Hopefully, your partner has found a therapist they are working well with, and some signs of change are happening. As the healthy, supportive partner, attending a session of counseling with your partner, or meeting with your partner’s therapist alone, called a collateral visit, may provide all parties involved further insight into your partner’s journey towards wellness.

Why might meeting with your partner’s therapist be a good idea? If you are thinking that you are not the one with the problem, understand that attending one session with your partner’s therapist is not the same as couples counseling. The purpose of the meeting is to share information.

Having said that:

  1. It provides the therapist with additional information about your partner’s life. When a client is experiencing mental illness, it can be difficult to get a complete picture of what happens outside the office, due to the effects of your partner’s illness on their mental functioning. You can help fill in the blanks.
  2. It gives you an opportunity to ask the therapist questions about your partner’s illness. Remember that your partner does have the right to confidentiality, so the therapist may not be able to answer all of your questions, or may suggest ways you can ask your partner for the information yourself.
  3. It may give you insight into the depth of problems your partner is experiencing, and you may decide that couples counseling or your own individual therapy is warranted. However, the purpose is not to assess you. Also, know that your partner’s therapist cannot provide couples counseling as well. If you decide that is necessary, the therapist can provide referrals.

When might meeting with your partner’s therapist be a good idea?

  1. During the intake session, especially if your partner is reluctant to seek therapy.
  2. Soon after your partner establishes a therapeutic relationship, so that you can provide further information and ask questions about the illness, the treatment plan, prognosis, and ways you can help.
  3. If you notice changes in your partner that indicate treatment is not going well, such as negative behavior changes, medication non-compliance, or missing therapy appointments.

What should you do during the session?

  1. This will vary by therapist and whether your partner is in the room with you. However, in general, the therapist will want you to share your perspective on your partner’s illness. The therapist may have specific questions about your partner’s life and behaviors, or they may leave it open for you to bring up concerns.
  2. Bring a list of questions or topics you want to discuss with the therapist. Take notes so that you can discuss your findings with your partner, if they are not with you, or to review later if and when questions come up.
  3. Ask the therapist about future contact if you have more questions or concerns. The therapist should be open to speaking with you briefly about specific concerns again in the future, keeping in mind that they cannot be your individual therapist or a couples counselor.

What should you not do during the session?

  1. As mentioned above, the purpose of the meeting is not to evaluate you. Nor should you be concerned about negative things your partner may have told the therapist about you. It’s the therapist’s job to remain neutral and non-judgmental.
  2. This is not the place to vent all your frustrations about your partner. It might be very tempting, especially since you have an empathetic, listening ear who “knows what your partner is like.” You may feel that if the therapist knows how irritated you are, they will “fix” your partner quicker, but that’s not the point of the meeting. If you are finding yourself in that place, it’s probably time to seek your own therapy or get help from a support group or online forum.
  3. Since the purpose of the session is to help your partner, don’t hesitate to bring up sensitive topics. It is difficult to share potentially shameful or embarrassing circumstances with a stranger, but therapists are highly trained, and chances are excellent that they have heard it before. Keeping secrets makes it that much harder to address your partner’s issues.

For those of you who have gone to a counseling session with your partner, what advice do you have for others?