Couples in joint counseling are sometimes surprised when I recommend that one — or both — members also initiate individual counseling with their own therapists. Some people worry that spending time in solo sessions will create further distance in the relationship, providing a space for secrets or avoidance of tough couples’ issues. Occasionally, I hear clients say that they feel my recommendation is code for “There’s something wrong with you. Go get fixed in individual therapy before you can expect your marriage to work. ” In reality, individual therapy is an effective adjunct to couple’s work, and is a common suggestion made by therapists treating marital discord.
I’M OK. YOU’RE OK. NOW WE CAN BE OK.
As I get to know each member of a couple in joint therapy, I may notice individual issues that may be affecting or impeding their progress. Depression, anxiety, trauma, and family of origin issues can muddy the dynamic between lovers. Often, the individual struggling with these issues can use individual sessions to become aware of and heal these components, allowing couple’s work to move along in a more timely fashion. In addition, participants may not be yet ready for the vulnerability and transparency required for effective couple’s work. Having an individual therapist allows each person a safe stage to vent, complain, and explore fear, anger and disappointment, until he or she is able to voice these experiences in ways that help bring the couple greater awareness and intimacy, instead of further damage. Finally, couple’s work is multilayered, complex and intense. Truly, three clients are in the room: each member of the couple, and the relationship itself. Having a “team” of professionals to offer feedback and provide varied perspectives and interventions helps ensure the most comprehensive view of how to help a couple create a relationship of resiliency, trust and fulfillment.