April 30, 2024

Episode 62:

Couples Counselling 101: How to Work with Couples in Your Private Practice with Aditi Jasra

In this episode, Aditi shares helpful tips and strategies for working with couples in therapy inside of your private practice.

Episode 62: Couples Counselling 101: How to Work with Couples in Your Private Practice with Aditi Jasra

Show Notes

Kayla: Welcome back to the Designer Practice Podcast and I’m your host Kayla Das.

In today’s episode, Aditi Jasra, psychotherapist and author of The Relationship Upgrade, is with us on the show to share some helpful tips and strategies for working with couples in private practice.

Hi, Aditi. Welcome to the show. I’m so glad to have you here today.

Aditi: Thank you so much, Kayla, for inviting me. I’m so excited to be here. I love working with couples and I’m excited to dive in and have a conversation around that.

Kayla: This is an amazing topic, and it’s actually not a topic we’ve had on the podcast before, so I’m super excited.


But before we dive in, please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and tell us a little bit about your own practice journey.

Aditi: Mm hmm. Yes, so I’m a person of color. I’m a registered clinical counselor here in British Columbia, Canada, and I’m also a Canadian Certified Counselor, so CCC, which allows me to work with unregulated provinces across Canada. And when I started my journey, I got busy fairly quickly being a multilingual practitioner and bringing in my life experiences. I was working as a somatic practitioner for a decade. And private practice can be a lonely journey. So, I wanted to create a team. So now we have a group practice, have been running it for three years. And it’s exciting. It’s exciting to have conversations with the colleagues and the work that we do and knowing that we are not alone in our work, that support is there. Help is there. Our peers, our colleagues are there. So, yes, that’s how I got to where I am. My practice is called Wellness North Counselling, here in Port Coquitlam. That’s where our head office is. And then we have a satellite office in Surrey, B. C. as well. And it’s an all-female team, which I’m very proud of. We are predominantly women of color. Yes, anti-oppressive lens and very inclusive practice.

Kayla: That’s amazing. And I’m so excited to have you here today. One, to talk about, obviously, working with couples. But the other piece is to also incorporate the BIPOC lens to this as well. And I know that that is something you’re very passionate about. And I’m super excited.

Aditi: I was going to just add in that if you look at our South Asian community, there’s no mental health issues. We just talk amongst each other. Even as I look at my parents when I was doing my emotion focused therapy training and I’m looking at all this information that we were receiving and I’m like, I wish my parents knew about this. I wish my uncles and aunts or people in the community knew about this because there is still so much stigma around mental health and you only go to a therapist when something is terribly, terribly wrong, right? Like it’s not normalized. Your feelings are not validated, at least in my experience or what I saw growing up. So, I am very happy that we are having this conversation and there is a little bit more awareness and when people can see that, “Okay, it’s okay if we are having some struggles, some challenges, it’s okay to talk to a professional about this, someone who belongs to the culture or someone who has been through this all, can really understand our lens,” like even as an immigrant and as a newcomer.

Like I moved here in 2005. It was a struggle. It was challenging. It was different, right? Like no matter how educated you are, it’s a new country. So all those experiences and all those challenges then shape who we are as people, and then we bring that authenticity into our practice.

How Experience Influenced Aditi’s Practice

Kayla: I’m curious on how those experiences have influenced or even encouraged some of your practices and the clients that you work with today.

Aditi: Yeah, you know, I saw my own therapist. I have two children. One of my child is [inaudible] so I took him to the therapist and I realized very quickly that therapists can only do so much. A lot of it is like, as a family system that work that we have to do as parents. I have to co-regulate myself in order to give my child those tools to self-regulate and we co-regulate. There are mirror neurons. All those things influence how we interact with others, how we interact with ourselves, and then who we become as people.

Common Presenting Problems for Couples Counselling

Kayla: Thank you for sharing your experiences. So, when you’re working with couples, what are some of the most common presenting problems or issues that you see arise that lead to clients to ultimately seek couples counseling?

