What is the Difference Between Individual and Couples Therapy?
With therapy is growing in popularity these days, it is good to know about individual versus couples therapy. More people are accepting therapy as an essential part of our well-being, and more people are going to therapy as a treatment for mental and emotional health. And, while more talk and acceptance of therapy can only be a positive thing, it is important for all of us to understand the difference between individual and couples therapy.
To begin with, the type of therapy you receive will vary greatly depending on the therapist you choose. Each therapist is different and has their own distinct background, training, and philosophy. Therefore, it is important to research the therapist you want to work with and find one who meets your specific needs and accepts you exactly as you are.
Ok. So, what about individual versus couples therapy?
Many people are familiar with the idea of individual therapy. Individual therapy takes place in the one-to-one interactions between a therapist and a single client. When you attend individual therapy, the therapist gives you their full attention, their energy, and their focus. It is the therapist’s job to focus solely on you and to build a safe and nurturing relationship that fosters personal transformation and healing.
In individual therapy, as the therapist gets to know you and to understand situations and experiences from your unique perspective, they will offer insights, tips, tools, and techniques specifically tailored to your individual needs, personality, and perspectives. Consequently, for someone who has attended individual counseling either infrequently or for many years, when they come in with their partner for couples counseling, they are often quite surprised at the difference.
Couples Therapy is not individual therapy times two. In fact, many people consider couples therapy to be more intensive than individual therapy. In it, the focus is equally on each partner, on the relationship itself, and on the problems that the couple is there to work on. A couples therapist is not there to take sides or make one partner right or wrong, but rather to hear two different perspectives and to provide a safe space for two people to express themselves and find common ground.
Couples choose to attend couples therapy for many different reasons. They might go to improve communication in their relationship, to increase intimacy or rekindle a lost flame, or to overcome an obstacle such as the loss of a child or infidelity. There is also sometimes discussion of transitioning from a monogamous relationship to ethical non-monogamy, transitioning of sexuality throughout the relationship, or desire to transition out of the relationship. The job of a couples therapist, and the overarching goal of couples therapy, is to help couples learn to resolve conflicts together and improve communication within their relationship. This looks different for each couple, but a good couples therapist will offer insights and perspectives to help them identify and understand where they are missing each other. The therapist may ask to work with each person individually, as well as together.
Who is the Client?
It is important to understand that the couples therapists’ goal is not to keep couples together. When it comes to couples therapy, neither party is the client. The relationship is the client, and the therapist works with each party to assist to meet the goals of the relationship. Although each party may have their own idea of what the goals are, the common goals are the goals of the relationship.
Because couples therapy is not the same as individual therapy, it is vital that the therapist you choose to work with has specific training in couples therapy. They will need experience in managing the room, providing space for both partners to speak and be heard, as well managing anger, frustration, and other heated emotions.
When it comes to individual therapy, the client is the person meeting with the therapist. If the client decides to invite their partner(s) into the session, the therapist has no allegiance to any other person outside of the client. Any sessions where the partner(s) are invited into the session, is not treated as couples therapy, but individual therapy. This is because the therapist continues to work towards the individuals goals eventhough the partner(s) may be invited in.
Whether you are seeking individual therapy or couples therapy, we highly recommend that you work with a therapist who has undergone specialized training in their field. There are times that we may suggest each partner within the relationship explore individual therapy alongside couples therapy, due to the significant difference and the limitations or the needs of the clients.