“How often should we come to couples counseling?”
On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked “How often should we come to couples counseling?” I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that. That isn’t a requirement, but there are several good reasons to consider doing this when you are wondering how often you should come to couples counseling:
You want your couples therapist to get through the assessment period quickly.
If you come to couples counseling every two weeks in the beginning, it will feel like it’s taking forever for your couples counselor to really dig in. A good couples therapist takes the time to really understand each of you and what’s going on from a clinical perspective. And, it’s more complicated than “I yell and he shuts down.” It can take a few sessions, and at the rate of twice a month, this can feel like forever.
You want to get the most out of the momentum of being new and fresh in therapy.
Sort of like starting a new exercise routine, there can be a great motivation in the beginning of therapy that can really help you set up a strong foundation for how the rest of your couples therapy goes. If you are motivated to get in shape and only go to the gym once a month, you won’t see changes and you won’t feel committed the way that you do if you get a running start to your endeavor.
Coming in less frequently may feel like you are starting over each time.
While this is less of a concern with a therapist experienced in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, if it’s hard for each of you to remember what you talked about in the previous session, it will be hard for the therapist to help you build on any gains that were made. If so much happens in your life between sessions that you have to update the therapist on several key things before getting started, you are wasting a lot of time and money in giving the therapist a rundown of what they’ve missed in your life. Depending on how good the therapist is in directing traffic, you could be wasting a large portion of your session.
Gains are deeper and more powerful when they can immediately follow from a previous experience.
Following from the previous reason, if you are able to string your experiences together, you will be getting to the heart of the matter and sticking to it. No more sweeping things under the rug and wondering whether you’ll ever get back to resolving that one issue.
You’ll be able to accurately determine whether to step down to twice a month with a perspective on how it feels to have more frequent visits.
If stepping down is the right thing for you to do, you’ll want to know how to tell. Being able to compare what kind of progress you made at once a week with twice per month is vital to being able to accurately determine what’s best for you.
My personal belief is that it makes your vulnerable to dropping out prematurely, or adds sessions to the overall number you attend.
This isn’t backed by research, but I’ve seen it a lot and it makes total sense. Given all of the above, it’s not unreasonable to think that adding barriers to your progress could add sessions, money, and time to your journey in healing a relationship. The majority of the people I’ve seen who drop out of therapy before resolving the things that brought them in were twice per week folks. Not all of them, but enough for me to believe in a correlation. The rest of them took more sessions to graduate.
These questions are great, and they usually come from wanting to know what’s going to make you better, faster. And though money isn’t something that should drive your decisions, it’s really important. From a financial perspective, twice a month seems like it may be better, but the overall cost may be greater when you consider adding sessions and/or losing your momentum and progress in therapy and ultimately dropping out before you have lasting change. That’s probably the biggest danger, and though I can’t make these decisions for you, I’m a firm believer in people having all the info they need to make the best decision for them.
Understanding the process of couples therapy and how often we should come to couples counseling is important. Just like going to the gym, your body doesn’t change overnight. And your habits that keep your body healthy don’t change overnight. Your stamina, strength, oxygen efficiency, all of this is built with consistent attention. Couples therapy is similar because we are rewiring your ability to deal with conflict, which is a very automatic process, in a way that slows things down and prevents a bunch of old habits from hijacking your interaction. It takes time to train your brain to do this, and to build in the familiarity with how to navigate your issues together in a better way. This isn’t saying that the answer to “how long should we come to couples counseling” is going to be years. It just means that the answer depends a lot on you – how consistent you can be with therapy and how much effort you put into your relationship outside of sessions.
If twice per month therapy is all you can do, it will benefit you to be aware of these issues and watch for them cropping up. Communication with your couples therapist is key. Feeling stagnant in couples therapy, unmotivated, etc. are big red flags that your couples therapist can only address if it’s being talked about.
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