Aditi: Yes, there is some stats and some research around this that a lot of times couples will either dismiss their issues and it takes them at least six years before they’ll go out and seek support and help. So, when I’m working with couples, I want to, you know, from a therapist lens, I want to see what’s the attachment patterns, like who are these people beyond the issues that they are bringing up. So, there is always that assessment piece. What is the goal? I want to see who is pursuing? Who is withdrawing? Are both people in that fight mode? Are they sympathetic mode all the time? Are they busy professional? Are they young adults? And how were they raised? And how did those influences how they were raised is now coming up in their present relationships.

So, you asked me, what are some of the common things? What I’m noticing is that a lot of people are in that fog. They are in that dorsal vagal state. They are not engaging with each other. And this is what I talk about in my book too, that we’ve become very influenced by the digital world, right? Like we talk to our partners only through text when they’re around, we are like busy on our phones, you go to a restaurant and you see that. Five people sitting on a table, everyone is on their phone, right? So that’s what I’m noticing that there’s that miscommunication, there’s no communication, or we are so stuck in everyday struggles, just getting by, not really turning towards each other, not looking at each other’s eyes and saying, “Hey, let’s talk. What is happening for you? How are you feeling?” You know, we say, how are you? Or how was your day? But like, what are you feeling? That feeling piece, that emotional bond is what I want to work on as a couple’s therapist. And, we talk amongst ourselves as well, like even as a team the challenges we see is that there’s always a blame and defense cycle. One person is blaming, the other person is defending. Or both people are withdrawing from each other because they are shut down. Or one person’s needs are not being met. There are lots of unmet attachment needs. And the other person is like, you’re too needy. So there is that dismissal happening. Or I’m anxious and I’m trying to call my partner. My partner is not responding. They’re busy all the time. They have no time for me. So we get stuck in all these complaints. We don’t really connect with them on that emotional level. And that’s what the journey of a couple’s therapist is that recognize what your people are feeling that you’re working with. Where are they in their emotional state? Are they in that ventral vagal? Are they open? Are they engaging? Or are they both withdrawing and are numb and are tired, exhausted, running around with their children, taking them to all these activities. So, you know, looking at the big picture.

Kayla: I think you had a really great point there and it made me reflect and always asking the question of how are you today? Or how are you doing instead of the deeper connection of how are you feeling, right?

Aditi: Yes. And if I talk about my own children and my relationship with them, I ask them, how are you feeling? And they are like, “Mom, stop being a therapist with us.” So, it’s like, you really have to pick on those emotions that, “Oh, my child looks sad today,” or “my partner looks really, really stressed. I can see it in their face. I can see it in their body language.” So, sometimes we use that language. Sometimes it’s like the energy they’re bringing with them.

And typically, what happens in a therapy session is that one person is escalated. They are dysregulated and that energy is so high that the therapist themselves– as a new therapist, I would be like, “Oh my God, what is happening?” But to the trainings, workshops, learning, my own supervision, I realized that therapists has to be very present, right? Like they have to really tune into the emotions of the people they are working with and then can they bring their couples to that place where both partners can tune into each other? Beyond the words, can we see, “Okay, what is my person feeling? I am perceiving that he is angry. But do I know that he’s dysregulated because he’s overworked. If he hungry, he comes home and the house is a mess. What is happening?” We get caught up in the behaviors. We get caught up in that anger or that sadness. But what is happening deep down? There is that sense of loneliness. There is lack of engagement.

You know what Sue Johnson, the one practitioner that I’m heavily influenced– my work is heavily influenced by, she always says that the person is asking, “Are you there for me?” And that our piece, Kayla, is about accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. Can you access your partner? Is he or she available? Is there responsiveness or are they busy on their phone? And are we really engaging with them? So, when I ask people, “Okay, what do you do for fun?” They would say something like, “Oh, we watch this show together.” But they’re not engaging with each other. Their engagement is with that TV. Their engagement is with that phone. They’re sharing a funny video with each other. But they’re not engaging with each other. They’re engaging with the phone. They’re engaging with that video. That’s where their attention is. Can we attend to each other? That’s the key. Like, can we bring our attention, our focus on each other? Can we look beyond the behaviors? Can we dive into those unmet attachment needs? Can we bring that attachment lens? And that’s what going beyond the behaviors and getting into those feelings is all about. Can we sense other person’s feelings?

