I know, this flies in the face of all we know and accept about client-therapist dynamics and the therapeutic process. But let’s face it, therapy is hard work. Undertaking the process means facing things that have been sometimes locked away for years. Once you open that door, you are never sure who or what will come through it. One thing is for sure, therapy is not some Harry Potter type magic that can wipe away issues quickly. It is generally for the long haul and things might well get worse before they get better. When this happens, there is a quite typical reaction from clients. They wonder if therapy is working, if it is the right time, whether dragging up the issues is really necessary. Some leave therapy at this point, just when the process of change is starting and just when they need it the most. Some cite financial or timing reasons, some say they just cannot do it and others are afraid of what lies before them on the “other side”. In my experience, this crucial time comes around the fourth or fifth session when questions start to come my way about how long this process is going to take, why after five sessions am I feeling so bad? I try to reassure clients that this could mean that therapy is starting to take effect, that some realisations have been found and some change has come to light. This generally settles the client’s mind somewhat but there is another very important factor to keep in mind…the spouse or partner, who might be bringing pressure to bear.
Over the years, I have come to realise that spouses and partners are a vital part of the therapeutic process. They generally exhibit quite typical attitudes to their loved one facing their demons. There are those who remain distant with the thought that therapy is “your thing” and don’t disturb me with it. There are those who are too involved who want to know everything that has been said in the session, no doubt with the belief that things are being said about them. Some have a “poor me” reaction…why are you getting all the help, I also have issues! In contrast, there are also many supportive spouses who want to see their partner lead a happy life but when impatience accompanies this, it can bring intolerable pressure on the client who in turn becomes impatient with therapy.
I have found that involving the spouse or partner early in the process can help (when appropriate, wanted and only with the permission from the client). Understanding often leads to acceptance. It is amazing how different the partner can be when they feel informed and somehow part of the process. Even though confidentially is kept, some general information about the method being used, some tips on how to handle difficult situations and the assurance that I can be contacted for clarification usually makes the world of difference. As therapists, we have to use all of the resources available to help clients and often the biggest resource of all goes untapped.
The above has to be taken with caution (of course) if there is any sign of abuse or that involving the spouse will lead to this and especially if the spouse has narcissist tendencies or has made serious threats.