It’s not those who are nearing the end of therapy and doing better that I get upset over, it’s those individuals and couples who are still stuck in pain and crisis that get to me. I find myself replaying the last session over in my mind… What could I have done differently? What should I have seen? What should I have said? Is there anything I can do to get them to continue counseling (either with me or with someone else)?
The challenge of doing marital therapy is to engage the couple as a couple; not taking sides or aligning too closely with one spouse over the other. That’s not to say problems in a marriage are always 50/50. The problems may be 80/20 or 95/05 – but they are rarely (never?) all one spouse’s fault.
I had someone call the other day and cancel all future appointments: this was the day after a very difficult marital session. The temptation is to blame the clients: they weren’t motivated enough, their expectations of how quickly changes would occur were unrealistic, I didn’t join the aggrieved spouse in blaming all the problems on the other partner.
So… I staff cases with my peers and receive constructive feedback. It’s fairly predictable: of the twelve of us I know who’s going to be encouraging, who will offer hints on which strategies I should use next time, and who is willing to give me a swift kick in the rear if they believe I deserve it.
After about an hour of soul-searching (others obsess and worry, I engage in meaningful and contemplative reflection) I conclude that in the marital therapy process, like the marriage itself, the problems are not all on one side or the other. Clients and therapist alike contribute to the success or failure of counseling.