Archive of ‘Counseling’ category

When Is It Time To Get a Divorce?

As a couples therapist, I see couples who are struggling to re-invigorate their sex life, they are struggling with finances, they have trouble raising their children, etc. Having these reasons in mind as to why many of my couples come in on the brink of divorce, researcher Dr. John Gottman says that the main reasons why couples divorce is due to sex, finances, and raising children. I must say that though Dr. Gottman has a point, I disagree—couples divorce due to lack of emotional connection. 

If you are not emotionally connected and engaged in your marriage, you will not be able to manage a sex life together, manage money together, or create a safe parenting space together. Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of the dynamic Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy, says that the erosion of an emotional bond between two partners is the beginning of the end to their relationship. As humans, we are wired to connect in a safe and emotionally healthy way. If we do not have this in a marriage, we will slowly disconnect and eventually divorce if no action for couples therapy is taken. 

Disconnection can look like many different things. Maybe you and your spouse keep arguing about household chores or who will walk the dog next. Perhaps a spouse can feel unsupported in their idea to switch careers. Maybe there is just an overall feeling of loneliness on both parts in the marriage. The main point to understand on a general disconnect in the marriage is that it can be understood and helped. Much of what we do in couples therapy at Austin Family Counseling is strengthen the emotional bond between partners as well as create a safe space for re-engagement and for couples to work on issues that have been reasons for feelings of disconnection in their marriage. Basically, a general feeling of disconnection is not a valid reason to divorce when there are many resources and tools to help build and strengthen your marriage. Rarely do couples come to me with the presenting problem of lack of engagement and leave the therapeutic process unhealed, reassured, and optimistic about their exciting new opportunities to re-spark their romantic life. 

Extreme cases, however, can absolutely be reasons to separate. In my years of practice, I have seen such reasons for a therapist to recommend separation as physical abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, and active addiction.

Physical Abuse

This is perhaps the main reason that couples should divorce. Physical abuse of any kind is not acceptable in a marriage or any other kind of relationship. Physical abuse is seen in marriages where one partner has significant anger issues and has not managed their emotion to the point of it being unsafe to be close and vulnerable to this person. Women who stay married to physically aggressive men are very likely to have come from abusive households where they see abuse as a “natural” thing. 

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, since the stay-at-home order has been put into effect in 2020, an alarming increase of domestic violence cases has occurred in the US. More partners are shut into their homes with their spouse, putting them more at risk of physical danger when the aggressive partner becomes triggered. Other effects that are brought on by the stay-at-home order are alcohol abuse, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, all VERY easy triggers of physical abuse. 

If you are involved in a physically abusive marriage, I urge you to reach out for help and escape from a dangerous situation as soon as possible within your boundaries of safety. If you are in Austin, the Salvation Army’s Austin Shelter for Women and Children, the SAFE Children’s Center, and Casa Marianella are all places where women and families can go for refuge from a physically abuse situation. As a couples therapist who becomes aware of physical abuse, I am ethically bound to stop couples therapy immediately and let the abusive partner know they need to do their own counseling and anger management if couples therapy ever resumes. 

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

Aside from physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse is another form of abuse that is sadly much harder to spot. Physical wounds leave visible marks, but emotional wounds can go unseen for sometimes decades. Emotional abuse is defined as any form of emotionally manipulative behavior perpetrated by one person to another that can cause PTSD, stress, or anxiety. Some forms of it are below:

  • Gaslighting: making the partner being gaslit think something is different than they actually experienced it.
    Example: “Something must be wrong with your memory because I never said that!”
  • Minimizing: making someone feel inadequate or unworthy based merely on how they are feeling
    Example: “I don’t know why you’re feeling that way, you didn’t have it that bad!”
  • Intimidation: using threatening language to reinforce a sense of control by the partner through invoking fear.
    Example: “I will hit you if you say that to me one more time!”

Though no form of abuse is ever acceptable, there tends to be more hope for emotional abuse than physical abuse in the couples I see. Sometimes, separation is key for partners where verbal abuse is going on before they are able to come back together and make the decision to either stay together or divorce. However, in my sessions with couples, a hard boundary I hold is to have no gaslighting, minimizing, intimidation, or name-calling in session. If you believe your partner has narcissistic qualities in them, definitely seek help for mental health as these can have longlasting negative effects on someone’s sense of self.

Active Addiction

Though many treatment modalities indicate couples can survive an active or recovering addiction, in extreme cases a marriage cannot always survive. If a partner is currently abusing alcohol and becomes physically or emotionally abusive, it is in the other partner’s best interest to leave when the marriage becomes an unsafe place. Unless the addicted partner commits to going to AA or therapy to work on their addiction, the marriage will become an unsafe place for both people, triggering an abusive cycle that both partners will be feeding into. 

When a partner is addicted to an illegal substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, etc.), the marriage is further complicated due to the unlawful possession of illegal substances in a household. Not only is the marriage riddled with addiction and addictive patterns, but this presents the marriage with far more dangers and reasons to divorce. Though only one partner is using, both spouses when living together are subject to legal ramifications that puts the non-addicted partner in a very precarious position. 

When couples come to me with an addiction present, I hold a firm boundary that the person who is addicted seek help through groups (i.e. AA, NA, SLAA, etc.), separate individual counseling, or in further cases checking into a detox and addictions treatment center for couples therapy to continue. It is unethical to do couples counseling while a noticeable addiction is going on due to the fact that the vulnerability needed in couples therapy can at times exacerbate the addicted spouse’s addiction. 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT


Tips from a Therapist: Ways to Adjust to Life in Quarantine

Quarantine Zoom Call

“We’re all just making this up as we go along”, a very dear friend told me recently regarding the quarantine. These resounding words have stuck with me not only in my personal life, but my professional life as well. All of my clients, regardless of their circumstances, are making this up as they go along. All of us collectively are leaning into a huge amount of vulnerability, not knowing what the rest of the year will look like.

