Brief Therapy with Couples – An integrative approach. Maria Gilbert and Diana Shmukler 2001
Today our group reviewed the chapters on Working through issues of compatibility of value systems and Frames of reference (Ch6) and working through the issues relating to caring for the other (Ch 9) of Gilbert and Shmuklers book on couples therapy. We had an early observation that many of the issues of diversity we were to look at today could equally apply to the individual therapeutic relationship.
We opened with the quote “Frames of reference are influenced and contributed to by each persons personal and historical background which shapes an individual’s values” and beliefs are usually implicit rather than explicitly stated. This is seen as to be viewed holistically as therapy continues and not necessarily a focus early on and the therapeutic dynamic is established.
We touched on how frames of reference can be learned by interpreting early exercises such as each client listing what is wrong in the relationship and what would they want the relationship to look like and these thoughts being shared only in session so that responses can be appropriately held.
We looked then at how to work with the early “life story” of the first partner and if the other partner is invited to respond or present their “life story” and then negotiate what is within their frame of reference to work on.
We looked at the notion of clients often feeling “sent” to therapy by their partner and one usually being more enthusiastic for therapy than the other ensuring that the process is an inclusive autonomous process.
In reviewing the chapter on frames of reference we looked at individual examples of understanding and working with diversity in the relationship including , Gender, culture, class, religion, race, education, socio economic status of each and familial expectations of being involved in decision making for the couple. We also looked at gender role scripting and managing the differing expectations of some same sex relationships.
We reviewed various skills exercises that sometimes arise within couples therapy such as using emotionally mature language like using I instead of U in exchanges and the importance of the therapist modelling the same. Also encouraging the other to express the effects on them of their partners non verbal communication such as finger pointing and other body language.
We looked at the issue of intimacy and differing approaches of being directive contracting to avoid intimacy or negotiation about if abstinence would help or not and acknowledging difference in the room of approaches here.
A strong consensus was of the therapeutic space being an intuitive one with responding in the moment to what comes up and not worrying too much about having an instrumental approach. We also looked at managing the time, endings and top up sessions being requested by some clients.
In looking at the chapter on caring we considered the contribution of transactional analysis to conceptualising the parenting and nurturing concepts within relationships and finding balance of each partner adopting the role along with the risks on stagnation and stuckness within that dynamic.
We looked at how reviewing the subject of working with client differing frame of reference yet again encourages us to look at our own relationships in renewed light.