Kayla: I love that. I think everything that you said is very valuable. And I think working with couples or whether you are a couple, this is something that’s really important to understand.

Therapeutic Modalities and Techniques for Couples Counselling

So now as a therapist, when you’re working with couples, which approaches, techniques, or modalities do you use to help them move past or overcome some of these presenting problems or issues that show up for them?

Aditi: Great question, Kayla. If we look at the research, there are two or three models that have been well researched. There is Gottman. A lot of people have Gottman trainings. Then there is this EFT model, which is all about emotion focused therapy. That’s what I’m trained in. And then there is this developmental model.

I personally really love emotion focused therapy. And the reason I say that is that when we are escalated, our executive functioning is down, right? So, we know not to yell at our partner, but we are escalated and we end up yelling, right? So, with EFT model, we are going into the experience. And therapist is actually a process consultant. And when people are talking to me, I tell them, don’t talk to me, talk to your partner. Think of me as, I’m observing this and I will interject and I take a little bit of a forward approach as opposed to person-centered, but I’m sitting back letting the process unfold here. I’m guiding them. I want that process to unfold and I want them to engage with each other in the session so that they can take that outside the session and can recognize what cycles they get caught up in. Blame and defense or we both withdraw or we both are escalated.

So basically, there are three stages of EFT. We are working with stage one, which is like assessment and de-escalation of the cycles that they get caught up in. In the stage one, I want to recognize their goals. Why are they here? What are they wanting? I also want to get to know them a little bit more, like their history, their past relationships. Have they felt that their partner was there for them in the past? What brought them together? Then in stage two is where our main work happens, like changing the interactions that are maladaptive. Typically, what I notice is that the male partner will withdraw when female partner is pursuing. Or occasionally male partner is pursuing, female partner is withdrawing. Or if male partner withdraws, he shuts down, the female partner feels shut out. And are they able to recognize this? So what patterns are they caught up in? And can we create those new bonds? Can I create this experience where they can look into each other’s eyes and tell each other that, “Okay, I’m feeling lonely. I feel I’m alone in this. There was this time I wish you were there and you were not.” And are they able to take some accountability and are they able to reassure each other? “Hey, I recognize this was my mistake and this is how we are going to fix it.”

And that’s where stage three consolidation and integration happens, where we are working on new communication styles. And I don’t want to talk about it. I want them to feel it. I want to take them into that experience where we are recognizing the negative cycle, or we are recognizing the unmet attachment needs, and we are able to communicate about these needs with our partner in a way that it lands on them. In order for it to land on them, they have to be in their softer emotions. They have to be in that regulated state. So that’s the journey. That’s how I will work with the couples. That’s how I tell my supervisees, you need to work with couples. And we talk amongst our team. And this is the baseline. This is the model that we often use.

We definitely talk about some of the common concepts like co-regulation, self-regulation, dysregulation, accessibility, softer emotions, attachment styles, attachment needs. Some people are very aware. They’ll come; they’ll tell me I’m avoidant. She’s anxious. Or they both are like, we are very secure. There were no issues in the past, but we are still disengaging, not connecting. And then that is typically the stress of the life they are living. Even though they are securely attached people, they are not engaging with each other because they are in that rat race. So, it’s like just recognizing those attachment patterns where they are in that life, where they are struggling, miscommunication, sometimes it is betrayal, trauma, sometimes lack of intimacy. Or we are not paying attention to each other. My partner is always busy, he’s always on the phone. He’s always playing video games. So those kind of things happen. So ultimately, I want to restructure their interactions with each other.

