Choosing between individual therapy and couples therapy

Making the decision to seek therapy can be both daunting and confusing, especially when faced with relationship challenges. If you find yourself unsure about whether you need individual or couples therapy, let's explore the differences between these two formats. It's important to note that different therapists work in various ways, employing different approaches to therapy. As a specialist who personally adopts a psychoanalytic, psychodynamic approach, I am happy to offer some guidance to help you navigate this decision.

Individual Therapy
Individual therapy is a deeply personal and explorative journey. It delves into the unconscious, allowing clients to uncover aspects of themselves they may not be aware of. During individual therapy sessions, clients often embark on a very intimate process of self-discovery and self-integration, holistically connecting the disparate inner parts of themselves into one whole. Through one-on-one meetings with the therapist, individuals can find self-supportive places and gain self-reliance and a sense of control over their lives.

This process of "adulting" involves dealing with childhood issues and re-assessing them from the adult perspective, simultaneously learning about oneself by establishing a loving relationship with this "inner child" and thus one's childhood—both real, as it happened, and the imaginary, as one remembers and perceives it. Individual therapy is also about finding satisfaction in life, overcoming negative emotions or making them more manageable, and understanding one's psychological makeup and peculiarities, notwithstanding the continuous external difficulties that all people experience.

In psychoanalytically-oriented approaches, dream analysis is often used as a tool to decipher the unconscious mind in individual therapy, as dreams can help communicate the non-obvious aspects of one's psyche and hidden motivations.

Another important aspect of individual therapy is grieving. This process involves letting go of past experiences and reconciling with reality. In individual therapy, grieving is about accepting oneself, one's family, and one's limitations, leading to a more realistic understanding of life, abilities, and possibilities. The result of one knowing and accepting one's boundaries and individuality and absorbing miscellaneous life experiences, including traumatic ones, helps build thriving relationships with others.

Couples Therapy
Couples therapy, on the other hand, focuses on resolving conflicts and improving communication between partners. It aims to foster a better understanding of one another and develop the skills needed to reach agreements within the couple.

Even deciding what to discuss in a specific session requires mutual agreement, and practicing reaching this agreement in a session serves as a valuable communication exercise in a real-time format. Some sessions may be dedicated solely to formulating and listening to each other's expectations, highlighting individual differences. Discovering these differences is not a negative thing; in fact, it helps couples acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of themselves and their partners.

Authentic emotions often surface quickly during couples therapy, providing an opportunity to work through them together. A special place is given to analyzing and working through anger as it is a very significant marker that surfaces when any two people meet together and discover that they have a conflict of interests. Learning to deal with anger and disappointment in a partner is an important part of couple meetings.

In contrast to individual therapy, in couples therapy, dreams are not typically discussed, and if the unconscious is touched upon, it is usually much later than individual therapy. Instead, personal issues, decision-making, and behavior that influence the relationship are explored, as well as the resistance to changes that can hinder personal growth and transformation.

One of the main goals of couples therapy is to create synchronicity within the relationship. Discord often arises when partners are not on the same page, and therapy helps bridge that gap.

Additionally, couples therapy allows both the therapist and the couple to observe the dynamics of the couple during the session, which often mirrors their behavior outside of therapy.

In both individual and couples therapy, regularity is key. Consistent attendance and engagement with the therapeutic process yield the best results. Now, let's take a look at the advantages of each format:

Advantages of Individual Therapy:
  1. Deep self-exploration and understanding
  2. Personal growth and development
  3. Uncovering unconscious patterns and behaviors
  4. Grieving and letting go of the past
  5. Increased self-acceptance and realistic self-perception
  6. Overcoming negative emotions and trauma(s) of the past that influence the present

Advantages of Couples Therapy:

  1. Improved communication and conflict resolution skills
  2. Enhanced understanding and empathy for your partner
  3. Identifying and addressing relationship dynamics
  4. Setting and working towards shared goals
  5. Creating synchronicity and harmony within the relationship
  6. Emotions management and management of the joint past that preceded the present

Ultimately, the decision between individual and couples therapy depends on your specific needs and goals. It can be helpful to consult with a therapist who specializes in these areas to determine the best course of action. Therapy is a personal journey, even when done as a couple, which, apart from solving challenges, can be a very satisfying learning process, and finding the right fit is essential for your growth and well-being.

Warm wishes on your therapeutic journey!

Published by author on Psychology Today:

For more information, please refer to my other articles: "Breaking Through Resistance in Couples Therapy" and "5 Reasons Why Your Partner Refuses Couples Therapy."

Greetings! My name is Boris Herzberg and I am a psychoanalytic therapist, relationship consultant and ICF coach working online.
I help individuals and couples come to terms with their relationship to self and each other and explore ways to move towards a new way of living or being.

I work in a psychoanalytic paradigm but I would describe my therapy approach as adaptive, because I see each person as a unique being and thus work in a holistic way - with people, not with problems.

Psychoanalyst (East-European Institute for Psychoanalysis)
Life-coach (MCI - Master Coach, Israel)
Psychologist (Moscow Institute of Group Therapy and Supervision)

11 years of counselling and coaching

Experience with more than 1700 clients in personal sessions and groups (+600 in educational formats)

Author of the book "The path to yourself. Practical guide to self-development". Contributing author for Psychology Today

Lecturer for self-actualization, relationship building, self-confidence strengthening and overcoming emotional crises (more than 60 offline and online events)

Born in 1980, have lived in 3 countries, in a civil union, loving father of 3 amazing kids and faithful servant to 2 wayward cats

Contact me for any questions
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