I have been working with a few more couples lately, primarily helping them with issues related to communication and intimacy.
For a while I have noticed something that suggests there may be a significant benefit for those who are in individual therapy as well as couples therapy.
An individual who is involved in both often finds that his or her participation in couples therapy accelerates progress in the individual sessions, although not necessarily for reasons the patient might anticipate.
Couples therapy brings additional issues into the treatment experience for the patient who is in individual therapy. For example, let’s say a patient has been acting angry with his wife, which is generating a lot of conflict at home. While this is a major issue in his relationship life, he is unable to acknowledge it or bring it up during his individual therapy. He may not be aware of his behavior, and/or may feel ashamed, embarrassed, etc. However, in the couple’s session, she brings this up as a major issue. So, now it’s in the open. The usual result of this is that he begins to feel more comfortable speaking about it in his individual sessions.
We therapists are trained to look for indicators, both verbal and nonverbal, that suggest when a patient is avoiding or is unable to acknowledge something. However, we may not be able to address it until it’s been brought to the surface. That’s where couples therapy might be helpful.
The presence of the therapist is often the crucial difference. I’ve had couples come in with the problem of lack of communication. Yet in therapy, they talk up a storm. One of them asks, “Why don’t you talk like this at home?”
Frequently the reply is, “You don’t listen at home.”