Couples Counselling Calgary: One of the most surprising discoveries we made when we first opened our Calgary Counselling Services related to the reasons most of our marriage and couples counselling clients were coming to see us. Now well over 20 years ago, it was obvious to all of them that Henze and Associates was a new Calgary counselling centre and even more apparent that we were both fresh out of school and only barely knew what we were doing.
Furthermore, we had clearly branded ourselves using keywords like “Christian Counselling Calgary,” and most marriage and couple therapy clients coming through our doors were not from any sort of Protestant spirituality. Yet, they still came.
As we talked with these clients, we began to discover something rather dark. The average couple had already visited multiple Calgary therapists and had walked away from all of them. So many of them reported coming to see us not because they had any sort of affinity for Christianity, but because they believed that a Christian Counsellor would be the one kind of therapist they could go to for marriage counselling who would not try to destroy their relationship!
Sometimes, these couples would break down in tears as they recounted so-called marital therapists playing partners against each other. They told us stories of clinicians accusing them of personal stagnation for their unwillingness to divorce or scapegoating or pathologizing one partner.
Some even told stories of couples counsellors outright telling them their partnership had no hope and that they should end their relationships while suggesting that divorce has little impact on children and that everything would be fine. Shockingly, they had far more faith in their own troubled relationships than did the Calgary counsellors who were supposed to be helping them.
This article has been writing itself in my head for at least fifteen years now and, I’ll freely admit, is a bit of a polemic. Why? Because nothing has changed and “Christian Psychologist Calgary“ still, to so many clients, means “Therapist who doesn’t destroy marriages.”
So, let’s first examine the different types of relationship counsellors who routinely destroy marriages or partnerships and then explore the critical foundations of competent marriage counselling:
Types of Calgary Therapists who destroy marriages:
The Mad Diagnostician:
This type of counsellor capitalizes on one fundamental truth: None of us got married for all of the right reasons. Our conscious minds, of course, are drawn to all of the beautiful and positive attributes of our partners. On the other hand, our unconscious minds are magnetically attracted to that which reminds us of how we were hurt the worst in our childhoods – in hopes of a “do-over.” In a matter of mere minutes, almost every clinician will figure out what sort of childhood pathology led to the relationship’s birth. However, that knowledge is a double-edged sword that can either bring transformation and health or instill a hopeless fatalism that leaves couples wondering why they ever signed their certificate of marriage.
The Mad Diagnostician will sometimes pathologize the relationship telling the couple that they lack what is needed to make the relationship work or that the relationship is too boring to survive, but they are usually better at scapegoating one of the partners. Most often, this is done through renaming normal marital conflict as abuse. However, this therapist may go as far as slapping an implicit clinical diagnosis of a personality disorder on a partner. (“You do know, almost no one can stay married to a person with Borderline Personality Disorder…”) Sometimes, even the act of still trying to make a marriage work becomes proof of codependency or some other made-up diagnosis that clearly says, “Only an unhealthy person would try to save THAT.”
The Hatchet Artist:
Unlike the other therapists on this list, this type of marriage counsellor almost always knows exactly what he or she is doing to the couple relationship. Virtually every mental health practitioner’s code of ethics explicitly prohibits telling a client to stay in or leave a relationship. As such, few will come out and directly tell a client to divorce. Instead, they covertly undermine the couple’s bond using “Probing and insightful” questions that need to be carefully phrased in ways deliberately designed to skirt those ethical obligations.
Suggestions disguised as questions will be voiced such as, “I just don’t know how you ever managed to stay in this marriage for so long.” or, “You’ve been miserable in this relationship for so many years now, why are you still in it?”
Other times, a direct suggestion of such an extended marital separation that the relationship would never survive is used to destroy the relationship. The Alcoholics Anonymous/Addiction Recovery industry is infamous for telling clients that they may need a prolonged separation from (and, often, minimal contact with) their partners to achieve recovery after a relapse.
However it is presented, the message is clear: Your personal feelings of happiness in this moment matter more than anything else, and you’re a complete idiot if you don’t leave or divorce this person.
The Commitment Denialist:
This type of therapist is generally not intentionally focused on destroying marriage relationships or attempting to profit from such. Usually, they are gentle and caring people trained in relatively non-directional schools of psychology and who pride themselves in being neutral and objective with their clients. To be sure, this sort of a neutral stance is a core component of many highly effective types of psychological counselling, and masterful practitioners of such deserve tremendous respect.
But, it is not an effective form of marital therapy.
