We Want to See You Both
As a therapist who works with both individuals and couples, I can say with certainty that couples are typically more complex. As challenging as it may be at times, I have often been with an individual client discussing inevitable relationship issues in his or her life, and thought to myself, "It would be great to have the partner here." Now, don't get me wrong, I do like to work with my individuals, but sometimes I get so curious about the dynamic of his or her relationships that I want to see all sides of the scenario. I think this is what makes couple's therapists passionate about what they do.
Seeing both sides of the story in the same room is extremely helpful. The EFT (emotionally focused therapy) counselor is trained to see problems from a systems perspective. For example, if you tell us that you often feel anxious your girlfriend is lying, even though she is down to earth, reliable, and trustworthy, we would want to bust out the wide-angle lens to look at this. We would ask questions about you and your partner's behaviors that make you feel anxious. What was it like growing up in your family? What do you do when you're feeling anxious? How does your partner respond to your anxiety? How do you talk to yourself when you're anxious? What are your perceptions of safety and danger in the world? What happens in your body when you feel anxiety? This information helps us paint a picture of your patterns of behavior and how those play out in your relationship.
Another reason seeing both sides is helpful, actually has to do with something we call "alliance." Alliance is the bond between therapist and client(s). Alliance is crucial for progress and change to happen in therapy. In couple's work, we feel the alliance must be equal between the therapist and each partner. So if we start out seeing just one of you, it is likely that bringing your partner in later on may feel uncomfortable for him or her, or at least unbalanced. They may feel as though we have spent time talking behind his or her back, or sharing intimate details of his or her life. This could make it hard for your partner to be open and feel totally safe.
So, I write all of this to let you know that if you are considering couple's counseling, and you've been tasked with interviewing or shopping for a therapist, it would be really helpful if you AND your partner did this together, rather than individually.