two coaches working together, which allows us to each support one partner in their personal Empowered Accountability work while offering the rare gift of having couple to couple sessions. Because he is not a licensed therapist, we wouldn’t be able to work together under the therapy umbrella.
Finally, I wanted to be able to work with people in more than just my state. Especially as a member of the Queer and Polaymorous communities, I wanted to be available as a resource to those who might need the unique experiences, perspectives, and approaches that we have to offer at PowerfuLove. As a therapist, I’m restricted to working with those who live in the same state in which I’m licensed, but as a coach, I can work with couples from all over the world.
The truth is, my passion for learning about relationships and supporting couples with creating really amazing, fulfilling, and lasting ones is stronger than ever. I just found a better way (for me) to do it.
If you’d like support with transforming your relationship through the power-combo of relationship education, support, and accountability for the changes you set out to make, you’ve found the right place. We invite you to schedule your FREE 90 minute relationship empowerment call here, so we can learn more about what hasn’t been working and see how we can help.
If you’d like to explore working with us in our Be the One relationship coaching program, make sure to schedule your FREE 90 minute Relationship Empowerment call!
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