Couples Counselling and Personal Agency

Personal Agency

People come to therapy for a number of reasons. Regardless of the stated reason, one of the commonalities often seen is a perceived loss of agency. What does this mean? Some people believe themselves unable to make their own choices and believe that their lives are the results of choices and actions of others. Of course, there are times when others give us little choice in a given instance – that is not the topic here. There are a number of areas in which this perceived loss of agency shows itself, but a common one is in the context of amorous relationships.

Agency Within Couples Relationships

How is this loss of agency seen? If you find yourself talking consistently about things being done “to” you, you might have ceded your agency. An example might be when a person reviews their relationships and repeatedly says that “he [or she] did this to me” when discussing every major amorous relationship of their life. As a therapist, the question often arises – “But what did you do?” Therapy is ALWAYS about the person in the room – the person in therapy, not others – so the therapist attempts to bring the conversation to the choices, actions and beliefs of the client sitting in the room. Of course, people do things that can cause us incredible difficulty, but if you review the relationships of your life and this is all you see, it might be worth considering whether you are attracted to a sort of person to whom you are able to give your own power.

Lack of Choice

There are times when all of us experience limited choices. This can be difficult to accept, but sometimes we have to work with what life has given us. Other times, we have choices, but must be willing to make them. Even choosing to not make a choice (or giving that power to another) is itself a choice. Understanding your power helps you know when you actually don’t have a choice, or if you are avoiding making choices yourself out of fear.

Understanding Choice

The Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Sometimes choices are about practical events and sometimes choices are about our responses to events.

Regaining Your Agency

How do you regain your sense of power over your choices? Sometimes this involves negotiated changes to the relationship. Sometimes this involves consideration of the beliefs and fears that power your interpersonal dynamics and choices. Sometimes this involves taking time to learn more about yourself, before you become involved in new relationships. There is not a single answer to this question, but the first thing in bringing change is realising that whether you give up your power intentionally or not, you have still given up the power over your own life choices (speaking of adults in relationships here).

Couples Counselling Wellington and Online

If you are struggling with agency within your relationships, or you would like to consider your approaches to relating before getting into a new relationship, contact us to book a counselling session.

Self-Help Music Therapy

Understanding Your Needs

What makes you happy? For some, it is cooking for others. For some others, it is playing a musical instrument. For still others, it is composing poetry. There is no one answer to this question. One of the things we can do to help ourselves through difficult times, is to practice self-care – or in the case of music, perhaps self-soothing.

Music To Soothe

There are a number of things I do to help myself relax, or to change my focus from things that aren’t currently helpful. Sometimes, I pick up my guitar and strum. Sometimes, I go for a long walk, where I can hear the wildlife, breathe deeply and see the beauty around me. Sometimes – like today – I pick up my darbuka (Middle East and North African drum) and play. As I focus on the beat and try to improve, my mind goes to a place that is different than anything else I know. In some ways, it is like meditation, but it is not calm and rather than watching ideas arise and fall away without my grasping them (in meditation), I can run with the feelings that are taking place inside of me.

Lee Jordan with darbuka
Lee Jordan with darbuka

What Will Work For You

Some people find what works by trial and error. Some have friends who introduce them to something and then it is realised how therapeutic the focus is. Drumming for me was something that started when I lived in a beautiful, wee town at the base of a World Heritage Area in New South Wales, Australia. There were many internationals living in this town and there was a drumming circle around a roaring fire on the monthly full moon. It was a special experience to share. You might have some idea of what will work for you – why not explore? While we all need help from time to time, ultimately our mental health is our own responsibility. Perhaps music will help you get through some of life’s challenges.

Online Couples Counselling Services

Why Online Couples Therapy Services

Some couples live in remote areas and cannot find a therapist locally. Some couples live in small communities where they do not feel comfortable meeting with the local therapist. Some couples would feel more emotionally secure and available from the comfort of their own home. The reasons for online therapy are varied and our services include couples therapy for those outside of Wellington.

Online Couples Counselling Services

Our online counselling services for couples are available for those outside of Wellington, New Zealand. Online sessions are with Lee Jordan (the director of Narratives Aotearoa) and are structured around Narrative Therapy practice (a therapeutic modality developed within family and couples work).

