an interview with

Dominique Smajstr

counsellor & therapist in sydney, australia

How individual therapy can help with relationship problems

Thoughts from a therapist

Q: What are some of the ways that individual therapy can help with relationship problems?

Dominique Smajstr: Our beliefs about ourselves, and about those who are close to us, and about our needs in relationships, are all heavily influenced by our early relationships and caregiving experiences.

So exploring these relationships (past and present) in therapy is really beneficial. It supports understanding of how we are shaped by our experiences and how, or where we get stuck in our relationships today.

We all have hidden parts that we struggle with, and parts of ourselves we don’t especially want others to see. But by paying attention to and nurturing these parts in therapy, we increase openness and in turn this allows us to be more open and successful with others and in our relationships.

Through self-reflection and awareness and self-acceptance, you can begin to reshape unhelpful beliefs, responses and behaviours, and to create the relationships you want.

Time and again I see clients benefit from Individual therapy, gaining improvement in interpersonal relationships that includes:

  • taking responsibility for themself
  • managing triggers effectively
  • communicating with honesty and respect
  • increasing their capacity to be vulnerable
  • feeling empathy
  • being curious instead of closed off
  • setting appropriate boundaries
  • working through issues as they arise, and
  • repairing after conflicts

Q: How does your training and experience as a couples therapist influence your therapy sessions with individuals?

Dominique Smajstr: My training helps me bring a relational lens to my sessions with individuals, which enables me to hold a supportive and safe space to explore with people the unwanted challenges they are both contributing to and experiencing.

It also allows me to consider a client’s partner as if they’re in the room. Whilst my role is to focus on the individual, I can explore questions to help facilitate more curiosity and empathy towards the other/partner.

Thinking relationally means I understand that the relationship is the environment that you live within. And when you understand that, you come to know and appreciate your own impact — how you contribute and actually co-create your relationship.

It’s also about slowing things down. I’m able to really focus on what sits behind relationship problems, to support individual growth and relationship growth and improvement.

Q: Research consistently suggests that the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist is a key factor in successful therapy outcomes. What are your thoughts on this?

Dominique Smajstr: I think the therapeutic relationship lies at the very heart of therapy, hence the fit between client and therapist is key. Built on trust, empathy and value for the client, the therapy relationship is a unique one of being deeply listened to, and people have an innate desire to grow when they feel safe and valued.

Given that we are wired for connection and to form deep bonds I think the significance of the therapeutic relationship cannot be underestimated. It creates the opportunity for truly meaningful therapy with successful outcomes.

Really, everyone has some form of relational injury, and healing comes from a safe, empathic relationship, within or outside of therapy. Certainly, within therapy, it is possible and obviously powerful to build a safe and caring, professional but warm relationship that can be quite transformative.

Are you considering therapy?

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"I was quite depressed and teary-eye, as well as unmotivated at work. I was unsettled and unhappy. It was suggested that I come and talk to a counsellor.

I’m much more settled now. I have a greater awareness of the issues that were making me react so dramatically. Its easier to function day-to-day and be happy."

– LB 31, Consultant