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  • Writer's pictureMim Kempson

Couples vs. individual therapy: which one should I do?

You can't do couples work in individual therapy, and you can't do individual work in couples therapy. They help with different things. They are not interchangeable.

If you’re in couples therapy and your own wounds or traumas come up, those are best reserved for individual therapy.

If you’re in individual therapy and you’re describing your partner (or speaking on behalf of them), the therapist will never get a completely accurate picture of the relationship without ALL partners present.

Addressing individual work in couples therapy (and vice versa) is like going to an orthodontist for a dentistry problem (anyone who works with teeth please correct me if my metaphor is wrong!)

There will surely be overlaps in areas, but one cannot be swapped out for the other and attending just one will not address all issues in the other area.

Couples work cannot be done without all partners present.

Individual work cannot be done at a deep enough level in couples therapy because in those settings the therapist’s client is “the relationship" – neither person is their client.

Here are some examples of how some subjects may look different depending on the type of therapy:


Individual therapy can help people make sense of their feelings and preferences around monogamy and polyamory, exploring what fits for them personally. They do not have to audit themselves in front of a partner. Couples work on the other hand can support partners in setting agreements and discussing what structure of relationship they’re most aligned on.

Healthy relationship practices

In individual therapy, the therapist will only ever see one side of the picture. A good therapist will listen out for how their client is participating in the relational dynamic (despite never hearing direct feedback from their client’s partner). A mediocre therapist will fail to acknowledge that there will inevitably be limitations in how clear a picture they will get of the client’s relationship without their partner present.

Individual therapy focuses on what the INDIVIDUAL(the client) needs to work on in their own relationships

Couples therapy focuses on the DYNAMIC that results from the collision of the 2 or more partners’ histories, differences, preferences and so on

Whoever is NOT in the room, is NOT a part of that particular therapeutic work.

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