Throughout my years in practice, I have frequently been asked this question. Many family members believe that once the person who is experiencing the most difficulty is in their own therapy, the overall issues in the household will be resolved. I often hear “If they stop behaving that way, then everything in the house would be fine” or “There’s no point to me getting my own therapist, things would be ok if my partner could stop being depressed or anxious.”
The question is, should you go to therapy too?
Of course, being a therapist, I am biased. I believe everyone could benefit from therapy. It’s a difficult decision and oftentimes, people feel too busy, overwhelmed or wonder, “why bother going myself if they are the one who needs therapy?” While that argument makes sense logically, relationships and patterns of interaction are much more complex. Oftentimes, the person in therapy can be improving and despite this, the family dynamic can stay the same or even get worse. This can be extremely disheartening and frustrating.
Here are some reasons why it can be beneficial for you to be in your own therapy while another family member is in therapy:
Living with someone who is struggling can be challenging: If you have a spouse/child/partner who is experiencing difficulties that lead to needing therapy, chances are that everyone in the house is suffering to some degree. It is rare that only one member of the family is truly the only one who needs support. Everyone in the house feels the effects and it could potentially alter the overall environment in the house.
You can learn helpful strategies: With the limits of confidentiality, therapists are restricted in what feedback they can give parents about their child’s therapy. Having an outside therapist can provide you with new ideas or additional strategies to help support your child (or spouse/partner). Sometimes, just by implementing small changes, there can be a big positive impact in a relationship.
Change is hard: One of the main ideas of therapy is to break old, unhelpful or unhealthy patterns. When one person in a family is changing, it can come as a bit of a shock or surprise to the other members of the family. As much as we might want the other person to change, it can be alarming and strange when it happens. Therapy can give you a place to process feelings around this change and determine ways to adapt and cope.
Families are a team: Something I also often hear in sessions is “I wish my mom/dad/wife/husband/partner was in therapy. I shouldn’t be the only one working on this.” When one member of a family is in therapy and the rest aren’t, this can lead to some resentment from the one who is working to make changes. It’s nice to demonstrate to those you love that you also want to work on yourself and improve for the good of the team.
Therapy is an investment in yourself: How often in your week do you get to talk about your concerns for an hour without fear of judgment or criticism? Therapy is an opportunity to have a sounding board and improve your life. Just like exercise, therapy is a way to focus on your overall health. It’s important to show those around us that we care about ourselves enough to do the work to improve.
Gaining insight helps everyone: Oftentimes, we are engaging in and repeating unhelpful patterns of behavior and communication without realizing it. It’s natural to repeat learned patterns and take them from relationship to relationship (whether they are working or not). If we can gain insight into ourselves, we can determine the influence our current patterns have on our daily lives and work to alter these, so they are more effective and have a positive impact on those around us.
Why do I encourage you to seek out your own therapy?
There are many myths and stereotypes about therapy portrayed on TV or movies. Many believe that one must be in a dark place before seeking out therapy. That’s not true. Often, people wait until the situation is dire before seeking help. At that point, therapy can feel more like “damage control” than self-improvement. It’s much easier to observe and make changes when things are relatively “ok” rather than wait until things are chaotic and too much to handle.
I invite you to try your own therapy to see what benefits you can get from the process. The results may surprise you.