Navigating Personal Relationships in Close Quarters with DJ Watson
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Season 3: MENTAL HEALTH
Episode 2: Navigating Personal Relationships in Close Quarters
Studio ATAO’s Community Skillshare is a virtual learning series that tackles specific, actionable and pertinent topics with subject matter experts. Each season (1-4 episodes) is centered on one main topic and is paired with a thorough resources document (such as this one) with additional information and relevant links. Community Skillshares take place on Studio ATAO’s IG Live and we will announce upcoming episodes via our Instagram.
This particular resources document was compiled by Studio ATAO’s core team for our Skillshare with Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) DJ Watson. DJ is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose clinical interests include couples/family conflict, social and cultural stressors, anxiety, depression, trauma and meaning making. We hope DJ’s Skillshare Session and this resource document can provide gentle tips and guidelines for you during this tough time. Please feel free to share this resource widely with anyone who you think may need it.
This is a living, evolving document and is not exhaustive of all resources. If you have suggestions on how we can better improve this document, we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are enjoying the series and want to help support our team at Studio ATAO, you can become a monthly patron of ours at Patreon or send us a one-time gift via GiveLively. We sincerely thank you for your generosity and support.
Table of Contents
Video of Community Skillshare Episode 2
Important Considerations for Relationships in Close Quarters
Adjusting to Relationships with Children
Recognizing & Addressing Abusive Relationships
How to Get Started Getting Help FAQ (Pt. 2, for Partners and Families)
Additional Mental Health Resources
Important Considerations for Relationships in Close Quarters
Whether it’s with roommates, partners, or family members, our relationships have been put to the test under COVID-19. With shelter-in-place mandates starting to see extensions in June, ensuring our relationships in close quarters are healthy and nurturing - or at least neutral - instead of detracting or negative is extremely important. In this section, we’ll be addressing some ways to improve communication within your household (and minimize miscommunication), setting proper boundaries and having productive conversations when dealing with disagreements or conflicts.
Improving Open Communication
Open and honest communication is the key to all good relationships. During this trying time, improving ways for all members of the household to communicate their feelings and thoughts candidly is paramount to surfacing any potential issues before they turn into full-blown conflict. This is not something that’s solved by simply talking more -- instead, it’s important for everyone to learn how to communicate better because every person has different communication styles and intent behind communicating.
One useful model to begin identifying and understanding how each person communicates is the Four-Sides model of communication by Friedemann Schulz von Thun, where he explains how each message is given through four “beaks”:
Matter layer: Data, observations, statements that I (sender) am informing you (receiver)
Self-revealing: Implicit messages that I (sender) am revealing about myself, purposefully or not
Relationship: Information about the relationship between I (sender) and you (receiver)
Appeal: What I (sender) would like this message to suggest you (receiver) do
The person receiving this message also has 4 “ears”:
Factual ear: Data, observations, statements I (receiver) am understanding from you (sender)
Self-revelation ear: Implicit messages I (receiver) am learning from you (sender), purposefully or not
Relationship ear: Information about the relationship between me (receiver) and you (sender)
Appeal ear: What (you) sender seem to want me (receiver) to do in reaction to this message
Miscommunication and misunderstandings often happen when there is a mismatch of what the sender meant versus what the receiver heard. This is because every person expresses themselves through different “beaks” while also having “ears” of varying sensitivity. For example, this popular Wikipedia example shows how miscommunication may arise in the home:
Scene: Two people are eating a home-cooked meal together.
Sender, the one who didn't cook, says: "There is something green in the soup."
Matter layer: There is something green in the soup.
Self-revealing layer: I don’t know what it is.
Relationship layer: You should know what it is.
Appeal layer: Tell me what this is.
Receiver, the one who did cook, responds: “If you don’t like the taste, you can cook it yourself.”
Matter layer: There is something green.
Self-revealing layer: You don’t know what it is, and that makes you uncomfortable.
Relationship layer: You think my cooking is questionable.
Appeal: I should only cook things you know in the future.
Another example from this video:
Sender: “The window is open.”
Matter layer: The window is open.
Self-revealing layer: I’m tired, and I don’t want to close it.
