3.4 Couple counselling/couple therapy

© Author: Martina Frenznick, 2007


Couple counselling and couple therapy are forms of counselling and psychotherapy that are used to deal with acute or chronic conflict, including cases of violence in partnerships, i.e. the relationship between two people.

In the following, I use the term “partner work” to refer to couple counselling und therapy. These two concepts describe inherently different settings in which firstly, different methods are used and secondly, different objectives are pursued; as such, they are not interchangeable or synonymous. In the context presented here these differences are not of primary significance and so the reference is always to both settings.

In partner work, the relationship is considered to be “the client”, i.e. the relationship is the central focus of work with the couple. The relationship is the object of intervention and the of counsellor or therapist’s empathy and partiality. An important element here is the contact and communication that the individuals who make up the couple have with each other or conversely, the disturbance in their contact and communication.

From the perspective of partner work, a couple is more than the sum of the individuals who constitute it. Consequently, there are “multiple realities” in respect to situations, events, conflict within a partnership – there are usually  two different perspectives and realities (one for each partner) and sometimes also a third, the so-called relationship reality. Partner work specifically aims to work with this phenomena, e.g. through meta-analysis together with the couple.

Partner work is not a uniform process, nor a self-contained methodology. Rather, the various methods used within the context of couple counselling and couple therapy, are influenced and shaped through many different schools of therapy and counselling concepts. This is reflected in their views of human nature, and their models for explaining how conflict and the use of violence develops and is maintained in partnerships. Examples that can be mentioned here are NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), psychodrama, gestalt work, systemic therapy, family therapy and transaction analysis.

Because of the multiplicity und diversity in couple counselling and couple therapy, they are basically suitable for all couples.  

However, a basic prerequisite here is – as for all other forms of therapy and counselling processes – the ability to reflect on oneself and one’s own behaviour. Further, it is essential that each member of the partnership is willing to change something in their behaviour and posses the insight that this change is necessary and have made the decision to implement this change.  

In respect to work with perpetrators, it is important to consider:

For most couples with mono-directional violence, the classical perpetrator/victim dynamic, partner work is generally not used. For couples where the  violence has a bi-directional dynamic  this form of support is a  represents a reasonable and appropriate method.

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