What is LGBT Couple Counselling?
What's it like: Lesbian, Bi, Queer & Gay Couples Counselling?
Let's talk about what is counselling for gay couples, and what's it like for LGBT/QIA+ to work in session with British Professional Counselling Specialist Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg), employing his distinctive skills from over 21 years+ experience...
If a primary aim of gay couples counselling is to assist a couple-in-conflict, how do we create a distinctive & effective therapy that resolves their distinct relationship difficulties?
A beginning to this approach sees Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg) holding the therapeutic framework to facilitate the couple in gaining new information about their relationship. The rationale for finding new information builds upon the original Milan Associates’ discovery as follows:-
- New Information… leading to → New Options.
- New Options… leading to → Making New Choices.
- New Choices… leading to → Transforming the Relationship (through informed empowerment).
- Transformations under way (the couple can leave counselling).
The couple and Dean work together in 50 minute (or 90 minute) weekly sessions. First, we discover what will be the focus of our work (the focus is not always decided upon by the couple’s presenting behaviour). We then use the focus to unpack the relationship’s behaviour, learning new information and making use of new understanding. We employ the couple’s own creativity and ability to hypothesise – using new information to put into place proposed new behaviour (with Dean’s assistance and support). We bring our counselling work to an end when the couple’s new behaviour is making Dean redundant (seriously!). The couple continue their work alone, without need for further “top-up” sessions from the counsellor (unless the couple request).
Dean supports the couple with this approach through employing (science bit…) integrated systemic and psychodynamic psychotherapy frameworks, maintaining a neutral position, employing a motivating style of curiosity and interest to demonstrate the development of new hypotheses and the discovery of new information from the couple’s behaviour.
Jigsaw Puzzle Analogy
Maybe think of Couple Counselling like this story:- a couple come into counselling carrying an open box. Within the box are many jigsaw pieces, all mixed up. The couple supposes that all the pieces are there. When they have been taking out pieces, one might say: “a blue piece – this obviously means it’s ‘sky’!” and tries to fit the piece to others that may also be sky. The other partner might say: “no, blue means ‘sea’!” and tries to connect the piece to bits that might be sea. An argument ensues because some pieces are fitting together and other aren’t; the couple are fighting over what the picture is meant to look like.
A major contributing factor is: no-one knows where the box lid is; the couple have no picture reference. They haven’t discussed/agreed upon what the jigsaw looks like and each partner has their individual ideas of what this jigsaw picture is supposed to be.
If the jigsaw puzzle is the couple’s relationship what does counselling do to help the couple rebuild the lost-picture-of-their-relationship?
In session, the counsellor’s role includes facilitating the couple into discussing, negotiating and agreeing / empathising / compromising upon what each piece might be in the context of this relationship (new information → inspiration, negotiation, compromise), how each piece might fit with others, and working together to build their own picture. We’re supporting each other in hypothesising “if a blue piece could be more than only sky or sea what else could it be?” to empower the couple with newer (piece fitting…) options to help to build this new relationship picture.
The couple (at their own pace) become empowered into making their own hypotheses together and the counsellor begins to step back from holding the concept of the couple’s relationship in his mind. The couple are discovering new information and are making new, informed choices sufficiently for the pieces of their relationship to fit together, better than before, and a clearer picture is developing in front of them.
Therapy done with (not to) you
A common assumption about counselling is often (based upon a GP/Doctor experience) that the couple will describe their symptoms in order to expect the therapist to prescribe how they go about sorting out the illness; maybe there’s a hope that the therapist may even do the treatment on their behalf, too.
With this being so, a couple’s first disappointment to be managed may be for them to learn (together – hint!) how to manage: “why isn’t the counsellor fixing our relationship?!”
One or more individuals within the couple relationship sometimes try to convince the counsellor that they are right (implying their partner is wrong…). I’d suggest to you that this could well be a reflection of the couple’s problems at a deep core of the relationship (“I have to be right, you have to be wrong, or else… *defence kicked in*“). We can actually make use of this behaviour to gain new knowledge (see earlier) and learn to put into place new behaviour.
As a Couple Counsellor, Dean practices a systemic/psychodynamic form of couple relationship counselling; he takes a neutral stance within the therapeutic alliance in order to learn how the couple pull and push together. He’s listening within the stories for common/conjoined anxieties (hidden within the couple’s behaviour). This approach may relieve you of the need to pull the counsellor into an adjudicating position (deciding who is right or wrong). In fact, it could be helpful to discuss – in session – any recognition of such needs.