In lieu of social distancing and the extension of the quarantine, staying at home way more than leaving has become a new norm. We have become accustomed to isolating ourselves with our living partners. We have also been deprived of the external stimulation we were experiencing the first two months of 2020 (especially in Austin where there is external stimulation galore!!).

Through months of hard experience as well as the beautiful stories of hope my clients give me, I have made a list of tips for us to do in order to better cope with the harsh reality of quarantine. As a society, we are perhaps more in need of healthy connections, self-reflection, and coping strategies now more than we ever have been. Below are five helpful ways to adapt to social distancing so that we are alone but not lonely. 

Take Time for Ourselves (TV, gaming, “you” time)

What does this look like for you? Taking time for myself means watching my favorite movie or bingeing a favorite TV show. My partner is a huge gamer and self-care for him looks like playing his favorite game. The point is to DISCONNECT. Disconnect from work emails, news sources, endless desk time that our bodies were not made for. Disconnecting from the “outside world” gives your mind and body a much-needed pause and recharge. 

Zoom or FaceTime a Friend or Family Member

What does your social support look like in these strange times? We have all become so isolated with social distance. But the thing to remember with social distancing is: Just because we are social distancing does not mean we should emotionally distance. Check on a friend you have not talked to in a while. Call a family member you are rekindling a relationship with. Facetime a former coworker you had a great relationship with! Our friends and family need to be checked in on just as much as we do.

Re-Evaluate Your Mental Health

Realistically, most of us have been struggling long before the pandemic. Whether it has been anxiety, depression, relationship issues, bipolar, ADHD, any kind of mental struggle has undoubtedly been exacerbated by staying quarantined. Being deprived of the things that have brought us joy our whole lives will bring some kind of sadness, grief, or anxiety. Our mental health matters more so now than it ever has. If you need a therapist, by all means reach out to Austin Family Counseling! We have virtual counseling to ensure the safety of all of our clients.

Re-Evaluation of Self-Care

What does self-care look like for you in quarantine? We have been forced to change our methods of taking care of ourselves. Things like going to the gym, going to concerts, going to your favorite museum (some self-care methods I used to engage in prior to the pandemic), are now changed, and we are having to be very creative. Things like going for a run, discovering new bands, and watching live concerts online all have become my new norm as they are the safest and most socially distant alternatives to my former ways of self-care.

Adopt an Animal

Studies show that having an animal improves our overall happiness and quality of life. In times like these, life quality improvement is an absolute must! There are so many animals in Austin that need homes. And if we are stuck at home most of the time, why not have a furry human to keep us company?! Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive!, and Austin Humane Society are all places that are open during pandemic and are actively allowing pet parents to adopt and foster pets!

By: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

What Does Therapy Look Like From the Client’s Perspective?

Therapy can often feel like a very mystical and unknown affair. Many of us know about therapy or know someone who has gone to therapy, but unless we have experienced therapy for ourselves, it can be hard to know what actually goes on during a therapy session or what starting therapy looks like. This can sometimes hinder us from going to therapy ourselves as it can feel very overwhelming. 

Where to Start…

The first step in going to therapy, which is deciding whether or not you feel that you are ready for it, is usually the biggest step. This can take a very small amount of time for some, or a much longer time for others. This journey is completely yours, so it can be good to check in with yourself about whether or not you feel ready to start your therapeutic journey. 

Okay…now what?

After that the next step in starting therapy is usually finding a therapist. There can be a lot of things to take into consideration when finding a therapist that might be a good fit for you. Things like whether or not they take insurance, their location, availability, or speciality are all good things to think about. You might also find comfort in reading a little about the different therapists you are considering. Most therapists have introductions about themselves on the internet so you can get a better understanding of what they are like. This can make a huge difference in your connection and relationship with your therapist. 

After you find a therapist that is a good fit for you, the next step is scheduling your first appointment! This is such an exciting, but also scary thing! It takes so much courage to start something new, especially something as vulnerable as therapy. In this time it can be helpful to take time to appreciate the steps you are taking to invest in the quality of your life.

What Will the First Appointment Look Like?

Once you have made your first appointment you will usually sign a variety of forms just like you would for a doctor’s appointment! The therapist will also let you know where their office is located, or in the current state of the world, what video streaming service they will be calling you from and you will be set to go. 

Each therapist has their own individual approach to counseling so no two sessions will be exactly alike. However, usually the first session is similar to a get to know you event. There is a lot of time spent on getting comfortable with each other and sharing basic information about yourself. There might be some talk about what you hope to achieve in counseling so that you have an idea of what counseling may look like. 

Something to Keep in Mind

From this point, everyone’s counseling journey is so diverse and beautiful! You will develop a place in counseling where you feel safe to be authentically yourself. Some sessions might include a lot of emotions and healing, others might be a time to decompress and process what is going on in your life right now. Therapy is a journey and it looks different for everyone, but through this journey you may feel more like yourself than you ever have before.

**note: the words “therapy” & “counseling” can be used interchangeably (and are done so above).

Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.

Fred Rogers

Curious about what this experience is like as a therapist? Check out this blog here!

Written by: Danielle Peartree, Office Manager Extraordinaire


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