Inside out, or outside in: meeting with couples

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Abstract

The complex difficulties often faced by couples require a range of models for effective help. Relational intensity is heightened in therapy by the ease with which the therapist can be triangled into the couple's relationship and by the influence of the emotional triggers from their respective internal worlds.

This article draws on systemic and psychodynamic models and a transgenerational perspective for gendered stories. Different time frameworks link interpersonal and intrapersonal themes. In this sense, the therapist works ‘inside out’ and ‘outside in’. A framework of behaviours, emotions, feelings, meanings and beliefs is proposed to help link these perspectives. ‘Invisible contracts’ and the sense of there often being an unconscious ‘pact to disappoint’ are described.

Clear models are not enough, for it is the intimate encounter between client and therapist that is the bedrock of therapeutic change and growth. There is no short cut to this sense of intimacy in the unique encounter between therapist and each new couple. Brief examples from practice describe how the issues discussed may be addressed in couples work.

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