I love doing couples work.
I had not worked with couples before I started working at Live Oak. Most graduate social work programs provide minimal training in this area, so my exposure was limited. I had always been so interested in and focused upon doing psychotherapy individually that doing couples work barely registered on my radar. And for whatever reason, my past places of practice just didn’t see many couples seeking services. I always thought that if a couple came to me, I would give them a trusted referral.
At Live Oak, I knew that I would start to see couples, so I began to prepare. Fortunately, I had the experience and consultation of the Live Oak staff supporting me, excellent supervision, colleagues giving me invaluable advice, and some great reading, including Greenan and Tunnell’s “Couple Therapy with Gay Men.” I did my research, I did my reading. I had my first appointment with a couple. And I found a fantastic new aspect to my practice.
Working with couples introduced me to a whole new way of doing what I do. While so many of my skills are similar in individual and couples work, I find myself continually finding new ways to use them. Every session requires not only my alert attention, but exercises my creativity. It also requires me to pay close attention to what I am doing, thinking and internalizing in session. I cannot “fix” the problem, but I can guide couples toward finding the capacity to do so within themselves and their relationship. Consequently, this work demands that I make sure my own reactions don’t interfere with my ability to clearly see what is happening in the relationship and understand what each individual member is feeling or experiencing.
I am particularly proud of and dedicated to my work with LGBTQ couples. I was rather surprised to learn that it’s not easy to find a mental health professional who enjoys doing this type of work. In a society where our relationships are already dismissed and marginalized, it is extremely important to provide that safe, non-judgmental space to a relationship in need. Working with these relationships has led to an expanding of my scope, including “open” and polyamorous relationships. Each new challenge is unique and incredibly exciting. As this blog continues to grow, I will undoubtedly be writing more on this topic.
By Paul Wiemerslage, LCSW