Couples Counselling Considerations

We offer online services to couples, but for those who want counselling where three or more people will be counselled, we recommend in-person therapy. The dynamics of online therapy can make it difficult for all persons to feel heard, as more clients are included in a session. We also recommend both people in the couple are meeting from the same location, as three separate locations introduce technological challenges (lag in video, for example) that can make progress through the session more complex.

Online Couples Counselling Hours

We offer online couples therapy outside of our standard hours, most evenings from 6PM, New Zealand Time (see current time here) and on Saturdays (also New Zealand time). All online couples therapy is initially scheduled for 90 minutes, starting on the hour.

Online Couples Counselling Software

We are able to meet with Skype, Zoom or Signal and will provide our contact details with your first session payment receipt.

Couples Counselling Wellington

If you are in Wellington (NZ) and want couples counselling, we recommend in-person sessions. For ongoing clients, there is the possibility of online couples counselling for those local to Wellington. This can be discussed after your initial session.

When the Therapist Shares

Some therapists feel comfortable with detachment (or emotional distance) from their clients. Some imagine that they will do their best work as a therapist if they are able to be “objective”. I disagree entirely with this concept and resulting practice. Part of this self-enforced detachment involves not sharing any more than is necessary about their own lives. Of course, the therapy session should always be about the client and his or her needs and keeping a clear boundary between the therapist as a person and in the role of therapist seems a logical way to keep the focus on the client. How would I respond to this?

Sharing Brings Connection

When people are aloof, we either don’t share ourselves, or we find that we are giving much more than we receive. People feel connected when sharing with others and having others reciprocate. These connections help to build positive relationships.

Sharing Brings A More Equal Relationship

When we tell others about ourselves, we give them a form of power. They know things about us that isn’t common knowledge. If one person gives entirely of themselves and receives nothing in return, a one-sided relationship exists – this is not the sort of relationship building that we want to model in a therapeutic relationship. Narrative Therapy moves away from this therapist as “expert” model, to one where the client is the expert in his or her own life. The therapist becomes a companion on the client’s journey of self-discovery. The therapist sharing when appropriate can foster the companionship needed to take this journey together.

Sharing Brings Privileged Positions

If I share something special or intimate from my life with another, I am saying to them that they are special enough to know or be a part of my life. Therapists are in very privileged positions and – only when therapeutically advantageous to the client – sharing with the client can help them to understand that they as clients are also privileged.

Sharing Brings Empathy and Models Behaviour

We want to understand clients in order to help them. Clients need to understand their significant others outside of therapy in order to progress through their issues. It is extremely one-sided to imagine that we can understand clients and that they will have no concept of who we are. This is a very unnatural and one-sided “relationship”. When we share appropriately, we help the client develop empathy for us and we model behaviour that many need to practice in their own lives.

Sharing Emotions Can Be Comforting

When a person is telling you about their sadness, pain, fears or other difficulties and you verbally or tearfully respond (for example), it can help the client to feel comforted and understood. This is not to say that the therapist will respond to all difficulties, but when there is a need or desire to share emotionally and the therapist represses it for fear of boundaries, clients tend to feel this self-imposed distance.

Sharing Limits and Considerations

The therapy session is for the client. The therapist does not share because he or she has a bad day and unloads on the client. The therapist does not share to impress the client. The therapist does not share from personal reasons, but only does so when it is felt that this will help the client. The client should not demand that the therapist shares, as sharing comes in the development of relationships – not from demands.

Sharing With My Clients

As a therapist, I do not want the session to be about me and will not focus on myself generally, but I do understand that the client may want to know more about this person with whom they are sharing their heart and soul. One of the ways that I am able to share of myself with those who want to know more about me is by sharing my thoughts and experiences on this site. Clients and others are able to get a glimpse into me as a person and as a therapist and decide how our relationship might develop.

Looking for a Therapist

Over the years, I have said this many times – find a therapist that suits YOU. Don’t just select a therapist because they are a convenient drive from your house. Don’t just select a therapist simply because someone has recommended this person. Find a therapist with whom you think you will be able to share and who will help you. If you want a counsellor who will share something about themselves, rather than just a single page website and a mobile phone number, do a bit of research online to see what she or he shares with others.

