After we meet individually, I do NOT share secrets that you tell me in an individual session in a later couple session. It is healthy for you to communicate directly with your partner (not through me).
In very special circumstances, secrets have to get dealt with by the couple and may cause me to stop couple therapy. I will still NOT tell the partner. Again that is your responsibility. The three criteria that I use to evaluate whether a secret shared individually will cause me to suspend couples therapy are:
1) Is the secret information currently adversely affecting the relationship in a meaningful way? Examples of this would include an ongoing affair, current domestic violence or current substance dependence.
2) Would the partner disclosing the information have a therapeutic benefit? For example, disclosing an affair that occurred 10 years ago without recurrence may only hurt the betrayed partner but not furthering the current relationship goals.
3) Does disclosing the information put one of the partners at risk for physical harm?
If the answers to these questions indicate that disclosure would have a net therapeutic benefit, I urge the partner (again, not me) to disclose the information and support him or her in doing so. If the partner refuses, I may suspend treatment until the couple is ready to deal with the critical issue that is being held secret.
Meeting Clients Individually
My practice is to meet with both members of the couple together for the FIRST session. This has the benefit of establishing that the marriage or partnership is the client, and that the welfare of the relationship will be the top priority. With that said, after the first session, I will meet with one partner alone, but for short periods or for a discreet purpose. Also, the partner not attending the session must consent to the individual session in advance. This is important because we need to MAINTAIN TRUST for me to be an effective couples counselor for you.
The typical reasons to meet individually are:
Practical considerations such as childcare or sickness make it difficult or impossible for one partner to attend. In such cases, it may be helpful for the other partner to use the time to work on his or her issues with me. Sometimes progress is made when a partner feels free to talk openly.
Valuable information can be gathered regarding each individual’s history and commitment to the relationship and treatment.
The individual may be able work on his or her own issues in a less triggering environment so he or she can be more open and less reactive when together. I will only do this for a limited amount of time, usually 2 to 5 sessions.
There are things that may feel scary to say in front of a partner so it may be wise to get my help on how to express it more skillfully.
Both partners feel stuck in the couples work and decide they need to grow individually so that they can come back together in a healthier way. My first recommendation is for each partner to find their own individual counselors; however, be careful as some individual counselors, in an attempt to bond with you, may unintentionally demonize the other partner. Alternatively, some couples wish to alternate seeing me individually at their regular time of their couples sessions. This should be viewed as an interim step to returning to couples work.
A partner may be thinking about whether to end the relationship and need to discuss it without the partner present. I will help you process your thoughts and carefully weigh your options. I will not tell you what to do. Also, please know that I am a pro-marriage therapist but totally respect your right to choose your own path in life.
You should be aware that the partner who is not in the individual session may feel left out, anxious, or mad. If that happens, it is a good idea to share those feelings in your next couples session. If, at any time, you feel an imbalance in my time and/or support, please tell me. Such feelings could derail therapy, especially if they don’t get tended to. It may also be appropriate for me to meet with the other partner so the therapy remains balanced.
To be clear, I can not be one partner’s individual therapist and your couple counselor at the same time.
If you have significant areas of growth that you want to work on in yourself, I would be glad to recommend several excellent individual therapists for you to consider. In this case, if the couple agrees to it, I would talk to that therapist to coordinate individual and couple treatment so they complement each other.