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Couple therapy with a psychologist

Marital therapist Dr. Kristine Laderoute

When to consider relationship therapy

by clinical psychologist Kristine Laderoute Ph.D.

Couples often mistakenly assume that marital therapy is only for very serious or “big” problems and put off seeking help for as long as possible. As a result, by the time many couples seek help, they have been struggling with longstanding issues that are several layers deep. While the combination of a good therapist and a motivated and hard working couple can be effective in repairing the relationship, the process is likely to take longer, and prove more challenging, than it would have had they sought help sooner.

Consider a medical analogy. If you notice an unusual looking mole on your skin, you might put off seeking the help of a medical doctor initially, hoping that there is nothing really wrong. What about if the mole starts to look increasingly unusual? How long would it take before you seriously considered getting professional help? If you act early, it is hopeful that the doctor can treat or remove it before it becomes a serious health risk. If you wait too long, and the mole is a form of skin cancer, this will likely require more medical intervention and prove more challenging to treat. Moreover, this kind of situation could possibly become life threatening if the cancer has spread inside your body and reached a high stage of progression. In this case, there could be multiple layers to this medical problem that require intervention, and which likely could have been prevented had professional help been obtained sooner.

It is probably safe to assume that when faced with a potential medical problem, most people would seek medical intervention promptly. This reflects the high value that people place on their physical health, among other things. However, when faced with a psychological or relationship problem, people often do not seek help as quickly. While investing in our physical health might be regarded as the most important thing we can do for ourselves, investing in our emotional health is equally as important. When you consider that our relationship with our partner is perhaps the biggest emotional investment we make, it makes little sense why we would be more reluctant to seek help for our relationship problems than we are for our medical ones.

The question of whether a relationship problem is “big enough” to warrant therapy is a subjective one. From a couples therapist perspective, there is really no issue that is too “small” to seek help for, since many issues that might be thought of as benign (e.g., arguing over who is doing more of the household chores) are usually about larger underlying issues (e.g., not feeling valued or respected by our partner) that the therapist can help the couple tease out and work through. Without the help of an objective third party (i.e., the therapist) these more significant underlying issues often go unaddressed and can grow into bigger problems, similar to the cancer underlying the seemingly benign mole. This is not to say that couples should seek therapy at the first sign of an argument, but rather, it is important for couples to keep an open mind about seeking help from an objective third party. If an issue keeps coming up over and over again, this is typically a sign that the couple has been unable to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of one or both partners, and that it may be difficult for them to do so on their own.

No matter how seemingly small or big the problem that brings couples to therapy, the key to couples therapy being effective is that both partners must be willing to put effort into addressing the problems in the relationship. Also key is that both partners feel comfortable with the therapist. When seeking therapy, it is advisable to meet with more than one couples therapist initially, in order to assess different treatment styles and determine what seems to be the best fit for you and your partner. A good couples therapist will bring objectivity, insight, and experience to help the couple increase their understanding of their situation and make changes that will move them closer to having the kind of relationship they desire.

Psychologists can help

Clinical psychologists are doctoral-level trained therapists who are highly knowledgeable when it comes to addressing interpersonal issues. Dr. Kristine Laderoute is a clinical psychologist whose experience working with couples spans both treatment and research. Her research, which has included studying the impact of coping styles on relationship satisfaction, informs her clinical work with couples. Her treatment approach with couples seeks to help partners achieve a stronger sense of cohesion by assisting them in communicating on a deeper level so that their difficulties can be more clearly understood and resolved.

-- Dr. Kristine Laderoute, Ph.D., Registered Psychologist

Copyright 2013 Dr. Kristine Laderoute

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