There technically could be said to be some differences between “counseling” and “psychotherapy”, but here I am using the words counseling, psychotherapy, and therapy interchangeably.
Individual Relational Psychotherapy
It is hard to accurately define individual therapy, because it is always tailored to what the individual client wants and needs, but all individual therapy is done one on one, with one client and one therapist. This relationship, referred to as the therapeutic relationship, is the source of the power of relational therapy. It is a relationship that is both extremely real and at the same time carefully constructed with clear boundaries that keep the experience safer and at the same time more intense than other relationships.
In this safe container, it is possible to examine and understand your experience as it is happening with a real live person, which has much greater capacity for healing and growth than “just talking” about past experiences. Of course, often past experience colors current experience, and it is useful to discover what influence it is exerting on today’s thoughts and feelings.
Couples counseling is a process of helping each of you clarify what you want in relationship and then helping you learn ways to get it with your partner. Most people enter into relationships without ever having had any real education or training about the basics of how relationships work, so part of couples counseling usually involves learning those basics. There are a number of articles on this website that provide some of this kind of educational information.
Depending on what you want and what stage and state your relationship is in, couples counseling can be fairly straightforward practice on better communication skills or a deep exploration of how to grow into the reality of an adult relationship.
Group therapy is probably even more misunderstood and maligned than other kinds of therapy. That’s a shame, because group therapy can provide amazing healing and growth experiences for many issues, as well as being more affordable than individual therapy.
Part of the reason group therapy got a bad reputation was because there were some wild and scary group therapy approaches, especially in the 1970’s, that got a lot of press. Also, since group therapy is done in many institutional settings, some people seem to have the idea that you only do group therapy if you are institutionalized.
Group therapy with me is definitely not like that. Instead, it provides a safe space to learn about yourself in relationship with other people who are working on similar challenges. There is an “aliveness” in group therapy that can be really exciting.
Because it is so different from individual therapy, people often get a lot from group therapy even if they have done individual therapy in the past. In fact, some people choose to do group therapy and individual therapy concurrently, and get tremendous benefits from the combination.
There are different kinds of therapy groups and a lot to say about each type, so this web page is dedicated to group therapy.
Family counseling can be one of the more effective kinds of therapy, because it usually involves the relationships that have had the most powerful affect on your life. It can involve an entire family or part of the family, although the entire family may be necessary to effectively accomplish some goals.
Often one of the first and biggest hurdles to family therapy is having everyone in the family agree to participate. This is why the first thing I do in family therapy is to have each family member identify what they want from the process. This can be challenging, but it is very important. In fact, when people start figuring out what they want the therapy process has already begun. This is because most people have difficulty getting in touch with what they want from other family members, much less communicating it well.
This process also helps the family members start to define what family means to them and what they want their family to be. This is also important, since different family members may want different things from the family.
I do not do family counseling with small children; in families with small children, couples counseling for the parents is often more beneficial. I will consider working with families with mature teenagers, who are more autonomous and more able to participate effectively in the family therapy process.
Most people receive no formal education about how psychology can be really useful to them. Even for people who take beginning psychology classes, those classes tend to be more about rats in mazes than about the things that make psychology useful for most of us.
That’s a shame, because psychology has much to offer us in our everyday lives. I will be offering a number of workshops on topics such as how emotions work and how they can help you or how to have more meaningful, fulfilling relationships. I will advertise these workshops on this website and anywhere else that seems useful. If you would like to get on an email list to be informed of when workshops are happening, go to the workshops and groups page and let me know what you are interested in.