Individual Therapy vs Relationship Therapy Relative To Marriage Counseling

By: Beaule Agerter

Let me here assert that there are significant differences between counseling individuals and marriage counseling and that the underlying principles of both types of therapy DO NOT necessarily transfer from one discipline to the other without unintended harm- especially to a relationship. Now to make the case for this assertion.

What are some of the principles of individual oriented therapy? Through personal observation I have witnessed that therapists endeavor to help individuals challenge ingrained negative thinking in favor of opening one's mind to the possibilities of alternative positive conclusions. Therapists who are trained to counsel individuals often strive to impart coping skills to the individual to assist a person in dealing with depression, addiction, manic behavior, anger management, and/or a host of other difficulties that might overwhelm anyone in this life. A therapist can assist an individual to find healthy and effectual ways to manage many issues that individuals find are adverse to their well being and emotional health.

An individual sits down in the therapist's office and the therapist might start off the session by asking 'How are you doing?' or 'Whats happening?' or "Tell me about everything since our last appointment.' The individual may be in mourning, or just recently unemployed, or in a crumbling marriage. He or She might have poor self esteem, or suffer from anxiety disorder, or be bipolar, or live with some degree of personality disorder. Whatever may be the source stresses and unhappiness are likely present and need to be addressed.

The therapist listens attentively without derision or scorn and the individual feels validated in his or her feelings and concerns. All this sounds good- like it is a worthwhile service for anyone seeking assistance to cope with life- and so it is. I believe that individual oriented therapy can benefit almost anyone who is open minded when applied by a trained and educated professional in a clinical setting. That having been said- why then the assertion that individual oriented therapy when applied to couples and relationships can damage a marriage even to the point of divorce?

Let us consider:
When an individual visits a therapist that person gets a chance to tell someone all their troubles. The individual has someone who will listen, which can help make him or her feel validated. As time goes by and the therapy continues he or she might find their personal confidence growing and they may begin to overcome fears that might be associated with phobias and/or excessive anxiety. As he or she observes their own personal progress they might begin to believe in themselves more and to feel 'right' and 'justified'. You might be wondering how such results could harm a marriage? It can because there is something essential that is missing.

If marriage troubles are part of the equation in the trials and afflictions an individual brings to a therapeutic session (cognitive or otherwise) as that person shares those troubles with the therapist something begins to happen- although it might be unintentional. The individual can begin to feel, just by the process of telling someone their troubles, that they are validated also in their conclusions concerning their marriage woes. The person might conclude that he or she is justified in feeling victimized and that their own personal happiness demands that they dominate the relationship and 'do things their way for once'. They continue receiving individual oriented therapy and continue to apply the skills and insights gleaned therefrom to their spousal relationship, but something essential to the success of the relationship is missing: the interaction between the individual and their spouse has not been observed nor considered. Thats like taking a poll or doing a survey with only people from one side of an issue and asking only one question heavily tilted to that side of the issue and then pronouncing what the majority of society feel.

A relationship is more than two individuals simply cohabitating with shared interests, all the while focused mainly upon fulfilling their own individual needs. That is not a marriage- that is a business arrangement. Relationships involve much more than what individual oriented therapy addresses. Two separate perspectives are brought together in an effort at mutual understanding and acceptance. Trust is assumed initially, and built up over time. Finances and responsibilities are shared. Suffering, elation, rapture, discouragement- all are met together with each person endeavoring to provide the other with the comfort, strength, the shoulder to lean on, the cheer, and the empathy that is needed at any given time. When individual oriented therapeutical techniques are applied to troubled marriages all the nuances and complexities of that relationship can be forgotten and either or both persons can become entrenched in their own perspective(s). He or She might even start to distrust any interaction with their spouse through fear that doing so might somehow rob them of their newfound strength and confidence. Animosity over old offenses- once thought put behind them, might resurface due to focusing entirely on one's own needs vs the needs of the relationship. THAT IS THE KICKER- individual oriented therapy is focused on the individual needs of the person and when applied to a marriage relationship such techniques are limited to focusing upon the individual needs of two separate people instead of addressing the needs of the relationship!

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The author is experienced in the issues addressed in this article, possesses an upper education degree and is endeavoring to cope with life one day at a time. One of his favorite obersvances is 'Its just life- it happens to all of us'. Read more about marriage issues, as well as gardening, home ownership, and fun observnaces at

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