June 07, 2007

SAFETY IN COUPLE’S WORK: When your therapist, relationship coach, pastor, etc. is not doing his/her job

I have heard, from a few different sources over the years, about therapists (et al) who have been minimally helpful, not helpful, and at times downright hurtful. There are many types of models and helpers today, and not all methods fit everyone. That said, there is one issue I feel strongly about and I believe is true regardless of the model being used or the helper you are seeing. This issue is safety.

Abusive behavior of any kind (verbal or physical) should not be allowed to go on in a session. You or your partner should never have to worry about whether or not your therapist (et al) is emotionally strong enough to maintain a safe atmosphere within the session. Although it is not uncommon for some people to become intimidating, angry, or even on the edge of rage in a session, you should know, should that happen, your therapist ( or other professional) will indeed deal with it and put an end to it immediately.

If either party is swearing, calling names, threatening, yelling, raging, or becoming abusive in any way towards the other partner, the professional you are working with should immediately put a stop to it (not wait for the tirade to end before speaking). The partner who is crossing the line should then be addressed and strongly held accountable for his/her outburst or asked to leave until s/he is able to be civil.

If your therapist (et al) is not stopping this type of behavior and holding you or your partner accountable, then you are not in a healthy, safe setting to do couples’ work. If this is the case, I recommend you find a different therapist (et al) who is willing to confront unsafe behavior directly and in the moment. Progress is unlikely to occur without it.

Challenge: If you have any concerns about the safety within your couple’s sessions, I recommend that you discuss this with your helping professional. If the helping professional does not intervene on unsafe interactions, seek out a different one.


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