I received a fantastic question from Utah therapist Janell Jones, AMHC.

Janell says her biggest frustration is, “Knowing what to address first when they come in. Sometimes, there are many issues to address and knowing where to start is hard.”

I think we all find ourselves in Janell’s shoes from time to time.

As someone who has run a couples’ therapy training program for over ten years, I’ve heard this question come up a lot.

If you don’t know where to start with a new couple, here are my top suggestions.
1. Conduct a formal assessment with your couple. The process of filling out a paper-and-pencil assessment — even something as simple as a Locke-Wallace or Weiss-Ceretto — is very containing for couples. You are probably the first person to stop and genuinely listen to their pain. Asking sincere questions helps them to feel like they’re being heard.
2. Meet with each partner individually. Research shows people are more honest on paper than they are verbally, but you also want to give them space to tell you how they view the situation. You’ll need to safeguard any confidential information in accordance with your state’s regulations — contact your state board if you need to. Individual meetings help you build rapport with each partner and establish an effective starting point.
3. Provide a treatment plan. It can be detailed or high-level. Don’t overthink it, but manage their expectations for how the sessions will work and how long the treatment may take. Ask the couple if they’d like to make any changes. By doing this, you invite the couple to actively participate in their treatment. This is a vital step towards transparency and can make the prospect of the work ahead exciting for the couple.
Janell had a great question. I hope these steps help you refine the way you practice.

Let me know what you think by commenting below.

To your success,
– Sam G.

PS: If you would like more help to build your clinical skill and your six-figure therapy practice by being seen as an expert in your community, fill out this application form to add your name to the Priority Notification List for the next opening in my Advanced Gottman Mastermind group.