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Couples Therapy Insights: What to Expect in Your First Session

Updated: Feb 8

a couple holding hands and doing couple's therapy in Bounds Green
couple's therapy

Embarking on the journey of couples therapy can be a transformative step towards not just resolving conflicts, but building a relationship that has a growth mindset. Many people are unsure about what to expect from couple’s counselling – what does it entail? How do you prepare for a session? What to expect in the first session?

Preparing Mentally and Emotionally for the First Meeting

It's normal to feel anxious before beginning therapy particularly when we anticipate the vulnerability required in couples therapy. Perhaps there is something that we have never told our partner but we know it would be helpful to divulge. Strategies like deep breathing, mindfulness, and discussing your fears with friends or family who are in therapy can alleviate some of this stress. It might also be helpful to share your feelings with your partner before the session; this releases some of the pressure but also builds a sense of teamwork as you begin this journey. Remember, anxiety is a perfectly normal response to facing the unknown. Feel free to phone or e-mail your therapist if you have any burning questions about the sessions or the set-up. That might help to put your mind at ease when it comes to the practicalities surrounding the sessions. 

Common Misconceptions About Couples Therapy

One misconception is the belief that therapy is only for relationships that are on the brink of collapse. In reality, therapy can be beneficial at any stage of a relationship. It’s perfectly normal to need a little bit of outside help when it comes to changes in the relationship such as moving in together, having children or if one partner has gone through a traumatic experience like a health scare or a death in the family. Those things can stir up a lot and affect the relationship dynamics. Another common reason for counselling might be infidelity and the resulting trust issues or intimacy challenges which might create a significant rupture. Counselling provides a safe space to discuss these issues and explore ways to reconnect and strengthen the intimate bond.

How to Make the Most of Your Initial Session

Your first session of couples therapy is a precious opportunity to lay the foundation for your therapeutic journey. It’s a time to be honest and transparent about the difficulties you face as a pair. The safety of the therapy room provides a confidential setting to express and explore the vulnerabilities and strengths of your relationship without fear of judgment. Here, you can begin to peel back the layers of your interactions to uncover patterns and behaviours that have both hindered and helped your bond.

1. Understanding the Counselling Process - The Framework of Couples Counselling: What to Expect

Couples therapy is an educational experience as much as it is a healing one. It is here that you will develop the relational competencies necessary for a healthy, thriving partnership. You will learn to identify and alter detrimental patterns, enhance your communication skills, and nurture a deeper connection with your partner. Active participation is crucial—expect to engage in exercises that challenge your current relational abilities and encourage growth. These tasks are designed to push you and your partner out of your comfort zones, fostering development and understanding.

2. Self-Reflection and Personal Insight - Assessing Your Expectations and Intentions

Introspection plays an important role in the therapy process. Before entering the therapy room, it's beneficial to reflect on your personal goals and the goals of your relationship. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from therapy. It’s important to be both clear and realistic about your intentions and to understand that therapy is a gradual process that offers profound insights in exchange for patience and openness. Growth, while rewarding, can often be accompanied by discomfort as you navigate through uncharted emotional territories. Embrace this discomfort, knowing it is a sign of progress and an integral part of the healing journey.

In essence, your initial session is the springboard from which your collective growth can leap. Approach it with an open heart and mind, ready to learn and ready to change. This session sets the trajectory for your therapeutic path, one that promises to lead to deeper understanding, renewed connection, and, ultimately, a more resilient and loving relationship.

LBTQ Couple's therapy Bounds green
Couple holding hands

The Importance of Openness and Vulnerability in Therapy

Vulnerability is a cornerstone of couples therapy. Letting go of defensiveness and embracing the messiness of our emotions, knowing that it's within this space that intimacy develops. To achieve true intimacy, we must shift from individual empowerment into what Terry Real (2020) calls relational empowerment: fostering mutual respect, empathy, and accountability. “Remembering that we’re a team”. This allows for genuine connection and understanding, fostering connection. In your sessions, you'll be encouraged to speak from your true self. This openness is not only towards your partner but also towards yourself.

Practical Tips for the Session - Helpful Mindsets to adopt for a Productive Session

Approach therapy with a mindset of curiosity and willingness to learn. Be prepared to challenge your own perspectives and to view your relationship through a new lens. Cultivating a mindset of collaboration rather than confrontation will make your sessions more productive and rewarding. When you both commit to working together, rather than against each other, you lay the groundwork for constructive sessions. A mindset focused on learning and growth rather than on winning arguments sets the stage for progress. Remember, therapy is not about proving a point; it's about evolving together.

Preparing for your first Session

Preparing for your initial couples therapy session involves thoughtful planning and consideration, both emotionally and logistically. The steps you take before even arriving at the therapist's office can greatly influence the quality of your experience and the mindset with which you begin this important work.

Logistical Considerations for a Smooth Start

Start by planning your route to the therapist's office in advance. Knowing exactly where you are going and how long it will take to get there can alleviate unnecessary stress. It's advisable to allow extra time for travel to avoid the pressure of unexpected delays – (especially on London Public Transport!), which can leave you feeling rushed and flustered. Arriving a bit early gives you the opportunity to go for a walk around the neighbourhood to provide a few moments to gather your thoughts and enter the session feeling calm and centred.

Consider the practicalities of your day as well. If you're coming from work, make sure to schedule a buffer period that allows you to transition from the professional mindset to a more personal and introspective space. If childcare is a concern ensure your children are cared for by arranging a trusted babysitter or family member to watch over them, allowing you to fully engage in your therapy session.

Creating a Post-Session Plan

Equally important is the time you spend after the session. Therapy can be intensive, and you might find yourself emotionally spent afterwards. Having a plan for decompression is essential. This might mean scheduling a quiet walk together or having a coffee at a local café together. These moments post-session allow you and your partner to process your experiences while they are fresh, discuss any immediate feelings or insights and transition gently back into the routine of your day.

Communication is Key

On a final note, communication with your therapist can also form part of your logistical planning. If there are particular concerns about the session, such as accessibility needs or parking enquiries don't hesitate to reach out in advance. We as therapists aim to create a space that feels safe and comfortable for both of you.

In sum, the logistical preparation for therapy is an extension of the therapeutic work itself, as it sets the tone for a focused and meaningful session. By attending to these details, you affirm the value of the process and your dedication to nurturing your relationship.

Moving Forward: Embracing the Journey of Couples Therapy

As you move through therapy, you'll find that the journey is not just about correcting what's wrong. It's about building something new and stronger. It's a path that requires patience, commitment, and the willingness to embrace the imperfect nature of relationships.

I hope this guide has helped to alleviate some of the anxieties you might have had about starting couples therapy. By demystifying what a session typically involves and how to best prepare for it, the intention is to provide you with a clear road map for this new journey. Remember, it's not just about addressing challenges—it's also about building on the strengths of your partnership. With thoughtful preparation and a willingness to engage in the process, you’re well-equipped to make the most of what couples therapy has to offer. Here’s to taking that brave first step towards a stronger, more connected future together.

I am a Psychotherapist providing couple's counselling in Bounds Green, North London as well as online.

Please check out these books if you are interested in finding out more about Terry Real and relational life therapy which I use in my approach: 

Real, T. (2008). The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work. Ballantine Books.

Real, T. (2020). Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship. Hachette Books.

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