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Choosing a marriage counsellor or relationship therapist
If you’re wanting help with your marriage or relationship, and you’re considering working with a marriage counsellor or couples therapist, there’s something you should know first.
Understanding just a little bit about this field can save you a lot of time and money, and can make the difference between having a helpful, satisfying experience or an unhelpful, dissatisfying experience.
I genuinely want you to have a helpful and satisfying experience, whether it’s with me or with someone else, so I’m going to give you a quick insider view.
Attachment therapy or differentiation therapy?
Most professionals in this field, I’d say upward of ninety percent, practice some form of “attachment-based” therapy that begins with the assumption that human beings are fundamentally emotionally dependent upon each other, that this emotional dependence is good and necessary, and that this emotional dependence forms the basis for adult romantic relationships and marriages.
A very small number of professionals in this field, I’d say less than ten percent, begin with the assumption that human beings can achieve increasingly higher degrees of emotional self-direction (sometimes called emotional differentiation), that this is a good thing, and that adult romantic relationships and marriages are the perfect place for developing this self-expansive and self-empowering ability.
This difference in approach is important for you to know, not only because it forms the foundation of whatever course of therapy you choose, but because it forms the very basis of your belief about what relationships are for, and what the potential of your relationship might be.
Think about this for a moment.
If you (or your therapist) believe that human beings are necessarily emotionally dependent upon each other, then any attempts you make to find more satisfaction in your relationship (after all, a feeling of satisfaction is ultimately why you’re here, right?) will always be subject to the assumption of built-in emotional dependency. In other words, your satisfaction in relationship will always have to be a “we” thing, never a “me” thing.
On the other hand, if you can imagine being in a relationship where two people happily take responsibility for their own emotional well-being then you get an entirely different idea of what a relationship is, and what it might be. Rather than essentially being a “we” thing, your relationship might become two simultaneous “me” things, sometimes in perfect resonance (like a beautiful piece of music), sometimes more dissonant, and sometimes creating friction, dissatisfaction, or conflict.
And here’s where I come in…
Relationship conflict and personal growth
I’ve come to understand conflict in relationships as a necessary evolutionary force marking the beginning of a new stage of personal growth for one or both of you. This is quite different from believing that conflict is a problem or an indication of something in need of repair.
Conflict is an indication of growth wanting to happen, and you can either align yourself with the growth, or stay stuck in the conflict. (By the way, conflict in a relationship is generally an outer expression of an inner conflict. It’s helpful to understand this and to examine the conflict within rather than reflexively and unconsciously projecting it onto the relationship.)
My approach with clients emphasizes self-empowerment within the relationship rather than ongoing negotiation between partners. This approach is much more emotionally based than behavioral or skills based. It’s about developing a positive, loving, trusting, and joyful relationship with oneself as a basis for creating the same kind of qualities in a relationship with another person.
It’s OK to try and do it the other way around, to try and negotiate emotional well-being with your partner as a basis for your own sense of well-being. It’s also OK to do a bit of both, that’s actually how most relationships proceed: There are times when emotional safety, repair or bonding are at the fore, and there are times when personal growth and discovery take the lead.
These two “modes” are not necessarily antagonistic, but all relationship therapy is oriented more strongly around one or the other (because all therapists, being human after all, are personally oriented more strongly around one or the other).
I hope my explanation of these two different approaches to couples work helps you determine the best fit for you at this time. Like I said, one of these approaches is very common and one is rare. I happen to practice the rare one, and I believe this is helpful for you to know.
(If you’re interested in a scholarly look at the differences between attachment therapy and differentiation therapy I recommend reading Attachment Versus Differentiation: The Contemporary Couple Therapy Debate.)
Accepting new clients
I’m currently accepting a limited number of new clients, and I select based on good fit, as determined by what I’ve described on this page. I work with individuals and couples, specifically on relationship issues, or more generally on whatever is important to you right now. I’ve built a world-wide reputation over a fifteen year career as a relationship therapist and educator.
If you’re interested in working with me, please email me with your country of residence and I will forward a current client package for your review.
“Justice really is an expert and can pinpoint issues almost immediately. I was ready to leave my husband, feeling angry, bitter and ready for change even at the cost of giving up the family. Talking with Justice gave me clarity to see my situation for what it was; to explore my own private emotions more thoroughly and to explore the beauty of relationship with another. He gives excellent tools and ideas to help manage difficult situations that undoubtedly arise in a marriage. ” ~ Kelsie Wilber, USA
“We’ve seen five local counsellors in the past five years. I’d given up on ever being understood or loved the way I need. I was skeptical about working on the phone, but we learned more about ourselves and made more progress in our first three sessions with you than with all the previous counsellors combined. I know there are no guarantees, but it feels good to have hope again. I’m optimistic about my marriage for the first time in years.” ~ JM, Canada
“My partner and I have both grown in amazing ways over this past 6 months, and we find ourselves coming out of this growth stage still deeply attracted to the things that attracted us to one another 5 years ago. I have learned that as challenging as growth may be, it can be seen as a great gift. I could not have done this without your counseling and guidance. I am deeply grateful.” ~ Mark, USA
“The most powerful part of working with Justice is how he is right there in the trenches with you, really feeling through it with you, literally. I felt as though he was gently holding my heart in his hands, feeling everything I felt. Also, I found working over the phone to be surprisingly advantageous. I was able to maintain the physical privacy and comfort of working from my own home.” ~ Monica, USA
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