Confidante and Co - Episode 1: How A Relationship Counsellor Can Help With Relationship Issues And Separating Amicably
Confidante and Co - How To Tailor Your Separation/Divorce To Make It A More Positive Experience
Monday, 20 September 2021 - 26 minutes
In episode 1, Carly James talks to Pippa Wood (pictured), a relationship counsellor from Relate Jersey. They discuss how counselling can help couples navigate relationship issues and those who have decided that the relationship is at an end and wish to separate amicably. Pippa explains the process and describes how counselling can be used to overcome common issues during or at the end of a marriage.
People often have preconceived ideas about relationship counselling and Pippa helps to debunk some of those myths; hopefully leaving listeners feeling a little more optimistic and open minded about giving counselling a go!
This is Confidante and Co with Carly James - new perspectives on family law.
Carly James: Welcome to the first episode in a four-part podcast series called Confidante and Co.
I'm Carly James, family lawyer and founder of Confidante - a law firm specialising in family law issues such as separation, divorce, and children disputes.
When clients come to me facing a relationship breakdown, I always advise them about the other services and resources available to them.
But clients sometimes feel reluctant to engage another service or process alongside the legal process. And this is sometimes due to a fear of the unknown or a misconception they have. And that force inspires me to create a series which showcases to those experiencing relationship breakdown some of the services and resources available to them during this difficult time, which can be used to complement the legal process.
Engaging other processes can have a myriad of potential benefits, it can support a quicker, more efficient, and cost-effective legal process. It can promote better relationships with former partners or spouses and possibly even the children and it can help to reduce what is usually a very stressful journey. So without further ado, I would like to introduce my first handpicked guest, a relationship counsellor from Relate, Pippa Wood
Welcome, Pippa. And thank you for joining me on the series.
Pippa Wood: Thanks for having me. It's great to be on your podcast to give people an insight into relationship counselling and how it may help them.
Carly James: The theme of this series is aimed predominantly at helping people who've decided that their relationship is at an end.
And what some people may not know is that relationship counsellors can also help couples separate amicably. So, I'd like to focus on both aspects of your work Pippa today. And before we delve into the specifics of counselling, I'd love to know a little bit more about you relate and counselling post COVID. So, Pippa Why did you decide to specialise in relationship counselling as opposed to general counselling?
Pippa Wood: Well, I've always had an interest in relationships, I think they're so important in life. And that's not just the intimate relationships, but relationships with parents and friends and work colleagues. I really enjoy the general counselling. But the relationship counselling I find fascinating. It's challenging, I would say it's one of the most challenging forms of therapy, but just having the dynamics of two people in the room with their personal histories and looking under the surface of what's really happening in their relationship is interesting. And I feel very privileged to do what I do for a job.
Carly James: And you're right, relationships are integral to every aspect of our life. And we particularly know that when relationships start to break down because they can have far reaching consequences that can affect our work and it can affect other relationships that can affect our health and well-being to the really is an important aspect of our general lives. Definitely. Yeah, so PIP awards, would you say the differences are between a relate qualified counsellor and a general relationship counsellor,
Pippa Wood: Sometimes you do get general counsellors seeing couples, but my view is that it really is a speciality and relate is the biggest company in the UK that specialises in relationship therapy, and it's been going for 80 years. So, there's a lot of experience and they use different modalities. And the training is quite specialised. So, I think relationship counselling is very different to regular counselling. And I think related, they're an excellent company to go to for relationship therapy.
Carly James: But in your opinion, how has COVID impacted or changed relationship counselling?
Pippa Wood: Well, it has polarised the world generally. But in relationships, it seems to have had this impact where it's gone from either people splitting up and getting divorced or people kind of getting married and having babies - it's kind of accelerated it either way, obviously, you've got the risk of domestic abuse getting worse when people are in close proximity to each other for a long period of time.
And that can be the downside to COVID. But there's also an upside to it. I've seen people really kind of working on their relationships, spending time with their family reconnecting. I think that's one of the best things that's come out of COVID.
Carly James: And it's interesting to hear your perception of people's relationships and that there have been some positive impacts - because I think we've become so used to hearing bad press around divorce rates increasing and domestic violence - so it’s great that you have some couples improving issues in their relationships.
Pippa Wood: Definitely, it's given them the time to really focus on their relationships. I think there's been some benefits to this time together and with the family as well.
This is Confidante and Co with Carly James
Carly James: To help as many people as we can, I thought we could do a quickfire round of common questions people considering relationship counselling may have.
In your experience, what are the most common reasons for relationship breakdown?
