The Scoop: Toronto’s CouplesInStep therapy practice has catered its services exclusively to couples for more than 14 years. Founder Irene Oudyk-Suk specializes in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and offers sessions, retreats, and sex therapy that helps couples rekindle their relationships. CouplesInStep can help couples at all stages of their relationships, the beginning when a couple first commits, to those contemplating divorce. Irene and her team take pride in helping clients reconnect and thrive in their partnerships.

Couples choose to attend therapy for a variety of reasons. They may have communication or infidelity issues, or they’re still undecided about their compatibility with each other. Some may even think divorce is imminent.

That’s why one couple went to see Irene Oudyk-Suk, Founder of CouplesInStep therapy in Toronto. They decided that their relationship was likely beyond repair, so they came in for discernment therapy, a type of treatment that allows couples to consider the long-term consequences of a divorce or separation.

After meeting with Irene for a number of sessions the couple wasn’t so sure they were ready to part ways.

“I suggested they try couples therapy as an option, not necessarily to commit to the relationship but to decide if they may want to,” Irene told us.

CouplesInStep logo

CouplesInStep offers a variety of ways to strengthen relationships.

The couple attended therapy sessions once a week for six months. Irene also suggested they try a three-day weekend retreat where they could work more intensely on their relationship.

After six months of therapy and a couples retreat, Irene said she didn’t know what would become of the couple. They hadn’t told her that they were divorcing, but they also hadn’t recommitted to one another. Then, she got a surprising message.

“They contacted me a year later saying they’d renewed their vows,” Irene said.

Though many couples often want to strengthen their bonds, they don’t always have the tools they need to do so. That’s why Irene founded CouplesInStep to help those partners on their path to a better union. Many clients participate in weekly therapy sessions, but others choose more intensive work.

Irene’s retreats offer couples a chance for deep reflection on themselves and their relationships. They may attend the retreats in addition to therapy or use the retreats as an alternative.

A Specialized Practice Catered Exclusively to Couples

Irene intentionally designed CouplesInStep to cater exclusively to couples. She wanted to focus her training and skill development, and that of her associate therapists, to one area so that the couples who came for help would have trained and experienced therapists helping them.

“Relationships are challenging,” Irene told us, “the couples who seek help are both courageous and desperate; they deserve good therapy.”

Irene has practiced as a psychotherapist for more than 25 years. In her career, she’s worked with individuals, couples, and groups. Then, when she lived in the Philippines, she was asked very specifically for couple’s therapy: “It was a scary prospect. I wanted to do what I had done until that time, see them as individuals,” she said. “Instead, I decided to bite the bullet and focus my continuing education dollars on couple therapy training”

So, when she moved back to her home province of Ontario in 2006, Irene decided to devote her practice solely to couples therapy.

For the next decade, Irene was the only therapist at CouplesInStep. But, recently, Lori Canlas De Pala joined her team.

“Couples love her,” Irene said.

CouplesInStep offers a diverse range of counseling options. In addition to discernment therapy, the practice also includes cross-cultural couples counseling and sex therapy.

Intercultural couples may be drawn to one another, but they didn’t grow up in the same country or with the same value system. They may need to deal with different ethnicities, religions, or national origins, and as a result, may have some fundamental disagreements they need to work through in therapy.

Partners can also work with Irene if they’re having problems in the bedroom.

“I’m also a registered sex therapist. And physical touch is so important in a healthy relationship,” said Irene.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) Can Help Partners Rebuild Their Relationships

Though Irene sees clients with many types of issues, the foundation of her practice is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples. This type of therapy initially helped researchers study the bond between parents or caregivers and children. More recently, though, EFT is used to discern how adults can make similarly deep bonds with one another.

Irene started training in the EFT model while she was in the Philippines. There, she worked with Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT. Sue’s work wasn’t available to the public until 2010. But now, she has two published books — “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” and “Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.”

Irene said she is committed to making EFT a key component of CouplesInStep. Lori is also trained in EFT. And if more therapists join the practice, Irene said that they would also be certified in the therapy approach.

Screenshot of EFT banner on CouplesInStep website

Emotionally Focused Therapy is effective in helping couples rebuild trust.

“Healthy couples build a bond and recognize when their bond is going awry,” Irene said.

EFT offers effective strategies to re-establish those bonds.

In addition to weekly therapy, Irene also offers Three-Day Intensive Therapy for couples in significant distress who want to do a deep dive in a short time into their relationship distress. Irene hosts these three-day intensives once or twice a month, usually Sunday through Tuesday. Couples come from Canada and the United States to Toronto to do this work, and they work alone with Irene.

Irene also offers retreats — which are for groups of couples. While more than one couple attends these retreats, the focused time they spend on their relationship is private and not in front of other couples.

Irene recently added a retreat on physical intimacy to her schedule. The Touch & Physical Intimacy retreats are limited to seven couples and focus on rekindling desire in relationships that have lost their passion. These retreats also help couples who struggle with sexual pain and performance issues.

“They’re often couples in crisis, but sometimes it’s a couple who wants to get a lot done in a short period,” she said.

CouplesInStep: Retreats and Other Resources Provide Opportunities to Reconnect

Helping couples reconnect is CouplesInStep’s sole focus, and its EFT sessions and retreats are the pillars of the practice. EFT sessions can help couples over the long-term, while Irene designed the retreats to realize progress over a short period.

About 10 to 15 couples typically attend retreats, but they don’t participate in group therapy. Instead, couples meet with Irene and the other couples for an introduction, and then they split off for individual work.

“There’s a lot of privacy, but couples can look around the room and see others working on their relationships, too. To see other couples working is so encouraging to each individual couple. And couples sometimes want to deepen a relationship that’s already good, but many couples who come to a retreat are in distress,” Irene said.

Next up for Irene is a retreat for couples thinking about getting marriage or living together. The weekend-long retreat will teach couples how to prioritize one another over the long term.

“I know that this kind of retreat exists, but they’re usually focused on finances or parenting, or are offered within a religious community. The Lasting Connection Retreat will focus on building bonds instead of on topic areas such as finances or children.,” Irene told us.