This is just one of the many psychological tools that Dean employs to work with the couple, rather than employing tools or exercises to the couple (like some therapists inexperienced in couple work may try). The couple are invited to participate within the therapy as equal participants: becoming three therapists working together, before everyone says goodbye to the counselling relationship.
Two Video Devices
Dean Richardson has more than 13 years’ practice in Couple Counselling via Video Conferencing (Skype, Zoom etc). His original focus was working with couples in Long Distance Relationships (i.e. partners being in a different countries to each other would have to use one device each).
As 2019’s pandemic developed, Dean discovered a therapeutically useful phenomenon for couples seeking remote counselling services over video: couples living together also benefited from using individual devices (i.e. one device each, sitting in different rooms from each other); couples reported back that the approach gave them a helpful sense of “we’re not at home” during therapy.
This means that Dean’s particular approach empowers couples to talk with each other, in counselling, about subjects that couldn’t usually be discussed “at home” (or, at least, not in the early stages of counselling). Difficult subjects became more accessible due to the use of two video devices (any mix of Smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs etc available to the couple).
So, as you consider entering counselling with Dean Richardson for Zoom/Skype Video Counselling, the following Preparations for Video Counselling will be helpful to you both…
Video Counselling Preparation...
Preparations for Individuals, Couples & Groups.
- Remember that counselling sessions are (still) a professional engagement. Even though you're at home with easy access to your fridge, comfy pyjamas and footstool, aim to behave as if you would be meeting your counsellor in his office.
- Have your video device prepared well in advance with the software installed that you and Dean have agreed upon first contact (whilst Zoom or Skype is preferred, Dean may also use WhatsApp, Facebook and others - provided there's a prior conversation before the session). Ensure that your Operating System has all updates installed beforehand (some upgrades can take a long time) and that your Apps have the most recent security updates.
- Use a headset/microphone combination (such as those supplied with your Smartphone, or computer). Not only helpful for your privacy, Skype and Zoom work significantly better by avoiding echo, disturbing feedback or blocking the audio for several seconds whilst the software filters out your own audio being sent back from your caller's device.
- Use a table or stand if using a tablet or Smartphone (rather than holding the device for 50/90 minutes). Keeping the device held not only relieves your hands and keeps the camera steady, it also helps prevent feelings of sea-sickness in the observer when you're moving your camera.
- Try to place your camera at eye level so that you're looking at your device on the horizontal. This ensures that you're not looking down or up at your counsellor (which can feel a little disturbing).
- Ensure that your face is lit. This may mean you sitting facing a light-source (the window, a lamp etc). Otherwise you'll appear in shadow and your counsellor will not be able to see your face.
- You will need a room that's private and away from others' earshot. If this is not possible, perhaps others in your house might leave for an hour).
- Ensure that your environment is quiet - Skype & Zoom (etc) use technology that can "take over" the audio channel when you speak (or when there is sound in your room). If your room is noisy you may find that the counsellor's voice becomes cut-off or interrupted.
- Make sure you won't be disturbed: tell others in your house not to come into your room. Maybe put a note on your room's door - or your house's front door - saying "Do Not Disturb" so that others are reminded before they enter your room and/or your doorbell isn't rung. It's quite disturbing when you're halfway discussing something private or sensitive only to have someone burst into your room (be it a child needing your attention or another adult).
- Be aware of your environment: think about things such as lighting where the window is, how far away you are from the microphone and camera, is there other things on your device's screen that might distract you, are your messaging apps closed, are all bandwidth sucking apps closed (eg Dropbox, Google Drive etc - or someone in your location streaming video).
Preparations for Couples & Groups.
- Prepare to use one video device per person rather than one device for two or more of you.
- Couples and groups have commented that whilst attending a video counselling session it can feel helpfully "we're not at home" to be physically separated whilst speaking with one's partner(s) via video. This can assist the relationship in discussing matters together that would not normally be discussed "at home".
- In addition to multiple devices, I recommend you being in separate rooms from each other (eg living room / kitchen). Whilst this is not compulsory, if your voice can be picked up by your partner's microphone this will introduce audio echo; you will have to mute your microphone when you're not speaking.