Relationship layer: My girlfriend (receiver) wants to help me, because she knows I am stressed.
Appeal layer: You (receiver) should close the window.
Receiver: “I’m not your servant.”
Matter layer: The window is open.
Self-revealing layer: I (sender) is lazy.
Relationship layer: I (sender) see you (receiver) as my servant.
Appeal: You (receiver) should close the window.
Untangling these sorts of miscommunications are tricky, because it is often unclear to both parties what has transpired as they are each focusing on different layers of the communication and/or misinterpreting the intent of one or more layers. It’s important to note that things like tone of voice and body language also play into how we signal which aspect of these four “beaks” we’re trying to convey or which “ear” we receive the message on.
Learning better communication also requires honesty with ourselves to probe deeper into how and why we react (e.g. what is my best developed “ear”?) and taking the time to think about each of the four facets before we respond. For the sender, it is pertinent to think through your intent of the message. What is the most important part of your message, and how can you convey that? For the receiver, it is useful to ask clarifying questions to ensure you are understanding what the sender intends, and which layer the sender is emphasizing.
Some other helpful actions include:
Regularly ask how others in your household are feeling, and actively listen to their responses. Allow them to share with you their worries, fears, rambling thoughts, etc. and slowly establish a relationship of closeness by following up with additional questions, not statements, as they continue to talk.
Give your full attention when someone is speaking to you, or be clear that you are unable to at the moment. Active listening means you are completely focusing on the person speaking while also giving verbal (e.g. responding with thoughtful questions) and non-verbal (e.g. nodding) cues of attention.
Schedule some “group time” and use it to practice active listening. From Positive Psychology, you can exercise your active listening mode by setting specific times (e.g. Fridays a 7pm) where each person has a set amount of time to speak, and everyone else listens without interruption.
Learn the nonverbal cues of others. Humans communicate through far more than our words, including facial expressions, body movement, gestures, eye contact, touch, space, and voice. Learning what different nonverbal cues indicate about the person can help you better understand what they are trying to say to you.
Setting and Maintaining Clear Boundaries
In a time where we are less able to physically distance ourselves from each other and are spending more and more time together, setting and maintaining clear personal boundaries offers us important feelings of agency over our own lives that ultimately tie into our self-esteem.
Healthy boundaries are those that “serve to establish one’s identity. Specifically, healthy boundaries can help people define their individuality and can help people indicate what they will and will not hold themselves responsible for.” Link.
In order to vocalize our boundaries, we must first understand them ourselves. It is helpful to construct these boundaries based on our basic rights. From Healthline:
I have a right to say no without feeling guilty.
I have a right to be treated with respect.
I have a right to make my needs as important as others.
I have a right to be accepting of my mistakes and failures.
I have a right not to meet others’ unreasonable expectations of me.
Boundaries are there to protect us -- especially our time, emotions, energy and personal values. For a more detailed breakdown of different aspects of boundaries click here.
From there, you can better explain what your boundaries are, and why they are important to you. Boundaries can be verbal (e.g. I will not continue a discussion if screaming occurs), physical (e.g. I want my room to be my private space, no matter if the door is open or closed), and psychological/emotional (e.g. I refuse to engage if you use certain topics to manipulate or guilt me). Note: during this time of blurred work and home life, it is also important to set boundaries with work (e.g. “I only work from this time to this time.” or “I leave behind my work once I leave this space.” You can also use cues such as “Do Not Disturb” statuses or automatic “out of office” emails triggered during certain times.)
Construct your boundaries with other people using “I” statements. For example: “I want some time to myself after work because I need some space to decompress and relax before we interact.” or “I would like some unscheduled time during our weekends because I want more flexibility on what I’m doing.” These statements, which are still clear, direct requests, are usually more effective than demands such as “Stop bothering me when I come home.” or “Stop planning so much stuff on the weekends.” You can also signal to other people your boundaries with additional followup cues, for example blocking off time on your schedule for self-care or putting a password on your technological devices.
Staying “no” is another important of finding your boundaries and setting new ones. You cannot anticipate boundaries for every situation that may arise in the future, so saying “no” are instances you can build on to determine what this new boundary is and why it matters. Realize that “no” is a complete sentence and does not require additional followup or explanation if you do not want to give it. You may need to be assertive in doing so, which may feel uncomfortable at first -- but with all things, with more practice, saying “no” will come more naturally.