Music Therapy for Coping with Grief

If you have suffered enough in life, you will look for ways to cope that are different from the efforts that haven’t worked for you in the past. For some, going to a counsellor is a new experience that they never would have tried before substantial suffering. People attempt many different things to cope and this includes when feeling overwhelmed by grief.

Grief Coping Strategies

Some people write letters to those they have lost. Some create or renew ceremonies to remember the person lost. Some want to speak to lost loved ones. There are many things possible. Some sing. While I have never sung to a lost loved one (yet), I have certainly spoken to them. One of the many things I love about Narrative Therapy is Re-membering – an attempt to re-integrate the lost person into our lives, rather than attempting to “move on” without them.

Singing to Those Lost

While this may seem a novel approach to grieving, actually it is not. We have screamed, sang, cried, wailed and expressed ourselves verbally in grief since before we were human. Other mammals do this too – a mother cow will bellow for her calf for days, for instance. OK, so we have sang for a long time, but is there any research behind it?

Research into Singing as Grief Therapy

Is it researched? The short answer is “yes”. Providing only one example, a screenshot from an article about teens grieving through music follows. Googling this article will take you down many paths, if you wish to pursue this topic further.

Grief Therapy Through Song
Grief Therapy Through Song

Grieving Through Song

Music therapy for grief can follow the grieving process (as mentioned in the research cited above), or it can be part of a ceremony, such as Re-membering in Narrative Therapy. What works for you can be determined through your own self-help efforts, or can become part of therapy.

Other Therapeutic Uses for Song

Who of us hasn’t listened to music when we were sad – or perhaps become sad by listening to music? Once, I had an especially terrible week where everything that could have gone wrong seemed to. I found myself alone, as my son was staying with his mum. A gloom settled over me that I hadn’t felt in the many years since the end of my marriage. I needed something, so I picked up my guitar and sang to myself. It was incredibly therapeutic and helped me settle my mind. One of the goals of counselling is to learn coping strategies and I realised that I had learned self-soothing, as I sang and played that cold night.

Saying What Needs to be Said

If you are deep in grief at the moment, you may want to hold off watching the video below until you are in a better place. This video touched me deeply, both as a son and father – and also because I lost one of my best friends within days of first seeing this video online. James is singing to his terminally ill father, who is sitting by his side. A very powerful way to use song in the grieving process!

Absent but Implicit

People seek therapy for a number of reasons, but often people find these reasons are obscured from themselves. For example, a person may visit a therapist with anger issues. It might seem natural to focus on the anger, but the anger itself is an effect – something else is the cause. If a counsellor helps you to deal with your anger specifically, it might provide some temporary relief, but the underlying cause still exists.

Behind the emotions are thoughts and beliefs that drive the emotions. If you believe that life is unfair to you and this makes you angry, using techniques to manage your anger won’t address your views about a world that seems unjust to you. Sometimes suppressing the anger can lead to another emotional outlet – like depression – as the underlying problem hasn’t been addressed and the person can no longer cope with the feelings through angry outbursts.

In Narrative Therapy, we look at the stories that drive our lives. The angry person in our example is enveloped in stories – stories s/he has told self, stories told from early childhood by family and significant others, and wider cultural stories. The person who feels that life is unjust is constantly maintaining and developing stories that feed into this belief. The founder of Narrative Therapy referred to these stories as absent but implicit.

Anger is driven by expectations. What are the expectations in this example? How have they been developed? How are they maintained? As noted, the causes of the presenting problems in therapy may be unknown to the client. A therapist who only focuses on the anger (or pain) can be further embedding these feelings and potentially re-traumatising the client.

It is normal for us to focus on our emotions and – especially when we are in distress – it can be difficult to understand what is driving our pain. Understanding the thoughts and beliefs that drive us can help us to modify these to better fit our lives and to help us grow and thrive.

Couples Counselling Wellington

There are different times and contexts in which couples may seek therapy. Some involve counselling at the beginning or changing stages of the relationship and some are to deal with chronic (long-term) or traumatic issues that may develop between those in an enduring relationship.