Considerations When Counselling Couples

Kayla: That’s fabulous. And you talked a little bit about cycles as well. So, are there any quote unquote red flags, cycles, or considerations that listeners who work with couples should watch out for when supporting couples? And if so, how can they navigate these, say, early on?

Aditi: Hmm. Yeah, I typically want to know whose idea was it for going to couples therapy? I want buy in from both teams. Sometimes one person will say, I told him, “Come to therapy or we are done.” That tells me that, okay, maybe the woman is the pursuer, he is withdrawing. So, in terms of red flags, if people are working with each other, of course, I tell even the individual clients I work with that you want to connect with someone who’s securely attached or if they are insecure, like, can we get them to a place where they can be securely attached to you? And that’s why we want to look at those early attachments, right? Like, how do they describe their parents or what was growing up like for them? What did they see in their environment? How were their parents interacting? And their interaction with their parents. How did they see themselves as a child in their parents’ eyes? So that gives us a good lens to work from.

And sometimes if people are anxious or avoidant, our work becomes a little bit more hands on, a little bit more active. If they’re coming from secure attachment, it could be that we are just caught up in the, in our own worlds and not tuning into the other partners. So, it’s not like what my partner did do. It’s what he didn’t do. So, it’s like, I didn’t get that love and attention. So, there’s no abuse. Everything is fine. We have secure jobs, but it’s like, you know, I’m not getting that attention, right? So, are we attending to each other? I’m looking at the red flags is like, where are they spending their time? Are they doing activities together? Are they going for hikes? What are the dates looking like? What’s their everyday looking like? And if I work with individuals and they’re like, “Okay, I’m looking for a partner. What should I look for?” I always say that you want secure attachment, right? Like you want to connect with someone who has that strong sense of worth internally. They’ve done their work, right? Like internally they’ve processed some of their baggage or some of their demons. So, a lot of different things that we can look at in terms of what makes relationships thrive. And then when we get stuck, what will help us move forward.

And that’s what I talk about even in my book, Kayla. A lot of times my folks would ask me, “Hey, do you have a resource, something that’s simple in layman language?” So, I wrote this book, Relationship Upgrade, simple language, we bring in the attachment lens, but we also talk about how to engage with each other. How do we set boundaries? What are my non negotiables? How to keep relationship exciting and how to maintain that intimacy? How to not let external influence what’s going on between us. So again, that us language more than I, so when you’re admitting to your mistake, use that I language. I did this versus you never take the garbage out. So don’t use that you, I feel lonely that I’m doing everything is not a proper division of labor. So, use that I language, talk about your unmet attachment needs, and then let’s create those patterns where we are tuning into each other. We are expressing what we need in a very clear way because male brain is slightly different than a female brain for sure. But ultimately, we all have that need, that desire to belong, desire to have someone who’s in our corner, desire to have someone I can depend on. And then I want to connect with someone I have desire to be intimate with so that is needed as well. And the way the state of affairs is, yes, there is safety. Yes, I can depend on this person. But we are losing that spark. So, bringing that spark back, right? Bringing that masculine and feminine energy. I do work with same sex couples as well. So, what brought us together? How do we overcome those roadblocks, those challenges? That’s important as well.

Kayla: Yeah, and I think as humans, we all just want to belong, right? And having that person in our corner, like you mentioned, that’s important for us. Even putting personalities aside, sometimes people are more introverted, and some people are more extroverted, but as humans, that belonging is important.

How to Navigate Attachment Styles

And something you touched on that I was thinking about is you mentioned that for someone to have a secure attachment or at least to have a secure attachment with their partner. So how might you navigate when someone may not necessarily have a secure attachment? How do you navigate that in sessions?