If you feel you cannot set healthy boundaries with person(s) in your households, it is a good idea to ask for assistance or support. This can be professional (e.g. a mental health specialist) or through other people. If the person(s) you want to set boundaries with will not allow you to do so, this may also be a sign of abuse (see more in the Recognizing & Addressing Abusive Relationships section).
For a healthy relationship to function, you also need to take responsibility to respect others’ boundaries, just as you want them to respect yours. In order to do so, you can observe their physical and social cues (e.g. tense body language if you step into an area they want private) and ask directly to better understand their boundaries. Remember, while it is helpful to have boundaries stated in “I” statements, if this is not the format you receive another person’s boundaries in, you still need to respect it. If you are unclear what the boundary is, instead of moving forward and potentially disrespecting it in the future, ask clarifying questions.
Note that not all boundaries are firm and unwavering. This sheet breaks down “rigid” from “porous” to “healthy” boundaries, which all may have a useful place in various aspects of your life.
Learning Positive Conflict Resolution
One of the most challenging parts of relationships is addressing conflicts or problems when they do arise. Too often when conflicts do surface, they turn into situations where anger, frustration, sadness and resentment reign. Thus, we tend to avoid conflict and worry about confrontation because we assume only bad things can come out of it. However, conflict does not always need to be so negative. When handled properly, positive conflict can be constructive to everyone involved and help us learn and grow.
In order to have a productive conversation when addressing conflicts, we must first understand the real reason why the conflict occurred. Many times, conflict is triggered by surface level disagreements (e.g. you feel you are always cleaning up after your roommate) and the resulting argument only focuses on that particular situation instead of addressing the deeper seated issue. Instead, it’s useful to view conflict as a disagreement over “values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires” (HelpGuide) that manifest in specific instances. If you are able to pinpoint what the mismatch of these underlying values is, you’ll have more insight as to what a positive outcome for the conflict can be, and how to better empathize the other person’s point of view, as well as explain your own.
When dealing with conflict, keeping emotions neutral and your stress level under control is crucial for a positive outcome. Be aware of how you may have tended to react in the past, how you may be reacting in the moment. Psychologist Connie Lillas explains with these three examples the most common responses to being overwhelmed by stress in a conflict (link):
Foot on the gas. An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
Foot on the brake. A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
Foot on both gas and brake. A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.
You can take active steps to handle the conflict in a more neutral state of mind, for example by taking breaks in the conversation if necessary or prompting the conversation in a more “neutral” zone (e.g. an outside park instead of inside the home). Curbing stress effectively takes practice, but rewards you with a far higher chance of positive resolutions to conflict as you can think clearly, listen attentively and empathize better.
Once you are ready, the crux of the conflict involves the exchange of critical feedback between parties. This is an admittedly difficult, oftentimes uncomfortable, conversation, which is why it’s all the more important for both parties to engage in open communication (see section above) and have a shared goal of empathizing with each other and moving past the conflict. Under these circumstances, some helpful steps to take to move towards a positive outcome are:
When You Are Giving Critical Feedback
Use “I” statements. It is important to be genuine when giving feedback. However, remember that while your feelings, thoughts, and ideals are valid they may not hold true for everyone. Use “I” statements to express yourself while leaving room for others to disagree. For example, “I feel anxious and frustrated when you yell and curse.”
Describe the issue, instead of generalizing it to become a character trait. Try to focus on the specific issue at hand -- for example, the fact that your roommate did not do the dishes -- instead of accusing your roommate of being a certain way (e.g. “you are a dirty person”).
Dig into where the conflict showed a mismatch of values. Use the specific issue to open up a bigger conversation about values without assuming you know what the other person’s are. For example, your roommate who did not do the dishes may value relaxation after a work day over tidiness whereas you associate tidiness with relaxation.
Offer your feelings. In order to explain why something is bothering you, you also need to understand your own feelings and why this issue has brought up said feelings. For example, if someone is late you can say, “I am bothered by this because it makes me wonder whether you are looking forward to spending time with me.” instead of “I am annoyed.”
