Couples therapy has a bad reputation on both ends of the couch and this is quite unfortunate. Lots of therapists want nothing to do with couples issues and feel intimidated by having an extra person on the couch. Many couples share their experiences in couples therapy as being unhelpful or even more damaging.
As a couples therapist, I can tell you that sitting across a couple that is hurting is no joke. From my experience, couples face two obstacles when seeking couples therapy. One they lack the time, and therefore the consistency, it requires to see the changes they would like. Second, they don’t have the time or space for emotional intimacy, which is also at the core of couples work.
These are real obstacles that come up in traditional face-to-face one hour a week couples therapy.
For the past three months, I’ve been exclusively providing telehealth services to all my current, returning, and new clients-- including couples. In these months, I’ve learned the perks of online therapy and what helps clients get the most out of their experience. I’ve specifically learned that the two obstacles faced by couples attending traditional in-person couples therapy are typically not an issue when engaging in online therapy. Eliminating these issues allows me to instill hope in the couple and it makes it realistic for them to make progress in a timely manner.
Time and Consistency
Research conducted by the Gottman Insitute indicates that couples, on average, seek therapy after 6 years of ongoing problems. A lot can happen is 6 years, which means there’s room for tons of resentment and bitterness. So when couples come in, this is usually their last resort. They are in crisis and likely more in than out. They are desperate for hope!
Because couples come in crisis, we need to act fast and use the momentum with which they come in. A good couples assessment process is lengthy and consists of a handful of hours, typically broken down to 3-4 sessions. If we think about this based on the traditional face to face one an hour a week sessions, it would take us about a month to get through the assessment portion. This is if we are able to keep our weekly appointments. The assessment is lengthy for good reason, I can’t help a couple if I don’t have a clear understanding of the individuals involved and the actual problem. Going through the assessment itself can be an eye-opening experience and even an intervention. However, it is not sufficient for a couple in crisis to feel any sense of relief or reconnection. A lot of times couples burnout before completing the assessment process and call it quits on couples therapy, their relationship, or both.
Couples don’t typically just get impatient and quit or are inconsistent because they don’t care. Time is a valuable asset we usually don’t have enough of. Scheduling an individual session can be challenging, imagine having to manage three schedules (the therapists and that of each member) and having to consider things like child care and commute.
For some couples, it is not realistic to commit to weekly one hour sessions for 6 months. So they do commit because they want to salvage their relationship but they can’t be consistent. Therefore, our sessions aren’t as fruitful and they become more of a recount of all that’s gone wrong since we last met. The new insights and skills they are gaining get lost in between sessions because they haven’t had enough practice or guidance. It can feel like we are going in painful circles without getting anywhere.
Online Couples Therapy Allows For Consistency
Online couples therapy takes care of most of the obstacles interfering with consistency. Clients can sit outside of the home, in their backyard or car to engage in couples therapy leaving the kids in the home and with no need of a babysitter, which happens to be an added cost to couples therapy.
Couples can go on vacation to their beach house and still partake in online couples therapy, therefore, no need for cancellations.
It provides more scheduling flexibility because the couple nor the therapist needs to commute to the office. Therefore, the therapist can provide more hours for the couple to choose from.
Couples might have the ability to go through the assessment process in a week or even a day, instead of a month and by doing so quickly they will begin to see changes sooner. They will be less likely to lose hope and quit.
Ongoing sessions can vary in length and frequency to meet the couple’s needs and don’t have to feel restricted to the traditional format. I can with more scheduling ease see my couples twice per week or for two hours sessions.
Having increased access to my couples helps me teach and observe how they utilize the new skills. We can tackle problems as close to “real-time” as possible before memories become faint. We can also get to the deep difficult stuff sooner and really stay with it for as long as we need.
When time is no longer an issue, we can be consistent, and when we are consistent couples therapy works. This is why I would say that for most couples, online couples therapy would work best.
In traditional couples therapy, couples drive separately into the office beating traffic and worrying about having to sit down to do homework upon returning home. Maybe the only time they can come in is during the middle of the day, so they worry that if they get “too emotional” and allow themselves to cry, their co-workers will notice their’s something wrong. When the session is over, they leave in their separate cars and go on with their day.
Although these are real factors and natural concerns, it gets in the way of creating emotional intimacy and this is essential for couples therapy to work. It’s hard to really be present, put your walls down, allow yourself into your feelings, and be raw with your partner when you feel worried and frazzled.
Couples online therapy is not bound to one location, couples get to choose a space that is private and comfortable for them. Where they can let go of their facade and really get in their feelings. Once the therapy is over, they don’t have to rush back anywhere so they can take some time to talk about what just happened. They can process the therapy session individually or together. Then they can easily transition to whatever it is they need to do next.
Comfort and emotional intimacy go hand in hand. We tend to let our guard down and dive deep into our feelings when we feel comfortable. Around people, we are comfortable with and in places we are comfortable with. Because the couple gets to choose the space, they can ensure the space feels comfortable for them. They can have the lighting the way they prefer it, they can have a cup of tea, and even a blanket. They can be in control of creating an environment that is conducive to the emotional intimacy needed for a successful couples session.
Couples Online Therapy Is The Way To Go?
I’d say yes, more so, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis when most therapists are exclusively providing telehealth services and might not feel safe returning to the office anytime soon. You should not continue to suffer and allow your relationship to deteriorate, waiting for the pandemic to subside.
Regardless of COVID-19, couples online therapy is more effective because it takes care of barriers that impede consistency and emotional intimacy--two must-haves in couples therapy. It gives you and your partner the best shot at really working to improve and heal your relationship.
Now, online couples therapy might not be right for every couple. Some might have specific concerns or presenting problems that would not be appropriate for telehealth. Many couples therapists, like myself, offer 10-15 minute complimentary consultations to assess the couple’s needs and if our services are a good match for them. My suggestion is that before you commit to online couples therapy, you take advantage of the complimentary consultations to confirm that this is a good modality for you and your partner.
Genesis Games is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in FL and is currently licensed temporarily in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Genesis provides video-conferencing telehealth services to individuals and couples struggling with anxiety, depression, life transitions, recovery from addiction, and relationship issues. Genesis is a Gottman Trained Couples Therapist and has a passion for helping people recover from heartbreak.
Genesis wholeheartedly believes that our lives are only as satisfying as our relationships. Her goal is to help you have healthier relationships with yourself and others.