Couples therapy for trauma – what to expect and whether it is ideal for you
Couples therapy can be highly beneficial for resolving issues and ensuring that you and your partner can work together to enjoy a stronger and closer relationship. Although it can sometimes seem like a daunting or scary option, it can be extremely worthwhile if one or both partners is a trauma survivor.
In this piece, we explore how trauma can impact a romantic relationship, the benefits of couples therapy for trauma and whether it might be ideal for you.
Read what factors to consider when choosing a couples therapist for trauma.
How does trauma affect a relationship?
Trauma can significantly impact a relationship, whether it is one or both partners that have been affected by the trauma. Often, it can lead to problems such as impaired communication between the partners, and there may be a negative impact on trust, especially if one or both partners is suffering from PTSD. Some people who have endured trauma often suffer from alexithymia, which means they may struggle to explain how the trauma has affected them. This can impact the level of understanding between both partners.
Other problems can also arise in the wake of trauma, such as attachment problems where one or both partners become either overly attached or distance themselves. Additionally, there may be some inconsistent behaviours like erratic actions and mood swings following a complex trauma or a traumatic experience.
Is it worth going to a couples counsellor for trauma?
Seeing a couples therapist can offer many benefits for helping both partners to recover following a trauma. It can provide a chance for couples to listen to each other’s perspective to fully understand what the other is going through. To improve and heal, therapists can teach couples various coping methods and help them to understand their triggers.
Ultimately, couples therapy can result in allowing both partners to process the trauma and reach a level of acceptance. Couples therapy can allow a therapist to help you navigate through your recovery journey from a traumatic experience, which can potentially improve your relationship.
Couples therapy may be beneficial to you if you are both willing and ready to try and improve your relationship and work on opening better channels of communication. It is often necessary if you are finding it difficult to understand each other and talk openly.
Following trauma, couples can learn coping methods for symptoms of PTSD. Importantly, couples therapy could be right for you if the functioning of your romantic relationship is currently being affected by the impact of the trauma and you want the help of a psychologist to improve your relationship.
What is trauma-informed couples therapy and what will it consist of?
Trauma-informed couples therapy is a form of couples therapy that allows each partner to understand any traumas that the other has endured in the past. These could range from childhood traumas to recent traumas. This kind of therapy can facilitate better comprehension of a partner’s coping mechanisms and behaviours and is intended to improve relationships.
There are various steps that are involved with couples counselling. Initially, you will meet with a therapist in the first consultation and discuss what has brought you to couples counselling.
In the initial session, you may set goals and discuss any obstacles or barriers that are currently preventing you from achieving your goals. Additionally, you can explore any worries that are concerning you about the process. It is normal to be worried or anxious about your first counselling session, and your therapist will explain how couples therapy can help you.
As well as the work you do with your therapist, you will need to do extra work outside the sessions. You will be set some tasks by your therapist to complete with your partner. This might sound daunting or time-consuming, however it is worth having an open mind. These tasks are designed to help improve your relationship and understand each other better. Tasks might include keeping thought diaries or records of any disagreements or practising specific techniques that may help you.
After your first session together with your therapist, you and your partner will both meet individually with your counsellor to explore the issues that you are facing. You will then have a course of weekly sessions with your partner to allow your therapist to help you heal, and there will be some tasks to complete outside the sessions too. When you and your partner are both happier and feel that the relationship has sufficiently improved, you may require some follow-up sessions to keep your relationship on track.
What to consider when choosing a couple’s counsellor for trauma
When you choose a couple’s counsellor for trauma, it is important that you receive the right kind of therapy to help you. There is a range of therapy options, and many therapists offer a range of different options combined. It can be helpful to have a look at your therapist’s website or ask about the types of therapy they offer prior to going to your first session. Some of the most common types of methods offered to couples dealing with the impact of trauma include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy: trauma-focused CBT can help couples to understand each other better, communicate more efficiently and solve the problems in the relationship.
Eye movement desensitisation: EMDR can help to lessen the effects of trauma on your mind and body which can be a positive step in improving your relationship.
There are also alternative methods that can be used in couples therapy for trauma. Read more about the different methods that can be offered here.
You should also look for a therapist who has experience in dealing with couples, rather than just individuals. This can ensure you are getting the right help from someone who is specialised in that particular field.
Are you worried about meeting a therapist in person, or would it be more convenient to have your sessions virtually? Online couples therapy can provide an excellent alternative. In online sessions, couples work with their counsellor to learn the same techniques, but sessions are conducted over the internet, rather than in person.
Finding a therapist
The British Counselling Service is an organisation that can help couples who are struggling with issues such as trauma and PTSD. Offering a wide range of therapies, all services are administered by experienced and qualified psychologists, psychotherapists and highly regulated therapists. We also support online therapy, enabling patients to receive counselling over skype calls, telephone calls, or other platforms. Our psychologists have spent between seven and nine years training to enable people to overcome their emotional difficulties, and many hold senior positions in the NHS.
Counselling is a good start to work together to open channels of communication. A therapist can guide you through the best ways to learn healthier coping strategies and strengthen your relationship. Of course, some of the work will be done as a couple outside of your sessions, so if you are both willing to work on your relationship, therapy can be very helpful.
Should couples see the same therapist?
It can be beneficial for couples to work together with the same therapist to improve their relationship. One or both partners may also require additional individual sessions to work on specific issues.
Will couple therapy save your marriage?
A counsellor will help you to find the healthiest ways to work together to save your marriage. Ultimately, if you and your spouse are both committed to improving your relationship, you can strengthen your bond and enjoy a happier future.
How does trauma affect intimate relationships?
Trauma can cause behavioural issues and problems with trust. It may negatively impact communication which may lead to a breakdown in certain aspects of the relationship.
Can couples therapy promote healthy attachment?
Yes – in many cases, couples therapy can strengthen your bond and bring you closer together. It can also help you work through issues surrounding unhealthy attachment.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following a traumatic experience. Symptoms can include flashbacks, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and physical problems.