What it's like to study couple psychotherapy at one of London's most renowned centres
A news feature by Erica Herrero-Martinez
People are attracted to training as couple therapists at Tavistock Relationships for a variety of reasons. Some may find the idea of saving a troubled relationship appealing. Others may think they have a particular skill at acting as peace-keepers or mediators during arguments. Others may have personal reasons for wanting to undertake the training — early experiences dealing with warring parents, perhaps, or previous experience as a client of coming to couple therapy.
While it is true that couple therapy can help two partners to stay together, and sometimes the work does involve an element of peace-keeping and mediation, it is important for prospective students to bear in mind that these are not the aims of couple therapy. Indeed, some of the work of a couple therapist is to help couples to separate. It is also important to point out that the psychotherapy training is not designed to enable trainees to work through their own personal issues, although this may come about through the personal therapy which is a requirement of the training.
The aim of a couple therapist at Tavistock Relationships is to help both partners to understand their relationship better, which in turn can help couples to change their behaviour and ways of relating.
It is a much less directive approach than some trainees may expect, and the focus is on understanding rather than instructing. This can mean that the work feels particularly intimate. Couple therapists are required to immerse themselves in the difficult and sometimes shameful issues that are at the heart of a couple’s difficulties.
In couple therapy, the couple’s problems tend to present themselves in the room. A couple for whom escalating arguments are a problem are likely to argue in the therapy room. With a couple who have a problem with emotional intimacy, you are likely to notice a feeling of distance in the room. Unlike individual therapy, in which the therapist has to rely heavily on what the client tells them has been happening, couple therapists typically have the privilege of seeing the problem for themselves. The couple is there, live, in front of you, showing you how they relate to each other.
The training at Tavistock Relationships also involves seeing individual clients but this has a unique approach in that the focus of the therapy remains the relationship. Interestingly, in sessions with individuals, clients will often sit in the same seat every week and address the empty chair next to them as if it represents their partner.
Being a couple therapist can be challenging, as it involves delving into what can be painful issues for clients. This can evoke strong responses in therapists, which is why self-reflection and self-development are such an important part of the training. The fact that the work involves helping people with what can be such difficult issues is also what makes it so rewarding. In order for couple therapy to work, couples need to be able to open up and reveal their vulnerabilities. They need to be able to let the therapist in. Being allowed in can feel like a huge responsibility, but it is also a huge privilege.
Working as a couple therapist is a unique role, and that is why the training at Tavistock Relationships is so different from other purely academic courses. While there is a strong academic element, including reading and discussing psychoanalytic papers, writing essays and preparing presentations, the training is more than just about developing theoretical knowledge. It is experiential, and is designed to equip students with the self-awareness and resilience to work in the emotionally charged context of the consulting room. The teachers and supervisors at Tavistock Relationships are the leading thinkers and clinicians in their field, not only writing and developing theories, but also working as couple therapists themselves. One of the distinctive benefits of training with Tavistock Relationships is that you are taught by the experts you see on the website.
Starting seeing clients (clinical work), while exciting, can also feel quite scary. Every therapist remembers their first session. The training at Tavistock Relationship ensures that you are well prepared and supported not just before this first session, but throughout your clinical work.
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