Psychologist Interview with David (Marriage Counselling Perth)
David is an experienced clinical psychologist with a history of helping couples with relationship issues. In his practice he sees men, women and couples wishing to improve their lives and deal more effectively with problems of mood regulation, difficult emotions, life change and substance abuse.
- What has made you interested in helping couples with their relationships?
I have always been interested in ways and means to reduce suffering. For most people the most significant part of their personal life has to do with their relationships. Initially this is as children growing up in a family. Then as young adults forming significant friendships and romantic relationships. Finally as established adults we form a primary caring partnership with another adult.
Our relationships contain the core of what concerns us. Understanding how to improve relationships and reduce conflict within our primary relationship yields the most significant rewards in terms of personal growth and happiness. I have seen many couples benefit from relationship therapy.
In terms of my interest in helping couples I also feel satisfied that my interests and skills provide a good match with the work required in couples counselling. I feel confident in getting positive outcomes as couples are generally highly motivated and results are fairly quickly achieved (which is gratifying for everyone).
- What do you find are the most common relationships problems that you see in couples coming in to see you?
‘Communication’ is the term most commonly used by couples coming to therapy to describe their ‘problem’. However the term ‘communication’ covers a range of different issues. Some of them have to do with the manner in which partners approach conflict. Some of them have to do with central question of “how close shall we be?” There are often differences in the degree of emotional intimacy that each partner prefers. There are often differences in expectations about what is ‘OK’ and what is not ‘OK’ – classically around the use of alcohol, amount of time out with friends etc. Then there are ‘boundary’ issues. These concern difference in expectation about how we should be with different people including mothers, other family members, work colleagues and ex partners. There are other communication issues that concern the degree to which each partner understands and listens to the other.
Another common problem is the degree to which either or both partner feels respected and/or appreciated.
Apart from what may be described as ‘communication’ issues there are a range of issues that could be described as “trust issues” from present or past infidelities, emotional affairs, jealousies and differences with expectations of interpersonal behaviour.
Then there are a range of sexual issues, from mismatched libidos to differences in attitudes to sex as well as sexual preferences.
Each individual is unique and each couple is especially unique so the particular issues pertaining to a couple needs to be sensitively explored as it usually involves a combination of individual and relationship problems. Delicate exploration opens up a dialogue where intentions, visions and perspectives can be understood better to enhance the quality of the relationship.
- What are the most common problems for women in relationships?
Although it is hazardous to generalise, in my experience women are generally better communicators than men and also care about the quality of the relationship more than men.
Of course there are many exceptions to this broad generalisation. In being keenly aware of the quality of the relationship in terms of its level of intimacy, co-operation and appreciation, when relationships are deteriorating, becoming stale or routine it will usually be the woman who is concerned. They also may be more likely to personally feel a sense of ‘failure’. This may be because women see a high quality relationship as of central importance and feel a sense of responsibility to make the relationship work. This may not be felt the same way by many men.
This is the condition in which many women enter therapy. Sometimes they have been dealing with a bad relationship for a very long time and have given up any hope of improvement and are feeling ‘stuck’. Sometimes they address the problem early (which of course is better). Many relationships can be improved at this point if the couple can find a way of communicating that breaks away from the familiar ‘attack-defence’ cycle. This can reflect a very common symptom of the stage of the relationship that is defined by the ‘power battle’. Therapy can be particularly helpful here by getting partners working together in a co-operative way where there are no ‘victims’ or ‘villains’.
- What are the most common problems for men in relationships?
Again one does not like to generalise, but often for men there is frustration at not seeming to meet their partner’s expectations. Often feeling like they are constantly being criticised, not appreciated and not able to find a satisfactory way through the ‘maze of discontent’ they feel from their partner. There are many men who feel that the sexual side of the relationship has reduced to a point that is distressing for them. This issue needs to be explored sensitively. Some men are trying to meet an expectation that they think is widely endorsed. For others sexual relations are seen as an indication of appreciation. In both of these cases talking about it can help. Offering marriage counselling Perth.
Many men struggle with anger management, being often unable to find a way to understand their frustrations in such a way that they can remain calm and effective in their communications.
- What would you like couple clients to know about the couple counselling process before they come in?
That this is a positive process of getting past some issues that have been causing distress for some time. It works! Given the opportunity to be honest, reflective and sensitive a lot is often achieved in the first session. The therapist is there to be helpful, the therapist’s role is to remain neutral and focused on what will be most beneficial to your relationship.
In some ways it is useful to think about the relationship as being the client or patient. The therapist is not interested in saying one party is wrong and the other party is right. This almost never happens, and it doesn’t happen because the therapist’s role is to be helpful in promoting, protecting or enhancing the relationship. The effectiveness of the counselling process is quite dependent of the degree of honesty of each partner. Coming to relationship counselling prepare to be honest, calm, sensitive and motivated to enhance the relationship.
- What has been the couple you remember who has made the biggest turnaround, from being in severe trouble to transforming their relationship into a happy loving one?
