Have you ever felt this way? If so, you’re not alone. Feeling uncomfortable, inadequate or helpless when clients are fighting in front of you, are common reactions of many, if not most, mental health professionals, even ones with many years of experience under their belt.
Disagreements and conflicts are a natural part of all close and important relationships. Yet, when negative or intense interactions occur during a session, even capable practitioners can quickly become nervous and lose their confidence.
How do I know this? I’ve been a relationship and couples therapist in private practice for more than 25 years. During that time, I went from feeling nervous and inept to becoming someone that my esteemed colleagues often refer their toughest clients to for help with their relationships.
I started working with couples and relationships when another local therapist “threw me a bone.” I’d sent a ton of referrals to his private practice and he returned the favor and sent one my way. This particular “first” referral came with an apology. He called and said, “I’m sorry for sending this couple to you. The husband is very difficult. They’ve been to three therapists already, all of whom said they were hopeless and found him extremely intimidating.” I gulped and said, “Okay, I’ll do my best.”
Somehow, I made a good connection with the husband and our first session together went fairly well. Maybe it went well because I knew what to expect ahead of time and I wanted to understand why this man was so difficult and challenging. For whatever the reason, I liked it. I liked helping these two people navigate their relationship and teaching them how to talk to each other, how to be better partners.
At the time I had significant experience working with individuals, but working with couples and other relationships felt very different to me. I felt “green" and overwhelmed at times. I wanted so badly for them to be successful and I put undue pressure on myself to be helpful. Because in my mind, it was ALL in my hands!
Fast forward many years, and now I’m considered a relationship expert and I developed a communication model, which is called, The Relationship Protocol. My focus has always been to teach people how to talk to each other and how to have healthier relationships. It always made sense to me to give my clients practical tools that they could use outside of my office to interact with one another. I was never interested in pathology or diagnosis; I just wanted my clients to feel comfortable and more confident communicating.
My way of working has always been so simple and organic in nature that I thought all professionals worked the way that I did. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, many talented and experienced practitioners are not comfortable working with relationships. They’re content seeing individual clients, but they are not confident and feel untrained and inadequate in the relationship arena. Also, many practitioners that work with relationships don’t teach their clients how to communicate. They don’t give their clients basic fundamental tools for how to have healthier relationships, which in my experience, is a big key to their success. Even many undergraduate and graduate programs neglect to teach their students basic skills for working with couples and other relationships.
Think about it, when you teach all of your clients how to become better communicators, you’re helping them to be the best partners, parents, business owners, and family members that they can be. This is an invaluable gift that extends well beyond the four walls of your office. And, this is why I’m on a mission to help other professionals feel more comfortable and equipped to work with relationships.
Join my mailing list below and receive my free download called, “Make the Arguing Stop! A Therapist’s Fast Action Guide to Defusing Conflict.” In this pdf download, I explain how to address conflicts from a relationship perspective, along with some easy to follow suggestions for “what to do” when an argument takes place. My goal is to get you started feeling more comfortable in the relationship arena.
Periodically, I’d like to send you an email and offer some “behind the scenes” info for successfully working with relationships. I’ll teach you my communication tips and skills to help build your confidence, which will ultimately make you feel like a pro working with relationships; even the intense ones!
So if your clients get angry at each other, if their tempers flare, or if they’re emotionally upset and you think to yourself:
”I wish they’d stop arguing”
“I need to remain calm”
“I hope they don’t get mad at me”
or maybe you’re go-to response is: “Yikes! What on earth do I do next???”
Just know that after learning more about communication and relationship work, your next and new response just might be “Okay, I got this!”
Feel free to share with your colleagues. Help me spread the word about working with relationships in an easy to understand, practical and helpful way!