Try questions starting with “what” or “how” instead of “why”. “Why” questions often put the receiver on the defensive because they feel accusatory. Instead, try to allow your receiver to give context by opening with non-rhetorical, non-sarcastic “what” or “how” questions. This Inc. article gives some great examples (they are meant for a work scenario, but easily transferable to the home.)
Acknowledge the situation promptly. Allowing an issue to fester for a prolonged period of time does not benefit any party. Give yourself enough time and space to process how you are feeling, and then bring up the issue in a neutral setting.
Take breaks if needed. Confrontation is challenging and draining for everyone. If you see or sense that the other person is beginning to act defensively and stop listening, you can call this out and ask to reconvene after a set break.
When You Are Receiving Critical Feedback
Actively listen. Giving critical feedback takes courage and is difficult for everyone. By listening, you are acknowledging that you appreciate the other person taking the time as well as mental and emotional energy to give you feedback. You can also actively thank the person for the feedback.
Ask open-ended and clarifying questions. Instead of rising to your own defense, try to ask questions to understand the context as well as what may work better for the future. For example, “When did you begin to feel this way?” or “Can you give more details on [x]?” It may also be helpful to reflect what they are saying, such as “I can hear the worry in your voice.”
Digest the feelings and needs behind the critique. Understanding how your actions (or non-actions) made the other person feel is an important glimpse into how to change things for the better. Even deeper is what needs of the other person is not being met. Asking clarifying questions to understand that these two layers beyond the specific issue helps you better develop a framework to be more conscientious in the future.
Focus on the future. Work together to discuss how future scenarios could play out differently. What you would do next time? What would they do next time? Partner with each other so you both are invested in reshaping the interaction the next time around.
Adjusting to Relationships with Children
For parents, navigating personal relationships during COVID-19 has the added complexity of children being at home. This likely affects your work schedule, requires additional responsibility for their continued learning, and changes the dynamic within the household. It’s important to remember that it is okay to make mistakes. Everyone is learning during this unprecedented time, and there are no goalposts where there used to be visible guidelines. Below are some general considerations for families who are adapting to the new normal of everyone being at home.
For Young Children
Offer honest, age-appropriate information about COVID-19, the state of the world, and possibilities of the future. You are the best judge of what they can handle. Be transparent in what COVID is and how it transfers is to help your child better understand what is happening. Emphasize what you and your family can do to ensure everyone is safe and healthy, and explain that is the most important goal for everyone during this time.
Establish rules about technology use and online activity. Make sure you have a conversation with your child about what is or is not appropriate to partake in or see online, and set up the necessary parental controls to keep them safe. From the NYT:
“It’s understandable that parents might want some concrete guidance on how to ensure that their child’s screen exposure is healthy and balanced. But instead of focusing on how much time your child spends in front of a screen, Dr. Radesky suggested, it might be better to approach their media use in terms of who they are, what they’re watching and how you’re interacting with them. This is what Dr. Radesky and others called the “Three C’s” framework: Child, content and context.
If your child likes music, find programming that incorporates singing, like a musical with a soundtrack you can listen to later together.
In terms of content, quality matters more than the quantity of time or size of screens being used.
How we interact with our children around the media [context] matters too. Dr. Radesky encouraged parents to engage with their kids during their screen time. Taking an interest in what your kids are doing will help build their sense of self esteem.”
Establish an open channel of communication with your child’s teachers and school administration.
For Pre-Teens & Teenagers
Offer access to accurate, credentialized news sources so they can keep up with what’s happening around them. It is better for them to stay informed through proper channels than to receive hearsay from others.
Allow yourself to open up and share in the uncertainty of how things will be in the future; even though you can’t fix the outside world, as their parent you can still gently guide them to the uncomfortable emotions they may experience such as fear, anxiety and confusion.
Validate their feelings. Whether it’s from losing regular access to their friends, activities they enjoyed, physical sports, etc. many teens are grieving during this time. Give them the space to do so, and be supportive when they do want to share.
Offer structure to their days by establishing routines in the household. It has been a sudden whiplash for many teenagers to go from a very standardized schooling process to unlimited free time. Implement some basic schedules to give their days some semblance of normalcy, such as mealtimes, virtual learning times, exercise or outdoor times, etc.
