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Couples Therapy or Individual Therapy?

Are you having problems in your relationship? You might be wondering if couples therapy would be helpful. Clinical Psychologist, Ethelwyn Rebelo looks at when couples therapy is most likely to succeed.

If you are having problems with your relationship, you may be wondering whether attending couples therapy will help. The answer is that it may very well assist you, but that there are certain situations in which it might be more useful for you and your partner to go for individual therapy.

Firstly: no therapist, couples therapist included, can work magic. If one party is not truly committed to the relationship or matters have deteriorated to such a point that he or she no longer loves their partner, no therapist can pull love, like the magician’s rabbit, out of the hat. In such instances, therapy may assist the couple to separate amicably. Individual therapy might also help the rejected party deal with the grief of rejection.

Secondly, and this is very important, therapy is a collaboration. You and your partner have to be both willing to work with the therapist to improve the way you relate to each other. A couples therapist can help you to interpret and understand each other better on a psychological level; identify the different ways in which you respond and cope with the world; provide you with skills to communicate in more constructive ways and to deal more optimally with conflict in your relationship. Both of you, however, have to be invested in engaging openly with the therapist and with each other. There is conflict and there are issues in most relationships. The difference between relationships that survive and those that do not survive is only that in the former, the people involved deal with their issues in more helpful ways. If you are floundering with such problems, this is where a couples therapist can be of use.

As therapy is a collaboration, there are contexts in which seeing a therapist as a couple is probably not the best course of action. If one party is filled with uncontrolled rage against the other party, that rage will sabotage the process and it is likely to be more useful for either one or both individuals to start off with individual therapy.

If one party is in the grips of an addiction and, it must be stressed, not getting help with that addiction, that addiction will make it difficult for the addict to stick to any course of action planned during sessions. This will be the case too if one party suffers from an untreated and serious psychological or psychiatric disorder. In such instances, individual therapy as well as psychiatric treatment, together with couples therapy will be most useful.

Couples who come for therapy and who are willing to work on their difficulties are to be admired. Such people, unlike so many, who remain stuck and miserable in dysfunctional relationships, love each other enough to try to understand and repair the rifts between them. To all of you who have come to see me in this spirit, I salute you.

If you would like more information on couples therapy please contact us at

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