Couples Therapy Vs Individual Therapy – What?s the Best Approach?
Often, people seeking therapy are looking for change. This can be in the form of dealing with a specific life challenge, healing from trauma or addiction, improving communication skills and building empathy in relationships, overcoming depression and anxiety, and more.
However, what is the best treatment modality? Individual or couples counseling?
What?s the Best Approach?
Individual therapy is focused on a therapist working with one client at a time to address mental health issues. The therapist will work with the client to identify and discuss their underlying issues, and develop tools and strategies to help them overcome challenges. Couples therapy is more focused on the relationship, and helps couples learn to communicate effectively and resolve conflict. The goal is to improve the relationship so that it can flourish.
While it is important to recognize that both individual and couple counseling can be helpful, there are some situations where they may not be appropriate – for example, when a spouse is abusive or in active addiction. However, there are many instances in which combining individual and couples therapy can be highly effective.
Let’s look at three typical scenarios:
Individual Therapy: Jill is worried that her husband is cheating on her, and she decides to seek individual therapy. She meets with her therapist and discusses how she feels about the situation, and how her feelings have changed over time. The therapist validates her concerns, and provides tips, tools, and strategies for improving communication and understanding in her relationship.
Couples Therapy: In couples therapy, Jill and her husband will discuss their concerns in a safe environment with the support of their therapist. They will discuss how they both feel about the situation, and work to find solutions that address everyone’s needs. The therapist will help the couple resolve their conflict and develop skills to prevent future arguments.
Ultimately, it is up to the couple to decide what the best course of action is. They may decide that they want to work on their marriage, or they may realize that the relationship isn’t healthy for them and need to find a resolution. The therapist will provide guidance and support for the couple, regardless of their decision.
In addition to having specialized training in couple and individual therapy, it is also recommended that a therapist have experience in treating a wide range of conditions in both individual and group settings. This will allow them to better understand the dynamics of each type of treatment, and recommend the most effective options for their clients.
What?s the Goal?
When a couple comes to therapy, it is typically because they want to make improvements to their relationship. It may be to work on sex issues, infidelity, communication skills, finances, beliefs and values, family of origin issues, or even just to increase the quality of time spent together.
In couples therapy, the therapist works to improve relationship satisfaction by helping the couple learn and implement new behaviors that will address negative patterns of interaction and repair past hurts. The goal of many forms of couple counseling, including Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), is to create a safe environment for both partners to share their feelings and experiences, and in doing so, develop closer bonds.
According to marriage therapist Ian Hoge, LMFT, some couples do not find success in couples therapy because they are either unprepared or unwilling to put the work in. While he says that he has seen some couples break up after counseling, he often sees that the process itself is helpful for some people by giving them a chance to consider whether their relationship is truly healthy or not.
Regardless of the type of couples therapy you choose, all methods are designed to strengthen the friendship, attachment, bonding and intimacy between the partners as well as teach them skills that will help them manage conflict in a healthy way. These include learning how to effectively communicate during disagreements, identifying and communicating feelings, exploring past experience, and changing dysfunctional behavior patterns.
It is important to note that although the therapist is the expert in these types of interactions, it is still up to the couple to practice the skills between sessions and in daily life. Those who do not commit to the process will find that their efforts do not produce the desired results, and in some cases, the only success they can find is in learning how to recognize and discuss the issues that are causing them frustration.
It is also important to note that while most couples therapy sessions are conducted in the presence of both partners, individual therapy can be useful for a partner who does not wish to participate in the process or who does not feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences with their significant other. This can provide a space for them to consider their options and determine if they would benefit from individual therapy.
What?s the Problem?
If you are looking to resolve relationship issues, couples therapy can help. It’s important to know what to expect from your sessions and how the process works, so you can make the most of the experience.
In some cases, therapists are unable to defuse the partners’ intense conflict and reactivity during sessions and end up playing a referee role. A common pattern is that each partner begins to describe what happened during the week, and then disagrees with the other’s version of events. In the best case scenario, this leads to a healthy discussion. However, this can quickly become difficult and escalate into a full-on argument that the therapist struggles to defuse.
Another problem is that couples in therapy sometimes feel that they are being punished for the things they do wrong in their relationships. This can be particularly true of couples that have experienced a difficult infidelity or a betrayal that never fully healed. This can lead to both partners feeling like they are at fault for the problems in their marriage and that the therapist is forcing them to discuss these issues and relive painful memories.
While there are times when a couples therapist is simply not the right fit, many people find that it is an invaluable resource for their relationships. The key is to be open to trying a variety of approaches and to commit to regular, scheduled appointments. Couples therapy can be a great way to improve communication skills and work together as a team, which can make your life much happier and healthier in the long run.
It can also be helpful to set aside time for each other outside of your therapy sessions. This can be a great way to reinforce your commitment to the relationship and show that you both take it seriously. You may want to consider using an online therapy platform, such as Talkspace, that makes it easier to schedule and access your couples counseling. This can save you the extra trip to a therapist’s office and ensure that both of you have the time you need to dedicate to your relationship.
What?s the Solution?
It can be tempting to seek individual therapy, especially if one of the issues is mental health-related. However, it is essential to work on both relationship and personal issues at the same time to make the most of your treatment experience.
Having your own therapist can also help you to understand your partner and their behaviors, and learn how best to communicate with them. For example, a person with anxiety may be triggered by something their partner does, such as arguing or taking an angry tone of voice. They can learn how to identify these triggers and use a technique called “active listening” to avoid the response.
Many therapists have specific training in couples therapy. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are trained to view relationships as a system, as opposed to the more traditional individual therapists who tend to have a more narrow approach. This means they understand interpersonal dynamics at a much higher level, and are able to take more intricacies and considerations into account when working with couple issues. They are able to help people more clearly see their role in the dynamic, and don’t often assume that a partner is entirely responsible for any problems they are experiencing.
Research shows that clients who go to individual therapy for a relationship issue will divorce or leave their partner at a much higher rate than those who attend couples therapy. This is because the untrained individual therapist will likely end up validating some of the partner’s feelings and empower them in their own eyes, leaving them feeling like they are not responsible for any problems that arise.
In addition, it is often easier to get into individual therapy than couples therapy, as many therapists have flexible scheduling. However, if you plan to seek both individual therapy and couples therapy, it is recommended that you choose a therapist who offers both options. This will allow you to compliment your treatment experience by addressing your different needs in ways that make sense together. Additionally, it will help ensure that you have a single therapist handling all of your treatment components, which can streamline the process and help keep you accountable to your treatment goals.