Interview with Relationship Therapist

Having butterflies in your stomach and being in love can be one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. Even better when your feelings are reciprocated, when it evolved from having a crush on someone to actually being in a relationship with them. But being together with another person takes effort and work, which can be overwhelming from time to time. And sometimes it is easier to get some help from the outside to work on a relationship. This is where a relationship therapist comes in.

We interviewed relationship therapist Shirley Ronnes to gain more insight in the work of a relationship therapist. Some of you might know her from the Career Week, where she provided us with details about her job and her career path leading her to it. Shirley Ronnes has her own practice ‘BOOST! Relatietherapie Woerden’ where she works mainly with Emotional Focused Couples Therapy. What exactly this is, and what more is included in her work you can read in the interview below:

Could you describe your work in a few sentences? What does your typical work day look like? 

I have my own practice in Woerden. I see clients 2,5 days a week, a session is 90 minutes, so I have a maximum of 4 sessions a day. In the time between the sessions I write the clients files, do my administration and emails. I also write blogs about relations and relationship therapy for my website Blog ( Additionally, I also have intervision, supervision, education, do my marketing and keep contact with people in my network. 

Why did you decide to become a relationship therapist?

I dreamed of being a relationship therapist since I studied social psychology. But I thought it would be a profession for me when I got old 😊 I always had been interested in relationships, love, attractiveness, partner choice, marriage and sex. 

What did your career path look like?  

After my master Training & Development in social psychology, I worked for a commercial trainingsbureau. I trained working-people in their social skills, while being a accountmanager for several business-clients. At one moment in 2015, I decided to quit my job because I want to become a relationship therapist. I educated myself in Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT) and in counseling. Afterwards, I started to treat clients in my own company BOOST Relatietherapie.

What does an intake session with new clients look like? What kind of questions do you ask? 

First I want to make them feel at ease, because it is very exciting, frightening and emotional for a lot of people. Then we talk about the goal of this intake session: it has to feel right for them and for me. Most of the time in the session they tell me about their relationship and problems. But I also want to hear about the beginning of their relationship, what was the sparkle? And about their life, including their ups & downs, their dynamic (do they have kids, do their parents are still alive, how is the job situation?). I also ask what they hope to achieve with relationship therapy. During the last part of the session I tell them about EFT, including how I work and which steps come ahead in the following sessions. Eventually I ask them how it feels and if it feels good for all 3 of us, we plan the next sessions in our agenda.  

According to your homepage, you use Emotional Focused Couple Therapy; what does one of your treatment methods look like?  

With EFT I start to talk about and get a picture of their negative interaction pattern (lemniscaat figure). If people see and feel their pattern, they can start practicing breaking this cycle. In the session I observe the emotions of the couple. When I see that someone feels an emotion, I ask them about it and I’ll ask if they can share their emotion with their partner. This is called an enactment and it is a powerful intervention for working on the emotional connection.

Have you ever had a situation where you thought it would be better for the couple to break up? If yes, how did you react?

No, that is not up to me. I always believe in and have hope for the improvement of the relationship. But it happens that there is less improvement in the relationship/therapy. Then I ask the couple what they want to improve, what they want to work on in the sessions with me. Is it worth the time and money? And I’ll ask feedback: what can I do differently that will help them to achieve the next step? 

What kind of couples come to you mostly?

People from the middle and higher class, because relationship therapy is not paid for by insurance, so people have to pay it by themselves (more than €1000,-). From the age of 25 to 70 years. 

Is there a pattern in underlying problems for relationship problems within couples? If so, did you notice any chances in general relationship dynamics over the last years?

In EFT there are 3 kinds of patterns underlying all relationships dynamic-problems. When 2 loved ones feel distance between each other, they can react in 2 ways: withdraw or pursue. The first pattern is with two people who pursue, their fights escalate quickly. The second pattern is when 1 is pursuing and 1 is withdrawing. The third pattern is when two people withdraw. The relationship is bleeding to death… It is possible that a couple has the second pattern for years, but that the pursuer is done with fighting/working for the relationship and becomes a withdrawer as well. 

What does it take for you to consider a session as successful?

If the couple has learned something about themselves, their partner or their relationship. I also find it very beautiful when the couple tells each other their feelings, they get touched and feel connected. Those experiences will stay with/in them when they leave my practice. 

What is something you learned from your clients? 

I learn a lot about all the variations and baggage people carry, like ASS, PTSS, ADHD, anxiety, depression, mourning, child abuse, incest, perfectionism, etc. and how this influences their lives and relationships. And I learn about love and how difficult it sometimes is to feel the love again or make it work.

Do you have any advice for students who consider becoming a relationship therapist?

I will recommend you to choose Clinical psychology, because that makes your path easier to follow next education (EFT certification, sexuologie) and to be a member of the professional association NVRG, the professional association for relationship- and family therapy. Invest in yourself and your network. Dare to start! 

Did you notice any impact your job has or had on your personal relationship? 

I use a lot of what I’ve learned in my own relationship and it makes me think more about my own relationship. And I use a lot of the attachment theory for raising our children. What I learned for example is that conflict does not have to have a negative impact on relationships or children, but that ‘not making up’ has a negative impact. So at home, we always talk about a conflict to come to a solution or say sorry or give a hug to make up again.

Did it ever happen that you feel more sympathy or empathy for one of the partners? And how do you react to keep your personal opinion out?

When I have trouble or my own feelings interacting when working with a couple, I discuss this in my intervision-group or with my supervisor. It always says more about myself than about the client.

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