Our closest relationships can often be the most challenging because they matter so much, and our expectations are so high. There are many challenges facing the nuclear family of today including a sharp decline of first-time marriages and the rapid rise of divorce. Navigating your way through these challenges can present a whole host of problems.
Whether you are an adoptee, an adoptive family, or the birthparent of a child who was adopted, the emotional impact of the adoption process is likely to be life-long. Though the experience of each individual involved is likely to vary, for many the journey will be a double-edged sword – leading to both a great deal of happiness and an equal number of challenges.
Many children placed for adoption have to spend months, sometimes years, in the care system – which can make for a turbulent start in life. Being transferred back and forth with no real support from a family unit can be traumatic for a child of any age. Behavioural, attachment and development issues can often follow an adoptee into adulthood.
Irrespective of the circumstances of the adoption, the process often triggers a series of responses that can have an impact on how you live your life. If you’ve been affected by adoption, you may be looking for answers to specific questions, or you may feel you require some additional support. Recognising and acknowledging issues that are central to adoption, and learning to understand and cope with them, is something that Approved Adoption Counselling may be able to help you with.
For adoptive and birth parents, the range of emotions may be complex as they adapt to the challenges around the adoption. Again, counselling may be able to make sense of those ambivalent feelings.
Child and Adolescent Counselling
Counselling for children and young people has become a growing trend. More and more young people are facing mental health problems as a result of abuse, bullying, relationship difficulties with their parents, or coping with the impact of parents splitting up. Children can often find it difficult to express themselves – or fear they won’t be believed when they speak up – which means that problems can go undetected and unresolved.
In child and adolescent counselling, developing trust is an important part of the relationship between counsellor and client. Children are allowed to tell their own story, without fear of judgement, in a safe environment. The therapist will use play and creative techniques to make it easier for younger children to express themselves. For adolescents, the therapist will help them develop tools for self-awareness and self-esteem so they feel more able to cope with challenging relationships and peer pressure.
Couples Counselling/Relationship Therapy
Romantic and intimate relationships can be challenging at the best of times, and couples may find themselves struggling with all kinds of emotions. You may be in a new partnership seeking to find the balance between your individual needs and your developing needs as a couple. You may have been with your partner for years, drifting along and getting by, but not really connecting with each other anymore. Life at home can appear to be relatively peaceful, even if you barely have anything in common. Taken to the extreme, you may be in a relationship where you lead a disappointed or angry existence, prioritising your own friends and interests, or in an arrangement you endure for the sake of your children.
The aim of couples counselling and relationship therapy is to gain a better understanding of how problems affect the relationship. If you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship and would like to understand why this has happened, couples therapy offers an opportunity to listen and respond to one another openly and effectively. It allows you to explore the dynamics of your relationship, and how unresolved issues from the past may be influencing the present.
When problems occur in a relationship, communication can shut down and with it, the best hope of finding a solution. With a compassionate, non-judgemental facilitator present, partners are often able to open up and discuss issues or problems that may have previously felt too difficult or unsafe.
When one partner looks outside the relationship to satisfy emotional or physical needs, it’s an indication that something is awry in the couple’s world. The other partner may end the relationship, or forgive and stay in it. Either way, extramarital affairs can have major, negative effects that can rumble on for some time.
The person who had the affair may grapple with guilt and promise not to do it again, or may move on and realise that the affair was a symptom of something deeper that had gone wrong in the relationship.
The person who has been cheated on will suffer a blow to his or her self-esteem. They may think: “Was I not enough?” or “If I hadn’t let myself go, this wouldn’t have happened.” Just as children can blame themselves if their parents split up, many victims of an affair respond to being cheated on by blaming themselves.
The victim of an affair will find it difficult to trust. He or she may begin to doubt their judgement of others. Even if this relationship ends and another begins, the baggage of infidelity can follow. It is important to deal with your trust issues, even if it means getting professional help to do so. You and your future partner will be grateful in the long run that you dealt with the negative consequences of the affair.
Extramarital affairs can cause a ripple effect in your life. You may find yourself looking differently at your job, your friends and your life choices. This can be either positive or negative, but most victims of an affair say that it heralded changes in other areas of their lives. However, it’s important not to make changes to major areas of your life while in the midst of the emotional turmoil that accompanies an affair.
The family is a group of people who care about each other or depend on each other. It may be a nuclear family of parents, step-parents and children, but may also include grandparents, step-children and half-siblings – as well as the challenges that a family of in-laws can bring.
Family life can be a place of refuge and security, but for some it is a source of pain and disappointment. Our families absorb many of the stresses and strains from the outside world – and the pressures can boil over. Sometimes a personal problem, particularly in an adolescent, can overwhelm a family and there seems to be no clear way forward. At other times, changes within the family leave other members confused and angry or hurt. When a crisis or disappointment happens for one member, the family group absorbs the impact – sometimes helping and sometimes hindering. Sometimes the help comes at a high price to one or more family members.
A family is a ‘system’ or an organisation, but the rules and expectations of each one are unique and complex and often seen differently by each member. It is through examining what the explicit and hidden ‘rules’ might be in each family – and how they are seen and interpreted by each member – that the therapeutic work might begin. One of the dilemmas of modern family life is the conflict of being an individual and remaining within the group, too.
For many people family therapy conjures up interventions by government agencies when a family group has become dysfunctional. But increasingly families are seeking help for the extreme behaviour of one member, or to adapt to a shift or change.
Pre-nuptial counselling allows a couple to explore how they might handle a potential crisis in their relationship at some point in the future. It is a way for them to contemplate their ‘contract’ of being together and how they might prepare themselves if the relationship becomes strained – as it inevitably will do. Pre-nuptial counselling can be considered as a ‘negotiating or renegotiating our contract’. It can save a lot of heartache down the line because it helps the couple feel better equipped with the tools and techniques to navigate their way through the trickier moments of their relationship.
The publicity given to pre-nuptial financial packages is making more couples aware of the good sense of considering the emotional and practical aspects of their relationship contract. It also helps them understand that looking at the realities of a shared life does not undermine romance or love.
Separation and Divorce
Realising that you have serious doubts about your relationship can be a stressful and upsetting time, especially if one of you wishes to end the relationship instead of seeking a way forward together. Relationships can often be complex, and there can be a delicate balance between what’s right for the individual and what’s needed for the relationship to flourish.
Sometimes an individual’s development within the relationship leads to personal growth that can change the couple dynamic – and in some cases lead to the relationship breaking down. Sometimes relationships may fizzle out due to couples drifting apart over time, and beginning to take each other for granted. Or sometimes relationships may splinter through violence, addiction or extra-marital affairs. For some, this may mean that one or both agree to separate or divorce.
Divorce can throw family relationships into turmoil and confusion. When children are involved, the adults not only have to negotiate the end of the marriage, but find ways to maintain the parental relationship. This is rarely a pain-free experience. There will be many emotional and practical difficulties to resolve, such as dealing with feelings of loss for the family unit, deciding who lives where, how to tell the children, reorganising relationships, how to share parenting, sorting out financial considerations, and considering the possibility of moving away from family and friends and starting anew.
Divorce can also be accompanied by feelings of failure and worries about what the future may hold. The post-divorce world can be full of ‘what-ifs’. Seeing a therapist can help you come to terms with what’s happened, help you find a stronger sense of who you are as an individual (not just one half of a couple), and define a future that’s meaningful and fulfilled.