T he previous section spoke to my underlying philosophical concepts of counseling and psychotherapy. The following speaks briefly to the individual, couples, and family therapy services that I provide.
People tend to seek out individual counseling for one of two basic reasons; (1) they are unhappy with some aspect of their life and want to change or (2) they are relatively happy with their life and are looking for more personal growth or greater fulfillment in life.
Most people who come to individual counseling come because they are typically unhappy about some aspect of their life and would like things to be different. In many cases, people are aware that they have been struggling with some type of issue for a period of time and decide that what they have been doing to address the issue isn't working very well. In some cases, people come to individual counseling not because they are aware of some sort of issue, but rather because they have received some feedback from a friend, a partner, or a family member who have been concerned about the person. In either case, making an appointment for individual counseling takes courage and is a big step in trying to change one's unhappiness.
Individual counseling/psychotherapy is intended for people who are looking to work on themselves. While people may be in significant relationships with others or family members, the focus of individual counseling is to help a person identify, understand, and resolve individual issues that are contributing to problems in living. As much as we would like to blame others for our unhappiness, more times than not we need to look first at what we bring to the table and how we contribute to our own problems.
Some people come to individual therapy to enrich their life and want to grow as much as they can. They seek out a therapist to help facilitate this process. They tend to be very open people, well grounded, and have an interest in understanding all they can about themselves at the deepest level possible. They typically have done alot of work on themselves, either personally or professionally, and they are looking to enhance the already solid foundation that has been created.
People who come to couples counseling come to it for much of the same reasons as people come to individual counseling; because (1) because they are unhappy in their relationship or (2) they are relatively happy and would like to enhance and enrich their experience of relationship.
It has been my experience that most people who are unhappy in relationships have very little idea why they are so unhappy beyond superficial explanations which usually focuses on the other person. In working with couples I try to assess whether each person has enough " raw materials" to work on couple's issues or whether they may need to do some individual work first in order to prepare them for couples work. Once this is established, my work with couples that find themselves in conflict or are unhappy focuses on helping them understand what all this is really about. While all of us can get upset with our significant other for a number of reasons ( not picking up after themselves, leaving the toilet seat up, not paying a bill, etc.), I have found that the real source of conflict very often reflects unresolved family of origin issues that are being unconsciously played out between the two partners. By this I mean that people carry with them into their relationships and marriages issues that were created in their family of origins. These issues may reflect unresolved concerns with siblings, family of origin dynamics that get replicated in current relationships, or unresolved relationships with our parents that get played out in our current significant relationship. The purpose of couples counseling is to help couples understand these influences and learn new ways of being with each other.
People tend to seek family therapy when the most immediate and identifiable issue of concern seems to be reside within the family itself. Typically, there is some kind of issue with parenting or a child's behavior that brings the family into therapy. Even though the family may want help there is usually a great deal of fear and trepidation about opening up and revealing the family dynamics to a stranger. It becomes the task of the therapist to align themselves with the family to build connections and relationships within the family. At the same time, it is important that the therapist get a feel for the powerful dynamics at work within the family. In this case, the therapist is both participant and observer of the family system and utilizes this dual role to better understand what is happening within the family to cause problems.
Sometimes we find that the cause of the problems reside within how the family is organized and how it functions. For example, research indicates that the need for clear boundaries between parents and children. Sometimes we find a lack of boundaries between parents and the children within the family. This can lead to confusion and a reversal of power and control within a family. Sometimes we find that the family problems reflects problems in the marriage. Very often children act out issues which provides an opportunity for someone to see that there are problems within the marital relationship that needs to be addressed. In this case, children may " sacrifice " themselves to try to get help for their parents. And some times we find that the problems stem not from structural issues within the family or issues between the parents, but rather reflect individual issues within particular family members. These type of issues don't usually reflect a family members difficult reaction to some kind of issue within the family, but rather are suggestive of underlying personality issues that need to be addressed within the individual.
In a sense then family therapy may involve the entire family working out their issues, it may evolve into couples work for the parents, or any adults in parental roles, and it may include individual work for family members depending on the needs of a particular family .