New clients may be surprised to find out that therapy can be very different depending on who exactly the client is, i.e., an individual, a group, a couple, or a family.
Working with a therapist, individually, is, by far, the most common form of counseling, with a relationship that is developed and nurtured between the therapist and the client. It is a sacred bond formed between two people, with a journey undertaken, and traveled together. Trust and communication are paramount to the process, and good fit between the two individuals, both therapist and client, is essential. During time, a healthy alignment will form, with the therapist helping to broaden the client’s own vision of self, their place in the community and in the world.
Being part of a therapeutic group is a wonderful process where the actual “provider” of the therapeutic process and environment is, in actuality, the group itself. A good group therapist recognizes that their primary “job” is to facilitate effective and fruitful communication within the setting of the group, and to establish, maintain, and enforce parameters and rules. These rules and parameters are very important in a group setting, regarding many things. Effective group therapy starts with modes of effective communication, the necessity of respect within the group setting among members, and, quite possibly, most importantly, a balance in all manners of the group process, such as proper use of verbal and non verbal communication, i.e., use of profanity; individuals being balanced in their use of speaking time, i.e., knowing when to “yield the floor,” and let others talk.
Couples Therapy is similar to individual therapy, as the actual relationship between the couple can be seen as the “client,” but it also differs from individual therapy as there are two very distinct persons participating in the process, as guided by the therapist. Indeed, the process can even be affected by the specific personality of the therapist, as well. While some therapists will combine individual and couples therapy, it is my practice to not do so, as I feel can lead to a conflict of interest, as, as noted above, in the individual therapy descriptor, there is already a bond and alliance between the therapist and one of the individuals seeking couples counseling. In an ideal situation, there should be three therapists for a couple; one for the couples therapy, and one each for each individual therapy process.
Therapeutic work within a family differs from all the above-noted modalities of therapy, as a family is filled with relationships, cross-relationships, dyads (relationships between two people), triads (relationships between three people) and, not surprisingly, many other relationships. It is similar to group therapy, in that there are generally at least more than three people involved. However, in all circumstances, family roles and familiarity with each member and their “assigned” role within the family is profoundly impactful in how a family system functions. Breaking out of these roles can happen for many reasons, some beneficial and some not so beneficial. Family therapy requires a high level of trust and willingness to explore open communication and, maybe, even constructive criticism.