Find new activities (or adapt old ones) to engage the whole family in positive ways. A small silver lining in this is that it is a time where you can establish some new family traditions that may outlive COVID. If your family had pizza night every Friday at a local restaurant, perhaps that can become a time where everyone shops together, picks out their own toppings, and you make DIY pizzas at home. If your child enjoys drawing, perhaps challenge them to 30 days of drawing different things around the house (maybe even with you). Even creating TikTok videos together can be a form of creative release and shared enjoyment.
Adjusting to Working At Home With Children
This is a very challenging time for working parents. All households look different, so be kind to yourself and realize there are not hard and fast rules to how you should be working and parenting right now. Your productivity level is likely going to be reduced, and that is ok. Give yourself flexibility when it comes to when work is being done, but it’s impossible to predict how each day will go and be open to the many changes that may arise. Some additional ways that may help you get more of a handle on both of these aspects are:
Setting up a practical working space. Make sure it’s comfortable, gives you access to everything you need, and if you’re able to designate it as “work only” so you can “leave”.
Set up virtual “playdates”. Ask friends and family if they may be able to offer some support from afar by occupying your children on the screen during certain times.
Take shifts with a partner (if you are able).
Coordinate times for acute attention. Try and structure unsupervised activity times for your children during the hours where you need to focus the most, and vice versa.
Recognizing and Addressing Abusive Relationships
***IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP AND SERVICES. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522***
The requirements for sheltering in place during COVID-19, while very much needed to slow the public spread of the virus, has resulted in a frightening uptick of violence and abuse at the home. Recognizing the signs of domestic violence, which does not always include physical violence, is an important first step to protecting yourself and finding the best solution for you to exit a toxic relationship during this time.
At its core, domestic violence or DV is about maintaining and exerting control over another person. One partner may use any set of variables accessible to them to do so -- this often includes physical violence, sexual abuse, psychological or emotional abuse (e.g. degrading comments, threatening violence against other family members/pets/friends of victim, isolating the victim from regular support network) and economic coercion (e.g. forcing the victim to be dependent on the abuser for necessary funds or supplies).
DV can happen to anyone regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or stage of life. It’s important to note that DV refers to violence between any members of a family (e.g. a father and son), while intimate partner violence (IPV) specifically refers to violence between two romantically involved people.
Recognizing Domestic Violence
A telltale sign of DV is the lack of healthy boundaries between partners, most especially the inability of one partner to establish those boundaries without repercussion from the other partner. Sadly, DV is rarely ever a “one-off” occurrence, but almost always a practiced routine. This cycle of violence generally looks something like this (Sources: HelpGuide, Understanding Domestic Violence):
Abuse: Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. This treatment is a power play designed to show you “who is boss”.
Physical assault: anything that hurts the victim, from spitting, pushing, restraining, hitting.
Sexual assault: anything sexual in nature that hurts the victim, from painful sex, coerced sex, performing degrading sexual acts, viewing sexual material, deny contraceptives, targeting the victim’s genitalia.
Psychological assault: this presents most commonly in 5 ways
Threats of violence or harm to victim, victim’s family/friends and/or perpetrator themself (e.g. suicide)
Attacks against property and pets (e.g. destroying the victim’s favorite mementos, hurting the dog) to “warn” the victim they may be next
Emotional abuse includes everything from verbal abuse (e.g. victim blaming, gaslighting) to humiliating the victim in front of other people
Isolation of victim from anyone in their support network, even their job
Hurting the victim’s children to control the victim, including physically assaulting the child, threatening abuse, refusing to pay child support, etc.
Economic coercion: controlling the victim’s access to all necessary resources such as food, time, transportation, family, money, shelter, insurance, clothing or pointedly hurting the financial standing of the victim (e.g. taking out loans, credit card debt)
Guilt: Your partner feels guilt after abusing you, but not because of their actions. They are more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for their abusive behavior (e.g. being turned into the police, having you leave them).
Excuses: Your abuser rationalizes what they have done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for provoking them -- anything to avoid taking responsibility. Abusers often will minimize their abusive conduct (e.g. “I only hit them once”) and justify their action (e.g. “They are just crazy. What am I supposed to do?”)
