When you go to therapy or counseling by yourself, it is normally a very positive and supportive experience. Your therapist is on your side, there for you, in a way we rarely experience in day to day life. When you go to therapy with your partner, it’s not quite like that. The therapist has to be there for BOTH of you and many people find the experience of couple therapy more challenging, less friendly than their one-to-one experience.
Yet many of our clients who have done individual therapy tell us “this is the best therapy I have ever had” or “I have learned so much more about myself “. The reason couple therapy is so impactful is because you are bringing the whole relationship system into the therapy session. Your therapist doesn’t have to just take your word for how you behave, how you react, how you feel when under stress – they can see it in real-time.
In individual therapy, the therapist is largely restricted to what you are already aware of about yourself. Even if they see you more clearly than you see yourself, they tend to be very gentle about how they introduce this knowledge. Effective couple therapists have to be more pro-active than this. If they can see something about you (e.g. that you are pretending to be nice but are actually hurt or annoyed), chances are your partner can see it too. If the therapist is to retain the trust of your partner, they have to reflect back to you what they are seeing in the moment.
This is not always a comfortable experience. Growth and change rarely are. But if you have a therapist who really sees you, gets how you operate AND is there to coach you how to do it better in real-time, in your most important relationship, you can see how that might feel like fast and profound change.
(Just to be clear, we both value one on one therapy and both have used it at various points in our lives ourselves. There are some issues that are very personal, or very individual, that are not right for couple therapy)