How and/or why did you become a therapist?
I have always wanted to help people live in happier, healthier marriages. Ever since I was young, people have come to me for advice on what to do in relationships. Now as a couples counseling, I have excellent opportunities to help couples live happy healthy lives.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being a therapist?
People are my favorite puzzles to solve. Human emotions and connections can be very complex. I love seeing a couple transition from the beginning tense stages of therapy to a place of real happiness and joy. I have made it my mission to break down the process of being a good human in the most simple ways possible. I love when couples find hope and find love again. I offer people a space to be their authentic selves and find a deep and meaningful romance again. What could be better than that?
What’s unique or special in your background or approach to interpersonal relationships?
I have a weird sense of humor and I am shamelessly honest to people. My clients tell me my honesty is refreshing and my humor makes people feel safe. I also am a very visual person so I try to describe relationship processes in very unique ways to really drive home a point. For example, many couples struggle to look at their relationship from a distance. As soon as they start talking about their conflict areas, you can see them getting pulled into the fight. One way I help them get above the situation is by asking them to imagine their marriage is a dead body they are dissecting together in session. We are not trying to have fights, but we are trying to dissect the different aspects in the relationship that causes the fights or keeps them from getting close. The graphic nature of the visual really helps people to rethink how they approach therapy.
What are your favorite or most interesting interpersonal relationship tips/advice?
When I am teaching a time out, I tell couples the rational for a time out is to avoid hurting each other. Whenever any person is saying things they cannot take back, it is important to end the conversation right away and take a break. One way to really help people follow through is to give them the mantra, “I love you more than I love this argument.” If they both truly believe this mantra, then it helps them take the time out even when it is tough. The important thing as well is to remind them to come back again to talk through their conflict when they are calm.
I also suggest that people try to do AT LEAST one loving thing for each other a day. I emphasize “at least” playfully because really you should be doing loving things a lot more than that! However, bad days happen, and on those days, it is still important to try and do one kind thing even when it’s hard.
What are some things about therapy that you want to increase public awareness about?
I wish people would treat therapy as a check in along the way in marriage, rather than a last resort. Therapy is most effective when people love each other and want to make the situation better. I love it when couples come in simply because they have lost the spark and want to revamp their love life. These are the easiest and most fun cases. Essentially, find ways to use therapy as preventive rather than reactive. Sadly, most couples come in after an affair or when one or both of them are out the door. Marriage is hard work and we all could use some practice!
What are some of the biggest mistakes a therapist or patient can make?
Therapists need to ask permission before asking or suggesting things. For example, we have lots of interventions that are designed to help guide people to change. But, we need to explain what we are doing and why so clients understand these interventions and get the most benefit from the treatment. We also need to offer hope by letting people know that change is hard. Most humans are creatures of habit. This means that most of you will fail many times before succeeding. If clients are aware that they need to fail toward success, then when they hit the initial road blocks, it doesn’t make them feel like therapy isn’t working. It just feels like one step in the process (which it is, by the way). As for patients, a big mistake is assuming everything will get fixed magically and quickly. Like I said before, humans are creature of habit. That means that it may take time to see long lasting progress when it comes to behavior change. Another big mistake would be to never come in at all. I know people personally who would rather see their marriage end than to ever see a therapist. There are many of us and we all want to help. Rather than avoiding therapy, do some research and find someone who works for you!
Angela Skurtu, M.Ed., LMFT is a speaker, author, Licensed Marriage Therapist and AASECT Certified. She runs her own private practice called St. Louis Marriage Therapy, LLC where she offer couples therapy. She has two professionally published books, “Helping Couples Overcome Infidelity: A Therapist’s Manual” and “Pre-Marital Counseling: A Guide for Clinicians.” In addition, she speaks at various conferences, businesses, and organizations both locally and nationally. You can find her at www.therapistinstlouis.com.