Pre-Marriage Counselling

If I had to suggest counselling for any major stage of life, pre-marriage counselling would be very high on the list! Why? When two people from differing backgrounds begin a life together, there are a lot of assumptions that each brings into the relationship. Some assume they will have children. Some assume they will not. Some have professional goals that involve amassing personal wealth, while others prefer a more Spartan life in which service to others is a central life purpose. We all have gaps (sometimes very large ones) in our understanding of others and love can blind us to things we might need to consider before starting a life with someone. A pre-marriage therapist – I use “pre-marriage” as this is a common term, but the relationship may not involve marriage – will help you understand your life goals, assumptions and ambitions and help you to consider how much these might be in alignment with the person you want to marry. This can be one of the most valuable things you consider in planning to get married.

Couples Counselling When Expecting a Child

This therapy can be for those who are waiting for the birth of their own child, those who are going through medical procedures to help with the birth, those who adopt a child or any other situation in which a new life is about to join the couple in a family relationship. Having a child can cause us to reflect on our own childhoods – both the good and the bad. Having someone to discuss these things with can help ease the transition to parenting. There are also expectations each parent has for the other and expressing these openly in a safe environment can help to create a nurturing environment for the expected child.

Couples Counselling for Trauma

Trauma can include may causes, but if a couple is able to talk through their difficulties together – and learn coping strategies for when times are tough – this can help both recover from the traumatic experiences.

Couples Sex Therapy

There are many sorts of compatibility between two people and sex can be a very significant consideration. Some people want to have it a lot and want to explore. Others may want to focus on emotions and familiarity. Seeking counselling when you are struggling in this area can require a bit of bravery, but help to strength the relationship of couples.

Couples Grief Counselling

Just as we might need counselling individually when someone we love dies, if the death deeply affects both people in the relationship, couples counselling can allow both people to share their grief openly. This can help the couple to grow stronger through difficulty, rather than drift apart – or look for understanding or companionship outside of the relationship which might weaken the couple’s bond.

Couples Counselling for Changing Life Stages

Children leaving home, long-term illness, retirement, one or both people moving to a nursing home – having someone to facilitate these conversations can help couples adjust to the changes that are ahead.

Couples Counselling Wellington

If you are a couple in Wellington who might be experiencing difficulty or want to strengthen your relationship, contact us to see how we can help.

Addiction Counselling in Narrative Therapy

Addiction Counselling Conceptualised

The founder of Narrative Therapy, Michael White, had an interesting approach for conceptualising the journey for those wishing to free themselves from alcohol and other substance dependencies. White used the analogy of a rite of passage, where the person would go from a separation phase to a liminal phase – where there was a great deal of displacement and confusion – to finally reaching a reincorporation phase, where life without the substance(s) becomes the new norm.

Addiction Counselling as a Process

Many people fail initially in their goal to break free from substance abuse. This can be incredibly disheartening. There is a tendency for many to minimise our successes and maximise our failures. Those who are not immediately able to give up alcohol or other substances can become discouraged and give up on their attempts at freedom. White attempts to get clients to conceptualise freeing themselves from addiction as a process.

Perspectives on Freeing Yourself from Addiction

Few of us would be able to attempt a marathon without rigorous training. If we attempted to do so, we might make it a few kilometers, but would we become despondent and say negative things to ourselves? Likely not, as we know that running a marathon is a significant task and requires training for all but the most advanced atheletes. Comparing to addiction, I have known a couple of people who have given up alcohol “cold turkey”, but in both cases they were told they had months to live if they did not. That is inspiration that most of us wouldn’t want!

Preparing to Free Yourself from Addiction

So, in this conceptualisation, the client realises that preparation and training are required. The finish line may not be reached on the first attempt. There is a lot that supports addiction, from friendship with others also caught in addictive behaviours, to social gatherings that focus on addictive substances. Preparing for a marathon requires getting up earlier in the morning to exercise, changes in diet to meet new energy needs, having appropriate shoes, seeing your doctor to make sure there are no immediate physical risks in you training for a marathon, etc. White’s separation stage involves consideration of what re-enforces addiction and planning for success.

Understanding Your Feelings While Freeing Yourself

The liminal phase is what is to be expected when life has changed dramatically and you are trying to get your footing again. Perhaps you have lost friends who are still addicted to substances, perhaps you don’t know what to do with yourself when you have all of these now free hours that you used to spend drinking or perhaps you are looking for a new focus for your life. This phase is going to be unsettling. You need to be ready for this. Knowing that this is a normal transition will help you get through it.

