Those We Love and Those We Don't: Partners in Therapy
To give our readers a better sense of what an effective mental health treatment plan looks like, I have been recreating a treatment plan here through a series of blog posts. To see other posts in the Mental Health Treatment Plan series, please click here.
Relationship—to God, self, family, friends, coworkers, and others—is for many of us the most defining, challenging, and rewarding aspect of our lives. Broken hearts, misunderstood murmurings, deep and abiding love, retreat, annoyance, inspiration, even anger, are the messy colors with which relationships finger-paint our days. While work, sports, even spiritual service and other activities may excite or dismay us, when it comes to our relationships we can never quite pin down our feelings—they are always in flux due to the ever-changing dynamics of intention, emotions, and shifting meaning.
Relationships are almost always fodder for therapy, sometimes they are even the main reason people enter therapy—though at first they may not be openly addressed. Through the medium of the therapeutic relationship, interpersonal relationships can (and often should be) explored. In fact, those with whom you are having relationships are your partners in therapy, whether or not you make them aware of this!
Of course, your spouse, parent, child and so on might sit in on a session with you—or even, as in the case of marriage and family therapy—most of the sessions. However, because examining how you participate in relationships as well as improving them is often a main theme of therapy, whether these people physically present or not, important people in your life (and even those who aren’t so important) are your therapy partners. They are an integral part of your treatment plan, one that often is, but shouldn’t be, ignored.
After Alexis and I set up a schedule for treatment-goal target dates and after we scheduled regular check-ins, she and I discussed her therapy partners. These included her mother, her roommate, and her employer and coworkers.
Alexis feels that some issues with her mother could best be resolved if they scheduled a therapy session or two together—her mother also suffers with depression, though she and Alexis have never openly discussed this. We agree that broaching the subject for the first time in the supportive environment of the therapist’s office will be more comfortable for both of them. We write down our plans, and I make a note that Alexis is going to speak to her mother about this in a week or two—or whenever she feels ready.
Next, we talk about her roommate. Alexis has told her she is seeing a therapist, but she doesn’t want Diane to actively participate in therapy or even know that she may be a topic of conversation during our sessions. She sees her relationship with Diane as somewhat problematic—Alexis finds it difficult to ask Diane to do her share of the cleaning, bill-paying, and food-shopping, and wants to resolve these and other issues they have (or maybe even decide to move out). We note down that we will devote some time to understanding the relationship and discuss ways to improve it.
Next we talk about her relationships at work and how these will be addressed during the course of treatment. Since work is an extremely challenging part of Alexis’s life, and is fraught with problems, in large part due to Alexis’s inability to successfully communicate with her coworkers and supervisor, we agree to spend some time talking about concrete communication and relationships skills that will help Alexis at her job and in all her relationships. We will focus on her relationships with her coworkers and supervisor, for now, as opportunities for improving these types of skills. We are also going to—down the road, if Alexis agrees—ask her employer for additional time off so Alexis can visit her father who lives out of town. Her employer can become an active partner in therapy—even without knowing it!
Next time in the Mental Health Treatment Plan Series, Recommendations.
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Those We Love and Those We Don't: Partners in Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 1, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2010/03/those-we-love-and-those-we-dont-partners-in-therapy/