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The Importance of Individual Therapy Before Couples Therapy

February 17. 2023

As a social worker with training in trauma-informed care, my approach when working with clients is trauma-focused and attachment-based. This means that I prioritize understanding how past trauma and experiences may be impacting their present-day functioning, as well as how their early relationships and attachment patterns might be influencing their current relationships and overall well-being. While I work primarily with individuals one-on-one, I have also worked with couples, though not extensively.

Through my work, I have seen firsthand how our past experiences can shape our present, and I have always wondered about the effectiveness of couples therapy for those who have not done any individual work on themselves. Without an awareness of one's attachment style and the wounds that may have contributed to it, it can be difficult to recognize and take responsibility for one's role in the issues that arise within a relationship. This is why I believe that attending individual therapy before couples therapy can be beneficial for some couples.

There have been some studies that suggest that attending individual therapy before couples therapy can be beneficial for certain couples. For example, a study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy found that couples who attended individual therapy before couples therapy reported greater improvement in relationship satisfaction compared to couples who did not attend individual therapy. Another study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that individual therapy focused on emotional expressiveness was associated with greater improvements in couples' communication and relationship satisfaction.

While couples therapy can be incredibly helpful for improving communication, resolving conflicts, and deepening intimacy, it's important to remember that attending individual therapy first can be an essential step towards a successful outcome. Here's why:

Understanding Yourself Individual therapy can help you understand your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours better.

Individual therapy can be a valuable tool for gaining a deeper understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. By attending individual therapy before couples therapy, you can learn more about yourself and your needs, which can ultimately help you communicate more effectively with your partner. When both individuals in a relationship have a better understanding of themselves, they are better equipped to collaborate and work towards a more fulfilling relationship. Often, we don't fully recognize or understand our own needs in relationships, which can make it challenging to communicate those needs to our partner. By prioritizing individual therapy and gaining a better understanding of ourselves, we can develop the skills and insights necessary to communicate more effectively with our partner and work together toward a successful relationship.

Addressing Personal Issues

Often, personal issues that one or both partners are experiencing can contribute to relationship difficulties. These issues can range from trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. By attending individual therapy, you can work on personal issues and learn coping strategies that can help you be a better partner. When both partners have worked on their personal issues, they can enter couples therapy with a better sense of what they need and want from the relationship.

Avoiding Imbalance

One of the dangers of couples therapy without individual therapy is that one partner may feel they are the only one who needs to change. This can create an imbalance in the relationship that is difficult to overcome. By attending individual therapy first, both partners can have an equal opportunity to address their own issues and needs. When both partners are working towards self-improvement, the relationship can benefit in many ways.

Preparation for Couples Therapy

Attending individual therapy first can also be helpful preparation for couples therapy. During individual therapy, you can work with a therapist to identify patterns and behaviours contributing to relationship difficulties, including understanding your attachment style and how it contributes to your present-day behaviours. This can help you go into couples therapy with a better understanding of what needs to be addressed and how to work together towards a more fulfilling relationship.

Male therapist sitting across from a couple during a therapy session

Prioritizing individual therapy before embarking on couples therapy can be a crucial step towards achieving a positive outcome in your relationship. By gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, and gaining insights into your own behaviours and emotional reactions, you can lay a strong foundation for a successful journey in couples therapy where you and your partner can work together to create a more fulfilling and harmonious relationship.

For those of you who have been to couple's therapy in the past, let me know your experience in the comments below!


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