- Couples’ issues are usually best addressed with both partners present and engaged during the change process. Exceptions are when there is active, ongoing violence or a partner who refuses to attend therapy.
- Individual therapy is probably the best option if you are not in a romantic relationship or if your goals for change do not have much to do with your romantic relationship.
- Couples therapy is probably the best option for you if the majority of your stresses or concerns have to do with your partner or romantic relationship
- Couples therapy views the couple system as the client, whereas individual therapy views the individual as the client.
Which type of therapy is best for me?
If you are in a committed romantic relationship, you’ve likely encountered some degree of tension with your partner. Whether it be personal struggles that your partner is privy to or difficulties between you two, stress is stress, and it can impact a couple. That being said, couples therapy is not always the fix for stress that impacts the couple, and “regular therapy” (individual therapy) is not always the best solution for issues that are mainly between a couple. If you are wondering “should my partner be involved in my therapy sessions?”, here are some guidelines for deciding which form of counseling would be most appropriate for you and your situation. To start, let’s get clear on the difference between each treatment setting (individual counseling versus couples counseling/marriage counseling).
In individual therapy…
You are the “client” – the therapist’s case is you, your specific goals, presenting concerns, and describing symptoms. Treatment might zoom out to address aspects of your environment or relationships(s) that you can benefit from discussing or that you have influence over changing. Ultimately, your individual therapist is there to challenge you to reach your self-change goals and support you along the way through validation and empowerment.
Benefits of Individual Therapy
- Individual therapy usually means a simpler process for insurance reimbursement
- In an individual therapy context, you might get more individual attention from the therapist, which is great for self-work that doesn’t involve your partner.
- It is easier to schedule around one person’s schedule instead of two or more people’s calendars.
- There is more time and space to delve deeper into the past, family of origin issues, trauma, etc.
Individual therapy might not be the best choice if…
- Your main concerns have to do with your romantic relationship
- You are seeking help to talk to your partner about concerns, wants, feelings, etc. – these are likely best addressed in a couples therapy setting
In couples counseling/marriage therapy…
Marriage / Couple and Family Therapists are trained to treat clients through the lens of the larger systems they are embedded in – for example, the marriage sub-system, or the parent-child sub-system (other systems include extended family, school, religious, community, etc.). Couples therapy allows the therapist to view more parts of the system (e.g., both partners’ perspectives versus one partner’s account of what’s going on), which amounts to more information, more informed interventions, and more effective treatment of any issues dealing with romantic relationship dynamics. The couple system is the therapist’s case, not either partner individually. If you think the bulk of your conversations with your therapist has something to do with your partner, couples counseling is probably a better fit for you.
Benefits of Couples Therapy
- The couple is the case, not either individual partner – this means your therapist isn’t there to take sides, but rather to help you see and change unhelpful patterns that you both play a part in
- The couples therapist can see a bigger picture by working with more people in the system (i.e., both partners), making it more likely to get at the root issue of relationship dynamics
- Partners get to witness each other grow and become better versions of themselves, which can deepen intimacy and connection
Couples therapy might not be the best choice if…
- You are not in a romantic relationship!
- You do not have any concerns about your romantic relationship/marriage
- Your main concerns have to do with your romantic relationship but you worry you will be in physical or emotional danger at home if you discuss them with your partner in therapy
- You are committed to leaving your relationship and just want help moving forward
Trying to find a therapist can be a huge task that can take a lot of time and effort but is worthwhile in the end. Narrowing in on which type of therapy you’re looking for is a great place to start. If you’re still unsure whether individual or couples therapy will be best suited for your situation, know that sometimes individual counseling transitions into couples counseling/marriage counseling, and sometimes couples counseling/marriage counseling transitions into individual counseling for one or both partners, depending on the issues at hand. Your therapist will help you navigate this decision, but the overall takeaway is: if a good portion of your concerns you want support with in therapy are related to your romantic relationship, couples therapy is probably the best place to start.