Melissa Ferrari, Penrith marriage counsellor and relationship therapistAustralia Counselling member Melissa Ferrari is a relationship counsellor who works from Penrith in Sydney.

She is passionate about assisting couples rediscover their connection, passion and liveliness, so they can build rewarding relationships that support their mental, physical and spiritual health.

She uses a number of effective and proven modalities in her work with couples, and her clients experience long-lasting changes to their relationships after working with her.

Here’s what she had to say to us recently about her relationship work.

Tell us a bit about your relationship counselling practice- what kinds of relationship issues do you work with?

I am a Relational Psychotherapist with over 15 years experience and I work in Penrith in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. I mostly see couples facing a range of relationship concerns including lack of connection, intimacy issues and problems with parenting that lead to relationship dissatisfaction and frustration.

Many of the couples I see also experience conflicts and difficulties associated with the pressures they face including work, extended family and finances. I also enjoy working with couples that have been together for decades and having reared their children, feel lost about how to find (or rediscover) each other again and enjoy the relationship they had before having children.

Other common issues I see in both individual and couples about are addictive behaviours like alcohol or substance abuse.  I also work with couples where one or both may have a history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse that affects how the couple relate to each other now.

How did you become interested in counselling and working as a relationship therapist and marriage counsellor?

Since my mid-teens I have been interested in self-help books and the journey of the self.  Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much was one of the many influential books I read at that time and I knew I was beginning a kind of therapeutic journey. My mother tells stories about how I have been counselling people since I was about 5 years old and how I have always had an insatiable interest in relationships and how people tick.

During my 20s I went on my own journey of discovery through some colourful relationships. In my early 30s I saw my first counsellor and found that I really came alive during the sessions and through this aliveness was better able to understand how I connect with others and myself. This aliveness led me to want to share the experience so I enrolled at the Australian College of Applied Psychology and after graduating went on to do further extensive training over many years.

How do you believe couples overcome relationship issues and what supports long-lasting change?

I believe that couples need to develop empathy, curiosity and connection for their relationship to thrive but it is not always easy. In treating couples I find that long lasting change results from working through the issues that arise from psychological structures that have developed over time. These can prevent the couple feeling truly understood by each other and connected, passionate and lively in their relationship.

I focus on reducing the reactions that arise from feelings that are often triggered from an individual’s past. This can help a couple feel more connected as old defences ‘melt’ slowly through therapy. Long lasting change results from recognising that old defensive patterns act to prevent couples being closer and working through these old defensive patterns through self-reflection leads to the emergence of a new understanding within the couple.

Tell us about your relationship counselling approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping couples change

I use a number of modalities including Transactional Analysis, Core Profile Paradigm and a Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT).

Working in the here-and-now I often get couples to be with each other in the room with me as closely as possible to how they relate at home. I do this by using techniques like enquiry, challenging and other strategies in my own personal style that I have developed. My focus is heavily on the micro exchanges and interactions between a couple that can cause a couple to deflect, misinterpret and reject each other.

The work I do in the her- and-now allows me to direct and help clients readjust their way of being together so that they experience their new way of relating in the room with me. I find this is effective because when a couple tells me they can’t change I can give them my solid account of what I have observed them doing and I try to recreate these experiences of change so the couple become more comfortable with this new way of being together.

This helps clients correct ways of being that have developed either very early in their lives or through relationships with others. My clinical thinking is influenced by my own theory that empathy, curiosity and connection are paramount for an ongoing secure relationship.  I work from the perspective that a couple need to feel “seen” and accepted by each other to feel true connection.

Tell us what a couple can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you

In the initial consultation I take basic details and I do what Transactional Analysts call a “contract” which is a shared clear understanding of what the couple want to get out of our work together. I also allow each individual to speak and express what he or she perceives the problem in the relationship to be. I will summarize for each person what I believe is happening both individually and also as a couple. After the first session a couple can expect to take away a better understanding of what is happening and what needs to change.

In this session I also go over what couple psychotherapy/counselling really is, confidentiality issues, my boundaries around payment and cancellations and I speak to clients about the challenges of doing therapy and while it can be confronting at times we can work with how they may be feeling about “the work” and what is being triggered.

I also explain to clients how I am in clinical supervision and ongoing training. I also let clients know that at times I will ask them to get out of their seats to create new experiences of being together actively in the therapy.

On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time

Last year I launched my Facebook page Love, Life, Relationships and Transformation and its success has been so exciting it quickly became a passion! The project came about out of a drive to touch people’s lives with information I have learnt over my many years of practice with couples.

With over 4000 followers now it’s been a huge success. I love sharing my thoughts and my understanding about connection and what I have learnt over the many years I’ve worked with couples. One of my motivations for doing the page was that as a couples therapist I found I was always searching for new “tips” on how to teach people to stay thoughtful about connection, love and relationship.  Having the Facebook page makes these tips so much more accessible for prospective and current clients. The feedback has been amazing. Social media is a great tool for a busy mum like me. That brings me to my other passion: my family. I practice what I preach and relationship is central to my own wellbeing. Having a really busy psychotherapy and counselling practice makes me use my spare time wisely.  I use this time to be with the ones I love.

If you would like to contact Melissa, visit her Australia Counselling profile or website.

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