When a therapist begins to say things like, “You’re both just trying to explore your options here,” or, “What would you gain by leaving the relationship,” they implicitly undermine the value of the couple’s commitment. When a psychologist tries to pretend a neutral approach is possible, what he or she is really doing is forming an alliance with the more self-focused partner and covertly feeding the ambivalence towards the commitment already present in that person.
When a couple has walked down an aisle, stood in front of a Reverend/Justice of the Peace and their friends and family and vowed to stay with the other, “As long as we both shall live,” we are not dealing with a situation where neutrality is the best option.
Marriage is one of the foundational building blocks of any civilization. When it falls apart, we and our children, our social networks and our finances and our economies are all poorer. We all have a responsibility to take that commitment very seriously and do everything we can to support couples staying together.
The Confused Individualist:
Providing Calgary marriage counselling services is not for the faint of heart. When I sit down with couples, I’m often sitting down in the middle of a relational war featuring years of buried resentment and simmering rage. People often launch into yelling, swearing and vicious verbal (and occasionally physical) attacks, replaying a mild and edited version of the full savagery they inflict upon each other behind closed doors. It takes a specific set of skills even to get that stopped, to say nothing of what is involved in replacing those patterns with something better.
One of the most common problems I see in marriage counselling today is the result of how extensively Masters and Doctoral programs in psychology focus on individual therapy. Many therapists simply don’t know what they are doing in the fast-paced, fever-pitched pressure cooker that couples therapy often is. Many will freely admit that they see marriage counselling as nothing more than an off-shoot of individual treatment that happens to be done with three people in the room.
It simply is not a path of individual therapy.
Psychology is a vast tent with room for many different personality types and styles, but no one can be everything to all people. For example, a gentle, passive, affirming and non-directive manner may work wonders in a grief counselling context, while offering nearly negligible benefits in addictions therapy. The confrontational approach needed to work with violent offenders seeking parole would be devastating if applied to childhood sexual abuse victims.
As in so many areas of life, staying in your own lane matters. Not all therapists fit well into all situations – and marriage counselling takes a unique set of skills and attributes. Many good, caring, and highly effective psychologists may ultimately lack the temperament to gain control of conflict-ridden situations or may be unwilling to set the necessary limits due to their preference for a non-directive and laid back approach to therapy.
When structure, guidance and direction are missing in relationship counselling, hopelessness almost immediately sets in. When a therapist can not see past individual problems, couples therapy essentially grinds to a halt. Simultaneously, the other spouse (usually the angriest one) feels ever-increasing justification for scapegoating his or her partner for all of the relationship’s problems.
Key Foundations of Commitment Safe Calgary Marriage Counselling Services:
So, how does anyone find commitment safe counselling in Calgary that will heal and not harm your precious relationship?
It’s important to understand that, while there are a few therapists that seem to intentionally end the marriages of most couples that walk into their office, much of the damage done to marital unions is caused by counsellors who are sincerely trying to help! Just spending a few hours reading a array of Calgary therapists reviews can help you weed out the hardened divorce artists from the pool, but that does little or nothing to find those psychologists in Calgary who will actually heal a broken marriage.
Finding a relationship safe couples counselling service requires an understanding of the psychologist’s training and the schools of thought that shaped their approach to marriage counselling.
Commitment safe marriage counselling generally has four fundamental underpinnings:
(1). Humanistic Orientation:
Humanistic Psychology has nothing to do with secular humanism. It is a school of psychology that refuses to see people in reductionist ways. You are not merely a disembodied thought, a product of dysfunctional spirituality, an incorrect behaviour, or flawed belief systems. You are a whole and unique person and deserve to be treated with dignity and seen for the entirety of your being.
Humanistic or Person Centered psychology is perfectly compatible with effective couples therapy because it is a gentle and affirming approach that views the health of both your person and your relationships as being equally significant and profoundly linked with each other. Thus, a Humanistic Psychologist is always working to bring a balance of health to all parts at once, rather than throwing some elements under the bus of perfection in one area.
Systems based couples therapists refuse to see relationships in reductionist ways. Systems theory understands that when a person changes, the relationship changes just as much as the person changes when the relationship changes course. It is an egalitarian approach to relationships that sees each partner as an active agent in the ongoing collective bargaining of the marriage agreement and equally powerful in changing it.
Systems based relationship counsellors are usually quite allergic to the idea of labelling one partner the victim, and the other the perpetrator and avoid those terms unless absolutely necessary. They understand the role of triangulation, emotional cut-off behaviours, scapegoating, systems’ tendency to maintain a state of stability, family projection, and the impact of societal stress on the relationship. Their goal is the empowerment of couples in these areas. They understand that there is an incredible power to break the cyclical patterns of most marriage problems in naming and understanding interpersonal dynamics that cause them.
