Many individuals come to therapy with relationship problems that would be better suited to couple and therapy, and there are times where couple or family therapy may be more productive if some individual sessions happen first, or at the same time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide:
1) Are the concerns that I am wanting help with best understood as "relational" (i.e. concerns about relationships, concerns that are most frequently experienced in relationships, something that is made worse by relationship dynamics)?
2) Would I benefit from having the support, insight, or participation of another important person in my life (e.g. partner, family member, close friend) in order to address my concerns?
3) How comfortable am I in honestly disclosing important information related to my concerns in the presence of another important person (e.g. partner, family member, or friend)?
4) Is it appropriate to share the nature and relevant details of my concerns with others (e.g. adult themes with young children or past relationship history with a current partner)?
5) Is my partner, family member, or other important person in my life willing to participate in therapy with me?
Some challenges are more clearly suited to relational therapy, as they are created by or affect more than one person in a family or group (e.g. conflict with a partner or child; children acting out; difficult family transitions - kids moving out, loss of a loved one; trauma that affects the whole family; intimacy and sexual problems, negotiating expectations and hopes in important relationships), however, other types of challenges that you may think of as more personal and individual may also be appropriate for relational therapy. The reason why relational therapy can be helpful with other kinds of problems is that in addition to being unique individuals with our own biologies, personalities, inclinations, and values, we are also social and cultural beings. Our identities, world views, and repetoir of possibilities and solutions are developed in relationships and these aspects of who we are change in different relational contexts. The same is true for many of the problems that we struggle with. Some of these struggles arise in very specific contexts (e.g. recurrent thoughts of self-harm during conflict with a partner or family member). These problems may be effectively addressed in individual therapy, however, relational sessions may generate new insights that would not arise from individual sessions alone.
While relational therapy can elicit unique insights, the candour that may be possible the privacy of individual sessions may also allow for growth that is not possible in relational therapy, especially if honesty and self-disclosure is not possible in the presence of other people.
Relational therapy and individual therapy each allow for unique therapy possibilities. It may be possible to do a combination of individual, couple and family sessions, depending on the training and approach of your therapist. All of this can be discussed with your therapist when developing a therapeutic plan and clarifying your goals for therapy.
Nat Roman has a Master of Science in Couple and Family Therapy and BA Hons. in Psychology. In addition to Nat’s background in Psychology and Couple and Family Therapy, Nat has extensive training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) processes, community based restorative conflict circles, and over 15 years experience studying, practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation practices. In an earlier stage of life Nat worked as a professional musician and strongly believes that creativity is an essential part of life, whether one is engaged in a formal creative discipline, problem solving, or attempting to get kids off to school in the morning. http://www.coupletherapytoronto.com/