Celebrating a Life Free From Addiction

Finally, the reincorporation phase arrives when you have started to get settled in a life of being substance free. This is what you have been longing for. You have prepared for this journey and you have struggled through the hills, heat and exhaustion of your marathon of freeing yourself from addiction. There can be a number of ways to celebrate crossing the finish line, including Narrative Therapy’s Definitional Ceremonies.

Perhaps you will want to help others, once you are free?

[While I referenced my Narrative Therapy text in writing this article, White’s original article is (at publication date of this article) available online at https://dulwichcentre.com.au/articles-about-narrative-therapy/deconstructing-addiction/challenging-the-culture-of-consumption/.]

Wellington Grief and Bereavement Therapy

When someone we love is gone from our lives, it can leave a massive emptiness which seems will never be filled. When someone we feel we should love (but do not) leaves, our feelings can include grief, guilt, relief and a lot of things we cannot process. It is not weakness to seek help. We are social beings and sometimes need someone upon whom we can lean.

If you are in Wellington and seeking grief and bereavement therapy, you might want to consider:

  • Do I need to go to therapy alone, or is this something that should be shared (e.g. if you have children who are also grieving, you might want to consider if they too would need to go to therapy with you)?
  • What are the differences in therapeutic approaches that might make a difference in how I continue on after this grief? Narrative Therapy, for example, has the concept of “Re-Membering”, in which the efforts are not on “moving past” the loved one, but valuing them in your life going forward.
  • Do I want a therapist who has a specific orientation to religion – for example, a religious or a secular therapist? Many therapists would never mention religion within therapy and if you want that, you need to be clear on this when seeking a therapist.
  • Should I wait until the loved one is gone to seek help? While some clients in Wellington will find bereavement and grief therapists after the death of a loved one, some will begin grief counselling before the death of a loved one, such as when a family member is terminally ill.

At Narratives Aotearoa Ltd, we counsel those in Wellington seeking grief and bereavement therapy in a secular environment, with our services focusing on the positive effects of the person in our lives (when that has been the case). We focus on re-membering the loved one, encouraging clients to reintegrate the lost significant other into their continuing lives.

It can be difficult to go on with our lives when someone we loved is gone. If you are in Wellington, contact us to see how we can help.

Wellington Family Counselling

Working with families can follow a different path to individual counselling sessions. If you are looking for a counsellor in Wellington (or online or by phone), some things to consider might be:

Counselling Session Length

Therapy sessions can be longer for family or other group work, as there needs to be time for all people to share. While 50 minutes to an hour is a norm for individual therapeutic work, couples and larger families can need an hour and a half or two hours. Two hours would be the maximum advisable, as fatigue can become a problem and distract from therapy.

Counselling Family and Couples Individually

While it is common to have all or most family members present, there are sometimes reasons to see individual members separately. Why? This can differ from one situation to the next, but sometimes the therapist will want to see (for example) a husband and a wife separately for a session in order to help with processing of strong emotion. After this, the couple will again come to therapy together.

Counselling Confidentiality

While clients have a right to confidentially, subject to normal practice for therapists (e.g. having their own counselling supervision sessions, where they see a senior therapist themselves), family therapy adds some complexity to confidentiality. When I begin counselling couples, for example, I will begin by noting that while their session is confidential externally, there is no confidentiality between the therapist and either partner. This is both logical and practical. If the therapist assists one partner in keeping a secret from the other, this “aligns” the therapist with one partner over the other. It can also make the therapist avoid needed conversations. The therapist should never be a party to keeping a secret from one partner in couples and family work. The clients need to understand that what they say is private from the outside world, but not within the sessions. So, if one person attempts to whisper something to the therapist, this is not communication protected from the other client involved in the family counselling session.

Differing Counselling Therapy Approaches

Some approaches lend themselves to groups, couples and families. Concepts of family scripts – where it is conceptualised that people follow scripts developed with significant others in past relationships – can bring insight and assistance in some therapy. Sometimes Narrative Therapy can be the preferred counselling modality, as it attempts to look at family stories. What is ultimately used depends on the circumstances, including the therapist’s preferred and competent modalities.

Wellington Family Counselling

The list above is not exhaustive, but should give a glimpse into some of the additional considerations for those seeking family and couples counselling. Find the best therapist for you and your family in Wellington by looking into what therapy involves. Resources are being created on this site to help you do just that – to be informed.