This is a post that we’ve wanted to do for so long. We’ve never had couples therapy but we’ve always been intrigued by it and how it can transform and strengthen relationships. In this post we reached out to marriage and family therapist Hatty and asked her a number of questions around couples therapy. Check out our questions (in bold) and her answers below.
Let’s Get Into It
Hey Hatty, thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with us. First up, let’s talk about you. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what made you interested in becoming a therapist?
Sure. Well, I am a marriage and family therapist based in the city of Los Angeles, California. I have a private practice called Oak and Stone Therapy, where I see mostly adults between the ages of 20-45 working through family of origin issues, identity issues and navigating career/life decisions, various forms of trauma, and postpartum depression/anxiety and issues that arise in motherhood. Many of my clients are creatives, entrepreneurs, people of color, mothers, helpers/healers, couples in various stages of their relationships, and groups of mothers and women.
I consider my own work in my healing journey being very informative to why I decided to become a therapist. I know how healing it can be to have someone sit with our pain, to experience compassion, to understand why we do what we do (even if we don’t want to), and to encounter the hope of learning new ways of experiencing and engaging ourselves, the most important people in our lives, and the world. I also witnessed many loved ones around me suffer from mental health issues and not get the kind of support they needed especially because there were not many culturally competent therapists at the time. In a sense, I wanted to become a resource for people of color navigating therapy as well.
I absolutely love being a therapist and consider it a privilege to journey alongside those who entrust me with their story.
Now digging right into things! What would you define as a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships aren’t perfect. I think they are marked by a balance of giving and taking between two individuals, mutual trustworthiness via communication and action, a reliable sense of connection and engagement (especially when there is conflict), and individuals taking responsibility for themselves by being engaged in their own individual healing journeys while also nurturing the “us” entity in the relationship as well.
What are the most common relationship problems that you come across?
On the surface level, I think we might call it “communication problems”. But if I were take it a bit deeper, I might say one of the biggest problems I see in relationships is when individuals are unaware of their own stories and how their story impacts their experience of the relationships emotionally and behaviorally. This may show up on the form of “misunderstandings”, “misinterpretations”, and unhealthy expectations within the relationship.
Do you find that the most common problems faced varies between genders?
I think we live in a very gendered society, so it is common to see particular problems more common in men and women. However, I think all problems do not discriminate againist genders — it can happen to anyone. I think.
Do people usually only come to you when they have issues or do happy couples come to you to maintain the strength of their relationship?
I think many couples tend to come into therapy when they are experiencing crisis or when they have tried “everything” and nothing has worked. It’s not the ideal situation to attempt to resolve relationship issues when in crisis. It often takes a bit of work to address the crisis depending on how long the problems in the relationship has persisted. And then, addressing the underlying problems within the relationship is another set of work as well.
I am happy to report that over the years, I have had more happy couples coming into therapy to deepen their connection with one another and to be proactive about addressing concerns before they reach a crisis. It is actually a great way to strengthen and deepen connection in the relationship, and learn more about one another in constructive ways.
And would you recommend that happy couples see a therapist to help maintain the strength of their relationship? If so, how often would you recommend a couple sees a therapist?
Absolutely. I generally recommend couples see me weekly ideally for at least 3-6 months. I find that the consistency in meeting for therapy sessions help to really understand the dynamics happening in the relationship. Going every other week can slow the process down because the average person can barely remember what happened that week. Of course, every couples’s needs are different so it is best to consult with the therapist to determine a course of treatment.
What would a typical session with you look like?
I check in with my clients about what they would like to talk about for our session. We review what we talked about during the last session – usually related to a pattern of emotional experiences and behaviors. We often make connections to what is happening for the client and their pattern of relating with others given the client’s story. We often feel as though we experience a lot of different relationship experiences with different people. However, if we were to examine the underlying dynamics we engage with different people, we can often discover that there is a predictable pattern of experiences we have. As a family systems therapist, I am interested in supporting my clients to uncover these underlying patterns and discovering new ways to engage their relationships differently.
Do you assign homework for couples?
I do assign homework sometimes. Therapy typically only happens once a week on average — which can range from 50 minute sessions to 75 minute sessions (I do longer sessions with my couples). That’s not a lot of time given the number of hours there are during the week. If couples want to experience change in their relationship, they have to “do the work” outside of the therapy sessions. I will often encourage my couples to either pay attention to something we talked about during the session, such as noticing how each individual experiences a hard situation emotionally and behaviorally. I might also encourage them to practice a skill that we learned during the session, such as communication skills, mindfulness techniques, relaxation, and self-regulation skills. Homework might sometimes look like scheduling a date once a week — many couples who are in conflict have often neglected “dating” each other and find themselves feeling disconnected from one another.
Do you think couples therapy works for everyone?
It doesn’t work for everyone, especially when both people in the relationship are not fully invested in making the relationship work again. I often find that some couples come into therapy during crisis or after the damage in the relationship have settled for so long — it would be a long term investment to heal and restore again. Not every couple is willing to invest in the long haul. Individual traumas and stories also complicate the couple therapy experience, so there are a lot of layers to the therapy work. I think it’s important that people come into couples therapy earlier on in their conflict rather than later to increase the prognosis of treatment.
Do you have any special success stories to share? Of a couple who have transformed their relationship with therapy?
Well, I can’t go into any particular detail to protect their privacy. But, I have had couples who were so disconnected from one another for many years after marriage, kids, career changes, and traumatic experiences in life. Their old and painful narratives were dominating their relationship, but through therapy they were able to engage in new ways of relating with one another. They found themselves having to relearn how to “date” each other again and learning ways to communicate in ways that honored the self and their partner to deepen connection.
Is your job stressful? We can imagine it would be unbelievably stressful.
It can be stressful at times to sit with the pain of others… especially when both people are desperately wanting to connect with one another but finding it challenging to work through their pain within the relationship. But it is such rewarding work that makes the stress worthwhile. It is truly an honor and privilege to see others on their healing journey.
And to finish, what is the number one tip that you can give to couples?
Gosh, this is a hard question. I would probably say that the best way you can nurture your relationship is to nurture yourself. Do your own personal work of healing. Own your contribution to the problems. Know your own story of where you’ve been and experiences, and how that story impacts who you are today and how you show up in your relationship. Stay connected. Ask for help. Be explicit in your communication. Have compassion on yourself and the person you are in relationship with. Sorry, I just gave you like 20 tips 🤣.
And that’s it. Hopefully you guys enjoyed our post and had some takeaways for your own relationship (I know we did!). Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below and let us know if you have any questions that you’d have liked us to ask Hatty (perhaps, if you guys are keen and Hatty is willing, we can do a part two).
We want to give a huge thank you to Hatty for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you would like to reach out to Hatty or the team at Oak and Stone Therapy we’ve attached their website URL and social media handles below:
Hatty’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hattyjlee
Oak and Stone Therapy’s Website: https://www.oakandstonetherapy.com/
Oak and Stone Therapy’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/oakandstonetherapy/
Oak and Stone Therapy’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oakandstonetherapy/