There have been many couples I have seen that have been on the brink of separation, whereby after one or two sessions a bridge has been formed and a process of opening up has started. Some couples only have one or two sessions, some couples have been coming back for years. Breaking out of the “attack-defence” cycle is the single most important move. I have seen this so often in so many different variations it is hard to single out one. I often expect the first session to be a crisis management situation and my immediate goal is to keep the channel of communication open so the healing process can begin. I have a procedure for extreme crises so that both parties can step away from the emotional stand-off and begin the repair process.
- If you had one word of advice for couples with children, what would it be?
You both share the love of your children and want their interests to be put first. Attending to your relationship issues so that they can be managed peacefully and with a high degree of respect is the best gift you can give your children. Although you may love your child more than you love your partner, for the child they have two parents and will be damaged in various ways through any witnessing or experience of bitter or ugly conflict between their parents. Marriage counselling perth.
Children have a right to two loving parent figures, and as much as humanely possible the two parents should do what they can to provide this for their child. They should also protect the child from exposure to negative behaviour, especially between the two people they depend on and love the most.
- What advice would you give to couples trying to rebuild their relationship after an affair?
An affair is a major breach of trust. Repair start with understanding. A full audit of the issues associated with the affair needs to be conducted. Counselling is very important in guiding a couple through the stages of understanding the motivations, the thinking, the beliefs and any other way that the affair was made possible. A clear understanding of how choices are made as well as the way we ‘neutralize’ our guilt is important. The partner who has been betrayed needs to come to a sufficiently good understanding of how the affair happen before they can realistically approach the question of whether they should trust again. The ‘affair partner’ needs to understand they have a considerable journey to go in to understand themselves and to provide convincing evidence that they do understand themselves and the factors involved in the choice to cheat.
Slowly, based on these building blocks, the relationship can start to mend based on a process of the betrayed partner opening up to the possibility of trust and the affair partner proving continually in little and larger ways that they are now more self aware and worthy of the trust their partner is placing in them.
- What, for you, are the most important things that couples need to remember if they want their relationship to thrive, instead of just survive?
Relationships are precious and they require nurturing. Anyone can have a garden. If it is not tended it gets over-run and scrappy. Some plants you do not like take dominance and others you do want are crowded out. Tending to a relationship one needs to be a good gardener, supporting the relationship and your partner in areas that require greater sensitivity and nutriment. Being careful to pull out bad habits before they take over.
Good communication- (here meaning openness and honesty and consideration) is at the heart of a thriving relationship. Giving love in a meaningful way (according to you partner’s love “language”) is positively nurturing the relationship. Being considerate in all its various manifestations (tolerating small differences, being reliable, attending to partners needs) is important.
- What proportion of your couple clients manage, with your help, to successfully recreate a happy relationship from the difficult one that they came in with?
Almost all of the couples that continue to see me report significant improvements in the quality of their relationship. From my initial referrals perhaps one in ten up to two in ten do not proceed in couples counselling. Sometimes this will be because they got what they need out of one or two sessions. Sometimes it may be because the need for separation became clearer after one or two sessions. Most couples however very much want to see their relationships succeed and for those couples the combination of intention, increased perspective and skills is sufficient to either “re-invent” the relationship or get it back on track.
- What do you find is the most satisfying and fulfilling part of this work that you do?
Helping find new ways of seeing things, thinking about things and understanding things. My role as a therapist is not primarily to “fix” things but to work creatively and effectively with individuals and couples to find pathways through the current situation to better ways that work. It can be sometimes challenging – but this is what I love. We need to be sufficiently sensitive and understanding of all the emotions, the thoughts and the actions involved to look at what can be achieved. I also personally get a great deal of satisfaction through working closely with people and feel privileged to be trusted with matters that are very personal and very deep.
- List 3 qualities that your friends and family would describe you as having.
- I am somewhat quiet, choosing to listen more than speak and to consider deeply what I hear.
- I am aware of how we all appreciate validation and affirmation. I like to be considerate rather than abrasive
- Positivity . I see little value in negativity, criticism, cynicism, gossip, pessimism – the whole palette of negativity. I notice the toxic effect of these states when they do arise. Rather I believe the posture and approach we take colours our perception and our world. I prefer to look at the wondrous, the generous and the caring and be grateful for the connections between us wherever they arise.
- List 3 strengths that you have as a Psychologist.
- I listen well and want to help. I take my time and encourage others to speak. I always keep in mind the three cardinal virtues of a psychologist: empathy; unconditional positive regard and; genuineness.
- I am open minded and ‘non-judgemental’. I feel very open and find no desire arising to judge the situation other people find themselves in. I believe we are all individuals with a unique path to follow and it serves no value, and indeed is quite arrogant to feel dismissive or judgmental about the choices and situation others find themselves in.
- I am genuinely curious and want to understand the situation and circumstances of my clients and see how they can be helped.
- How many years experience do you have practicing/helping clients?
In direct client work I have 20 years experience. I have almost another 20 years experience in research and other roles looking at solutions to behavioural problems of various kinds.
If you would like to make a booking with David or any other of our psychologists, you are welcome to fill out an enquiry form here, or call our friendly receptionists on 1300 830 552.