Aditi: Yes. So first is that awareness piece and then validating whatever their experiences might have been. And then can their partner be there for them? Can that partner create that secure bond? Can they create that safety? Can they be reliable? So, it’s about them, right? So, they have that safe attachment with me, I’m coming from that nonjudgmental, validating their experiences, understanding them. But ultimately, if you’re doing couples work, it’s about their partner understanding, right? Is partner aware of their triggers? And then sometimes we do that role playing, right? Like avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings. Talk about your own feelings. Let’s talk about the triggers. Let’s talk about your subjective reality, right? What happens for you. And can they summarize and validate their partner’s reality. So as much as I can validate, can they validate their partner’s emotion? But before they can validate, they have to recognize that emotion. And then what are the triggers for my partner and that awareness piece. And then we need that consistency. Continuously getting out of these cycles that we get caught up in. And then next step, sometimes after we know the triggers, can we take that responsibility? Can we take the accountability? And then can we show up for our partner in the ways that they require us?

And many times, it’s sad that we don’t have buy in from both parties. One partner is there. I’ve had instances where They make the appointment, one partner shows up, the other partner does not, they don’t believe in therapy, and that’s okay too. We roll, we go with whatever they’re bringing up. And then ultimately that’s step three where we want to create a positive interaction, strengthening that emotional bond. Even going back in their relationship, has there been past experiences where they did feel that their partner was there for them? And moving forward, when they do get angry or when they do shut down, what is the plan? Are they able to communicate that need, that, listen, you say this, I shut down, I will need some time to process it on my own. But are they aware that my partner is feeling shut out and can I let her know or let them know that? Listen, I’m triggered right now. Give me some space. Give me an hour. Let me go play hockey. I’ll come back and we can talk about this. So, finding that right time rather than brushing things under the carpet. Actually, talking about important things, the feelings.

How to Navigate and Validate Differing Points of View

Kayla: Those are really great points. So how do you navigate providing a supportive and open place for both clients, while also validating one or both clients’ experiences? Because I can imagine that that is challenging. I’ve only ever worked with one person at one time, and I can’t imagine trying to navigate and validating two very different points of views.

Aditi: Yeah, that’s really good. Sometimes I see that they are getting escalated and I let them know. So, I see this is what happens when I’m not there are when you get caught up in emotion. So, you are a little loud or your partner feels like she’s shaking or she’s crying. And she’s crying, what’s happening for you? I want to really know that of course they don’t want their partner to feel that way, but they also don’t do anything to reassure her. So sometimes one partner just putting their hand on their partner’s knee. And we as human beings, our survival depends on touch. So, when she’s angry or upset, do I reach for her? Do I need to stay back? Those are the things they have to talk with each other. She might say that. “Yes, I’m angry. Don’t touch me right now, but don’t leave me. Stay in the room.” Or she might say that “Right now. I’m so upset. I don’t even want to see you. Yes, step out, but then come back, right? Like, give me five minutes.” Or depending on the context. Because people are complex what they bring into the therapy is complex. But they know each other, they chose each other, they are there with each other, right? So, what is it that drew them together? And then are they able to understand what my partner needs? Can they give it to them? Can they give them space or can they reach for that hug? If they reach for the hug, they are taking a risk. Is their partner willing to allow them to take that risk or is partner going to shut them. And if partner rejects them, are they going to take that risk again? Or are they going to say, “No, that’s it. I’m done. I’m not going to reach out. I’m going to let her figure this out with her sister, with her mother, with her friends.” They don’t need those friends. They need each other.

But I also tell my folks that you can’t depend on one person for meeting your every need. Yes, your partner is there when you actually really, really need them. But when we say, are you there for me? That are you there for me cannot be for every single thing. It’s for that important stuff. Have other friends, have other people who are meeting your other attachment needs, fulfilling careers or things that you love to do on your own. So have that “me” time and then come together for “we” time.

Additional Insights

Kayla: Amazing. So, for any listener who might be starting out providing couples counseling or might be considering it, do you have any advice, insights, tips to help them successfully navigate the therapeutic relationship with both clients?

Aditi: Absolutely. I think anyone who is interested in working with couples should know who they are as a person, what’s their own attachment style, go get your own therapy. Really evaluate your own relationships, get trained, whether it’s EFT, whether it’s Gottman, get trained. I have this book, Relationship Upgrade, very simple language, talking about some of these concepts. You can absolutely buy that book. It’s available on Amazon. It’s available through Friesen Press. Create a community. Talk to your colleagues who work with couples.