Pippa Wood: The most common reason would be poor communication. Communication is key to a successful relationship. But people can also have behaviours and interactions with each other. These can be being defensive with each other stonewalling criticism and contempt. So those are the four kind of main reasons that a relationship really breaks down
Carly James: Affairs are a common reason for relationship breakdown, and they are inevitably incredibly painful and difficult to overcome. And I think our general perception of an affair is that if it isn't dealt with properly within the relationship, and genuinely forgiven, it can fester and cause even bigger problems. So I suppose there are two parts to this question Pippa: the first is - do you agree with that perception? And secondly, do you think it's possible for a couple to deal with the affair privately between themselves? Or do you think it's important for couples to get relationship counselling at that point?
Pippa Wood: Infidelity is very common amongst relationships, and it's important to kind of ‘work through’ the affair.
People often try and deal with it themselves or they talk to their friends, but they won't necessarily get the right advice.
And you know, nowadays, the shame is to stay with the person, whereas in the past, it was to leave. People are more reluctant to talk about the affair for a start, and really process it. So, then it can sit there as resentment, which can come up in arguments later on. It's much more important to really deal with it and process it. And the best way to do it is through therapy.
Relationship counselling can really help support the couple this difficult time. And it is like a grieving process that they must go through. You know, it's difficult for both parties, because one is grieving, and the other is feeling difficult emotions like guilt and shame. So, working through that together is tough. But once they've worked through it, it can make the relationship much stronger and more resilient.
Carly James: And another common issue in relationships is the introduction of children into people's lives, which can unexpectedly upset the equilibrium of a relationship. And it's not uncommon that different parenting styles can cause a lot of conflict or internal frustration, which can act as a catalyst for the breakdown of a relationship. Do you see many parents struggling in this way? And if so, how can you help parents who are probably feeling desperate?
Pippa Wood: This is a very common time to come to therapy because it's a challenging time for couples. It changes the dynamic, having a baby, because it's no longer just a couple. And it happens before the baby arrives, you know that the pregnancy can be difficult, and, there can be trauma in the birth.
So, it's a challenging time for a couple. Not only that, but you also have other external factors. Usually around that time, work can be stressful, and finances can be challenging.
And it is a difficult time. I think therapy is good because talking through with a therapist can normalise those feelings. It is a time that is difficult for couples, but also for the couple to hear each other's experience of what they're going through and really listening to each other. When we're tired and stressed we can be quite defensive with each other. So just having that safe space to talk about how they're feeling to the other person to really listen can be beneficial for the couple
Carly James: I think communication is so key. Even if the parties have decided that their relationship is at an end. Inevitably they have things that they need. to sort out afterwards, it might be the finances or co-parenting or both. Getting better at communicating with one another is essential, I think, to managing their relationship going forward.
New perspectives on family law, this is Confidante and Co, the podcast series from Confidante Law
Carly James: When would you say is the best time to get relationship counselling? I think this is a this is an issue for lots of people because I think that sometimes people worry that the issues in their relationship aren't bad enough to get counselling. Or to the contrary, people think that the relationship has broken down so far that they can't recover. And relationship counselling isn't going to be beneficial for them. So, when would you say is the optimum time to get relationship counselling?
Pippa Wood: I would say any time, but the earlier you do it, and the younger you do it, the better. Because the more knowledge you have of yourself and your partner, the more likely the relationship will be successful, I think at the start of the relationship really.
Carly James: And that's quite an interesting concept. Because I suppose people don't even consider relationship counselling at the start of their relationship when things are possibly going well. And they're not thinking about a time when their relationship may be put under pressure, because challenges happen in all our lives. And that can have an impact on the relationship. So, I suppose being proactive and having those tools in place to deal with difficult times. And the relationship puts people in a much better position to overcome those problems. And I suppose if people have engaged relationship counselling at a positive stage in their relationship, they're more likely to go back to relationship counselling to get that support when things start to break down.
Pippa Wood: Definitely. And I think it's a difficult one, because quite often they come to relate when things are crisis stage where things have really kind of broken down, and it's a last resort. So, you’re kind of working in that mode. Whereas I think if people come in when they're good and study, then you can do some good work as well. If you can get prepared and really get to know each other well through therapy, then you're going to reduce the risk of falling into some of these negative patterns.
Carly James: And if parties come to see you, and they're dealing with an issue, what would you say the three main ingredients required to support a successful outcome,
Pippa Wood: I would say, empathic witnessing, so really listening to the partner, and understanding them. Understanding is one and getting knowledge on how they are, why they are the way they are having that understanding, and then really change, you know, making that making changes, I'd say they're the three most important.