“Normal” behavior: Your partner does everything in their power to regain control and ensure that you’ll stay in the relationship. The perpetrator may act as if nothing has happened, or they might “turn on the charm.” This peaceful honeymoon phase may give you hope that the abuser has “really changed this time”. The abuser may say they want to be different now, that they love the victim and only the victim can help them truly change.
Fantasy and planning: Your abuser begins to fantasize about repeating the abuse. They spend a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how they’ll make you pay for it. Then they form a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
Set-up: Your abuser sets you up and puts their plan in motion, creating a situation where they can justify abusing you.
Responding to Domestic Violence
In the face of domestic violence, it is important to have both a safety plan, an escape plan and a protection plan. From The Hotline’s Path to Safety:
A Safety Plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Safety planning involves how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship, some useful steps in a safety plan include:
Knowing your abuser’s “red flags”, such as nonverbal or verbal cues
Identifying safe areas of the house where you can move to in instances of abuse
Finding time and methods of which you can access privacy from your abuser
Coming up with a code word you can use to quickly and effectively communicate your situation to others to call 911
An Escape Plan helps you plan and coordinate a way to leave your abuser in a safe way. You can prepare an escape plan by:
Being ready and able to leave at a moment’s notice by organizing what you’ll take (e.g. identification), how you’ll leave, who to call, where to go and how you’ll stay safe in this process.
Practice escaping quickly and safely by rehearsing your escape plan when you have privacy
Making a list of and memorizing emergency contacts, and ensuring they know to answer you at any time
A Protection Plan is to help keep you safe after you’ve been able to leave. Some helpful steps to take are:
Changing up your routine if you have remained in the same area as your abuser (e.g. changing your car, your route to work, work hours). If you have left for somewhere else, you can change your contact information, ensure your address is unlisted, even changing your name or physical appearance.
Install security systems and motion-sensing light systems.
Building a support network who are aware of your struggles and can help you in any instances of need, especially for any emergencies. Set up time frames where they regularly check in on you.
Consider filing for a restraining or protective order against your abuser. Even if you do not file an official order, alerting authorities of the situation with photos of your abuser is helpful.
Seeking professional guidance to help you heal and move on.
Seeing the Warning Signs of Domestic Violence
If you believe your friend or family is suffering from DV, do something. Talk to this person in private to understand what is going on. Express concern of what you’ve noticed in a non-judgemental way, and validate what they may have to say. Offer your support and ask how you can help. Leaving an abusive relationship is far more complicated than it seems so it is important that you let them know you support their decisions and are always available to keep helping them in whatever capacity they need. Your actions may just save their life.
Some warning signs of DV include (from HelpGuide):
Anxiety and fear to please their partner at all costs
Doing everything their partner asks
Receive frequent calls, texts, communications from their partner or be required to check in regularly
Have frequent “accidents”
Hide bruises so avoid explanation
Rarely interact in public without their partner
Have limited access to money, transportation or communication
Have very low self-esteem Show major personality shifts
Show signs of depression, severe anxiety or suicidal tendencies
How to Get Started Getting Help FAQ (Pt. 2, for Partners and Families)
Q: I want to go to (personal) therapy, but my family or partner won’t let me. What should I do?
A: Your safety is always the number one priority. If you feel that you cannot safely get help when you need it, ask yourself if this is the type of relationship you want to remain in. You may also consider contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They provide virtual, phone and text support service that may be easier to access than traditional therapy. Remember to take precautions or use a different phone, private browser, etc. if you are worried that your actions may be tracked by your family or partner.
Q: I want to go to (personal) therapy, but I have no privacy with my family / partner / roommates at home. What should I do?
A: Reach out to your insurance provider and local mental health agencies for different therapy options available in your area. Providers may have options like text message, chat support or flexible schedules. There are also various mental health and therapy apps that may provide an alternative to traditional therapy sessions. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also discuss this openly with your family / partner / roommates and coordinate a regular time slot for your therapy where you are able to have quiet time and private space.
Q: What is couples or family therapy? How does it work? Will the therapist play favorites?
