Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who call and ask, “Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?”Woman free from depression  While there are times that this is needed, I’ll give the perspective that I have as a couples counselor on whether you should seek both individual counseling and couples counseling.

The Notion That You Need to Work On Yourself First Is Outdated and Blaming

One of the main reasons that people feel they may need individual counseling is that they think, or have been told by their partner, that they have “some issues” to work out. Sure, folks have issues. However, the majority of the time, unless we are talking about a serious mental health diagnosis or some other big stuff, it’s not a good idea to see your issues as something that you need to go off in private to work on. 

Why is your relationship struggling? Is it because you have these issues that you can’t handle, and your partner is an innocent bystander being caught in the crossfire of your stuff? Or are you like most couples, where you both do things that result in the other person feeling hurt, unheard, angry, etc? The fact is that relationships can be a huge contributor to things like depression and anxiety, as well as anger and bad moods. Fights and distance can make depression and anxiety worse. Looking at these things outside of the relationship is like going to the doctor for knee pain and not bringing your knee.  A LOT of things can successfully be addressed in the light of improving your most important relationship.

Plus, it makes it seem like you’re the reason your relationship is struggling. As a couples counselor, I know this is usually not true. And buying into blaming one person for what’s wrong in a relationship is, well, probably not helping the relationship. 

The Notion That Your Partner’s Involvement Can’t Help You Heal Is Also Outdated

In the olden days, psychoanalysis was an individual pursuit. The field of relationship therapy came out of a response to seeing that our loved ones are the biggest source of both our pleasure and pain. Not including them really denies how powerful the bond with your loved ones is in helping you cope. 

There are things that we bring into a relationship that are bigger than the relationship itself. Things like depression, anxiety, past trauma, these are all things that can feel like a huge barrier to us being able to be really present and show up in our relationship in a way that creates closeness instead of distance or fights. Being able to explore some of how this impacts your relationship, with your partner in the room, can really help them understand what’s going on, and how they play a role (positive or not) in the interactions between you.

There is some research being done that is pointing to the healing power of the relationship for things like addictions, depression, and trauma. There’s even evidence that we feel pain and fear more intensely when we don’t have the comfort of our partner (if the relationship is strong). Things that have traditionally warranted a solely individual approach can be folded in with the couples counseling in powerful ways. And working on improving the relationship has incredible benefits for your individual coping and resilience. Win-win.  Many of these things do require individual counseling as well, but we prefer to suggest that you start with couples counseling before adding individual counseling.

Why We Suggest Starting With Couples Counseling First

Instead of jumping feet first into several types of counseling at once, we suggest starting with couples counseling for several reasons:

  1. It gives the therapist a chance to assess the situation and help you decide if it’s indeed true that you need extra individual support from another therapist doing individual therapy.
  2. Your couples therapist can help you find ways in which the individual therapy and couples counseling are going to compliment each other. You can choose an individual therapist that works from a relationship point of view. Some types of therapy can accidentally undermine your couples work by giving you contradictory advice, such as to deal with your emotions by yourself instead of learning how to respond to becoming upset with your partner in the moment, with them there.  We really like to set individual therapy clients up with another practitioner who also does couples therapy right here in our practice. This way, you know you will be complimenting both your individual and couples therapy by addressing things in both types of therapy in ways that make sense together.
  3. It prevents you from starting too much counseling at once. This can be counterproductive and confusing.
  4. It gives you, as a couple, a good first glimpse into all the things that you’ll be able to accomplish with couples therapy. This helps get you off to a good start where you are both seeing your own role in the relationship issues, rather than one partner being pre-labeled as the “one who really needs the therapy.”

Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?

Hopefully this has given you some glimpse into how we approach this, but this is a good question to ask any counselor that you are considering seeing. If someone absolutely says that you shouldn’t do couples therapy until all of your individual issues are resolved, you can run screaming for the hills.  And if you ask a couples counselor this question, you can get a good glimpse into how they work and what their approach is.