And you can take that approach. You have to be very present. Because your couples are giving you this valuable data that you can see right in front of your eyes, take that information, work with that information. Record yourself doing couples therapy, and then review those materials and notice where your flaws are, where your strengths are. Continuous supervision, continuous connection with colleagues. All those things are really helpful in becoming a good couple therapist.

Aditi’s Book

Kayla: So, let’s talk a little bit about your book. So how can your book help both listeners and their clients? I know you’ve touched a little bit on this, but yeah.

Aditi: Yeah, it’s very accessible. A lot of materials out there can be very confusing for someone who’s not a therapist, right? Like, as therapists, I think our drawback is that we talk in that therapeutic language. We are not talking in that everyday person’s language, someone who’s not belonging to psychotherapy world. So, the book uses a simple, simple language. Even my editor, he was like, Grab these words. I don’t know what you mean by neuroception. If I don’t know, how is your reader going to know? So simple language. That’s what the book is all about. It’s an easy read. A hundred pages, but it touches on important concepts. It talks about human connection, human bond. How can we strengthen our interactions? How do we understand who we are as people? How to not get influenced by the technology and digitization. How to actually turn towards each other and form that strong bond? So, the book is available, e-book right away on Amazon, or it can be ordered some of the chapters, get it FriesenPress. Our publisher has made that book available too. I can share the links with you, Kayla. You can share with the audience. It’s a good resource for the therapist as well as for their clients. If they want that simple language. You can talk about the experience. You can create that good experience in the session, but when they are out of the session. Give them additional support. Like, sometimes people ask, how do I take accountability? Right? Giving them that language is all right there in the book.

So, yeah, I’m very proud of the work I’ve done and it started as a resource for the folks. I would be typing my sessions and the session notes, what we’ve talked about. I would be sending it to them and I compiled everything. I’m like, okay, I’m going to create this book and have this as a resource for folks.

Kayla: It’s like a relationship roadmap.

Aditi: Absolutely. Yeah. Where we are in relationships, we have some skills, but then where do we get caught up? How do we set those boundaries? How do we have those common goals? How we talk about our values? How do we look from the screen and look towards our partner. How do we keep the romance alive? How do we not let it sizzle down? So talking about all those things. Talking about attachment. Talking about successful relationships people that I personally look up to or the role models that we see in the society and yeah. Touching on all those important concepts.

Kayla: I love it. So, if you’re interested in purchasing Aditi’s book, The Relationship Upgrade: Proven Strategies for a Healthy, Happier, and Stronger Partnership in the Modern Digital World, check out kayladas.com/relationshipupgradebook,

Or you can simply scroll down to the show notes and click on the link.


Aditi, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and providing some great insights on how to navigate the therapeutic relationship when providing couples counseling.

Aditi: Thank you so much for inviting me, Kayla. And I wanted to say that you do incredible work. I love your podcast. Anyone who’s listening, who hasn’t heard other episodes, go and listen to everything Kayla is fantastic. And thank you for creating this space for us as practitioners to share what we love with the broader community.

Kayla: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that feedback.

And thank you everyone for tuning in to today’s episode. And I hope you join me again soon on the Designer Practice Podcast.

Until next time. Bye for now.

Podcast Links

Aditi’s book, The Relationship Upgrade: Proven Strategies for a Healthy, Happier, and Stronger Partnership in the Modern Digital World: kayladas.com/relationshipupgradebook

Free Boosting Business Community: facebook.com/groups/exclusiveprivatepracticecommunity

Free Passive Income Personality Quiz: kayladas.com/passive-income-quiz

Online Legal Essentials Legal Templates: kayladas.com/onlinelegalessentials

Use coupon code EVASPARE10 to receive 10% off any legal template pack

PESI Trainings: kayladas.com/pesi


Credits & Disclaimers

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