Carly James: What if one person wants to attend relationship counselling, but they can't persuade their partner to come along with their partners refusing? Is it possible to move forward with relationship counselling? In that instance?
Pippa Wood: Yeah, that happens. Sometimes we'll just see one partner, we can see them for a couple of sessions, we can then see them together as a couple, but any more than that, then it becomes bias. And we do let them know, if you want to continue with the individual therapy, then you can't have the couples therapy with the same therapist. But it can really help just one-party attending therapy can really help with a couple.
Carly James: And what relationship counselling be suitable if there has been domestic abuse in the relationship or is ongoing domestic abuse in the relationship?
Pippa Wood: No, that's not something that we work with – in fact, working on the relationship if there is domestic abuse can be more harmful than good. So, we support them, but we can't do the relationship therapy.
Carly James: What is the average number of counselling sessions?
Pippa Wood: I would say the average is between 12 and 18. We normally say come in, we'll do six sessions, and then we'll re-evaluate on the sixth session. But really, it takes four sessions to build up a therapeutic relationship and trust. So, I'd say around 12, I'd say around session eight, the work really begins.
Carly James: And would clients come weekly or fortnightly? So how long if they were looking at sort of having 12 to 18 sessions? How long would that take?
Pippa Wood: Ideally, they'd come weekly, usually at the same time, although then some couples can't do that. So, it might be every two weeks, but we'd like to try and keep it every week if we can. And then sometimes towards the end, they're reluctant to finish the therapy. We can also do a review after a month and see how they're getting on. And obviously the door's always open, should they want to return
Carly James: And do you give couples homework to work on in the intervening periods?
Pippa Wood: Yes, we do. We've got tools that they can take home - communication tools, and I quite often send podcasts And I will recommend books. Some couples love tools, other couples aren't so keen and don't really want to. So, it really depends on the couple and the way that they would like to work.
Carly James: I suppose the parties are more likely to be successful if they implement some of that homework, though, because it's all well and good hearing the advice, but actually implementing it that's likely to make changes going forward.
Pippa Wood: I think it's always good if couples kind of continue the good work out of the room, but a lot of the work is done in the room as well. So the homework is an extra and it helps to support them. But yeah, the work is done in the room. And it's really looking at what's going on underneath the surface.
Carly James: What percentage of couples managed to work through their difficulties during couples counselling?
Pippa Wood: I would say most I would say 80 or 90% kind of work through their issues. Some couples stay together, some don't. But our aim is for them to leave feeling happier and more secure. That's our priority really.
Carly James: And what's the cost of relationship counselling?
Pippa Wood: For Relate, it’s £60 pounds for an hour. And then it's £70 for PST and psychosexual, but we also have charities that support the therapy as well. So you can look online under the National contracts on the charity Relate website for information you need on funding,
Carly James: That’s great for people who may be struggling financially now. And they may be put off by the cost of relate to know that there's potentially some support out there or that relate could reduce their fee that's enormously helpful for people I'm sure,
You're listening to Confidante and Co with Carly James
Carly James: There are lots of myths and misconceptions around relationship counselling, people seem to have an image of the types of people who engage in relationship counselling, an image of counsellors, the counselling room, and the format, I suspect that the reality is quite different. I thought it might be quite useful to tackle some of those myths with a view to debunking as many of them as we can.
Myth number one: counsellors just sit there, nod and stay silent, what would you say about that Pippa?
Pippa Wood: That's definitely not the case, there's a lot of work that goes into the therapy, the relationship counsellor is really there to kind of support but really, you're looking at the personal history of the clients and helping them to understand themselves and support them. And you're looking at the negative cycles that they may be in, there's tools that you use in the room, there's a lot of work that goes into the therapy, if you were just to sit there in relationship therapy, the couple could just argue, and that could be more harmful than good.
Carly James: And it's interesting to hear that you deal with the history and to deal with attachment. Because I'm sure for some people, it's helpful, even if they don't resolve their issues for them that relationship to acknowledge and to recognise maybe some traits that they bring forward that that will help them to have healthier relationships in the future if they can acknowledge their role in in a relationship breakdown. Yeah, definitely.
Myth number two: going to couples’ therapy means ‘I am weak, and I have failed in my relationship.’
Pippa Wood: Yeah, this is such a shame that people feel this way. Because really, it's a strength, it's the opposite to weakness. It's strong to be able to go and speak to somebody that you don't know about your feelings and your emotions and be vulnerable. And I think, you know, it should be seen as a good thing. And something that should be respected.
