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Should I Get Individual Psychotherapy or Family Counseling?

In families, there’s often one person who seems to be the one with the problem, or they’re the person who’s always experiencing emotional pain, or the person who seems to be the problem in the family. This person is recommended for individual psychotherapy. It seems obvious to the family that fixing that person will solve everything. But is that really true? The answer is, “it depends.”

Individual Psychotherapy for Intrapersonal Issues
There is some emotional pain that actually has its source within individuals. For instance, someone may have experienced painful, stressful or traumatic events in his or her life: a car accident, the loss of a friend or family member, a big failure, war trauma, sexual assault or painful childhood family dynamics. All these things tend to stay inside and continue to affect people over time. Individual psychotherapy--especially psychotherapies like EFT, Hakomi, Process Work and others that are more body-centered-- is often very effective for these intrapersonal kinds of issues.

EFT is Effective With Intrapersonal Emotional Pain
EFT, when used by a psychotherapist, is an individual psychotherapy called an “energy psychology.” Its premise, which is similar to the premise we’ve long known through acupuncture, is that there are meridians in our bodies through which energy flows. When we’re healthy, not experiencing physical illness, pain or emotional pain, the energy flows freely. But when we’re ill physically or we’ve gone through a painful emotional experience that stays with us, the energy is blocked in some way. Acupuncture has long been known to be effective with alleviating many physical pains and emotional pain. EFT doesn’t use needles, but rather focuses on specific parts of painful or traumatic experiences that still hold emotional pain while simultaneously tapping on the same meridians used in acupuncture. These emotions can manifest as anxiety, fears, depression, sadness, symptoms of PTSD, etc. Or they can show up as pain, illnesses, addictions or phobias. By working in this way, EFT is often very effective in alleviating individual physical and emotional pain.

Family Counseling is Effective for Interpersonal Issues
Often people come for individual psychotherapy when their problem is actually a problem in the relationships among family members. Families often create patterns of relating that go on for years and years—patterns that are painful and even destructive to members of the family. Individual psychotherapy can help an individual act and react differently when once again members of the family do something that is painful, and this can create some change. However, sometimes more can be changed more quickly when various combinations of people in the family or the whole family come in for family counseling.

Issues that Call for Family Counseling
Let’s say there was a death in the family a long time ago. That loss affects each person and begins to create patterns of relationship. One person shows the pain more openly while others try to be more stoic, for example. Or children see one parent being emotionally or physically abusive to the other parent. One child often grows up taking on the pain for the whole family and expressing it while others either try to pretend it’s not happening or go numb. Or there are just ways of relating in a family that don’t really work for anyone, but one person seems to be the “problem” because they’re always upset by various members of the family.

The person coming for individual psychotherapy will often be the one who expresses emotions most openly or the one who seems to be the problem. However, in all these situations, family counseling will actually help ease not only the individual who is holding the pain for the family—because that’s often what’s actually going on—but will ease the family as a whole. An easy example: a teen is angry all the time and the parents react by trying to exert more control over his or her actions. Often, in family counseling it will emerge that the teen is going through a normal developmental process of needing more power to make decisions for him or herself. Helping the family figure out how to do that in a way that feels good to the teen and feels safe to the parents will often calm things down.

For more information on when individual psychotherapy or family counseling are useful, see .

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