- When calling from the same location it may seem illogical to use two devices. Note the illustration for Couple Counselling: when working face-to-face with couples, both partners are angled away from the counsellor and more towards each other. This promotes the couple focussing upon their relationship (holding conversations, listening to each other etc) and the counsellor is able to observe and intervene. Such positioning also helps promote the concept of the counsellor being a therapeutic consultant rather than someone the couple sit in front of (like a cinema audience might) attending to him delivering a lecture upon the couple's relationship.
- When working with groups of 3 or more if people speak over each other we may talk about how we creatively manage each person having their voice heard (when they want it to be) - such as using a virtual "talking stick".
- Of course, there are always alternative approaches to using one-device-per-person or sitting in separate rooms/locations. We can always set aside some time for this. As long as the main aims are catered for such as (a) the couple or group will be talking with each other during the session, (b) the counsellor is able to see and hear all partners throughout the session, and (c) the counsellor is available for consultation, feedback and intervention (rather than being positioned as the-expert-in-the-session-with-all-the-answers).
- During a counselling session, if one-or-more of you intentionally disconnects the session will be brought to a close depending on who remains. Think of it like this: Relationship Counselling is therapy for a relationship (duh 🤣), and when a partner disconnects we might wonder if the relationship has effectively left the therapy session. Counselling can resume at the next scheduled session should all contracted partners attend.
- If one or more of you unintentionally disconnects during the session, we will try to re-establish the connection as best we can, but we won't continue the session in a partner's absence.
- If one or more of you leaves Relationship Counselling entirely: I will work with the remaining partner(s) for a handful of sessions to bring our contracted work to a close. We won't switch to another contract (individual for couples, or couples/individual for groups). You are welcome to engage with an alternative counsellor for your needs.
- Sessions may be arranged for one partner alone (in the case of couple counselling) or for a subset of the group if we have (a) previously discussed that this meets with everyone's approval and (b) the attending partner(s) and counsellor update the absent partner(s) about what was discussed in their absence. Such situations might be if one or more partner(s) is/are unable to attend the occasional session.
How Sessions Begin
Initially, the couple meet with their counsellor to discuss their problems. Before this begins, though, Dean will firstly ensure that the couple are making an informed decision about counselling (eg taking contact information, a history of the individuals and the relationship, any previous counselling experiences, psychiatric/GP care etc). Not all counsellors do this. After the safeguarding is completed, we move into assisting the couple to begin finding the focus of the counselling. This may be telling the story of the relationship, the current problems, what ever works.
Finding the Focus is an important aspect for couple counselling. A couple may think they know what the problems are from behaviour (or events). But when the counsellor begins to drill down a little more for new information the couple may find that what they think are the problems are actually symptoms of a deeper ailment. This will be helpful – once the focus is identified more clearly, counselling can proceed with a more accurate aim.
The first session (or handful of sessions) also have the agenda of evaluating if the couple and counsellor can work together. We notice if we’re able to work with what’s on offer. The first session(s) may merge into subsequent sessions naturally, rather than to declare “the first session is done, now we move on!”, or we may interrupt our work to discuss possible other approaches (or services) to which the couple may respond better.
Each subsequent session usually begins with the invitation: “What do we think we need to focus upon today?” This puts the couple’s autonomy and inspiration in charge of leading the session.
We may discuss previous week’s homework (see later), any new difficulties that the couple have encountered, or any new learning and new decisions being made since last session.
Counselling for Couples within each session can be about identification:
- identifying the focus,
- identifying relating conflicts / difficulties
- identifying processes that get in the way of resolution (eg defences, historic experiences etc).
And whilst sessions can regularly include some practice (how to transform what we’re identifying) there is also oodles of time for experimentation and transformations outside of the session: we call this homework!
Rather than the counsellor setting the homework each time, the couple will be asked to identify together what themes they noticed emerging during session. These themes can help the couple identify what they might wish to focus upon in their own time. After a while the couple become independently skilled at identifying their own homework.
Subsequent sessions may include discussions about the previous week(s) homework: identifying what worked well, what didn’t go so well, and what could be done differently. A way to feed back into the counselling sessions new information for working upon with the therapist.
How Counselling Ends
If a primary aim for couple counselling is to empower the couple into being able to make their own transforming decisions, then an equal aim will become empowering the couple to make their counsellor redundant.
