Counsellling with couples is a specialized skill and we strongly recommend that anyone seeking help find a therapist specifically trained in couple and family therapy. Counsellors who are members of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy have met the highest clinical standard required by any professional body in Ontario. The OAMFT website includes a useful, "Find a Therapist" feature for qualified counsellors throughout Ontario. William is a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor with the OAMFT, teaching and supervising couple and family therapists from a Narrative Therapy perspective.
What to expect in a first counselling session also applies to couples counselling. Most often, we work with both partners together throughout the entire couple counselling process. From time-to-time, it may be helpful to meet with one or both partners individually for a session. In that case, the partner attending acts as an ambassador on behalf of the relationship: it is still a couple's session, even though only one partner attends.
We are regularly contacted by one partner in a relationship who believes their relationship needs help but their partner refuses to come to counselling. They ask, "is it possible for me to come for couples counselling and get help for our relationship if my partner won't come?" In this situation, we first make suggestions on ways to invite the reluctant partner to attend. One of the most successful ways has been to invite that person to "come once and decide for yourself if it's helpful." But we also share that it is very much our experience that in fact, and surprisingly, it is possible to see positive changes in a relationship when only one partner seeks help. Simply put, help is help and it doesn't matter through what door it comes - it just matters that it comes!
We often meet with couples less frequently than with individuals but for a longer session - normally 90 minutes. We regularly provide couples with a summary of the session and, when learning new skills is involved, we will give homework and tasks to try at home. Once there is clear progress in overcoming a problem, we will often space out meeting times, meeting monthly or every-other month in order to solidify the gains.