UK Counselling Services

How does couples counselling differ from individual counselling? – Top 6 things about couple counselling people want to know most: Part 2 of 6:

This is part two of a series addressing the top 6 things people want to know about couples counselling. Quite simply, these are the questions I’m asked most often by those who consider coming for relationship counselling. While it is difficult to properly answer such questions in a short series of blogs like this, I’ll do my best. For a list of all six questions, please see part one of this series. This blog addresses the 2nd most often asked question: How does couples counselling differ from individual counselling?

Apples vs.oranges

Answer: While it may not look like it, there are more differences between individual and couple counselling than first meets the eye. Complicating this is the troubling truth that many of my professional colleagues see no distinction between these two forms of therapeutic endeavour at all. When these colleagues sit with a couple, they see themselves as working with “two individuals” and approach their work pretty much exactly as they would if they were only sitting with one person – the only difference being they try to carve up the time so that both get an opportunity to speak. This, most definitely, is NOT the view I take of the process of couples counselling. In fact, in my opinion viewing couples counselling in this way is little short of criminal and does a tremendous disservice to any couple seeking help from a therapist who approaches it in this manner. For me, instead of simply sitting with two individuals who both need a space to speak, I am working with “one couple”. This difference is extremely significant. Please allow me to elaborate.

When I work with an individual, to me that person and their being is a distinct entity. Each individual has a history that is unique to them, drives and needs that are theirs and theirs alone, and a whole host of other very personal things that are all wrapped up together inside one being that is “that person”. Yes, it is true that when sitting with a couple, at one level I am sitting with two entities, each with their personal histories, drives and needs, but I am also sitting with something else. Something much more than just two individual entities. Always when sitting with a couple, there is a third entity in the room with us that is not visible to the naked eye. This entity is the relationship itself.

I appreciate that this may sound odd, but I view the relationship that exists between any two people almost as a living organism in its own right. It too has a history. It too has drives and needs. It too will flourish and thrive if given the right nutrients or wither and die from starvation.

In couples counselling therefore, whilst it is certainly important to understand the essence of the needs/drives of the two individuals present, my “client”, is this third, unseen entity: the relationship. This means that for me, the focus and effort in relationship counselling are first centered around the goal of coming to understand the needs of this entity that is “the relationship”.

Where does “the relationship” hurt?

What does “the relationship” need?

What has brought “the relationship” to the painful place it is in?

Once we have answers to these questions, couples are then faced with on of two others: “Do we want to treat our relationship, heal it and make it whole again? Or, “Have we now come to a place where the relationship has reached the end of its life and palliative care is the best option?”. In other words: “Now that we understand what is really going on, what do we want to do about it?

This brings us to the third in the list of most often asked questions: Is couples counselling designed to keep people together? The answer to this question is the focus of part three of this series.