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Do you need counselling?

All relationships go through difficult times - it's how you handle those times that makes the difference between staying together and splitting up. Relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall explains how counselling can help.

When's the right time?

One thing's for sure: counsellors rarely hear the complaint "It's too early for our relationship!" More often, what they hear is: "We've tried everything - counselling is our last resort."

Far too many couples leave counselling until it's too late. By the time of their first appointment, years of bitterness and resentment have built up and the fear of being hurt blocks out any chance of change.

If you're experiencing any of the following, now is the time to consider counselling:

  • When you talk to your partner, it feels as though you're hitting a brick wall.
  • Your conversations just go round and round in never-ending circles.
  • After you've talked, you feel frustrated and confused.
  • You can't talk for more than a few minutes without it turning into a shouting match.
  • You're afraid that if you bring up a certain subject, things will get even worse.
  • There's nothing left to say.
Together or alone?

Ideally, you should go to counselling together: it's hard to build a team if only half the players are there. Often, if one person makes the decision to give counselling a try, the partner will decide to go too.

If your partner flatly refuses to join you, there are lots of things counselling can help you sort out on your own. There may be changes you can make alone that will have a positive impact on your relationship. Some people also prefer to have counselling on their own at first to work out their feelings before seeing another counsellor as a couple.

What will happen?

All counsellors have their own styles and ways of working. You can choose to see a counsellor face-to-face or speak via telephone or email. Some counsellors also offer creative arts and therapeutic exercises in addition to talking.

Whichever approach you choose, broadly speaking all counsellors will help you to work through the following three steps:

  1. Exploring your story - the nature of the problems and what impact they're having on you and your relationship. The history of how the problems arose and what changes you'd like to see.
  2. Understanding your story - why you're struggling with these problems and the things that may be preventing you from overcoming them.
  3. Rewriting your story - finding the strengths and resources to resolve your difficulties, or at least make them more bearable.
How does counselling work?

First and foremost, counselling works by giving you the chance to be heard. Your counsellor will give you all the time you need to talk, sob, shout or just think. It's an opportunity to look at the problem in a different way with someone who'll respect and encourage your opinions and decisions.

For many couples, the solution is right under their noses - it just takes someone objective to see what it is. It's like the saying "You can't see the wood for the trees" - counsellors are trained wood-spotters!

It's hard to measure if counselling is effective, but it's an industry that's rapidly growing as more and more people discover the benefits for themselves. If you haven't considered relationship counselling before, please don't leave it until it's too late.

The three outcomes of couples' counselling
  • Lump it - for some reason change isn't possible, but you decide there's enough good stuff worth staying together for.
  • Leave it - you or your partner can't or won't change and you decide to split up.
  • Change it - you decide to alter the situation and work together at making your relationship better.