Individual, family or couples therapy: what is the difference?

Therapy looks different depending on who is coming. In this post I will briefly explain the differences in individual sessions, family sessions, and couples sessions.

  • Individual: Individual therapy sessions are just you and the therapist. It’s one-on-one and the whole hour is devoted to speaking about things that are impacting your life personally. While your issues may stem from family members, a relationship or a child, those people (typically) will not be present for your sessions or take part in any way. There are of course exceptions and at times it can be helpful for one or two sessions to invite another party into your session but for the most part this is time to just work on you.

  • Family sessions: In family counseling the whole family unit is the ‘client’. While each individual brings their own complexities to the table, how those complexities are addressed in the context of family is the focus. Sessions may, at times, be run individually but the goal is always to treat the family. Individual sessions, if any, are meant to find how that can be done.

  • Couples sessions: Just as in family sessions, in couples therapy the couple is the ‘client’. Often times partners will come into couples counseling looking to have the therapist pick sides and prove that one or the other is right/wrong. This is very common and when a relationship is in crisis it’s natural to seek allies. However, couples therapy does not further drive wedges or vindicate one over the other. The client is the two together, and thus the sessions are meant to increase harmony, connection and discover where the connection is fracturing. A couples therapist (at least a good one) is not a secret keeper, is not a side picker, and will not create further distance.