Volume 91, Issue 91

Friday, March 20, 1998

Lynn and Tonic


Focus on counselling: London and campus are filled with counsellors who are there to help

Graphic by Janice Olynich

By Brad Lister
Gazette Staff

When your relationship is in trouble where do you turn? You might seek the advice of parents, a priest or some friends. All good options, but perhaps the situation is bad enough that it could use a counsellor.

A quick flip through the phone book in the yellow pages, under the section 'Marriage, Family and Individual Counsellors' will provide a large list of counsellors to handle the problems of couples.

Lisa Lyons, a counsellor with her own private practice, says most often she deals with problems in communication, intimacy issues and persistent power and conflict difficulties. "Of course," she continues, "couples can come to counselling with any other number of issues including those that the individual brings into the relationship that are impacting negatively on the couple."

Dianne Prato, another private counsellor, explains that relationship problems aren't confined to just one sexual orientation. Her clientele includes both heterosexual and homosexual couples. "I don't see vast differences between them," she says.

Lyons adds, "I wouldn't say that the problems gay and lesbian couples face are different than those that heterosexual couples encounter, but there may be additional ones."

For Lyons, these are the issues surrounding homophobia and 'coming out,' along with the differences in support networks which can add to the difficulties in gay and lesbian relationships. Prato adds for cases of same-sex relationships there isn't the societal pressure exerted on the couple to stay together. The legal code currently doesn't have any protections for gay couples so therefore it's much easier for a couple to try counselling and then say it doesn't work, says Prato.

"In straight relationships, however, they are expected to stay together with pressures coming from family and friends," she says.

Gays and lesbians also face the added pressure of societal and familial responses to non-heterosexual relationships. Often gay and lesbian relationships may not receive the validation given to heterosexual relationships. This can leave gays and lesbians feeling isolated without the support that heterosexuals take for granted, Lyons notes.

When the couple does come in for counselling, explains Prato, they are often at different stages. Typically, she says, in the straight relationships it is the woman who sees the problem and wants to work it out. On the other hand, in gay relationships, problems seem to occur because the one partner can not perceive why the other partner does not understand them.

"Because they are the same sex they assume that they see things the same way as they do," continues Prato. Thus, the notion doesn't hold true in straight relationships because one partner will dismiss the other with the thought that the way they think is due to being the opposite sex.

Dick Henderson, a private marriage and family therapist, says communication complaints are common. "Their problem is not a lack of communication, they know exactly what each other is going to say, they just don't want to hear it."

For counselling to work, though, both partners have to be committed to the process. "If one member of a relationships heart isn't in it, there isn't much point," says Prato. She adds, "it may be that they don't see much hope."

Henderson does, however, tell the tale of a couple he counselled who were told in their first session that they didn't have a problem. "They were enjoying themselves," he says. They may have been arguing constantly, but it was good, healthy passionate arguments that didn't fit into what society called normal and they thought they had some kind of problem, he says.

The best advice Henderson can offer couples is: "Don't leave emotionally, stay in contact with one another." He says couples need to think they are in this together.

Lyons sums up, "if a couple does not love one another, therapy can not replace that. However, it can open up the experience of love for the couple."

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998