This school of therapy holds that emotions are essential to who we are and that we construct our sense of self almost solely based on emotion. Emotion-focused therapists understand that our feelings are a dashboard on our persons and that they are the only way we can access our deepest longings. It also understands that the effective handling of our partner’s emotions is ultimately what makes or breaks a relationship.
Emotion-focused couples counselling sees our emotional world as the primary means we have to communicate who we are to another person. This school of marriage counselling holds that intimacy (Read that: “In-To-Me-See”) is impossible without an awareness of our emotions, the ability to regulate them, the willingness to share them and the development of skills at transforming them.
Emotion-focused therapy is foundational to effective marriage counselling because it helps couples distinguish situations of aggression from cases where a partner is merely exhibiting strong emotions, thus disarming the majority of defensive behaviours and creating self-awareness. Most Calgary counsellors will tell you that, when a partner is aware of his or her own emotions and reasonably able to moderate them, the relationship becomes a place of safety and understanding for the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
(4). Skill Based:
The facts and information we know about marriage play a much smaller role in a relationship’s success than most people assume. Most of the couples who walk into our Calgary counselling centre can easily give me a list of all of the things they should be doing to make their marriages or relationships better. TV, radio, the internet and even many places of worship flood us with information on what we should do to have a great marriage. Many churches even have marriage mentorship programs where couples can watch other couples demonstrate those skills in, hopefully, a correct manner.
However, the knowledge of what you should be doing in no way implies that you have any real ability to do it. Conversely, many people who enjoy wildly successful marriages could not even begin to tell you how to have a successful marriage. Still, they excel at performing the skills that get them one anyway. Our skill levels are a much more significant factor in building a successful marriage than our knowledge.
Every relationship skill is built upon what are often called “First Principles.” A First Principle is a crucial sub-part of a broader understanding or ability. Unless each partner understands them and is confident they can pull them off, it’s unlikely anyone will master the more extensive skill set.
For example, two of the First Principles of emotional intimacy are identifying what emotion you are feeling and the ability to share that emotion with your partner. Couples may spend endless time, colossal effort and vast sums of money on date nights, nice dinners, flowers, candy, romance, lingerie and high-end hotel rooms. Yet, they never even come close to the intimate bonding for which their hearts long if they can’t even identify their feelings.
Key Commitment Values of Safe Couples Counselling Services:
In reality, it’s relatively easy to identify a psychologist who isn’t going to destroy your marriage. All you have to do is ask them about their value system regarding marriage and marriage counselling. The safe ones will always articulate four key points:
Simply put, couples counselling is not a place of value-neutrality. By marrying or forming some other form of a permanent relationship, the couple has already communicated that they value permanence, commitment and, usually, monogamy. We believe that it’s the job of the therapist to support that, if at all possible.
Quality relationship therapy is not blind to the incredible costs divorce exacts financially, on the hearts of the partners (and often children) involved and the societal impact on loved ones. We regard marriage and commitment as essential and the work to sustain such as being much less costly than the alternative.
It’s forever amazing how many couples will tell me that they can not afford a few thousand dollars worth of marital therapy. Yet each partner will each happily drop a five thousand dollar retainer into their respective attorneys’ pockets by the end of the first meeting, knowing full well that’s only the first of many similar charges.
Skilled, Experienced and Motivated:
Around 60% of our clients seek our help for issues related to relationship, marriage, sex therapy and couple conflict or divorce. Over 80% of the couples we see not only stay together, but they end up being very glad that they did.
While, sadly, not all of those marriages can be saved, saving relationships and making them an enchanting and captivating place to stay is what we do. Divorce stories make very poor marketing for therapists. Our best marketing is clients who sit down with their friends and tell them both about how close to divorce they came, and how much couples counselling has transformed their lives.
Not foolish, yet still supportive:
While we are incredibly pro-marriage and commitment, not all marriages can or should be saved, especially in situations of physical violence or other severe harm. In cases where unions cannot or should not be saved, we still seek to minimize harm and reduce conflict so that as little damage as possible happens to all involved. Especially where there are children involved, we work to create a viable parenting partnership and always seek to heal both persons involved to prevent future divorces from occurring.
Calgary Counselling Services: Couples Counselling Calgary
This is not a game. Your relationship is your most precious possession and saving it is not a place for consumerism or ambivalence that treats your marriage vows like a term contract. Our Calgary therapists have well over twenty years of experience addressing the most thorny sexual problems, healing the most profound betrayals, teaching the most foundational skills and walking with even the most closed hearts as you journey back towards something even better than what you had when you started your relationship. Click here to book a Couples Counselling Calgary introductory session and reach out for real healing today!