Is Family or Individual Therapy Better for Us?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am bipolar married but separated. I want to get my family back. My 5 year old stepson is in therapy as well as my wife and I. we all go to separate therapists.

I had to go to the mental hospital for a few days and when I came home my wife was moving without me.She says we will work on our marriage eventually when our son has dealt with his issues with me being bipolar. I have not always been the best dad to him.

I am on meds now and going to therapy. I even have a case worker. I believe along with individual therapy we should also be going to family therapy. Am I completely wrong to ask them that? Also the therapist my wife is seeing was mine then mine and our marriage one. I felt uncomfortable with that situation so i changed therapist. Now that therapist is treating my wife. Isn’t that very unethical?

A: There are many legitimate ways to do clinical work. Some therapists think it’s important for the two people in the couple to be with individual therapists to work out their own issues first before going into couples and family work. Others, like myself, think it’s important for the couple to be in treatment with the same therapist, sometimes seeing the therapist together and sometimes separately. There’s no hard and fast rule. It’s a matter of the therapist’s training and experience.

The reason I prefer to work in an ongoing way with all members of a family is that I want each member to bear witness to the other’s work. I think it’s important that the two adults know what’s going on for each other so they can support one another. Further, I don’t want to know things about an individual that his or her partner doesn’t know. Intimacy belongs with the couple, not with one person and me. Finally, a child needs to regain trust in his parents and have assurance that he will be heard and responded to. The therapy room can sometimes provide the safety for the relationship between a child and parent to be healed. But, as I said, other therapists see the situation differently.

It sounds to me like the therapist who is seeing your wife is in a good position to see you and your wife together again. She is current with at least part of the story. If you feel that you are going to be ganged up on if you ask to go back, that’s the first thing you should deal with in session. Trust in your therapist is essential if any progress is going to be made.

It sounds like you and your family have been through a very tough time. It may be that it’s important for your wife and son to pull back a little to recover. If you are going to reconstitute your family, it’s my opinion that at some point it will be important to get everyone back in the same room.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jul 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Is Family or Individual Therapy Better for Us?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/07/16/is-family-or-individual-therapy-better-for-us/