Do I Need Individual Therapy or Couples Therapy?

by | Couples Therapy, Individuals

Sometimes when someone is struggling in a romantic relationship, they think about reaching out for help from a therapist. However, what isn’t always clear is whether that person should seek a therapist for themselves or for their relationship? Or should they get both?

As a therapist who works with both couples and individuals, this question comes up for me quite frequently and is worth exploring because the issue of which modality is preferable is not always clear cut. However, there is a relatively simple question that can be asked that can move you in the right direction: is the problem about an individual’s suffering or is it about the relationship and how it is suffering?

For example, one partner might be struggling with depression, trauma symptoms, anxiety, grief, or a drinking problem. If this person wants to work on learning to heal from these, then individual therapy would be the best choice. But what if the biggest issue is how that person is fighting with their partner about how the depression, the trauma symptoms, the anxiety, the grief, or the drinking affects the relationship? Then couples therapy would be more appropriate.

Individual therapy can be a great place to let yourself be vulnerable enough to practice communication skills that you have never felt comfortable practicing in your normal life. Some examples of these skills can be boundary setting, assertiveness about your wants and needs, making positive requests, offering feedback, making and receiving apologies, noticing your emotions, sharing emotions with another person, and being honest about what you think and feel.

However, if your therapist is the only person you ever practice your new social and emotional skills with, then you aren’t deriving much benefit from your practice. This is when the usefulness of couples therapy comes to the fore. In couples therapy, you have the opportunity to practice of all the aforementioned skills while receiving real time feedback on that practice. Your couples therapist can “smooth the path” by helping you and your partner to slow down or simplify your conversation, increase safety, interrupt your negative cycle when it begins to occur, and provide suggestions for other behavioral choices that will improve your dynamic.

Sometimes, it might be most useful to attend both individual and couples therapy concurrently for one or both members of the couple. In this scenario, individual issues are processed and skills are built in the safety of the individual session while those same skills are practiced and needs are communicated in new ways in the couples session. Ideally, the different therapists would be given permission by the couple to collaborate so that they can share insights about blocks and progress that they see. This enables the therapists to more efficiently target issues in session.

Of course, even after reading this, you may still not be sure which would be the better course for you. Or, you may feel that you have constraints of time or financial resources for pursuing both couple and individual therapy. Then you might find it useful to seek an introductory consultation with your partner and to ask the therapist what they might recommend.

Get to the heart of the matter and connect with the right therapist for you today.

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