Who is the client in couple therapy?
Counsellors sometimes find an individual in their consulting room who has been ‘sent’ by their partner to sort themselves out so that the relationship can flourish. In my experience this is seldom a useful way of dealing with issues. Of course individuals have problems, difficulties and challenges that can be helped through therapeutic interventions. But if the relationship is in difficulties the only real way to resolve things is for both partners to work together to understand what is going on.
When a couple comes to a counsellor or therapist, it is their relationship which is ‘the client’. What is going on between them and how they are each involved in it is what needs to be addressed. It can be helpful to think of a relationship
as the third element in a triangle formed by the two individuals. The triangle can be seen as providing a 'container' for each individual and the sum of what they bring to the relationship, often unconsciously [which really does mean without them being at all aware of it] from their past experience and families of origin. By addressing the relationship as a real element in the counselling it is easier for them, in partnership with their counsellor, to focus on the ways in which they relate, the patterns that have formed and the barriers that may have developed in their capacity to communicate and understand each other.
This focus on the relationship helps to prevent the therapy focusing on who is to blame for problems and offers an opportunity for couples to come together to think about their relationship, take it seriously and potentially to develop it.
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