There’s some personal work that needs to be done and then there’s work between the couple. Is it important that both patients are seeing individual therapists? What do you see?
Yeah, that’s a very good point. I’m glad that you brought that up. Usually when I get a phone call I ask the couple if the person that’s calling me wants to come in first by themselves or if they want to come as a couple. I leave that part pretty much up to them unless there’s something really big going on or really stressful where I can just kind of sense it in the caller and then I’ll see the caller first. But most of the time, 99% of the time, I see the couple first. I see how they interact, and really there’s a big term that is important for couples to understand that’s called flooding. Flooding is something that neurologically, biologically, where the person is overwhelmed with emotion and that can look different in each person. Flooding for one person can be screaming, yelling, getting really agitated, and for the other person it could be totally shut down, very passive, but it doesn’t mean that their heart isn’t going at 100 miles per hour.
When I see couples that are continuously flooding, especially in the first two or three sessions and can’t really regulate their emotions, being able to regulate themselves in the session, then at that point I would recommend that they see an individual therapist as well so they could doing individual therapy and couples’ at the same time. Usually I see a couple first, maybe for one or two sessions, and then I do see them individually to get some of their background history that they may not be comfortable sharing at first, and just to kind of get a sense for the individual. I think that the two main things are the flooding and being able to recognize when they’re flooding and can you bring yourself down from it, and the being able to regulate your own emotions.
Sometimes if the individual doesn’t have the awareness of how their past impacts their present and they’re very resistant to that idea, which I’ve had plenty of people that don’t even want to talk about their childhoods, then individual therapy would be a good indicator at that point because it is important for individuals to know that their past absolutely has an effect on their present. It doesn’t have to control their present, it doesn’t have to guide their present, but it does have an impact and the more that we resist that the more that the issues persist.