There are some instances where couples counseling is absolutely not a good idea – such as when there is physical abuse in the relationship, or when someone has active addiction that is so strong that they are not yet capable of interacting in a meaningful way in therapy. (However, both of these situations also need assessment because they aren’t black and white, so it’s still best to contact a qualified couples therapist to get assessed).



Reader Interactions


  1. I guess depression, anxiety, and trauma could be the factors that can create a huge barrier within the relationship of a married couple. These factors could be the reason why my cousin talked to me about helping her find an individual counseling service. It seems like her marriage hasn’t been too successful and she does have hope on improving the marriage between her and her husband.

    • You are absolutely right, those heavy individual issues do create barriers to progress in couples work. However, treating those issues in the absence of a cohesive understanding of what is showing up in the relationship often results in people seeing all sorts of therapists and not feeling like any of it goes together. I’m much more comfortable making referrals to individual therapists once I have a clear sense of exactly what we need from that therapy and how it will fit into the whole picture. It breaks my heart when people spend time and money and don’t get good help. Thank you for commenting and good luck to your cousin!

  2. I completely agree that couples counseling can help you find ways to compliment each other. In my opinion, if your relationship is at a point where you fight a lot, you should go and have someone assess the situation and let you know what’s wrong. That way, you can grow off of each other, and make your relationship strong.

  3. I agree that jumping into too much counseling at once can be counterproductive. Counseling could take a great emotional toll on you because it forces you to face issues that you could have avoided in the past. It seems like a good idea to take counseling one step at at time and first begin with marriage counseling so that you are not overwhelmed and unable to perform your day to day tasks.

  4. What are your views on a counsellor who has previously counselled my fiance both in his previous marriage and as an individual now doing couples counselling with us? I feel that there is a lot of bias and sympathy towards him based on his previous session, yet I have never had an individual session in order ofr the counsellor to understand me as a person

    • In general, you have to tread lightly with seeing folks individually and then as a couple, regardless of what the other counseling looked like or who it included. A good counselor should be able to take your feedback into account and work to resolve issues. I would express your concerns to them and request an individual session as part of the assessment process in your couples work. If things don’t go well, that’s a conversation that you should have with your partner about finding a counselor that is a good fit. Research shows that up to 60% of the success of a counseling endeavor actually has to do with the relationship you have with the counselor, and how much you believe that they will be helpful. If this isn’t a good fit for you and you can’t solve the issue, then it’s a major detriment to your work. Thanks for stopping by to comment, best of luck!

  5. I’m glad you pointed out that it’s a good idea to start with couples therapy so the therapist can assess the situation and then determine if individual therapy would be beneficial as well. My husband and I have been in a rough patch lately, but it’s I think it’s largely due to my own issues I’ve been dealing with such as depression and anxiety. I wasn’t sure if I should get couples therapy, individual therapy, or both, so thank you for offering your advice!

    • Hi!
      Thank you for leaving a comment letting me know that this article was helpful! I get this question SO MUCH, I can’t even tell you how many times I have this conversation. And it’s confusing because there is certainly overlap between “our own stuff” and “the relationship issues.” Glad to be helpful!

  6. I like how you mentioned that your couples therapist can help you find ways in which the individual therapy and couples counseling are going to compliment each other. My wife and I are going through some difficult situation in our relationship, but we don’t want to divorce. Thanks for all the details about the benefits of couple counseling, I will share it with my wife so she is aware of this as well.

  7. It is interesting that couples counseling can compliment individual therapy. My buddy is considering going counseling with his girlfriend and I’ve asked my wife if that is something we should do too. If our relationship ever gets sour, we’d consider counseling.

  8. I like how attending a marriage counseling can help you develop new ways of communicating with your significant other as well as changing your point of view of things. My aunt told me that she was thinking of making her relationship better because she has lost her relationship with her family because of work. I’m going to let her know about finding a marriage counselor to help her.

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