Watching “Couples Therapy”
My family have recently been glued to a show on BBC i-player called “Couples Therapy”. It’s a fly on the wall documentary that follows four couples through 9 weeks of therapy with one therapist, Orna Guralnik. If you are wondering what couples therapy is like or how it works, I think it is well worth watching a few episodes.
The show is American and is very well made, so that it doesn’t feel too voyeuristic. As well as scenes in the therapy room (which make up most of the documentary) there are shots of the couples at home or out enjoying leisure time together, as well as interesting montages of couples’ body language in the city at large. These sections help to give a context to the couples’ stories, and perhaps widen things out for the viewer to think “that could be me, or us”.
Through watching this with my own family, we have found ourselves discussing many different aspects of marriage and romantic partnerships, as these topics have arisen in the show. In various episodes we – the viewers – find ourselves being judgmental of one person or another.
Realistically, in the show as in real therapy, not all the couples gain from the therapeutic process. Some people abandon the therapy, unable to see any way to change. Some seem on the brink of splitting up, and then somehow decide to stay together. The show illustrates the real hard work involved in doing couples therapy: in learning to be vulnerable, in learning different behaviours and trying to remember to implement them. In falling back into old habits, but not giving up and trying again.
If you are wondering what couples therapy is like or how it works, I think it is well worth watching a few episodes. We see the couples laughing together and showing affection in some cases. We also see them becoming defensive or angry, sad or scared. We see how the therapist, by following through on questions that are deflected, can elicit statements that have never been said before, and never heard.
I think this is an important aspect of couples therapy. When we live with someone, we become so used to each other that we get stuck in certain patterns of communication. There are ways we talk about different topics, and ways we don’t. There are ways we behave in conflict with each other, and ways we don’t. Often, when I work with couples, they can slip into an argument. And it becomes obvious that this is a type of argument that they have had many many times. It can be useful to see this, but it is not going to be a good use of their therapy time if they habitually do it in the therapy room.
So one of the most helpful thing the therapist can do is to push clients out of their familiar ways of being together, and help them try new ways to communicate honestly. In the documentary, we can see how these moments of honesty bring new understanding and empathy into these troubled relationships.