Going to therapy can be a difficult decision. But signing up for therapy in a group setting, alongside your spouse, family, or friends, is even more challenging. Not only must you discuss difficult emotions with a therapist; you’ll also be doing so in the presence of people with whom you find yourself in conflict.
Do Counsellors Take Sides in Family, Group, and Couples Therapy?
Many people entering couples or family counselling fear that their counsellor will take sides. It’s natural to fear judgement, especially if you already feel judged by the people with whom you attend therapy. But a counsellor’s role is not to take sides; indeed, the most effective counsellors adopt specific strategies to avoid even the appearance of taking sides. You should feel safe sharing even the most intimate details of your life in counselling.
The Role of Unconditional Positive Regard
Counsellors are trained to practice an approach known as unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard is the practice of treating you as a good and decent person, even when the therapist disagrees with something you say or do. Thus a good therapist never takes sides, never shames you or tells you it’s all your fault, but may make suggestions about how you could have a happier life.
The Importance of Talking About Problem Behaviours
You’re in therapy for a reason. If you can’t talk about that reason, then therapy is virtually useless. Counsellors understand this. They know that talking about painful issues in your marriage or family, such as infidelity, pornography addiction, or child abuse, is never easy. For this reason, a good counsellor will help you feel safe to talk about even the most embarrassing problems you face. Your counsellor might not endorse your behaviour, but he or she should never judge you or make you feel like it’s all your fault.
What if I Feel Bullied?
So what happens if you feel bullied in therapy? After all, a good therapist should not judge you, right? In some cases, people feel bullied because they’ve never been held accountable for their behaviour. In others, the problem really is the therapist. Ask yourself this: is the therapist criticising you, or your behaviour? Does your therapist comment on the behaviour of the other people with whom you attend therapy, or only on your behaviour? Do the comments your therapist make point you toward more helpful solutions? Are you and your loved ones making progress in therapy?
Contemplating these issues can help you break through your initial defensiveness to better understand whether or not your therapist is a problem.
Why Therapists Should Not Take Sides
Many people attend family or couples counselling specifically because they hope the therapist will take their side and tell their partner they’re wrong about everything. This is little more than wishful thinking. It takes at least two people to create a relationship problem; both will have to change to fix it.
In cases where there is abuse or violence, one party really is to blame. If you have acted violently, be prepared to accept full responsibility for it. Otherwise, prepare for a therapy session in which both you and the other people in therapy will have to look long and hard at your behaviour.