A couple does not have to be in counselling until every problem is resolved.
No, through employing therapeutic techniques developed in session with Dean Richardson, the couple begin to develop and employ their own bespoke therapeutic approach. Once this begins to become effective, the couple are managing their own difficulties more, the need to attend weekly counselling sessions diminishes.
Most couples leave counselling with their difficulties well on the way to becoming resolved – without the need to have everything fixed. The counsellor becomes redundant.
And, unlike some therapists who seem to suggest future top-up sessions are necessary (as if you’d somehow run out!? 🤔), Dean’s approach to couple counselling requires no expectation upon you returning into counselling. You are both welcome to meet with Dean again if you feel the need, but that would be on your terms – not the counsellor’s insistence nor insinuation.
Gay Marriage Counselling
As you’ve been learning on this page, this service offered by Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg) is an effective therapeutic approach to gay marriage counselling (as some used to call it).
The theoretical frameworks – appropriated by Dean – exclusively for LGBT/QIA+’s unique couple relationships, avoids heteronormative assumptions, prescriptions and formula (aka: “marriage is one man and one woman” … uhuh! 🤣). It’s a professional approach that respects religious views, political views and equality views. In fact, identifying the aspects of your particularly unique relationship is really important in this approach to partnership counselling.
So, this is the counselling approach you’ve been seeking. It specialises in working with issues that gay men, lesbian women, bisexual couples and those in the vast LGBT/QIA+ spectrum of gender identity and sexual diversity experience, whereas those others couples do not.
This is the bespoke counselling intervention that offers those in civil partnerships and marriages a way to work forward and address their conflicts of intimacy and/or sexual engagement.
Bonus: plus, after the couple have left counselling they are able to continue the process. This makes them independent of the feelings of being required to return for further “top up” counselling sessions in the future.
LGBT/QIA+ Counsellor Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg)
You could choose any counsellor.
But… when you consider that this is the most intimate & vulnerable you're going to be with your partner(s), you'd want to choose someone you could trust with your relationship in therapy. Someone who is British (working remotely but on the same soil) and payable in pounds. Maybe even someone who already had 13 years actual experience of working on webcam with Zoom & Skype before the National Lockdown began.
- Someone who was sensitive and effective with you and your partner's sexuality / gender-identity and intimate ways of relating.
- Someone, who'll you discover quickly, is an informed member of your own community.
- Someone who demonstrates adept skills with lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, mixed sexuality and same-or-mixed gender relationships, but who avoids taking the role of an "all-knowing expert" (experts don't learn & respond, they tell!).
- Someone who speaks plain English (and who can swear like a virtuoso, along with you both as much as you might prefer - or not at all), and works cooperatively with the relationship (doesn't sit in unnecessary silence, or just "hmms..." repeatedly).
- Someone who is an accredited member of The National Counselling Society (accreditation originally awarded 12 years ago from another professional body, being a process that validates a counsellor's substantial experience and attention to an ethical practice) and who is a member of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union of Great Britain.
Dean focuses on LGBT/QIA+ relationships as a specialty in therapy. He works with individuals, couples and small groups. Plus, he's qualified to a postgraduate level (Chichester PG Diploma in Psychodynamic/Systemic Couple Counselling, IGA National Foundation in Group Counselling) as a private practice counsellor*.
(*Note: not all counsellors - specifically those trained only in Individual Counselling - have such specific qualifications for working with couples nor groups, nor have experience of working therapeutically with relationships. Such counsellors try - out of perhaps misplaced goodwill - to employ ineffective "individual" techniques simply because your relationship is not part of their primary theoretical framework nor rationale. Remember always to ask a new counsellor: "what qualifies you to work with our relationship" and judge what you hear in response).
- 1 What is LGBT Couple Counselling?
- 1.1 What's it like: Lesbian, Bi, Queer & Gay Couples Counselling?
- 1.2 Therapy Aims
- 1.3 Jigsaw Puzzle Analogy
- 1.4 Therapy done with (not to) you
- 1.5 Two Video Devices
- 1.6 Video Counselling Preparation...
- 1.7 How Sessions Begin
- 1.8 Homework!
- 1.9 How Counselling Ends
- 1.10 Gay Marriage Counselling
- 1.11 LGBT/QIA+ Counsellor Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg)
- 1.12 Got a Question? Don't Hold Back…