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When to Return to Counseling  

I had a very nice, if sad, session with a couple recently. We said goodbye and agreed that we don’t need to make another appointment. This was a couple that was very rewarding to work with because they took the things we talked about, the exercises we worked on, and ran with them. Each was able to take responsibility for themselves and the change they needed to make and they made enhancing their connection the emphasis.

They were not in a good way when we started working together. In fact, they were on the verge of breaking up when they first came to see me. They had been in therapy together with another therapist not long before and that experience had actually driven a bigger wedge between them. As you might imagine, they were hesitant about opening up in another therapy situation. But they took the risk and the outcome was great. I looked forward to our meeting and always enjoyed them, but the reality is that is not a good reason to continue therapy. They had the skills they needed and were using them to maintain the kind of relationship they wanted.

Honestly, they had some anxiety about not having a session scheduled in the future when they could see me and deal with something, but they recognized they were taking care of things themselves without the need for me. They had some concerns about upcoming situations and ongoing issues that might raise their ugly heads, so we spent some time talking about when would be the right time to come back and see me should they decide to do so. I encouraged them to have a sensitive trigger in making the decision to come back, to in a sense come back too soon rather than too late, to come back when they find themselves struggling with something they can’t resolve but before it turns into negativity.

 I have had too many experiences of people coming back to see me for a second time saying they are back where they started, or even at a worse place. The story there usually involves the couple stopping some of the practices and skills they developed while they were in counseling. Sometimes it also involves new issues that came up, but generally something about how they got better has slipped. I offered the metaphor of thinking of me as a tool sharpener who helps you keep your tools working the best they can. If things that were working in your relationship have fallen to the wayside or don’t seem to be working like they were. Come in for a quick sharpening. It is much easier to hone the edge on a dull tool than it is to have to build a whole new tool from scratch.