A: In couples or family therapy, a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist) will aid you and your partner or family members in addressing certain negative interaction patterns or negative communication habits, and build skills to cope with life’s issues. Therapy sessions will typically last 40-50 minutes and everyone will be in the session together. Therapists are trained not to focus on picking “winners and losers”, instead focusing on providing the skills for everyone to be successful in working through their thoughts, feelings and actions. Think of it less as a referee and more like a coach.
Q: I want to take my partner to couples counseling or my family to family counseling, but they do not want to go. How should I explain it to them? What should I do?
A: Listen and find out what their reservations about therapy are and why. Try to address their concerns calmly, and without pushing your own ideas. Attempt to include them in the selection process for a therapist, and if possible talk with the therapist beforehand about both of your questions or concerns. Remember it only takes one person to change a relationship negatively or positively -- even if your partner or family doesn't want to participate, you may find addressing your issues with your partner and personal struggles in therapy still beneficial to your relationship.
Q: Where do I find a couples or family therapist?
A: You can contact your insurance company for a list of Marriage and Family Therapists in your area, or use a search site that verifies therapists like Psychology Today.
Q: How much does couples or family therapy cost?
A: Therapy costs range very widely depending on the insurance you have and the therapist you are seeing. Couples and family therapists are generally the same cost as individual therapists. (Note from editor: my partner and I have seen couples therapy quotes from $100 to $450 per hour.) If you’re worried about cost, check with your insurance company to find a therapist in its network so you’ll be covered for visits (or only have to pay a co-pay).
If you don’t have insurance, look for therapists and counseling centers who work on a sliding scale as they can be more flexible with their rates. You could also look at group therapy, support groups and therapy apps (see above) options, as sometimes they can be more affordable.
Q: Is couples or family therapy covered by insurance?
A: Generally speaking, family therapy is covered at the same rates as individual therapy. A therapist will only need to process payments through one person’s insurance -- not both.
Q: I think my family member / partner / roommate needs (individual) therapy, how should I tell them?
A: Be as supportive as possible. Instead of lecturing them on their problems, attempt to have a conservation about where you see them struggling and what support they have for dealing with their struggles. Work to normalize therapy as an important tool in mental health as opposed to “something for crazy people.” Support them in asking questions and finding resources, and be available to encourage them through the process as it can be scary preparing for a new experience.
Helplines, Hotlines, Text & Chat Lines
National Suicide Prevention Hotline operates 24/7 at 800-273-8255. It is also available in Spanish and for the deaf or hard of hearing.
National Domestic Violence Hotline operates 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. If you cannot speak safely, you can text LOVEIS to 22522 or log in online for a confidential chat. All services are available in Spanish.
California Warm Line operates 24/7 at 1-855-845-7415 for non-emergency mental and emotional support for California residents.
Teen Line operates 6-10pm PST at (800) TLC-TEEN or via text ("TEEN" to 839863).
Los Angeles Department of Mental Health Access Line operates 24/7 at (800) 854-7771
New York City’s NYC Well Hotline operates 24/7 at 1-888-NYC-WELL or via text (WELL to 65173)
Crisis Text Line operates 24/7, text HOME to 741741
Disaster Distress Hotline operates 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990
Chat & Support Groups
Supportiv: A free, 24/7, anonymous online peer support network chat group.
Project Return: A peer-to-peer support network for the greater Los Angeles area.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) NYC Metro Support Groups: Social and support groups in the great NYC area.
12step.org: Online directory of recovery meetings
Online Resources & Directories
Help When You Need It: An online directory to find local listings of services (both private and public) such as domestic violence assistance, mental health services and more.
Psychology Today: A online media site and licensed therapist directory.
Coa: An online class network offering free classes to manage through COVID-19, led by therapists.
Affordable Therapy Options
Southern California: Southern California Counseling Center
Nationwide: Open Path Collective
Donate & Support
If you’ve enjoyed this Skillshare episode and want to give back to the community, we are raising money for DJ’s chosen charity Support Staff! You can donate via their page here.
If you are enjoying the Community Skillshare series and want to help our team at Studio ATAO, you can become a monthly patron of ours at Patreon or send us a one-time gift via GiveLively. We thank you for your support!