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What Are Couples Intensives?

Written by Ashley Gray, LCSW, MFTC

Couples Intensives have been growing in popularity the last few years. Perhaps, you have heard of them because of this growing popularity. But what are they? Well, a couples intensive is a therapeutic event that can last 3 hours to several days. This format allows couples to go deeper in a shorter amount of time. They are often able to do months worth of work in one intensive. Different therapists have different offerings of intensive lengths based on their specialties, modalities and schedules.

Experts Using Couples Intensives

Couples intensives actually aren't a new concept. Relationship researchers/therapists Doctors John and Julie Gottman have been doing couples intensives or marathon sessions for many years. Dr. John Gottman said that a great couples intensive can bring progress with the toughest of issues. You can read more here. I learned in a Gottman Method training that this eventually became the only form of therapy that Doctors, John and Julie Gottman used because of the progress that could be made. They found that in an intensive they didn't have a week between sessions for other issues to come up and add another layer to the work they have been doing.

Things To Consider When Booking An Intensive

Couples intensives are most popular with couples who have tired other interventions and need something different. Couples who feel like they spend a lot of time catching the therapist up in traditional couples therapy sessions. When a couple is short on time, have erratic schedules, an upcoming event like a wedding, they may find an intensive more appealing. If you are having trouble committing to the idea of an intensive because you find that you have a lot of questions, most therapists offer consultations to help alleviate these concerns.

A couples intensive may not be the right fit for you if you don't have the time to dedicate to a whole day or several days of therapy. If you find that therapeutic work often overwhelms you, a couples intensive might not be the best fit. Weekly therapy might be a better fit instead. Another instance in which weekly therapy might be a better fit, would be if you feel that there are far too many concerns or events to process through in an intensive. Or if you want to have therapeutic intervention as issues organically arise in life. For instance, if you're trying to figure out how to navigate struggles during a particular time of the year (winter months, school year, etc) and want support as these events are naturally unfolding, weekly therapy might be a better fit. Finally, if couples intensives do not fit into your budget or schedule, weekly therapy might be a better fit.

Insurance does not cover therapy intensives, but you can usually use HSA and FSA funds to pay for your therapy intensive. Check in with your therapist to see what they accept.

What To Expect In A Couples Intensive

In many ways, a couples intensive will feel like therapy: it will likely feel emotional difficult at times, you'll be learning and practicing new skills and processing through past hurts and problem-solving for the future. Some ways that it may feel different than traditional therapy is that, you'll be able to spend more time processing disagreements, you'll have more experiential exercises (practicing co-regulation and getting out of your seat to try new things) and you'll be able to collaboratively plan your day with your therapist ahead of time, so your intensive day focuses on your unique needs. Intensives provide an incredible opportunity to process through past hurts that you may not always have time to fully explore at home or in traditional therapy. Some people feel nervous about exploring past hurts because they would prefer to leave those things in the past. However, if those things have felt unresolved for one or both partners, there may lead to resentments that are negatively impacting the relationship. An intensive provides very intentional time to explore such events from multiple angles, including how those hurts are currently showing up in the relationship.

Following Your Intensive

You'll likely be pretty tired. I always tell clients to plan on having a laid back and nurturing evening or weekend following their intensive. By nurturing, I mean, engaging in activities that gently and warmly take care of you.

Once you feel energized again, you'll be able to put the skills you learned to work. Skills such as new communication skills, read recommended books, implement new rituals and make decisions using the information you learned about yourself, your partner and your relationship.

What I Offer In Couples Intensives

In my couples intensives, I offer, packages ranging from three hours in a day, to a 6 hour day, to two days and various options for follow up after the intensive. I also offer follow up sessions in some of my packages and I offer a free consultation beforehand for all of my packages. If you're interested in my couples Intensives click here. If you're curious about different intensive package pricing, click here.

I also offer snacks and beverages for the day, a therapy related gift (a book, or coping skills card deck, or affirmation card deck, etc). You will also receive a journal to take notes and write your thoughts during the intensive. I will also send you any relevant material (pdfs, book and podcast recommendations) following the session. All follow-up material and gifts are meant to further your work following the intensive. You'll also be able to schedule future therapy sessions and intensives with me, if you would like.

I also offer EMDR Intensives for individuals and for couples where each partner may have some less than nurturing experiences, or trauma, in the past that may be impacting their relationship now. During couples EMDR, you each identify you behavior targets that you want to change. These behavior targets tend to be automatic, meaning you likely don't have to think about doing it before it happens and it feels difficult to slow things down enough to make a different decision other than your target behavior. Some examples of targets would be ruminating thoughts, avoidance, explosive anger, to name a few. Processing through memories and events that led to your target behaviors by using the EMDR process allows you to shift from unhealthy behaviors to healthier behaviors. Having your partner there allows you to have a unique co-regulation experience as well as let both you witness your partners' struggles and healing in a different light. Throughout this process we will be keeping attachment theory in mind and acknowledging your experiences around that. If you want to learn more about EMDR and EMDR Intensives you can check out my blog post about the matter or my webpage on EMDR.

A couples intensive can give you the incredible opportunity to dig deep into your relationship, so that you can move forward with greater health in a matter of days rather than months. No matter what you decide...

I'm wishing you the best on your healing journey! :)

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This post is written by individual and couples therapist, Ashley Gray of Arvada, Colorado. Ashley works with her clients using Gottman Method Couples Therapy, EMDR Trauma Therapy, Prepare and Enrich, Therapy Intensives, attachment focused therapy and techniques from Emotionally Focused Therapy. As a therapist, she is passionate about helping people build healthy relationships and supporting people with the resources they need. In her free time, Ashley hikes, paddle boards, reads, spends time with her husband and her cuddly dog. For more information about Ashley and her practice, click here.


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