Carly James: Myth number three: everyone will know I'm seeing a counsellor. And I guess that fear is amplified in Jersey because we're a smaller community. And there's a sense that no one has any secrets in Jersey counselling is obviously confidential, isn't it?
Pippa Wood: Counselling at related in Jersey is completely confidential. So, nobody will know that you're having therapy, the entrance to the office is very discreet, we space the clients out, so it's very unlikely for anybody to bump into each other. And, we do a lot of therapy online as well. So, people can do it from the comfort of their own home.
Carly James: And online counselling is a new thing for Relate. And that has been offered post-COVID. So that's another real positive to come out of COVID. And I think that it's a valuable service to offer parties, not just because of COVID. But just going forward generally, I think that there is a reluctance for people to go along to a relationship counsellor’s office and it feels easier to do it in the comfort of your own home.
Pippa Wood: Yeah, definitely. I think it's so amazing that people can access therapy can so easily, like you say not have to go out and have that anxiety of going somewhere that they don't know and be in the comfort of their own home. It's great.
Carly James: Myth number four: couples counselling always makes one person the villain. Is that true Pippa?
Pippa Wood: I think people are afraid that that could be the case. And it's not the case. Therapists aren't there to judge. They're there to facilitate and support the couple. And quite often, if there is a client that is particularly challenging, we really look beneath the surface, because quite often, there can be pain and sadness. So yeah, we would never make one person the villain.
Carly James: And in contrast to the myth that counsellors just sit there and nod, some people may have a misconception that the therapist might tell a couple to break up?
Pippa Wood: The therapist wouldn't tell a couple to break up, the therapist is there to support them through their journey. And at the end, they may separate, or they may work through their issues and stay together. But it really isn't the counsellors to tell the client what to do.
Carly James: So, or those who'd written off counselling, hopefully some of those answers provided by Pippa will give a more accurate and optimistic view of counselling. But for those who are unquestionably at the end of their relationship, the next section of this podcast is aimed at helping them to understand what the process might look like if they wanted to engage counselling to separate amicably. Pippa - for those who have decided that the relationship is at an end, how can you help them?
Pippa Wood: If the relationship is at an end, then you can still do the work to understand why the relationship broke down so that the relationship is healthy can have going forward? Having a better understanding, having that empathic witnessing of each other. And if there's children involved, then I think it's beneficial that that relationship continues on kind of a healthy journey.
Carly James: And what are the most common fears people have who are facing a relationship breakdown? And how can counselling allay some of those fears?
Pippa Wood: I think the biggest fear is that there's going to be conflict, especially if there's children involved. And I think just having that that person there that they can talk about their emotions, and how they're feeling is important.
Carly James: What would you say is the difference between counselling when parties have decided that their relationship is at an end and mediation, because I think sometimes people can be confused about the two and whether both can go in tandem?
Pippa Wood: I think the relationship counselling is more looking at the emotional experiences and the feelings and supporting them in that respect. I think mediation is kind of more for the looking at the finances and making decisions on the housing assets. So, I think they go very well together, I recommend mediation a lot. And I think, you know, ideally, you'd have the relationship therapy, mediation, and then the legal side. So, the client has the support all the way through.
Carly James: And I think that's the benefit of this podcast series- it's highlighting to people that there are several services available. And people can pretty much bespoke their journey. So there is maybe a particular aspect or aspects that they can draw from all of the services and pull all of those benefits together to enhance their journey and experience and deal with their relationship breakdown to get them to a point where they can move forward with their lives. So having couples’ counselling, to deal with the communication side, to have mediation to help them with negotiations, and to have that legal advice as well to know that the outcome they are reaching is reasonable. Can people engage relate just for post separation counselling? Or do you only offer that service for clients who've been to see for couples counselling?
Pippa Wood: No, they can come at any stage. They don't have to have been for therapy, and it's better late than never.
Carly James: And is there anything else you think we should know about relationship counselling that we've not covered?
Pippa Wood: I would say: try therapy to anybody that hasn't had counselling, because I think the more you can learn about yourself, and the more you can learn about your partner, the better the richer your life will be. And yeah, and I feel very fortunate to be doing the job that I do. And it's incredibly interesting.
Carly James: Pippa. Thank you so much for coming on the series. It's been incredibly informative, and I'm sure our listeners will benefit from the content you've shared today.
Pippa Wood: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
To listen to more from the Confidante and Co series of podcasts visit confidante.law