Couples Therapy

First, it is important to realize that couples therapy, marriage counseling and marital therapy are all the same. These different names have been used to describe the same process, with the difference often based on which psychotherapy theory is favored by the psychologist using the term, or whether an insurance company requires a specific name for reimbursement. Couples therapy is often seen as different from psychotherapy because a relationship is the focus of attention, instead of one individual diagnosed with a specific psychological problem. This difference only arises if you consider psychological problems to be similar to medical illnesses, and therefore confined to a “sick” individual who needs treatment. That medical model of psychological diagnosis and treatment is common, but is really inadequate to describe and resolve psychological problems. All psychological problems, and all psychological changes, involve both individual symptoms (behavior, emotions, conflicts, thought processes) and changes in interpersonal relationships. Couples therapy focuses on the problems existing in the relationship between two people. But, these relationship problems always involve individual symptoms and problems, as well as the relationship conflicts. For example, if you are constantly arguing with your spouse, you will probably also be chronically anxious, angry or depressed (or all three). Or, if you have difficulty controlling your temper, you will have more arguments with your partner. In couples therapy, the therapist will help you and your partner identify the conflict issues within your relationship, and will help you decide what changes are needed, in the relationship and in the behavior of each partner, for both of you to feel satisfied with the relationship. These changes may be...

Conversations with Couples

It is very common for couples to contact me and, in our first conversation prior to an appointment, ask for help in these areas: Infidelity/Trust Issues Communication ‘Tools’ or ‘Skills’ Parenting Issues Anger Issues Intimacy Issuesand…last but not least…. ”I’m pretty sure my husband is a Narcissist” One might think that all of these issues are varied and drastically different from one another.  What might ‘anger’ issues have to do with ‘infidelity’”? What does ‘communication’ have to do with ‘parenting’ or ‘intimacy’ issues?  Actually, this is where therapy becomes therapy vs. communication coaching or teaching. Follow me here……I can teach you communication skills, I can provide you models for effective parenting, I can provide you with self soothing/de-escalation skills to interrupt patterns of impulse and anger, we can even identify blocks to vulnerability or access to one’s own emotional responses, and, there is tremendous  initial value and insight by acquiring these skill sets….this is important stuff for sure. However, these are what I deem to be behavioral changes vs authentic changes.  Have you ever heard of, or known a ‘dry drunk’ (excuse my slang)?  This is person who has changed their maladaptive behavior (alcohol = bad idea) for a less damaging behavior (sober = better idea)…but what about the reason the person drank, or had the affair or was a rigid parent or was prone to rage in the first place?  Changing behavior may not change the underlying dynamic…at all.  Dry drunks are difficult by nature, a person who has had an affair and stops is no less prone to a relapse than a person refraining from alcohol…..unless underlying...

Balance in Relationships

Throughout the course of a successful marriage or long-term commitment, the two people in the relationship may shift in and out of various roles. For example, one person in the couple may support the other person going back to school. In order to do this, he or she steps into a supporting role, setting aside certain goals or aspirations in order to provide a stable base from which his or her partner can launch in a new direction. There are many gifts of learning inherent in this role—from having the opportunity to embody a nurturing stance to feeling the pleasure of seeing a loved one thrive. When our partner expands his or her horizons, ours expand, too, and we gain access to a world that would otherwise remain closed to us. However, there is also much to be said for having a turn to be the one stepping outside the box, perhaps taking time to attend to our personal healing, spiritual pursuits, or other interests. In order to maintain balance within our relationships, it’s important that we address these issues each time one person steps into a supporting role so the other can try something new. When we are conscious about acknowledging that one person is bearing a bit more of a burden so that the other can grow, we stand a better chance of making sure the ebb and flow in the relationship remains fair and equal. The most important part of this process is open communication in which each person has a chance to express how they feel and come to an understanding about the roles they...

Lee Ockenden, LMFT – My Approach

Who we are and how we relate to the world and others is dictated by the meaning we give to our past. But if we choose to find the purpose in our experiences instead of the pain, we find new resources, giving us the catalyst to change, grow, heal and pursue the life we desire and deserve. Traditional therapy was founded in psychoanalysis with the assumption that an individual’s growth and change process was hinged on gaining insight and into their behavioral patterns by processing, free-associating and reflecting on their past. Inside this traditional “treatment culture,” it is not uncommon for a client stay in treatment long periods of time, lasting anywhere from three to seven years or more, including multiple sessions per week. I believe that traditional therapy can foster dependency and create barriers for lasting change. I often hear from new patients who have been to therapy for many years that they felt their last therapist(s) were too passive. Rather than embracing a “backward looking—coping” approach, I embrace a “forward looking—thriving” approach by focusing on resolving barriers to change, identifying solutions and creating choices. This approach, inside a safe supportive and consistent counseling environment, encourages clients to use their own innate resources to heal. In addition, I am also clear that my clients will ultimately find their support and accountability through their partner, family or community and I encourage my clients to create a healthy support system outside the...