One of the challenges clients face when entering therapy is knowing whether they are improving. Unlike coaching, where clients enter the process with clearly stipulated goals (not dissimilar to hiring a golf coach to improve your swing), therapy is much deeper, and clients often come in with great distress. They only knew one thing in starting therapy: they want the pain to end, all of it!
But pain will always be with us. In fact, to hurt is human.
Due to their great distress, clients can hold on to the notion that therapy should get rid of all their pain. It doesn’t and it is not meant to. What therapy does is to help individuals, couples, and families learn how to manage pain and conflict more effectively.
Perfection is not the goal of therapy. Therapy is to help you improve in your process to the point where you can continue to improve on your own, ready to terminate your work with your therapist. The pain is still there, but you can move on.
Preface: I work with high-conflict couples stuck in dysfunctional relationship patterns for many years. This post is for such couples. It does not apply to the average couple who might have short-term disagreements here and there.
The first time I see a couple for an intake session, I take time to explain to them how therapy works. For individuals, I emphasise the importance of the client’s willingness to take up the ownership of his or her own change. For couples, the story is a bit more complex.
I will say to the couple: “Many couples come in to see me hoping that therapy will cause their spouse to change. But if you have been in any longterm relationship, you will know the answer to this question: Is it possible change your spouse if he or she does not see eye-to-eye with you on that change?”
Most will answer, “No.”
I will continue, “So if you cannot change your spouse, what can you do?”