Couples therapy is psychotherapy aimed at promoting better communication between a couple, or for the working out of specific issues a couple may have. Couples therapy is also often called marriage counseling, but a couple may not be married and still benefit from therapy.
In fact one form of couples therapy that has been growing in popularity is pre-marriage counseling. Some churches now insist that engaged couples participate in a certain amount of couples therapy sessions prior to marrying. Concern with persistently high divorce statistics has led many churches to conclude that couples should work out their issues before making what is supposed to be a lifetime commitment. Sometimes this form of couples therapy ends up meaning a marriage does not take place. This is because some couples identify too many divisive issues that would probably result in divorce at a later point.
Partners more often undertake couples therapy of their own volition, or at least because one partner wishes to go. The other partner may go reluctantly, but many are surprised to find that the therapist, when competent, does not side with one person within the couple. In fact, many fear that couples therapy will result in all of their behaviors being attacked and will not result in compromises on their partner’s behalf. This is most frequently not the case. Couples therapy usually involves compromise and willingness to change by both partners.
Unlike therapy undertaken by an individual, the therapist’s goal is to champion the couple, and promote better couple relationships. He or she will apportion equal time to each partner in order so that each can be heard. The therapist will also moderate debates or arguments and may use a portion of therapy time to help teach couples how to better relate to each other.
Occasionally a therapist finds that one partner would benefit from individual therapy to address mental health issues. Usually, the therapist will not counsel the person but will instead direct them to another therapist. To counsel one member of the couple and also be the couple’s therapist is considered a conflict of interests.
There is a broad range of psychological approaches to couples therapy. Some of these are humanistic, behaviorist, cognitive behaviorist or Freudian. Many couples also feel they benefit from less traditional couples counseling and work with marriage or life coaches, or in marriage encounter groups in order to find their way to better relationships as a couple. Some couples counseling even occurs via the Internet.